Buckeye Space Launch Initiative team travels to Huntsville for NASA Student Launch Competition

Posted: June 8, 2023
Photo of BSLI team

Buckeye Space Launch Initiative’s (BSLI) NASA Student Launch Initiative team travelled to Huntsville, Alabama, to compete at the University-level NASA Student Launch competition held at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on April 12-16, 2023.

The objective of this competition is for students to design, build and launch a high-powered rocket carrying a payload that supports NASA’s Artemis objectives. This year, teams were challenged to design a payload that upon landing, is capable of autonomously receiving commands and performing a series of tasks with an onboard camera system.

NASA releases the competition handbook as well as the payload objective in August. BSLI began the discussions for the initial designs and the timeline for the year and the team had to submit their proposal in September.

Photo of Payload

With many objectives needing to be met through the year, Madi Herrmann, NASA SLI Project Manager, made sure the team was well prepared to meet the competition requirements. This included the design of subscale and full-scale rockets and successfully completing several test launches.

“We also present to the NASA judges a project proposal, Preliminary Design Review, Critical Design Review, Flight Readiness Review and Launch Readiness Review,” Herrmann said, “These are extensive technical documents and safety reviews that record our progress and plan on how we will complete their objectives.”

Over the course of the year, BSLI designed their rocket, Cosmos, which contained their Payload “CLAMP: Camera Lander Area Mapping Payload”. Mark Wolf, Deputy Project Manager, stressed how much the team prepared for the competition and the hard work put in. Additionally, the team discovered they officially qualified for the competition just six days before it began.

“It was a great feeling to just make it and experience everything in Huntsville,” Wolf said, “I was proud of the entire team and everything we had accomplished up to that point and I felt that a launch at the competition would mean a successful year.”

16 students travelled to Huntsville making up the three sub-teams: Rocket Structures, Flight Systems and Payload. The team had additional support from club alumni and mentors who joined them at the competition. Upon their arrival, competition work began right away with safety checks and reviews of their rocket, which were facilitated by the judges.

BSLI Space center

The competition was in full swing for BSLI, during the days ahead of the launch they attended welcome sessions and meetings hosted by NASA and Northrop Grumman on the future of aerospace and the workforce. BSLI had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, as well as present their work at the competition’s rocket fair alongside the other teams.

“Teams could show their rocket and answer any questions, as well as walk around and see all of the other designs.” Herrmann said. “This was definitely a highlight of the competition, seeing what everyone else came up with.”



During launch day, teams gathered early in the morning to set up their tents and begin integrating their rockets. The BSLI team faced challenges throughout the day, however after working through the differences they were able to experience a successful first launch in Huntsville.

“Once we launched the actual flight went great,” Herrmann said, “The rocket landed near the launch pad with no damage and a smooth recovery.”

Along with other teams, BSLI faced unexpected issues with their Payload, which they believe was a battery issue. Despite this challenge, the team was still very happy with their launch outcome.

“Payload is a very difficult challenge in this competition, and we were really happy to have a model that we got to see work during testing.” Herrmann said, “We have a lot of good data and lessons from this year to propel us into next year’s competition.”

Photo of OSU's Rocket launch

Overall, BSLI found the competition encouraging. Alex Chou, Deputy Project Manager, shared his thoughts on the experience collaborating with other teams.

“I was definitely nervous at first until we started talking with other teams about their experiences throughout the year at the competition.” Chou said. “Everyone was helping each other out and doing whatever they could to make sure every team could launch their rocket.”

BSLI has been competing at this competition for four years and this was the first year they were able to travel to Huntsville to compete in person. Incoming Payload team lead, Pietro Lavezzo, expresses his thoughts on the trip and his future with the team.

“I always felt like coming to BSLI was fun and by going on this trip I really got closer to a lot of team members.” Lavezzo said. “This trip has made me much more excited to put in the hours needed to build a great payload next year.”

BSLI is grateful for the support of their advisors, mentors and sponsors and want to give thanks to those who have helped them throughout the year including, Dr. John Horack, Todd Knight, John Dilley, Harry Byers and alumni Ryan McElvein, Casey Ruckman, Trevor Williams, and Harrison Kearby. BSLI is also thankful to the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence for allowing them to work in their space.