Under bright blue skies north of El Paso, nearly 1,500 college students from around the world gathered to launch their rockets and soar toward the future at the 2022 Spaceport America Cup.
The intercollegiate rocketry engineering contest, dubbed by organizers as the world’s largest, launched last week with nearly 100 teams from institutions in more than 10 countries.
Among those participating for the first time were a team from the University of Texas at El Paso and a team from Mexico.
“We’re promoting the whole region for companies to come here and entrepreneurs to come to the area,” said Scott McLaughlin, executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.
The week-long event was sponsored by Spaceport America, a commercial launch site 100 miles north of El Paso, and the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association, a nonprofit that promotes knowledge and experience in rocketry.
Cliff Olmsted, president of the ESRA, said teams began preparing for the competition almost a year ago. They spend more than $10,000 to create their designs and manufacture their rockets from scratch.
“The teams go through all this stuff and when they show up here, that’s the culmination of their huge effort,” he said.
The teams are judged on how accurate and safe they are through the planning process. For example, how accurately they can predict the altitude their rocket will reach, McLaughlin said.
The students competing are showcasing themselves as worthy applicants to the companies building big rockets to send people and cargo into space.
“There are students who are applying for internships or permanent positions once they graduate,” he said. “This kind of experience directly applies to the job where you’re working to do either great technical documentation or do design work or analysis or all the things that go into rocketry.”
Scott Komar, lead engineer for the Atomic Aggies rocket team at New Mexico State University, said he is graduating and looking forward to a full-time position at spacecraft engineering company SpaceX.
“A lot of that offer came from the experience I got from this rocket,” Komar said. “It’s project work like this they look for, and it’s real engineering they see.”
For some teams, it was their first time competing in the five-day event, which concluded Saturday, June 25.
Alan Garcia, team president of the Sun City Summit rocket team from UTEP, said they started planning their rocket last year and built it this year in the spring.
“If we can win, that would be great,” Garcia said. “I just want to be able to launch the rocket and see it fly.”
Walter Ahrens, student participant at Club de Investigación Universitario de Desarrollo en Sistemas Espaciales, shared his excitement about being a member of the first Mexican team to compete.
“This participation will give me the opportunity to grow in the professional aspect not just for me but also for all the team,” he said. “It’s not easy to get a group of people to the job in this mission – to learn and at the same time to build.”
While every team is competing for the Spaceport America Cup, teams from El Paso and New Mexico can compete for the regional Chile Cup.
“I don’t know why I want to win this award even more than the actual award, which is bigger,” Garcia said.
Komar said he liked how the Chile Cup promoted the region and showed how universities here can be competitive on an international level.
“I really feel like the Chile Cup is a good way to elevate that by having local teams compete because that puts more pressure on us to do good,” he said.
McLaughlin with the New Mexico Spaceport Authority said the Chile Cup is a way to honor the region’s long aerospace history.
When asked about the reason for creating the Spaceport America Cup, he said it is important that students experience the actual process of rocket science.
“It’s one thing to learn something in a book and then do some problems,” McLaughlin said. “It’s another thing to go into the laboratory and actually build something and then to go fly it.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Luis Rios at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 915-534-4422 ext. 132