Rice Eclipse, the University’s rocket club, made an offer to potential new members: sign up to join the group, and Rice Eclipse would pay for you to launch a seven-foot solid rocket, qualifying you for Level 1 High Power Rocketry Certification. Nine Rice students took them up on the offer, and five launched their crafts on Saturday, September 10 from Hearne Municipal Airport, about 30 miles northwest of College Station.
“Four of the members couldn’t make it, but they will do their launches next month,” said Andrew Gatherer, a junior mechanical engineer and one of Eclipse’s founding members, who serves as the organization’s design lead and vice president. “And that offer still stands.”
Eclipse members built the seven-foot rockets in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen. Gatherer estimates that if they were to go out onto the market and buy the crafts from stores or websites catering to amateur rocketeers, they’d cost about $100 each (?).
“We figured out that a Staples cardboard mailing tube had the same diameter as those rockets, and they’re slightly heavier, but they’re 10 percent of the price,” said Tim Nonet, Eclipse’s secretary and treasurer. “So, we changed a few things around, laser cut the fins and ordered rail buttons necessary to guide the rocket for its first 10 feet of flight.”
The launch, for the most part, was a success.
“Four out of the five successfully qualified with the launch,” said Nonet. “They launched, they deployed their chutes.”
“Well, one blew over a lake,” said Gatherer.
Still, it’s tremendous progress for the relatively young organization, started a little over two years ago. Last year, the group successfully tested the Mark I hybrid engine six times. This year, ECE and COMP members are designing and building payloads for the rockets they plan to launch, with a goal of helping more Eclipse members earn L1 and L2 certification. They’re also building a Mark II hybrid, which has more than 16 times the thrust of its predecessor.
The group is one of the largest engineering clubs on campus, with about 70 active members—and 141 on its listserv.
“We’re still a young group,” said Nonet. “But we had a 50-percent retention rate from our first meeting this year to our second, which is pretty remarkable.”
“We’re working on making sure we create an organization that gives as many people as possible design experience,” said Gatherer. “Because it’s not sustainable if only certain people have the knowledge, and then they graduate. We are open to any engineering students who want to be part of what we do. We’ve got an ECE major who wanted to learn how to weld, and he wouldn’t learn that in his coursework, so we’re working with him on that.”
The ambitious Eclipse members have lofty goals. They’re already a larger group than the rocket club at Texas A&M, a not insignificant accomplishment. In addition to constructing and perfecting the Mark II, they’re hoping to compete in various high-power rocketry competitions around the South and Midwest. And they are passionate about utilizing the experience and enthusiasm of their members to create novel and innovative engineering systems.
“The only things we don’t build are things we can’t because of the size of the OEDK equipment,” said Gatherer. “But if we can make it, we do.”