Having addressed these issues, the StratoCats were still left with a major concern to tackle—flight implementation. “No matter how much you simulate and run tests in the lab, there is still a huge amount of uncertainty about what will happen in the field,” Honeck said. The team had a late start on the competition and just as they finished the rocket, they were plagued with two weeks of windy, rainy weather. “We were unable to do any test flights and therefore we had little control over what was going to happen, and on top of that, it was windy and rainy at the competition,” Honeck reflects.
The StratoCats ran numerous simulations in order to dial in when they wanted to deploy each parachute, how much the rain and wind would affect the rocket’s altitude and whether or not weight would need to be added or subtracted from the rocket.
Honeck remembers the day of the official rocket launch at the competition as even more daunting. “We watched five rockets before us fail catastrophically and one drift miles away from the launch sight. Even though this was horrifying, we were sure we had it right.”
And they did. The StratoCats were the first successful launch of the day.