Interview with UCLA Rocket Project
PLASMA 5 online exclusive
UCLA Rocket Project is a collegiate-level engineering team under the UCLA chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. They focus on rocketry in all its aspects and combine nearly every discipline of engineering in their designs. Their passion and goal is to one day launch our own rockets to space.
During our visit to LA the PLASMA team sneaked into the UCLA Rocket Project Lab to chat to the team about their latest projects and prototypes.
PLASMA: What is the UCLA Rocket Project about?
UCLA Rocket Project: Our goal primarily is to cultivate experienced rocket engineers and future rocket leaders. We are trying to build better rocket engineers, and better people. We want the people that come out of here not only to have the technical skills but have the leadership in this field, to know how to work with other people. We can’t do anything alone, everything is a team effort. We are also interested in giving back to the community with outreach events and school projects.
PLASMA: How many rocket launches do you do every year?
UCLA Rocket Project:We have two groups: one goes to 45.000 ft and the other to 10.000 ft. We try and do one launch for each of those groups every year, and hopefully we do a test launch as well before that. We have a lot of smaller rockets that we launch as well, they are educational rockets that allow everyone that comes into the lab to get the experience of launching a rocket in the desert. They get to design it, manufacture it and learnt he fundamentals of rocket engineering. They also get trained on safety procedures as we want them to know the reality of flying rockets.
The eventual goal is to launch students into space but we are trying to focus on education now and start with little goals that can be achieved consistently.
PLASMA: Can anyone join the team?
UCLA Rocket Project: Yes, any student from UCLA can join. They don’t need to be studying anything related as long as they follow the program and are aware of the risks.
PLASMA: How old is the UCLA Rocket Project?
UCLA Rocket Project: It’s complicated, there was a rocket project a while ago. The club as a whole is maybe 6-8 years old. We don’t have any record of it but we know it was around. Then in 2005 they built a hybrid rocket over the course of 4 years and documented it really well. Then in my freshmen year we got some funding to do a liquid rocket. And from then it started to kick off and we did a couple launched a year and then we’ve kept doing the hybrid stuff as a project for new members and now the club is massive and we have three or four projects a year now.
PLASMA: Do you partner with companies outside the university?
UCLA Rocket Project: Yes, we do offer opportunities to some members of the team to do internships in the field. In the past we’ve had companies like Boeing or Space X taking students for summer projects which are great opportunities!
PLASMA: What’s your next big launch?
UCLA Rocket Project: Our next launch is April 6, the liquid rocket. And then around June we will launch the hybrid rocket. The goal is to take this rocket to 30.000 feet. We’ve done some tests recently and on April 6th we will go and compete in the competition.
PLASMA: How does it feel when it’s a successful launch?
UCLA Rocket Project: It’s absolutely amazing. When you hit ignition and open main propeller valves and you just see the rocket flaming… it just makes so much noise! And you’re not even that far, maybe 100 ft away so you can really hear it inside the bunker. You can hear it roar! It’s what makes the Rocket Project so much more enticing as a student, you are working with real aerospace stuff and it goes to real altitudes, you can see the actual potential.
PLASMA: Did sci-fi literature and movies inspire you to become rocket engineers?
UCLA Rocket Project: Yes, to some degree. We used to read a lot of science fiction and space flight stories about interstellar travelling. Both science fiction and fantasy are really good at sparking that interest in children as to what is possible and what our capabilities are, pushing humans to the next frontier.
Some of our favourites included Ender’s Game, Lord of The Rings… now we love watching the Expanse, where they actually try to be really accurate as to what the future of science will be.
PLASMA: What do you guys do apart from building rockets?
UCLA Rocket Project: Some of us love music. We actually had a band with four other people at Rocket Project and had a concert in our flat! Others are really into exploring stuff so for example driving and cars… and flying!
PLASMA: What does the future hold for Rocket Project?
UCLA Rocket Project: Right now, we are a student entity with student projects and students leading the team. We didn’t use to have so much oversight from the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department.
One of the primary goals now is to, in the future integrate it into the School of Engineering. We have already started in some ways. For example, right now we have a class called Engineering 96 which is undergraduate students teach freshmen how to do a certain project. We’ve had for example an engineering student teach the fundamentals of rockets and the students come and build a rocket with them. And that’s under the School of Engineering, students get credits and so forth. Our goal is to continue to integrate things like that into the school and in the future hopefully have a full-on engineering rocket curriculum. Eventually some of the longer-term goals are actually going to space!