BYU Rocket Wins International Award - Y Magazine
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Just Rocket Science

BYU engineering students stand around a rocket they designed
Photo by Bradley Slade

Rocket launching is a tricky business. “Everything has to be perfect,” says David T. Fullwood (MS ’06), mechanical-engineering professor and BYU team advisor at the 2023 Spaceport America Cup. So “it was a huge surprise,” Fullwood says, to soar past 80 US and 78 international teams to win the world’s biggest intercollegiate rocket competition.

The BYU students came prepared: beginning in fall 2022, they spent 5–10 hours weekly building most of their rocket from scratch. With uncertain launch-day conditions, the team decided to focus on an aspect of the competition more within their control.

“[We wanted] to make more accurate models of the rocket and how it would fly,” says rocketry club president and team advisor Scott T. Tuley (’24). Aiming for the modeling and simulation technical award, the team digitally modeled how their rocket would fare based on weight and shape and tested how the rocket fins might vibrate at high speed. These efforts elevated the project from “hobby rocketry to more real-world engineering,” says Tuley.

Launch day dawned with wind and rain imminent. Weather threatened to postpone launches; BYU’s rocket was the last to take off before the others were rescheduled for the following day.

The flight “was beautiful, almost flawless,” says structures sub-team leader Anya R. Jeppson (’24). “It went straight, the parachutes deployed, [and] the payload ejected.” And it climbed within just 60 ft. of the 10,000-ft. altitude goal.

BYU spent the rest of the competition supporting their opponents, even helping retrieve the University of Utah’s rocket. They walked home with the modeling award they’d been shooting for—as well as first-place in their competition category and first-place overall.

“Everyone knows about Georgia Tech or MIT, all those big-name engineering schools,” says Tuley. “But we were able to . . . win the competition against schools like that and show BYU engineering is the real deal.”