Contact: Zack Plair
STARKVILLE, Miss.â€”For 10 years, theyâ€™ve called themselves the Space Cowboys. Now, they also can call themselves champions.
Soon, they hope to be world record holders.
Earning top honors recently at the 2015 Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition in Green River, Utah, the Mississippi State University rocketry team is turning its focus on breaking the world speed record for amateur rockets, which currently stands at roughly four times the speed of sound.
â€śWe are thinking beyond competition to developing cutting-edge technology,â€ť said Keith Koenig, professor of aerospace engineering and faculty adviser for the Space Cowboys. â€śThat project may take a couple of years.â€ť
MSU President Mark E. Keenum said the international competition win by MSUâ€™s Space Cowboys â€śis yet another acknowledgement of our universityâ€™s growing reputation as a center of both nationally and globally relevant research.â€ť
â€śI continue to be proud of how our students push themselves not only to compete, but to excel in so many fields of research,â€ť Keenum said. â€śThis team in particular rose to the occasion in international competition.â€ť
At this yearâ€™s IREC, the Space Cowboys topped its rivals after almost a decade of near misses. Asimov, the teamâ€™s 13-foot maroon rocket, flew 22,562 feet and reached a maximum speed of Mach 1.51 (about 1,150 miles per hour).
More than 70 universities representing seven countries competed at IREC. Notably, MSUâ€™s Space Cowboys bested teams from engineering powerhouse schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan.
â€śWhat this indicates is that our students here at MSU know what they are doing, and our education is as good as anybodyâ€™s,â€ť said Koenig. â€śIt also shows that despite a terribly demanding curriculum, this team can pull itself together and work together to accomplish a monumental task.â€ť
The team of 23 students, most of whom were undergraduate engineering majors, spent 10 months designing, building and testing Asimov â€“ named for â€śI Robotâ€ť author Isaac Asimov â€“ before taking it to Utah this summer, Koenig said. At the competition, Asimov was judged for its design, flight and the functionality of its payload, he added.
Established in 2005, Koenig said the Space Cowboys competed nine straight years at a National Aeronautics and Space Administration-sponsored event. Often, he said, the team finished near the top, including a second-place finish in 2014. Having proven they could â€śfly with anyone,â€ť Koenig said the Space Cowboys entered this competition year with a â€śquiet confidence.â€ť
Team chief engineer Eric Stallcup, a senior aerospace engineering major from Huntsville, Alabama, who managed the teamâ€™s budget and led all technical aspects of the project, said he didnâ€™t know how well the team would compete at IREC, especially with the â€śstrong and deepâ€ť field of competitors.
â€śGoing in, I did not expect us to compete for an award, but I did know we had an excellent rocket,â€ť he said. â€śAfter the excellent launch of the rocket, I started to think we might have a chance. The win was incredibly validating.â€ť
Stallcup admitted the teamâ€™s new focus was â€śthe most ambitiousâ€ť in its 10-year history, but he believes the Space Cowboys are up to the challenge. In a September launch of Asimov in Argonia, Kansas, he said, the rocket flew 25,500 feet at a top speed of Mach 2.1, or 1,500 miles per hour, both of which are team records. The speed also was roughly halfway to the teamâ€™s world record goal.
Ultimately, Stallcup said he wants to become a rocket scientist with NASA or the U.S. Department of Defense. He believes his time with the Space Cowboys has afforded him the hands-on technical knowledge and leadership training to help get him there. But he said the desire that first placed him on his planned career path is the one that still drives him.
â€śI just really enjoy launching rockets,â€ť he said. â€śWho doesnâ€™t?â€ť
For more information on the Space Cowboys, visit msuspacecowboys.org.
MSU is Mississippiâ€™s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.