Reaching for the Stars (with Rockets)

The University of Miami (UM) is set to compete in the 2017 Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) for the first time in school history!

IREC is an annual event held near Green River, Utah, where several teams from colleges around the world compete in launching rockets and returning a payload safely to the ground. The competition involves reaching a certain altitude ­(10,000 feet or 30,000 feet) with a rocket that is either fully or mostly student researched and designed.

Rocket Canes, led by project manager German Acosta Quiros ’19, reached a height of about 3,000 feet in last year’s Florida Space Grant Consortium’s (FSGC) Hybrid Motor Rocket Competition, ranking third among 20 engineering teams in Florida. This year they plan to reach 30,000 feet, the cruising altitude of a Boeing-747. Next year, their goal is 100,000 feet. And the year after that: space.

Acosta Quiros, an aerospace engineering major, explains the challenge of increasing one’s goals in a logarithmic scale. “The problem is moving from intuition to a mathematical analysis. Intuition works for the rocket that flies up to 3,000 feet, but once you aim for 30,000 feet, even a tiny screw on the rocket affects the project, and that is where mathematical analysis comes into play.”

“There is nothing more exciting than building rockets,” says Acosta Quiros. “This is what I want to focus on in my future.” Mechanical engineering is the most broadly based area of engineering, and Rocket Canes allows Acosta Quiros to focus on the engineering behind rocket science. “It is important to use what you learn in class in real-world applications,” he adds. “Take Newton’s laws of motion as an example. They’re something you learn in your first physics class, and as simple as they may seem, they are the basis for understanding how rockets work.”

Made from a sleek, all-black carbon fiber body with a 3-D printed nose-cone, the making of the rocket uses knowledge from various disciplines across the College of Engineering. Acosta Quiros explains that the “project would not be possible without the help from the staff and faculty of the College of Engineering. From the 3-D printed materials to the test stands, everything this project consists of represents what the College of Engineering truly is: An evolving environment for innovation, ingenuity and insight.”

More to come.