Rocket science isn’t rocket science

Tandon students at Rogue Aerospace showcase the start to finish of a rocket launch.

Dec 12, 2022

Rockets don’t have to just be the toys that Elon Musk got bored of before he bought Twitter. Rogue Aerospace members, a team of rocket enthusiasts, launch rockets to bring their classroom learnings to life while earning certifications from the National Association of Rocketry.

Rogue Aerospace is one of Tandon School of Engineering’s Vertically Integrated Projects, research and innovation programs that apply multidisciplinary engineering skills to build or design products from self-driving technology to off-road race cars and rockets.

Alex Miller, a young white man with long, dark hair wearing a turquoise T-shirt, seen through a tube.
Alex Xu, a young Asian man with short, dark hair wearing a green T-shirt, seen through a tube.

Alex Miller (left) and Alex Xu (right) are mechanical engineering students at Rogue. Their rocket-making journey from build to launch demystifies rockets and shows that rocket science does not have to be rocket science.

Three glass plaques stand against a dark background. The awards are for Rogue Aerospace by the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

The Tandon MakerGarage, a workshop dedicated to VIP students, is the home of Rogue Aerospace. Miller and Xu design and build their rockets there before launch.


Rogue Aerospace has won awards and recognition from NASA and Northrop Grumman, a US defense contractor researching aerospace and aeronautics technology.

Alex Miller wearing a blue-and-red Superman T-shirt while screwing electronic sensors onto a piece of wood at his workshop.
Alex Xu wears a gray T-shirt and outlines the shape of the rocket fins with a pencil and a ruler on a piece of plywood.
Alex Miller demonstrates his sensor packaging upon completion. On a metal frame are two sets of pressure sensors and altimeters.
Wearing safety goggles in a workshop, Alex Xu saws a piece of wood.
Alex Miller showcases the fins of his rockets made out of fiberglass.
A close-up shot of Alex Xu sanding down a plastic notch. Sparks fly out of the contact area.
Alex Miller examines the gold and black paint on his rocket.
Alex Xu drills a hole into the side of the rocket.

To receive NAR certifications, designers must successfully launch and recover their rockets. Designers package a timed parachute deployment system into the rocket’s body to slow the rocket’s descent. The motor generates lift during the launch and powers the ascent. The fins stabilize the rocket during ascent. Once the motor has exhausted all chemical fuel, the rocket coasts and continues to gain altitude until it hits apogee  – the maximum altitude in its trajectory.

As soon as the rocket reaches apogee, a small and secondary parachute, known as the drogue, deploys before the main parachute so as to stabilize the descent and prevent the main parachute from tangling. On-board sensors and timers release the main parachute at an altitude predetermined by the designers. The rocket then lands and is ready for recovery.

Alex Miller folds a drogue for his rocket, which is sitting on the hood of a car in a parking lot.
Alx Xu inspects the integrity of his yellow-and-black striped parachute.
Alex Miller pours black gunpowder into his parachute deployment device.
Alex Xu packages an altimeter into his black and yellow parachute.
Alex Miller attaches the motor to the body of a rocket. The rocket sits on the hood of a white car outside.
A close-up shot of Alex Xu securing the exterior camera on the rocket.

On-board electronics such as altimeters and barometers help document flight data and determine parachute deployment.

Alex Miller attaches the nose cone to the rocket. The rocket sits on the hood of a white car outside. Alex Xu inserts the chemical fuel into his rocket’s motor.
Alex Miller (left) and Alex Xu (right) pose for a photo with their rockets. Miller’s has a gold-and-black design and short angular fins. Xu’s has a purple-and-silver design and straight fins.
Alex Miller mounts his rocket onto the launch pad in a wheat field. Alex Xu mounts his rocket onto the launch pad in a wheat field.

Rockets are mounted onto launch pads. A remotely controlled signal triggers the motor and initiates the takeoff.

The main parachute of Miller’s rocket lies in the middle of a wheat field.
Alex Miller re-assembles his rocket after flight in a wheat field.
Alex Miller and Alex Xu fist bump after both of their rockets successfully launch.

Miller’s rocket reached an apogee of 3766 feet, approximately equivalent to three Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other.

Data collected from Miller’s on-board electronics indicated that the rocket reached a maximum speed of Mach 0.8, approximately 627 mph or 1010 km/h. For reference, the top speed of a Boeing 747-400 is around Mach 0.85, about 652 mph or 1050 km/h.

Alex Miller and Alex Xu showcase their level two certifications after their successful launch.

“Although it took us a while to successfully launch both rockets, we both passed our level 2 [NAR certification],” Xu said. “I’m looking forward to launching more high-powered rockets and trying to move to level 3 in the future semesters.”

lex Miller walks into the sunset on a grass field, carrying his rocket over his shoulder.

Contact Samson Tu at [email protected].

Comments (0)

Comments that are deemed spam or hate speech by the moderators will be deleted.
All Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *