All Systems Go: The Team America Rocketry Challenge

We are a group of six students who became heavily involved with model rocketry two years ago. A science teacher at one of the local high schools had told us about a national model rocketry competition called the "Team America Rocketry Challenge" or TARC for short.

This competition is the world's largest model rocket contest. Last year over 10,000 middle and high school students competed for the coveted National Championship ranking. The whole idea was initiated by the (A.I.A) Aerospace Industries Association and NASA for two reasons.

The first year of the contest was to celebrate the Wright Brother's Century-of-Flight on December 17, 2003. Secondly, it was a way to inspire younger generations to seriously get involved and consider educating themselves in the areas of engineering, science and math to prepare for careers in Aerospace and Aviation. Several participating A.I.A members have contributed up to $60,000 in prize money for the top 10 teams. The top 25 teams have an opportunity to submit a proposal to NASA in the student launch initiative. If selected, each team would be flown to Huntsville, Alabama and work with NASA rocket scientists to construct and launch a high powered rocket that would fly up to a mile high while conducting its experiments onboard.

Our team consists of students from various backgrounds in studies and previous rocket skills. A few members had never even built or launched a rocket before. This is what is so great about the competition; that anybody can form a team and participate.

The St. Andrews team assigned each member to research and complete a specific task. Kenny Johnson had very strong hands-on building; so he was in charge of rocket assembly. Mike Cinquino had a strong background in electronics; so he designed and assembled our ignition system. AJ Witzke and Mike Williamson assisted with back-up assignments, pre-flight checks and launch control. Each year the rocketry challenge has a different set of rules and specifications that each team must follow.  Last year's goal was to launch a rocket for duration. The rocket had to be in the air for 60 seconds from take-off until touchdown and carry two raw eggs that had to survive the flight without breaking or cracking. Each rocket could be designed as a single or multi-stage vehicle.

For TARC 2006, the goal is a combination of duration and altitude with the payload of one raw egg surviving touchdown. The teams must design their rockets to achieve maximum altitude of 800 feet and do it all in 45 seconds from lift-off until the rocket touches down. A series of computer software programs are used by the students to design their rockets to meet these goals and launch them on the computer for data analysis. After the team is confident that their rocket design will meet the  TARC-2006 rules; they begin constructing the real thing, making sure of airworthiness, stability and safety. This year St. Andrews has added two more students who are somewhat rookies to this challenge. They are Monica Johnson and Eric Ludwig. St. Andrews also has split into two teams this year for a better chance to be twice as successful. Each team also consists of a team supervisor. The St. Andrews teams are as follows:

Team Leader: Leonard Johnson

Team # 4020

Supervisor:  Nick Cinquino

Captain:     Kenny Johnson, Mike Cinquino, Monica Johnson

Team #4284

Supervisor:  Arnie Witzke

Captain:     AJ Witzke, Michael Williamson, Eric Ludwig


This year our teams have a few new added features with launching and electrical system checks. All the students have had hands-on instructional welding class to create their personally designed launch tower gantry.

Team meetings on a regular basis have brought the students together to study, discuss and refine their creations for quality production control of the rockets. The students have designed and made their selections of various sized nylon parachutes. These parachutes will control the rate-of-descent to achieve the 45 second flight profile time and egg survivability.

Many calculations and design techniques go into their research and development for a successful rocket launch. The team's creativity also plays heavily in having a great season. An onboard miniature electronic altimeter is carried on the upper payload bay to measure air pressure differences and calculate the rocket's peak altitude.

When the rocket is recovered after its flight the altimeter's audible alarm beeps out the altitude in a set rate of beeps. The students then remove the altimeter from the rocket and connect it to a laptop computer to download all the flight data results.

This information is critical in determining rocket weight, parachute size and class of rocket motor(s) to be used in conjunction with total timed flight. Each TARC team has two chances to make a qualification attempt and if they are good enough, receive an invitation to attend the National Finals! Designing team mission patches, decals, logos, and flyers help the teams generate a successful fundraising strategy that attracts potential charity for sponsorship and donations. They also provide DVD, VHS, digital camera and 35mm visual aids for studying their performances and promoting the competition of sport model rocketry.



The St. Andrews TARC Teams accomplishments:

            1)  National Finalists at TARC 2005

            2)  Chicago Adler Planetarium's 75th anniversary guest VIP's

            3)  Appearance in Sept./Oct. 2005 issue: Sport Rocketry

            4)  Appearance in June issue of "STARCHASER" British X-Prize magazine

            5)  Honored by Park Ridge Mayor and City Council

            6)  Recognized by:  Illinois State Senator Sullivan

            7)  Recognized by:  United States Senator Barack Obama

            8)  Recognized by: Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich

            9)  Congratulated by: NASA administrator: Michael Griffin

10)Special Mention Award for Rocket design: Flis Kits Model Rocket Company

            11)Congratulations letter from Mr. Vern Estes

            The St. Andrews TARC Teams major Sponsors:


            1)  Bigelow Aerospace

            2)  Elon Musk: Space X

            3)  Space Dev: Designer of the winning SpaceShipOne rocket engine

            4) Numerical Precision

In conclusion, the sport of model rocketry can be a very rewarding experience. This includes groups of all ages. Learning basic model rocketry theory and applying it to constructing a simple level 1 kit that can be purchased at your local hobby shop is a beginning for any curious potential rocketeer.

Important issues to remember are that practicing model rocketry safety codes is a must in this very statistically safe sport. Once your rocket clears the launch rod in an exhilarating cloud of smoke you are off to an exciting start. This may create an interest to eventually register and participate in the world's largest model rocketry contest as we at St. Andrews have done.

Our team has successfully accomplished so many goals that we never could have dreamed of. And so far; at least half the team has decided to go on to college and earn science and engineering degrees for future careers in Aerospace. Now that's what we call "The American Dream".

NOTE: The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.

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