Engineering students rocket to first place at competition

The AAIA at UIC Rocketry Team won the Target Altitude challenge at the Battle of the Rockets.

By David Staudacher

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) at UIC Rocketry Team outshined 24 teams to win first place during the Target Altitude challenge at the annual Battle of the Rockets (BOR) 2017 competition hosted by the Federation of Galaxy Explorers in Westover, Maryland.

UIC successfully designed and built a rocket to fly on any commercial certified G-level rocket motor to an altitude of 1,213 feet. UIC came closest to the 1,213-mark for the win. The team also safely recovered the rocket to fly again, which is one of the requirements of the competition.

“Winning BOR Target Altitude was fantastic for us,” said team captain Matt Valenzeno, a student in mechanical and industrial engineering. “We feel like we’ve made huge strides. That victory, along with our other successful launches this year, provides us momentum and added confidence to really begin to stretch ourselves. We feel like we’ve accomplished the major goals that we set out for this year — to gain more knowledge about rocketry, field competitive teams at all of our competitions, and provide our members with opportunities to prepare themselves for a career in aerospace.”

Some of the colleges UIC competed against included Northeastern University, Northwestern University, George Mason University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of Maryland, College Park, Montana Tech, and Case Western Reserve University.

“I’m not surprised they won,” said mechanical and industrial engineering professor Kenneth Brezinsky, the organization’s faculty advisor. “They take it very seriously, and every year they have students who are very high-level rocketeers who have gone through the certification process by the National Association of Rocketry and the Tripoli Rocketry Association.”

“The students in AIAA are passionate about the aircrafts they design, build and fly and the rocket competitions,” he added. “They are extremely self-motivated and have to learn a lot on their own. What characterizes them is their extreme motivation and self-direction and cohesiveness as a group, because they work as a team to get these things done.”

The UIC team was made up of students Tom Javorskim Michal Pekala, Patrick Begalowski, Kevin Mallari, Marcin Maksimowicz, Rachel Cruz, Eduardo Ocampo, Matt Valenzeno, Jeff Groenhof and Corey Habel.
Marcin Bialon was the team lead before graduating in December with a degree in mechanical engineering. Valenzeno said that Bialon got the team started on the right foot, with the first version of the rocket built early in the fall and test flown a number of times before winter break.

“I was extraordinarily pleased with the team’s work ethic and compatibility,” Valenzeno said. “Everyone was more than willing to help as needed. Even with the stressful last couple of weeks before the competition, we were able to remain upbeat and optimistic. That’s one thing I love about this group — everyone is excited to learn more about rocketry.”

Apart from winning competitions, developing professional skills, and finding common ground among their peers, members of AIAA at UIC have worked at some prestigious institutions. Mechanical and industrial engineering students Ninoshka Llontop landed an internship at Virgin Galactic, and Barak Stoltz took on a position at SpaceX. Both of the team’s last two rocketry projects managers work with propulsion systems for NAVAIR, the U.S. Naval
Air Systems Command.

UIC’s AIAA chapter was formed in 2011 for students with a passion for aerospace engineering. The organization designs and builds high-powered rockets, remote controlled aircrafts and quad-copters.

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