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Shooting for the stars

Students stand next to their high-powered rocket in New Mexico.Students prepare to compete at the 2019 Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico.

Growing up, biomedical engineering major Ada Kanapskyte ’21 dreamed of working in spaceflight. Her experience as a Buckeye Space Launch Initiative (BSLI) team member over the past three years is enabling that dream to achieve liftoff.

“My ability to go into this industry was paved by all the work that I did in BSLI and all the people that I met,” said Kanapskyte, the team’s outreach chair.

The interdisciplinary student organization designs, builds and launches high-powered rockets miles above the earth’s surface. Its approximately 70 active members span nearly every engineering major, though the majority are mechanical and aerospace engineers.

Kanapskyte and her fellow rocketeers soared to first place at the Spaceport America Cup in 2018 and 2017—capturing top honors in the 10,000-foot and 30,000-foot Student Researched and Designed solid-fuel rocket categories, respectively. Held in New Mexico, it’s the largest annual intercollegiate rocket engineering competition with more than 100 teams from around the world. The weeklong event features multistage rockets and all chemical propulsion types—solid, liquid and hybrid. Teams are graded on how close their rockets get to specified altitudes, as well as technical and flight readiness reports.

But the team’s success wouldn’t be possible without the support of generous donors who have given more than $57,000 over the past three fiscal years. That includes $35,000 from Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Chair Vish Subramaniam’s discretionary funds that are available thanks to the generous support of alumnus Monte Ahuja ’70.

The team’s sponsors are Made In Space, Arconic, Huntington, Gateworks Corporation, Ohio Space Grant Consortium, Advanced Circuits, RadioBro Corporation, and Ohio State’s College of Engineering, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Battelle Center for Science, Engineering, and Public Policy.

“We could not do what we do without the generosity of donors and alumni who contribute both financially and with their time,” said BSLI President Harrison Kearby ’20. “The Spaceport America Cup is very expensive, let alone the cost to build a rocket. Every dollar donors give to our program goes right back into our organization.”

While winning competitions is great, Kearby said, the team’s primary goal is to help Buckeye engineers launch successful aerospace careers by providing hands-on experience with all aspects of rocketry—from composites to avionics. Students go through the engineering design process as they design and build their rockets.

“There’s no equivalent in the classroom,” Kearby explained. “Any good engineer should know how to go through all of those steps and build what they design on the computer.”

Students gather around a table strewn with tools as they prepare their rocket.Students fine-tune their rocket during the Spaceport America Cup.

That experience helps members land internships and full-time positions in the aerospace industry. Kanapskyte worked on a NASA project related to human spaceflight during her summer internship at Dynetics, while Kearby applied his additive manufacturing knowledge at United Launch Alliance.

During his three years on the team, Kearby has seen nearly every active member move on to professional positions at aerospace organizations across the country, including United Launch Alliance, SpaceX and Blue Origin.

“Our team, under the guidance of Senior Associate Dean John Horack, is doing a very good job helping members get positions in the aerospace industry,” he said.

Also mission-critical are alumni who contribute their expertise to support members’ career ambitions and help the team excel, such as Michael Snyder ’09, chief engineer and founder of Made In Space, who mentors members in additive manufacturing.

Former BSLI program manager Nicolas Flesher ’18, a project engineer at Dynetics, also remains involved as a volunteer after seeing the impact mentors can have.

“I am a big proponent of hands-on experience,” Flesher said. “What Ohio State offers sets its programs apart and is so important to the development of industry-relevant skills.”

Help Buckeyes shoot for the stars. Support the Buckeye Space Launch Initiative.

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu