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Buckeyes land first place in rocket competition

The Buckeye Space Launch Initiative (BSLI) soared to first place at the Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico in June.

The annual competition challenges teams of college students to design, build and launch solid-, liquid- or hybrid-fuel rockets to a targeted altitude. The five-day event attracted more than 100 teams from across the world.

Brutus II, which won the 30K Student Researched and Designed solid fuel rocket category.Brutus II, which won the 30K Student Researched and Designed solid fuel rocket category.

The team of 21 Ohio State students earned top honors in the 30,000-foot Student Researched and Designed (SRAD) solid fuel rocket category. Their nine-foot long rocket, named Brutus II, soared to an altitude of 23,224 feet with a full 3U payload – the largest of any other rocket competing in the 30K field.

Of the 10 other teams in the same category, only five actually launched, and just three had successful flights.

“It’s very difficult to get to that height as it turns out,” said Nic Flesher, a rising senior aerospace engineering student and the co-leader of the BSLI structures team.

Once Brutus II launched, the team lost visual of the rocket, but they were prepared.

“We had a GPS telemetry system from RadioBro Corporation onboard so we were able to actively track it from the pad and we were able to know where it was at all times and when it landed,” explained Flesher.

BSLI also competed in the 10,000 commercial-off-the-shelf category. The 10K team developed an active drag system that controlled the rocket’s apogee. The project was a finalist for the Technical Excellence and Innovation Award. While the rocket didn’t finish in the top two, full results for the 10K have not yet been released.

Flesher expects their placement will be fairly high since the flight was successful.

“The BSLI team was able to achieve success during this competition due to the hard work and dedication showed by all members across multiple research and competition teams,” said Zac Strimbu, the current BSLI president. “Additionally, the facilities, resources, and faculty that the College of Engineering provided to the BSLI team proved invaluable in growing to two competition teams this year.”

Strimbu, who is majoring in aerospace engineering with a minor in nuclear engineering, and his teammates used the knowledge they gained from their engineering courses throughout the competition.

“The fundamentals of engineering courses prepared the BSLI team to understand how to use CAD modeling and MATLAB coding on projects,” Strimbu said. “Additionally, coursework such as thermodynamics, aerodynamics, and structures all laid the foundation for the physics behind forces acting on the rocket.”

The BSLI consists of 60 team members total. The vast majority are students in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE), along with several representatives from electrical and computer engineering, computer science and engineering, and physics. The team hopes to expand to include more students from other areas of study.

The Buckeyes will compete in other competitions in the coming year, though nothing on the same scale as Spaceport America Cup. It’s the only competition where students can launch anything so large, high and fast. The team credits their Spaceport America Cup victory to the hard work of all 21 members of the competition team, specifically Flesher and the other team leads John Titus, Alan Spiers, James Dai and Bryce Huber, all aerospace engineering majors, and Andrew Bennet, who is majoring in electrical and computer engineering.

Thanks to generous sponsors and private donors, the team has been able to fund their participation in high-powered rocketry competitions since 2015. In addition to the College of Engineering and MAE, the student organization’s sponsors include the Ohio Space Grant Consortium, Boeing, Huntington, Pipe Valves, Inc.,, and Advanced Circuits.

Students shared that Chi-Chih Chen, research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, was instrumental in sponsoring and advising the development of the Telemetry System and other electronic systems used both in the competition and in future innovations.

Private donor and Ohio State alumnus Monte Ahuja also made the BSLI’s participation in the 2017 Spaceport America Cup competition possible.

“The impact of Monte Ahuja’s gift can be seen in the trophy that the BSLI team brought back to OSU,” said Strimbu.

Ahuja, who graduated from Ohio State in 1970 with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, founded the internationally successful automotive parts company, Transtar Industries. Today, Ahuja serves as chairman and CEO of MURA Holdings, LLC, an investment company in Cleveland, Ohio.

“The generous donation to the university allowed the BSLI team the ability to research, design, and construct our 30k rocket and the solid rocket motor when our team had never done so before," Strimbu shared.

- Original article was published by the College of Engineering