Victory Win for UC Aersospace StratoCats

Team StratoCats, of the University of Cincinnati’s Aerospace Engineering program, competed and won the Great Midwestern Regional Space Grant Student Rocket Competition.

By: Desiré Bennett

Photos by: UC Team StratoCats
Video presentation by: Desiré Bennett


Rocket Team and Rocket

UC Rocket Team StratoCats before heading to launch pad for first flight. From left to right: Ryan Hasslebeck, Charles Cain, Tim Arnett, Joe Honeck.


Four UC Aerospace Engineering students are celebrating a triumphant win as their team StratoCats won first place in the Great Midwestern Regional Space Grant Student Rocket Competition, held at the Bong Recreational Area in Wisconsin April 27-29, 2012. The team is comprised of Joseph Honeck, Tim Arnett, Ryan Hasselbeck and Charles Cain.

The competition is an aerospace competition open to university teams from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The competition included design analysis, an oral presentation and an assessment of data results, scored by professional engineers from both academia and industry.  Engineering teams competed to design a one-stage, high-powered rocket that, during its ascent, would transmit live video from a downward looking camera to a ground receiver. The rocket was to soar as close to 3000 feet as possible, but could go no higher than 3500 feet and no lower than 2500 feet.

In order to ensure these parameters were met, the team took an outside-of-the-box approach. “In rocketry, it is often presented to build a light rocket with a large engine that will overshoot your target altitude,” Honeck, the team’s president, said. “Often times, engineers are scrambling to get every ounce of weight out of space craft. Very rarely are they finding that more weight needs to be added. We started with a design we knew would be very close to our weight limit with the largest engine accepted in the competition.”   

Rocket team at the Table

UC Rocket Team StratoCats performing pre-launch testing and preparations

Since the original rocket design consisted mainly of wood internals and a phenolic body tube that was wrapped in fiberglass, it put the StratoCats substantially over the weight limit, subsequently sending them back to the drawing board. “We began re-designing all wooden parts; avionics bay, motor mount, bulk heads, and other small components,” Honeck explains. This new design resulted in a shedding of close to five pounds from the original 27 pound model.

Just as weight was one of the team’s concerns, using fixed assemblies in the rocket would cause problems if anything were to break.

In order to alleviate this concern of failing parts, the StratoCats designed a removable motor mount along with removable fins so that if anything broke during the rocket’s ascent or descent, they could easily swap broken parts with the replacements. “Everything, with the exception of the mounting bulk heads, down to the vinyl wrap on the outside of the tube, was able to be removed and replaced in between launches,” Honeck said.  


UC rocket fresh off of the assembly line

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.

UC Rocket Team

UC Rocket Team StratoCats after a successful assembly and pre-launch prep and testing

Competitions like this one often inspire creativity among students, allowing them to expand their knowledge outside of homework and tests. These collaborations get them excited about bringing that knowledge to life through team work and practical experience. “Often times, without realizing, we present ourselves with much more challenging problems than those brought forth in class and are able to solve them more readily through team work and the atmosphere brought by competition and practical experience,” Honeck said. “This ultimately gives UC students the competitive edge needed in industry today by gaining critical teamwork and engineering problem-solving skills that cannot be taught in the classroom.”

Grant Schaffner, advisor for the UC Rocketry Club, agrees. “The process teaches them valuable project management and systems engineering skills in a practical, “real world”, environment. They also develop strong communication skills through teamwork and communications,” Schaffner said.  “Our students do very well in these competitions, which is a testament to the strength of the academic preparation and co-op experience provided by the UC Aerospace Engineering program.”

Schaffner plans to have the team participate in the NASA University Student Launch Initiative (NASA USLI) starting in the fall.

Congratulations to the StratoCats on their victorious win!