LRA rockets 2013

Dual rocket launch during the first lauch of the fall 2013 semester.

The Longhorn Rocketry Association (LRA) is a student-run amateur rocketry group dedicated to giving students at The University of Texas a chance to develop their high-power rocketry skills and composite fabrication skills while developing lasting friendships. The ASE/EM department spoke to Jimmy Johnson, an aerospace engineering student and the LRA public relations officer, for an update on the group's activities this semester.

How has LRA changed since last year?
LRA has exploded in membership over the past year. There are now over 100 active members, triple the number of last year's members. This fall we are also more organized and goal-oriented, and as a result, we are more involved with all of the different groups and building five times as many rockets. We also decided to divide LRA into three separate sub-groups: mid-power, advanced and high-power to provide a path for continuous rocketry and leadership development for our members.

What projects have you been working on this semester?
There are 72 members in the mid-power group this semester. Each of these 72 members is building their own rocket and 69 will be applying for level one certification. There are three high-power teams this semester. They are working on more complex and advanced rockets. The first project is a 2-strage, minimum-diameter rocket. The second project is a cluster rocket, meaning the rocket has a central motor and some ancillary motors. Lastly, the LRA is working on upgrading the avionics payload we developed last year.

What organization certifies your members?
A member who wants to become high-power certified has the option of two amateur rocketry organizations to choose from when they register, Tripoli Rocketry Association and the National Association of Rocketry. We typically register with Tripoli, because they are more focused on high-power rocketry and research motors (motors you mix yourself). Members who would like to become certified join one of our two project groups, mid-power and advanced, and indicate they wish to get certified. We then guide them through the process of registering with the national organization of their choice. They are able to purchase one high-power motor of the next level, but only for certification attempts. When the member attempting to certify successfully launches the rocket, meaning it returns to the prefect's station in flight-worthy condition, the Tripoli prefect will inspect it and award the member with a certification.

Why is certification important to the growth of LRA?
Our members are not required to become certified, but increasing certified members will allow the team to take on more complex projects and build their credibility. By becoming high-power certified, members prove that they have taken certain steps in mastering high-power rocket design, construction and preparation. With more members certified, the LRA can safely advance the size and complexity of our projects without jumping ahead of our ability level. It's important for engineers to not engineer beyond their experience level and we incorporate that into our group. We give members the opportunity to advance through guidance from our higher-level members and obtain certification, so they can safely advance their own project level capabilities.

What were your goals for this year's projects?
Our long-term goal is to reach 100,000 feet with a 2-stage, minimum-diameter, carbon fiber rocket. We would like to do this using our own electronics, motors and airframes. Our second objective is to develop the skills required for that project in separate projects, while educating our new members. To do this, we are building a staged rocket, a research payload rocket and a cluster rocket. Each of these projects allows the LRA to develop experience in areas that are needed to make our ultimate goal feasible.

Tell us about your fall launches.
LRA's first launch of the fall semester was on Nov. 2 in Hutto, Texas with the Austin Area Rocketry Group (AARG), a local Tripoli prefecture. At this launch we had five mid-power members, three advanced group members, and one high-power team from last year launch their rockets. Four of the five mid-power members attempted Level 1 high-power certification and all were successful. This brought our certified membership from 18 certified members to 22. We also had one of our Level 1 members obtain a Level 2 certification at that launch.

In December, the LRA plans to bring 46 members to another launch with AARG. Two of the high-power teams, serial staged and cluster, will be launching. There will be at least 36 more certification attempts, potentially bringing our total to 58 certified members. By the end of the year, the LRA hopes to have the vast majority of its membership high-power certified.

Does the LRA have plans to enter in future competitions?
We don't compete in anything outside of LRA because those competitions usually take place in the summer or early fall, but our president has started a competition for our mid-power group. The competition is between mid-power group leads. Each mid-power group lead has a group of five to nine members working on their own project. Different factors of their group's progress and success work into a final score. The team at the end of each semester with the highest score receives a trophy, the Jason Kish Cup, and a pizza party. This competition is a light-hearted way to motivate the groups to work hard during the semester and produce high-quality work.

What are some challenges LRA has faced?
With such high membership retention, we have 80 members this semester in our mid-power group, which is great but has also caused some issues when it comes to lab space.

How do these projects help students with their current classes?
You get the hands on feel you don't get in class. It's a lot different than crunching numbers and putting numbers and variables into an equation. In LRA you are building a tangible object and actually watching it work in real life. Engineering a project requires a different approach than an idealized homework problem. You have to be very careful what assumptions you make when modeling your rocket or making critical design decisions. These projects help ground some of the assumptions you make in classes when generating a solution to a problem and helps students understand the validity of those assumptions.

What are some benefits of being an LRA member?
You get to know and work with a lot of your classmates, and the upper-class students are there to give you advice about almost anything. The LRA provides an opportunity to not only develop rocketry skills, but to develop communication leadership skills. After becoming certified at different levels, members are eligible to lead small groups, builds, and possibly their own high-power team. These are skills that students will carry with them into their future careers as engineers.

To learn more about the ASE/EM student projects and/or to support our teams, please contact Bliss Angerman at 512-232-7085.