The Cal Ripken rocket

The Northeastern chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics earned first place in their section of the AIAA Battle of the Rockets earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Andrew Buggee.

The North­eastern chapter of the Amer­ican Insti­tute of Aero­nau­tics and Astro­nau­tics earned first place in their sec­tion of the AIAA Battle of the Rockets ear­lier this month. Photo cour­tesy of Andrew Buggee.

Sev­enty feet above the ground, Cal Ripken’s body dan­gled from a tree branch. No, not the Hall of Fame base­ball player, but a home­made rocket a couple feet long. The fact that this body was inan­i­mate didn’t make the scene any less tragic for the mem­bers of Northeastern’s chapter of the Amer­ican Insti­tute of Aero­nau­tics and Astro­nau­tics. They’d spent months run­ning through new designs and testing it out in prepa­ra­tion for the annual AIAA Battle of the Rockets in Culpeper, Va.

Every­thing would have been fine if it hadn’t been for that epic traffic jam in Wash­ington, D.C., which shaved hours off their prac­tice round. By the time they finally made it to Vir­ginia, they only had time for one test run. And it didn’t go well. The para­chute deployed a little too late, sending the rocket into a jolting inver­sion, which caused the nose cap to detach from the rest of the rocket.

So there was close to no mass left on the body and it drifted into a tree,” said Andrew Buggee, S’16, founding pres­i­dent of the stu­dent group. As dusk set in and rain clouds threat­ened, the team mem­bers had no choice but to abandon their ship until morning, hoping as they slept that the rain would hold off long enough for them to retrieve—and then reassemble—the rocket.

In that, they were pretty lucky. The next morning they went to the hard­ware store and pur­chased long plastic tubes to try and knock it out of the tree. That didn’t work. Nei­ther did any of their other efforts, which also included throwing teth­ered rocks at it.

Ulti­mately, the event’s unof­fi­cial tree climber shim­mied up the tree and las­soed the rocket into his pos­ses­sion. The team finally had it back by 2:45pm on Sat­urday. The event would end at 4pm—just enough time to run two offi­cial launches.

The goal of the AIAA Battle of the Rockets is to get a device as close to 1,500 feet above the ground as pos­sible. One hun­dred feet more or less, and the run would be dis­qual­i­fied. Luckily, each team can com­plete as many runs as it wishes and enter only its two best into the offi­cial record. Not so luckily, Northeastern’s team only had two runs to choose from, so they had to enter both.

But that turned OK: After some patching and improve­ments to Cal Ripken, he did sig­nif­i­cantly better than his one prac­tice run on Friday. These runs didn’t send him into a decap­i­tating tail­spin, but rather got him closer to the goal height than any other team: 1,503 and 1,573 feet, respectively.

The North­eastern team beat out stu­dent groups from Penn­syl­vania State Uni­ver­sity, Johns Hop­kins, and Florida Insti­tute of Tech­nology among others and got to bring home a nice plaque to dis­play in the Snell Engi­neering Center.

Not bad for the stu­dent group’s first offi­cial event.