The Charger Rocket Works student team posing new a rocket engine
The Charger Rocket Works student team fielded by UAH competed against 51 other university level teams from 20 different States and Puerto Rico.
Charger Rocket Works | UAH

A team consisting of mechanical and aerospace engineering majors at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) competed in the 2023 NASA Student Launch, hosted by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. Supported by the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and U.S. aerospace industry, the event is a NASA-conducted engineering design challenge that involves the design, documentation, fabrication and testing of a rocket and payload in support of a particular NASA mission.

The competition comprised three staged design reviews that each team must pass to continue. The Preliminary Design Review occurred in Nov. 2022, the Critical Design Review in Jan. 2023 and the Flight Readiness Review in March, with the actual launch staged on April 15 in Toney, AL.

The Charger Rocket Works student team fielded by UAH, a part of The University of Alabama System, competed against 51 other university level teams from 20 different States and Puerto Rico. The 2023 project represents the culmination of an eight-month commitment to design, build and fly payloads or vehicle components that support the NASA Space Launch System, or SLS.

“The rocket flies on a solid rocket motor to a target altitude between 3,500 and 6,000 feet,” explains team advisor Dr. David Lineberry of the UAH Propulsion Research Center. “The UAH team chose 5,000 feet. The payload must be carried in the rocket and, upon landing, must autonomously receive radio frequency commands from the NASA ground station and perform a series of tasks to image the area surrounding the rocket after landing.”

Charger Rocket Works | UAH

This year, the Charger Rocket Works’ entry was named Argo, after the ship in Greek mythology that carried the band of explorers known as the ‘Argonauts,’ which the team chose as a particularly apt name for the payload itself. The rocket measures seven feet, 11.5 inches, is six inches in diameter and tips the scales at 54 pounds. To reach its target altitude, Argo generates approximately 534 pounds of thrust.

“Launch day was amazing!” says Spencer Christian, an aerospace engineering student and team program manager. “The rocket safely delivered the payload to an apogee of 5,034 feet and returned it to earth. The vehicle apogee was within 34 feet of our target apogee, which put UAH in third place for the altitude award, based on the preliminary data. The Jolly Logic Chute Release device on the recovery system, one of the primary technical challenges the team faced, functioned beautifully, allowing the main parachute to remain bundled from apogee to the deployment altitude of 700 feet. Upon landing, the payload received the NASA Command signal, leveled and deployed its camera and fully completed the payload mission to image the surrounding area. Overall, the team's problem-solving tenacity, ingenuity and will to win manifested themselves in a stellar launch day performance. We could not be happier.”

The entire launch day can be experienced through livestream video, with coverage of the UAH launch beginning at 1:44:30.

The top rankings in each category have yet to be determined, as approximately 50% of the points won't be awarded before NASA announces the finalists in June. Though, as Dr. Lineberry points out, “So far, this team’s scores have been consistent with those of previous UAH teams on Preliminary Design Review and Critical Design Review documents. A lot will depend on how NASA scores the flight, the teams’ Flight Readiness Review document and team final report. It is a difficult task for brand new teams, like the one UAH has each year, to compete against legacy teams with returning members, but historically UAH has been very competitive. No matter how they do from a competition standpoint, it was definitely a very successful year.

“For each review, the team documents the design and team progress through a report that is typically around 250 pages, and gives a presentation to a NASA review board,” Dr. Lineberry notes. “The teams are scored on the document and presentation for competition purposes. Teams that pass all three of the reviews were invited to launch their rocket for the final competition flight and payload demonstration.”

The UAH team is made up of 24 mechanical and aerospace engineering (MAE) students who are enrolled in MAE 491-03 Rocket Design, a two-semester senior design course. Jason Winningham, a Research Engineer at the UAH Center for Cybersecurity Research and Education, serves as the rocketry mentor for the team.

2023 Charger Rocket Works team members include:

Management Team:
Spencer Christian, Program Manager, Aerospace Engineering
Ethan Walker-Jones, Deputy Program Manager, Aerospace Engineering
Quinn R. Booker, Systems Engineer, Mechanical Engineering

Safety Team: Manav C. Dave, Safety Officer, Aerospace Engineering Chase Herrin, Aerospace Engineering Caroline V. Ursprung, Mechanical Engineering

Vehicle Team:
Michael D. Sorrell, Vehicle Lead Engineer, Mechanical Engineering
Andrew W. Adams, Vehicle Structures, Mechanical Engineering
Krista L. Fenton, Vehicle Recovery, Aerospace Engineering
Bryson Frank, Vehicle Propulsion, Aerospace Engineering
Peyton L. Hall, Vehicle Structures, Aerospace Engineering
Caleb R. Lohr, Vehicle Recovery, Aerospace Engineering
Jayashree Paudel, Vehicle Recovery, Aerospace Engineering
Lambert J. Petrof, Vehicle Propulsion, Aerospace Engineering

Payload Team:
Tristan H. Carter, Payload Lead Engineer, Mechanical Engineering
Matthew L. Byers, Payload Electrical, Aerospace Engineering
T.C. Craig. Payload Mechanical, Aerospace Engineering
Garett M. Ellis, Payload Electrical, Aerospace Engineering
Benjamin A. Lambert, Payload Software, Aerospace Engineering
Matthew A. Maybee, Payload Mechanical, Aerospace Engineering
Christopher J. Puchner, Payload Electrical, Aerospace Engineering
Nathan A. Schmitz, Payload Software, Aerospace Engineering
Michaela L. Tarpley, Payload Mechanical, Aerospace Engineering
Victoria R. Tarpley, Payload Mechanical, Mechanical Engineering

Participation in the event is limited to U.S. institutions, and each launch project is based on the research needs of the SLS. The results gathered will be used in future design and development of the SLS and other projects.