September 29, 2013

Augusta consortium key to UMaine students' rocketry success

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

One of the most sophisticated student-designed rockets ever launched became possible because of years of efforts to bring more young people into the space industry.

By helping students build and launch rockets, space industry leaders hope to breed a new generation of engineers that can develop better rockets for the future.

Team Ursa's Sept. 16 launch was not just a victory for the team, but also for the Maine Space Grant Consortium of Augusta, which contributed about $10,000 to the project, Executive Director Terry Shehata said.

Each year for the last 25 years, the consortium spends about $400,000, mostly from NASA, to promote learning in science, technology, engineering and math.

Each Team Ursa member, Shehata said, started in a consortium-funded program.

Now, they have produced a rocket that furthers national interests, as NASA's budget has been cut, causing it to step back from costly missions, Shehata said.

Shehata said the students in rocketry programs have bright futures in NASA-related careers.

Tom Atchison, co-founder of the Mavericks Civilian Space Foundation, which supported the launch, said team members learned how to design and build a rocket, and also how to raise money, file federal paperwork and run a launch operation.

Atchison said Team Ursa was the first student group to ever design and launch a rocket of this size and level of sophistication.

"Companies are going to be falling all over to hire them," Atchison said.

The rocket's design, the cheapest and most durable of its kind, will live on, shared with the world as an open-source project.

Atchison said other students can now copy this design, rather than starting from scratch.

Interest has come from student groups at various colleges, including Stanford University, the University of California at Davis, Santa Clara University, California State at San Jose and the University of Michigan.

And as more students get involved, share, and improve designs, it will push the limits even further.

"We ought to start building some really good rockets," Atchison said.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

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