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UCLA AISES Team Wins Rocket Competition

Bill Kisliuk | June 9, 2014

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From left: Aaron Tiscareno, Dylan Rodarte, Edward Lopez, Daniel Calderon and, below, competition coordinator Daniel Hawk, with the UCLA AISES rocket.

A team from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science was first in flight at the First Nations Launch 2014 rocket competition, sponsored by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).

A group of 13 UCLA Engineering students worked together for nearly a year before the April event in Wisconsin, in which the group took top honors in the flight portion of the competition. Nine teams participated.

Teams were required to design, build and fly a rocket to an altitude of at least 2,000 feet and use dual deployment of parachutes to land it in flyable condition as close to the launch pad as possible.

“The most rewarding part of the whole experience was having all of the work, time and effort finally culminate in something that not only works, but works better than expected,” said Daniel Calderon, co-director of the UCLA AISES Bruin Rocketeers.

Other team members include co-director Dylan Rodarte; fellow aerospace engineering students Edward Lopez and Aaron Tiscareno; civil engineering student Demi Gamboa; computer science student Joseph Towe; electrical engineering students Justine Figuerres and Kari Garcia; and mechanical engineering students Calderon, Rodolfo Barranco, Stephanie Cantu, Adrian Franco, Kara Lowry and Melissa Soon.

The group’s faculty adviser was Audrey Pool O'Neal, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering and associate director of the Center for Excellence in Engineering Diversity (CEED). The team’s manufacturing adviser was Daniel’s father,  Jose Calderon, who supervised the group as it used his Riverside machine shop to build the rocket.

Cantu said the team’s most anxious moment came late in the flight. Competition rules called for the rocket to deploy the smaller drogue parachute at the apogee, or highest point, and then for the main parachute and lander to be deployed as the rocket reached an altitude of 700 feet on its descent.

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UCLA AISES team members Daniel Calderon and Demi Gamboa at the 2014 First Nations Launch competition.

“From the ground, it's really hard to tell what 700 feet up is,” Cantu said. “So for about 15 seconds, everyone is just waiting to see if the lander and main chute will deploy. When they finally did, everyone started yelling and cheering as if we had already won the competition. That moment was pure bliss.”

Calderon credited everyone for playing a role in designing the rocket and overcoming the organizational challenges posed by hectic student schedules. He said the rewards are greater than what meets the eye.

“Our project is not limited to people that are in engineering or know a lot about rockets already,” Calderon said. “If anyone is interested in learning about how rockets work, how to build them, and how to tackle a hands-on project, then the AISES First Nations Launch competition is a really great opportunity. “