Students Aim High to Launch Rocket Team
Mechanical engineering students Luis Bernardo, Philip Jensen and Christian Moe have more than a major in common. They all have a thing for rockets.
The trio, all community college transfers, are working together to launch an on-campus rocket team. Their goal is to bring together a mix of students from various academic areas related to rocket science and technology that can compete in collegiate rocket-building contests.
Their effort started last year when Bernardo, a junior who has a second major in applied mathematics, purchased a rocket kit. Thinking it would be great to collaborate with other students to build it, the Mercedian attended a meeting of the UC Merced chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) to gauge interest.
“I asked if they wanted to help build it, but they were busy with other projects,” Bernardo recalled.
But ASME member Jensen, leapt at the chance.
“I said, ‘Let’s do it,” said Jensen, of Covina.
The two spent one week assembling the 8.5-foot-long rocket and a second week painting it. As the project started to take shape, it piqued interest.
“When people saw how much progress we made in two weeks,” Jensen said, “others wanted to come on board.”
That included Moe, of Lake Forest. His interest in creating electronics turned the rocket-building duo into a trio. Now, several other students are involved. The project, said founding group members, is really twofold. Building the rocket is one part, and organizing the campus rocket team is the other. Both endeavors are keeping Bernardo, Jensen and Moe busy.
To help get a rocket team established at UC Merced, Bernardo, Jensen and Moe are writing a proposal. They hope to get an on-campus location where they can build and store their rockets and financial assistance to participate in rocket building contests.
“We would like to get funding in order to compete,” Jensen said. “We consider ourselves no different from a sports team, except that we compete in engineering.”
Currently, the group works on their rocket, which they named Bobcat 1, at their off-campus homes. The group is seeking membership with the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) and the Rocket Organization of California.
In building Bobcat 1, the team is researching everything from physical design to motors that could propel it. Rocket hobbyists can buy motors for their devices, but the UC Merced students are considering building their own.
“After all,” Jensen said, “we’re engineers.”
The project, Jensen added, will bring together a cross-section of academic disciplines.
“Rocketry isn’t just one branch of science,” he said. “There are lots of majors involved: physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, computer science and mechanical engineering.”
Jensen said the group has talked to UC Merced robotics students about building a payload. The group would like to get the rocket ready for a major competition, such as NASA’s University Student Launch Initiative, held annually in spring.
“We have high hopes that our proposal and our rocket will go places,” Jensen said.