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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

RiceX begins project that aims to develop and launch hybrid rockets

By Michelle Tran     9/25/14 7:27am

RiceX, the Rice chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, began a multi-year project to develop and launch their own hybrid rockets into suborbital space early this semester, a goal no Rice organization has ever pursued before.

According to President of RiceX Sarah Hernandez, the idea for building hybrid rockets originated from RiceX’s Propulsion Team Lead Andrew Gatherer, who emailed Hernandez about the project’s feasibility during Orientation Week. Gatherer, a Brown College freshman, said he was inspired by organizations at universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University and Cornell University that have similar ambitious goals.

“[Rice is] a brilliant school full of engineers, scientists, mathematicians and everything else, so I didn’t see why we couldn’t be the first or one of the first universities to launch a rocket into suborbital space,” Gatherer said.

All of the club’s officers were enthusiastic and open to pursuing the project from the start, according to Hernandez.

“We definitely have the tools and capabilities here at Rice,” Hernandez said. “It would be a great challenge and something that we could accomplish in several years.”

RiceX plans to have students involved in every aspect of the designing, engineering, testing and launching processes. The organization also plans on taking full advantage of the many resources professional aerospace companies around Houston like NASA have to offer, according to Gatherer.

“The beautiful thing about being at Rice is that we are in Houston, which is one of the most prolific centers of aerospace technology in the nation,” Gatherer said. “Although the design and the operation of the rocket is going to be completely student-led and student-operated, we are at no lack of mentorship or sponsorship.”

The team has already made significant research progress and will be testing the designs for their first rocket engine at the end of the month, according to Escobedo.

“I’ve been impressed with what the group has done over the past few weeks,” RiceX Design Lead Elijah Escobedo said.

According to Hernandez, sending a fully-functioning rocket into suborbital space is guaranteed to be a multi-year endeavor. However, RiceX aims to construct their first rocket that will launch up to 25,000 feet with a 10-pound payload by the end of the school year as a first stepping stone toward their long-term project. This rocket will compete in the intercollegiate Experimental Sounding Rocket Association Competition that will take place in Utah in March 2015.

RiceX has never undertaken an engineering project of this scale before, but members are excited for the prospects this rocket-design initiative has to offer for Rice students in the context of current private space flight advances, according to Gatherer.

“Just last week, NASA announced that they are going to partner with SpaceX and Boeing to launch their rockets in the future,” Gather said. “This is unprecedented. These companies are launching American astronauts into space instead of government agencies.”

RiceX hopes to make an impact in the field of aerospace engineering and emulate the structures of Boston University’s similarly established program that sends their captains to work at companies like Boeing, SpaceX and NASA, according to Hernandez.

“We are entering an entire new era of space exploration, and for us to be at the forefront of that and have these skills going into this age is fascinating,” Hernandez said. “I’m hopeful that the experience we gain here will lead into entry-level jobs in NASA, SpaceX and Boeing that will create, mold and design this future.”

RiceX members are aware people might doubt whether they can accomplish their end goal of creating rockets that reach suborbital space, but the organization’s leaders are confident Rice students have the skills and capabilities necessary to accomplish this ambition.

“I have no doubt that if we continue the amount of commitment and amount of ingenuity that we have had so far, we will reach the goal of flying to suborbital space,” Gatherer said. “The question is not if [we can]: It’s when.”


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