TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A group of 30 University of Alabama engineering undergraduate students is attempting to build the first student-designed liquid-fueled rocket to launch a UA-built satellite into space for the first time.
This ambitious long-term goal of the group would not only blaze a crimson and white trail across the cosmos, but it would help solve an industry dilemma of launching small satellites into orbit inexpensively.
“This is something businesses have had a hard time doing,” said Brett Austin, a 22-year-old senior from Greenwood, Indiana, majoring in aerospace engineering and the systems integration lead of the group. “Those smaller satellites are usually made by people who do not want to pay as much.
“So, to get a rocket all the way up there is hard to do with that cheaper customer. So, now it’s about optimization, becoming more efficient, replacing the heavy with the light and churning out as much efficiency as possible with a propulsion system. That is a current goal of industry, itself, and this will create a method for industry to be able to do this.”
The group, known as the Alabama Rocket Engineering Systems Initiative, or ARES, is a subset of the Alabama Rocketry Association,
This is the first year that ARES has taken steps toward accomplishing its long-term goal. They estimate it will take between 15-20 years to complete the project, but every year the group’s two design teams – Project Altair is the junior team and Project LunarWorks is the senior team – will take on smaller projects that move them closer to completion.
The long-term project, as well as the annual ones, are expensive. ARES receives material and financial donations from various corporate sponsors, but it can use all the financial aid it can get, which is why it’s attempting to raise $12,000 through Bama Blitz.
Bama Blitz is an inaugural celebration of UA’s founding year, 1831, with 1 day, 8 hours and 31 minutes of giving during a crowd-funding event. From noon April 11 until 8:31 p.m. April 12, people can give back and pay it forward in support of a favorite cause, college or program.
Gifts can be made at bamablitz.ua.edu beginning at noon April 11. The website will also provide updates about fundraising totals for each passion project as well as the total amount of money raised for the University.
“This year our estimated budget is around $50,000 to $60,000,” said Karson Holmes, a 21-year-old senior from Memphis, Tennessee, majoring in mechanical engineering and serving as ARES’ project manager. “The $12,000 will cover travel for the junior team to go to New Mexico to compete in the Spaceport America Cup, where they’ll fly against 120 other schools in an attempt to launch a rocket 30,000 feet.
“The senior team needs money to pay for testing and potential travel to the Mojave Desert in California to test our engine’s thrust. That $12,000 is just for this year’s goals.”
Holmes said when the project is complete, it will also serve as a template for other universities who want to launch a satellite into space without waiting the usual two to four years for NASA to do it for them.
Those wishing to support ARES can make a gift online at bamablitz.ua.edu April 11-12.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.