Cowboy Rocketworks Putting in Work

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Hey! Long time no talk! Buckle your seatbelts and get ready for a pretty long update, mostly about rockets.

My semester is starting to wind down (or wind up depending on how you want to look at it) and I am beyond ready to finish up my junior year of engineering school. Everyone tells you how hard engineering school is, no one tells you how hard junior year is going to be.

Most of this semester has been spent living in the ATRC (our study space for engineering students) to the point where Maps has literally suggested I change my home address (SOS), and helping out with the Rocketry Team wherever I can.

This past weekend, we went up to Argonia, Kansas to compete in our first ever rocketry competition, and holy hell we actually won the damn thing! So follow along for an awesome story involving blown out wheel bearings, dead car batteries, campfire stories, smooshed quadcopters, and the winning golf ball.

The team met up at the Design Manufacturing Lab (DML) at 9pm on Friday night to finish up some preparations for our competition.

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We stayed until 2:00am working on the rocket, drilling holes in the fiberglass body tubes and sanding down the insides as seen above (sorry Nick for the terrible picture of you). I crawled into bed around 3:00am after packing up for my first ever weekend camping, and was up again at 6:00am to load up the cooler and throw all my gear in my teeny tiny hatchback.

Squad formed up at the DML at 7:00am and we were on our way. We had eight cars between us, which was a tad ridiculous, but hey, what are you gonna do.

On the way, one of the cars (a big red truck named Clifford) threw out a wheel bearing. Andrew, Nic, Zhong, Lucas, and Bret were the unlucky bunch that got to fix the minor issue (that just so happened to take 5 hours and 3 trips into town to set right), but they got Clifford safely back to the launch pasture.

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While they were stranded on the side of the road, the rest of the team was at the launch site just outside of Argonia, KS getting ready for our first launch of the weekend.

We couldn’t do much in terms of our launch for the Argonia Cup, but we went ahead and did three certification flights for a couple of the guys on our team. Gerald successfully completed his Level 1, and Justin his Level 2 (good job guys)!

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Five hours later, when Lucas and co. joined the team at the pasture, we started getting ready for our first launch of the Argonia Cup. However, our quadcopter that we had been working on all semester was having some issues. So, instead of launching It Depends, Nick headed back to Stillwater to sort out the quad, about half of the Saturday team headed back home, and those that remained set up camp, and then ran away to Wichita to grab some dinner.

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When we returned to the launch pasture for the night, those in charge of the Argonia Cup (and the Tripoli chapter in general) were settled in around a campfire, telling stories about past launches and the stupid stuff they’ve seen and done over the years.

I finally called it quits just before 1:00am and trudged my way back across the dark field to my tent. I crawled inside and settled myself in for a night under the stars and the clouds, and oh my word was it perfect.

The next morning, Nic treated us to a breakfast of bacon and pancakes, and Nick came back from Stillwater with a quadcopter that was working perfectly. After two more hours of getting everything squared away, we were ready to go. Excitement mounted, and we got the rocket out to the launch pad.

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The countdown started. “Launching in 5…4…3…2…1…” and It Depends was away. We quickly lost sight of the eight foot rocket and resorted to tracking the quad via Mission Planner on the laptop. Our recovery team had eyes on the rocket, and we had eyes on the quad.

Unfortunately, they happened to be the same things.

The altimeter that we placed on board the rocket somehow malfunctioned, preventing the main parachute from deploying, and thus keeping the quadcopter from deploying from the body tube of the rocket. Unfortunately, this means that we were unable to test our quadcopter (but hey, I’m still super confident in it, and I can’t wait to see what we end up doing with it one day).

Anyways, our poor rocket ended up in the middle of a muddy wheat field, filled with six inches of soil, but undamaged with regards to everything but the nose cone buried fourteen inches below ground.

After some quick deliberation, and weighing some pros and cons (also being told that our launch was disqualified from the competition), we decided to dig the mud out of the rocket and wash off the surface, attach a new nose cone, and attempt our launch again.

There were only 3 teams competing in the competition, so our thought process was okay, get the rocket as light as possible, ensure we hit 8000′ in altitude, and guarantee ourselves at least 3rd place. So we threw the golf ball payload inside the body tube of the rocket and tried again.

Once again we lost sight of the rocket, but found it again just above the horizon, with a deployed parachute.

Excitement ensued, the recovery team was screaming into the radio, telling us that they saw it, that the ‘chute deployed, and that they were on their way to the landing site. Once the recovery team got to the rocket, we discovered that not only did we actually pass the 8000′ mark, but we were in fact the CLOSEST to the target with our golf ball, snagging the win for Cowboy Rocketworks in our first ever rocketry competition!

CHAMPS

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Now, with the semester winding down, the team is focusing on our entry into the Spaceport America Cup in June, and our final launch at the end of this month.

At our final launch, I will be attempting both my L1 and L2 certifications in Amaillo, TX, so be on the lookout for details on that to come soon!

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