Kemmerer alum part of UW aerospace research group

COURTESY PHOTO / Steve Klausmeyer

Members of the University of Wyoming’s Aerospace Research Group who took part in the recent Argonia Cup collegiate rocketry competition are, from left: Robert Kemper, from Anchorage, Alaska; Cameron Ferrarini, of Kemmerer (Class of 2015); Kevin Medders, from Buffalo; and Connor Leyshon, of Parker, Colo.

Aerospace Research Group (ARG), a University of Wyoming recognized student organization, recently participated in the third annual Argonia Cup collegiate rocketry competition near Argonia, Kan.

At the event, the four-member UW Department of Mechanical Engineering ARG team and other participants were tasked with launching a “rocket-powered vehicle containing a golf ball payload to an altitude in excess of 8,000 feet above ground level and to recover the payload safely at a predetermined location on the rocket range,” according to the Argonia Cup website.

Members of UW’s ARG team, all mechanical engineering majors, participating in the competition were: Cameron Ferrarini, Kemmerer Class of 2015; Robert Kemper, Anchorage, Alaska; Connor Leyshon, Parker, Colo; and Kevin Medders, Buffalo.

Ferrarini says competition rules prohibit a rocket from falling faster than 30 feet per second, which means rockets drift quite a bit away from the target. Oklahoma State University-Capstone won the event, landing 1,056 feet away from the target. In 2018, a team from Oklahoma State University (OSU) won, landing nearly two miles away from the target. In 2017, OSU won, landing 3,500 feet away from the target.

“Unfortunately, the Argonia Cup didn’t go as we hoped,” says Ferrarini, vice president of ARG. “About four seconds into our first flight, the rocket took a sharp turn and then exploded.”

UW’s team used autonomous glided parafoils, which had not yet been used on a scale this small. This technology is used for military applications for heavy payloads. The parafoils have to withstand an acceleration of nearly 30g during launch, which Ferrarini says is “extremely rigorous.”

“Our design was unique in the fact that we weren’t just trying to hit the target with the payload; we were trying to bring the entire rocket back to the target, which no other team was attempting,” Ferrarini says. “Because of this, almost everything on the rocket had to be custom-built, from sewing our own parafoil to building and coding our own flight computer.”

Though the rocket did not cooperate at the event, Leyshon says it was capable of reaching 8,000 feet in eight seconds. Their rocket was about 7 feet tall and had a 4-inch diameter. It also weighed 20 pounds with the motor and had 536 pounds of thrust.

This was the second year UW has competed in the Argonia Cup. Last year, the team was disqualified due to a faulty parachute.

“We got disqualified because our altimeter turned off on the way up, and the altimeter is the mechanism that deploys the parachute,” Ferrarini says. “It eventually deployed, but we think the rocket shook itself apart. It was destroyed pretty badly.”

Since that incident, Ferrarini says the group has learned new building techniques, has gotten stronger materials and is using more reliable systems.

“Now, we know how everything works, and we can optimize every part of our rocket to do what we need it to do,” Ferrarini says.

ARG studies high-end aerospace activities at the collegiate level, including high-powered rocketry. The group plans to return to the Argonia Cup next year and also to compete in the Spaceport America Cup, the largest collegiate rocketry competition in the world.