UVic Rocketry set for launch to infinity and beyond

News Science
The UVic Rocketry Club. Photo provided
The UVic Rocketry Club. Photo provided.

For most students at UVic, the focus of their studies remain grounded. But one UVic club — UVic Rocketry — is getting ready for takeoff. And while the team’s ambitions are astronomical, their beginnings were quite humble.

According to Simon Moffat, UVic Rocketry Team Captain, he and team co-founder Michael Pearson got their start building rockets differently than most people: with tin foil cylinders and matches. “[Most people] start with actual big rockets instead of model rockets,” Moffat explained. But after winning a design contest for a 3D-printed rocket in 2014 and working for eight months at Rocket Lab in New Zealand, where he helped build a satellite launcher, the two have shown that they know their stuff. “Physics doesn’t change much from the big stuff to the small stuff,” said Moffat.

This June, Moffat, Pearson, and their thirty person team will be moving on to something bigger with the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC), hosted by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) in Green River, Utah, and including schools from all over the U.S., Canada, and Brazil. UVic Rocketry will attempt to get their rocket, the MVP-1, to carry a scientific payload of 10 lbs to 10 000 feet. As one of three groups from Canada and the only group from B.C., UVic Rocketry will be facing stiff competition. But for Moffat and Pearson, the club is about more than just building a rocket.

Starting with only six members in May 2015, the club has undergone a growth spurt in a very short time with members drawn from various faculties. You don’t have to be an engineer to join the team, and like many clubs at UVic, the goal is as much making friends and finding a community as it is gaining experience.

Moffat, however, describes working with the club as something like an internship without the bureaucratic processes: From engineers designing rocket components, to Fine Arts students making videos to promote the project, to other hard science students developing the scientific payload for the project, the group is making use of every skill set at their disposal.

And there’s room for all the variety: “It’s all about how willing you are to put in the time to learn the things,” says Moffat.

Pearson adds that “there seems to be a lot of passion and interest” when describing their group. Recently, the dynamic duo extended their reach beyond the university to include high school students in their membership, and are also using this contest as an opportunity to promote the sciences among other K-12 students. The club is a not-for-profit group, and the project is funded entirely by grants and donations, with UVic Rocketry offering different tiers of rewards for people donating to their cause a la Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

Though they are still fairly new, UVic Rocketry are determined to last by raising interest among younger students and creating a sense of community and camaraderie. Whatever happens at IREC 2016, 10 000 feet doesn’t seem to be the upper limit for this group of students.