It doesn’t take rocket science to go to the University of Central Florida, but it does for students participating in a rocket competition.

The UCF chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space hosted its first yearlong Design, Build, Launch rocket competition that began September 2015. The competition ended on Saturday, Sept. 10 when the rockets were finally launched at a Northeast Florida Association of Rocketry event in Bunnell, Fla.

“It definitely makes me feel very proud of myself,” said Daniel Nichols, junior electrical engineering major and vice president of the club. “I feel like I did a good job, and I feel like I spent quite a lot of time on this project. I feel like it could not have gone very much better.”

The winners were announced Friday -- and Nichols was the leader of the winning team. 

The competition was split into three phases.

The design phase, which took place in the fall semester of last year, saw the teams spending the entire semester learning how to design and build their rockets. During the spring semester, the team began to show what they'd learned through the building phase, where they assembled their own rockets. Finally, the summer was the launching phase, which ended earlier this month with the launch.

Four teams made it through the competition.

“Three of the teams successfully launched and recovered their rockets, which is great for us because that signifies that we actually taught them well, and they actually knew what they were doing,” said Joseph Ricci, senior aerospace engineering major and president of the club.

The competition was judged by the altitude the rockets reached and how close the rockets landed to the designated landing spot. The teams also built the sensors that would measure the distance the rockets traveled.

Nichols’ winning team consisted of Sam Goldstein and Casey Colón. Goldstein was a high school student dual enrolled at UCF. He helped design the rocket in the fall semester, but after he graduated from high school, he left the team to go the University of Florida.

Colón did a lot of the structural and framework design for the team’s rocket. He received an internship with Lockheed Martin for NASA due to the competition. Nichols did a lot of the avionics and electronics for the rocket and all of the construction.

Of the three rockets that launched, not all of them went without a hitch. One rocket hit a car.

“When our main parachute was supposed to deploy, it didn’t, so we hit the ground pretty hard,” said Steven Diebler, senior aerospace engineering major and one of the team leaders. “We actually hit a car.”

The car only got a little paint on its window, but the tip of the rocket broke off along with a fin.

While most of the rockets had one motor, one team was experimental and used four motors. This rocket received second place because it went lower than anticipated.

“Simpler is usually better,” said Nick Califano, sophomore aerospace engineering major and leader of the team with the rocket that had four motors. “We went with a more complicated design, and so we had a lot more issues that we essentially created for ourselves.”

Califano said he spent about a total of 250 hours working on his team’s rocket. The budget for each rocket was $250, so each of the teams had to be resourceful.

SEDS has about 100 members, and 15 competed in the competition. Students can join the club by showing up to the bi-weekly meetings on Fridays. For students who want to join the next Design, Build, Launch rocket competition, sign-ups will be on Oct. 8 at the club’s meeting.

There isn’t a prize for the winning team as the club decided it goes against the spirit of the competition, but what Nichols’ team did win was bragging rights. His team will be the first to go down in history as winning the Design, Build, Launch rocket competition.

Story originally published on Sept. 28, 2016

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