Rocket program shoots for the stars

Studying the skies, putting in hours of time and working continuously to modify designs is the everyday life of a group of Fredericksburg High School seniors in the rocket program. 

This year’s group hopes to hurtle their rocket into the atmosphere at 2.5 times the speed of sound.

“The goal is to reach the edge of space at 100,000 feet, but with the project design we have, we’re hoping to reach around 60,000 feet,” senior Bryce Erwin said. “No one has ever reached over 37,000 feet in the past.”

A year’s worth of effort, planning and collaboration went into building the rocket that will be launched in White Sands, New Mexico in late June or early July.

FHS seniors made the decision to split into two teams. One team built the rocket and the other a wind tunnel.

“A wind tunnel is a device used to test things at very high speeds, somewhere close to what a rocket would be going,” senior Pierce Vasquez said. “Ours is going to be testing around 230 miles per hour if we can get at .3 mach, with mach 1 being the speed of sound.”

These seniors work during an extended class period, staying late after school.

“I’ve spent over 80 hours outside of school just working on the wind tunnel alone,” senior Corbin Smajstrla said. “My main job for the wind tunnel is doing the calculations.”

The rocket team has exceeded expectations, resulting in a projectile expected to go higher than any other produced at FHS, thus far.

“Our (rocket) is about 22 feet long and will probably weigh around 500 pounds,” Erwin said. “We are redesigning a rocket from two years ago, so we had the basic shell to work with.”

Their teacher, or as Erwin called him, “boss,” is Andrew Matthes who started as a chemistry and physics teacher at FHS, before he took over the rocket program four years ago when this group of seniors were freshmen.

“This class is super different,” Matthes said. “There’s very little lecture, and in that sense, I’m more of a facilitator and manager.”

With a more progressive work load, the class has handled dynamic, real life situations, including exposure to advanced engineering jargon and mature, calculated decision making, according to Matthes.

“This class has prepared me for the workforce more than any other because you have to figure everything out for yourself,” senior Sergio Walle said.

In addition to managing their rocket class schedule, they also create time to speak to those who already have careers in this field. With multiple meetings with experts in this rocket field, the team coordinates and draws up their designs with the most qualified professionals.

“We are actually able to have Skype meetings with NASA,” senior Jacob Wienecke said. “We present the designs we have, and they help us make improvements.”

Carlotta Wilkinson, a freshman, is powering through her first year in the rocket program. Freshmen start in the program and build their knowledge each year, culminating in their senior year rocket launch project.

“It’s fun, but it’s really challenging,” Wilkinson said. “A lot of the time you don’t really know what you’re doing, and you just have to figure it out.”

The rocket team consists of Erwin, Walle, Evan Knapp, Joey Leal, Wienecke and Harrison Spisak while the wind tunnel team is comprised of Vasquez, Rebecca Sechrist, Chris Calzada and Smajstrla. Many of these students are looking at careers in engineering and said this class has helped them grow in their future field.

“I’d like to work on designing and testing large rocket motor systems,” Spisak said. “I’ll be attending Texas A&M Engineering School in the fall, and I’d like to at least minor in aerospace engineering.”

Fredericksburg Standard

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Fredericksburg, TX 78624-4228
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