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Students see ASU rocket club as step toward career

ASU Daedalus Astronautics club

The Daedalus Astronautics club prepares for a paraffin hybrid fuel testing at the Challenger Space Center in Peoria.
Photo by: Daedalus Astronautics

June 08, 2015

When test-firing different propellant options, it’s a good idea to let the local police and fire departments know, said Lauren Brunacini, ASU’s Daedalus Astronautics former club president.

Brunacini and the club use test fires to calculate how well different propellants would work for the rockets they build right here at ASU.

“When you see these test fires work, it’s the best feeling,” Brunacini said. “We’re all pyros. We like to see stuff set fire. If it works, that’s great. If it doesn’t work and explodes, that works too.”

Daedalus, a student club that focuses on teaching students rocketry with a focus in chemistry propulsion, provides hands-on experience and academic research. In mythology, Daedalus created wings for himself and his son, Icarus, who drowned after flying too close to the sun and melting the wax that held the wings together.

Brunacini, a mechanical engineering master’s student and Daedalus member, said club members learn a variety of practical and life skills, from using power tools to working in teams.

Brunacini said new members tend to not have much rocketry experience, so they are given a project in the first semester to learn the basics of rocketry.

They are divided into groups to design and build a rocket for a sort of drag racing competition. The winner must hit 5,000 feet, which takes anywhere from three to six seconds, Brunacini said. A device that is attached to the rocket measures this by sensing the pressure in the atmosphere. Losers have to pay for the winners’ lunch at In-N-Out Burger.

Though rockets and engines are still being built throughout the rest of the school year, Daedalus also focuses on academics.

Students utilize the club and its equipment to conduct honors theses, class projects or research of their own interest. Brunacini said some students receive the ASU/NASA Space Grant, which allows them to conduct research under a professor.

For example, one student is working on 3-D printing fuel grains, which are used as fuel for a rocket. Brunacini said many research projects stem from curiosity.

“Things like 3-D printing an entire rocket engine starts with, ‘Hey I wonder if we can do this. Let’s try it,’” Brunacini said.

Student research is also put into competition in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a conference for the aerospace community. The conference has categories for undergraduate research, graduate research and outreach events.

Daedalus won the outreach competition this year with Brunacini’s paper detailing the club’s different outreach events to educate people, from elementary school children to adults.

In one outreach event, team members attend Navajo Elementary School in Scottsdale for three days to teach 75 fifth-graders about the fundamentals of rocketry, Brunacini said. The students design rockets on the second day and launch them on the third day.

William Templeton, a chemical engineering sophomore, said he tries to make all of the outreach events because he enjoys kids’ reactions to building and launching rockets. Templeton joined Daedalus in the fall when he went under the club’s tent to avoid rain at Passport ASU, a club fair held at the beginning of the school year.

“It was divine intervention,” Templeton said. “It’s worked out pretty well for me.”

Templeton said he has learned more about rocket science in the club than he has in classes since he is working on general education credits. He said he has learned about organic chemistry because of the fuel sources he has worked with, and he’s expecting that to help when he takes organic chemistry next year.

“They’ll be talking about some project, and I’m like, ‘That’s cool, how do you do that?’ and you branch off and learn a whole new section of rocketry,” Templeton said.

Thomas Chester, a sophomore studying aerospace engineering with a focus in astronautics, said a person can come in with no experience and be able to have a rocketry conversation in three months if he or she gets involved.

“I try to come in whenever I have the chance; even just sitting in a conversation with someone you can learn all kinds of stuff listening to people talk out there,” Chester said.

Team members also have the opportunity to become certified through the Tripoli Rocketry Association Certification Process. They have to successfully launch a rocket with a specific type of motor and hit a certain distance range to certify for different levels. Some levels also require a test to show how much the person knows of basic rocketry and safety measures.

The club also paves a way for rocketry internships, according to Brunacini. Many Daedalus members have worked for Raytheon, an international aerospace and defense company with a Tucson location that sponsors the club.

“Best-case scenario with the club is I can stay with it all four years and maybe get a job out of it,” Chester said. “Worst case is I made some friends and had a lot of fun. Either way it’s a pretty good deal.”

Written by Alicia Canales