Last week, 24 university students from across Europe travelled to Andøya Space in northern Norway, where they built, tested and eventually launched their own rocket. They are participating in the Fly a Rocket! programme, which offers a unique opportunity for bachelor students to learn about the physics, science and operations behind a rocket launch.
The Fly a Rocket! programme is run by the ESA Education Office in partnership with Andøya Space Education and the Norwegian Space Agency. It combines theoretical course work carried out online, with a hands-on launch campaign of a sounding rocket and complements the students’ academic education with practical knowledge.
The call for applications for the third cycle of the Fly a Rocket! programme took place last summer. Out of a large number of applications, 30 motivated students were selected into the programme, 24 of which took part in the launch campaign. Prior to the campaign, they all participated in an intense online course where they learned about rocketry, orbital dynamics, atmospheric physics and fundamentals of rocket trajectory simulations.
With the COVID crisis shutting down most of the world, also the Fly a Rocket! launch campaign had to be postponed. But the students did not sit idle. Instead, the online course was extended with additional coursework, where the students further detailed their trajectory simulations.
In October, the long-awaited launch campaign could finally commence at Andøya Space. During the campaign the budding rocketeers attended several lectures explaining the day-to-day work at a rocket range and arming them with the skills to build and launch their own rocket. Additional lectures were offered by ESA and Andøya Space Education to inform and inspire the students about their future opportunities related to space and space education.
Most of the students’ time during the campaign was dedicated to hands-on rocket work, where they prepared their rocket for flight. They were supported by professionals from Andøya Space, who gladly shared their skills and experience.
During the hands-on work, the students were divided into three different working sections. The “Payload” and “Sensors” sections performed the bulk of the sensor and payload assembly and testing, while the third “Telemetry” section set up and tested the telemetry station to ensure data would be received from the rocket during flight.
On Thursday, 14th October 2021, the preparations were finished, and the rocket was ready to be launched. During the countdown the students performed typical operational duties involved in a rocket launch. A student took the role of Range Control, being responsible to coordinate all the countdown operations. Other participants were stationed at the telemetry station and the “blockhouse” and were responsible for ensuring the payload was armed and ready for flight and that the data was been received correctly.
After a few short delays during the countdown, the rocket was launched at 15:57 local time and reached an altitude of approximately 8km before splashing down safely a few kilometres off the coast.
But the rocket launch is not the end of the students’ participation in the Fly a Rocket! programme. They will continue their collaboration to analyse the data obtained during the flight and produce a final report to comprise it and all the work they have done.