WSU Launch team will test its rocket-designing skills at NASA contest


Dylan Harmon

Lucas Webb and Meghana Ravi work on their Rocket Designs for the NASA Student Rocket Launch Competition at the John Bardo Center on Wednesday, Oct 23.

Humankind has been launching things into space for over half a century, and engineering students at Wichita State have been carrying on that tradition for the last three years by joining the NASA Student Launch Initiative —  a research-based design competition.

“Including us, we will be the third team; we will be the second to launch [at NASA],” said Brianna Wallace, captain of the Wichita State Launch team.

The team is made up of four members: Wallace, Adit Shah, Meghana Ravi and Lucas Webb — all senior aerospace engineering students. The team is not a club, but rather represents the students’ senior design project.

Wallace said competing at the NASA initiative will show the university that they understand the engineering principles they have been taught as students, while giving them a shot at ranking above competitive schools across the nation.

“We’re competing with schools that have like 45 -50 members, and there’s four of us,” she said. “So it’s a bit difficult.”

While competing with larger teams seems like a daunting task, Wallace said, last year’s Wichita State Launch finished seventh out of 40 teams.

“The only reason why we were so confident is because most of a lot of other schools post their documents from prior years,” Wallace said. “We were comparable to other top 10 teams from last year.”

“Don’t take that to mean that we’re … you know, definitely going to win this year,” Wallace laughed.

When the team submitted their 107-page proposal in September, Shah said that the team expected to get approved because their work was in-line with requirements set out by NASA and their senior design class.

These fledgling rocket scientists have spent plenty of sleepless nights calculating a dizzying set of numbers to make deadlines, including the deadline for their initial proposal and the preliminary design review that’s due Nov. 1.

“None of us have specifically designed rockets before,” Ravi said of the design review. “I know [Wallace] has a little bit of experience working with them, but the three of us haven’t done much rocket designing.”

Ravi said designing a rocket in real life isn’t like a video game, in which you pick out all the best parts — there are costs and benefits that have to be considered.

Aside from building a rocket, NASA’s contest requires each team to engage their surrounding communities in STEM education.

Wallace said that as Wichita State Launch is going through the competition, they are expected to engage with nearly 200 students — but the team hopes to surpass that with a new approach to online engagement.

The team has developed a social media team composed of Emily Lopez and Faith Smith, fellow members of Tri Delta with Ravi and Wallace. The two assist the team in running social media accounts and editing videos for YouTube.

“So, they’re both taking all this time out of their already busy schedules to help us for free,” Wallace said.

The team plans to test a smaller prototype of their final product at launch sites at future dates.

“The launches are things that anybody can go to, so, if people want to come see and support, they can come to see our launches, which we will be posting about on social media,” Wallace said.