UWO students rocket into spring break

Ti Windisch

UW Oshkosh students are proving that not even rocket science is too complicated for them. On March 19, the UWO High Powered Rocketry Project launched a rocket over 12,000 feet into the air. The Project’s founder Drew Farwell said the launch, known as Titan II, was the first rocket the group has launched to achieve several milestones. “The Titan II launch was a lot of firsts for us,” Farwell said. “It was our first rocket to break the sound barrier, and our first rocket to reach an altitude of both one and two miles.” Aside from congratulations from team members, Farwell said there will be a different kind of recognition for the successful launch. “The National Association of Rocketry has achievement awards for different milestones,” Farwell said. “The Titan II launch met the criteria for the one and two mile altitude awards, as well as one for breaking the speed of sound.” Farwell said this launch was a good first step, but the UWO HPRP’s goal is loftier than Titan II could reach. “The goal of the project is still to get to space,” Farwell said. Farwell said space is defined by the Karman line, some 62 miles in the air. He aims to make UWO the first university to cross that line. “No university has sent a student-built rocket into space,” Farwell said. While the Titan II launch did not reach space, it did signify a new level reached by the UWO High Powered Rocketry Project, according to Farwell. “That launch was us getting away from toys and getting into real rockets,” Farwell said. “Less than a year ago we were dealing with cardboard and plastic, we’re using G10 composite fiberglass, aircraft-grade aluminum and we’re breaking the sound barrier.” Farwell said rockets that powerful bring the possibility of real danger. “If something breaks, somebody’s life could be in danger,” Farwell said. According to Farwell, the feeling of building a rocket and firing it into the sky is unparalleled, despite the risks. “If it’s going to fail, it will happen fast,” Farwell said. “When you see smoke and flames come out of the rocket, there’s nothing like it.” IMC Photography Services Manager Doug Sundin was also at the launch, and said the moment before launch was thrilling. “It was pretty exciting, because you always have that chance of it working or not working,” Sundin said. Sundin said although he’s seen students do a lot of amazing things, Farwell’s rocket launch raised the bar. “I’ve never seen students try to do anything like this before,” Sundin said. “I’ve seen students do many incredible things, but this is the first rocket launch I’ve seen.” Astronomy professor Barton Pritzl, who was at the launch, said he found himself awed by watching the rocket go up. “It is an understatement to say that it was very exciting,” Pritzl said. “It went off a lot faster than I expected. While it was fun to see it go through the clouds, there was a lot of suspense trying to locate the rocket as it was coming down.” Farwell said the buildup to a rocket firing is an intense experience. “You work on one of these builds for six months,” Farwell said. “In the moments before launch your hands are sweating and your heart is going to beatout of your chest while you’re getting ready to push that button.” The UWO HPRP spends time thinking about what comes next, and according to Farwell, there are more launches on the horizon. “There will be a proof of concept launch in the summer of 2017,” Farwell said. “It will cost around $75,000 and should reach 100,000 feet, or over 20 miles.” Farwell said that is around ten times higher than the Titan II launch, but nothing compares to the launch the Project plans for 2018. “We want to go 120 miles in the air, and over 4,000 miles per hour on the world record attempt in 2018,” Farwell said. Pritzl said the cost will be the only thing potentially holding UWO back from being the first university to surpass the Karman line. “With each advancement, the rocket will get larger and larger and the components will become more expensive,” Pritzl said. “Therefore, it will be the funds rather than the capabilities of the students that could limit how competitive we are with those schools.” According to Pritzl, the successful Titan II launch is a testament to what Farwell has accomplished. “It really is a tribute to Drew and the hard work he has put into this project that every aspect of the launch went according to plan,” Pritzl said. Farwell’s goals are lofty, but Sundin believes he has what it takes to make it all the way into space. “Personally, I think that he does have a chance,” Sundin said. “We have Drew who is determined, intelligent and has willpower. He has support from professors, family and his wife. When someone who is that creative has that kind of support, these things are made possible.” Farwell said his team has a chance to make history for UW Oshkosh. “The current world record of 73.1 miles and 3580 miles per hour has stood for over a decade,” Farwell said. “If we meet our target altitude and speed goals, we have the opportunity to bring home a world record that has the opportunity to stand for a very long time.” Farwell said setting a new record would be a stepping stone to build something lasting in Oshkosh. “If all goes to plan, such an achievement could serve as the foundation for a bonafide space program at UWO,” Farwell said.