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Maharishi School sends two teams to rocketry nationals

PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK RUDLOFF

Members of the Maharishi School rocketry program are, from left, Elan Jenkins, Thu Tran, Drishikaa Thimmaiah, Adel Cynolter, Grace Xie, advisor Rick Rudloff, Veer Malik, Deepika Vempati, Shristi Sharma and Vaisnavi Mohanraj.
PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK RUDLOFF Members of the Maharishi School rocketry program are, from left, Elan Jenkins, Thu Tran, Drishikaa Thimmaiah, Adel Cynolter, Grace Xie, advisor Rick Rudloff, Veer Malik, Deepika Vempati, Shristi Sharma and Vaisnavi Mohanraj.
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Two teams from Maharishi School have qualified for the national finals in the Team America Rocketry Challenge.

The national finals will be May 18 at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.

50th anniversary of moon landing

The Team America Rocketry Challenge is the aerospace and defense industry’s flagship program designed to encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The competition challenges middle and high school students to design, build, and fly a rocket that meets rigorous altitude and flight duration parameters through a series of certified, qualifying launches. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, this year’s rules require a rocket carrying three raw eggs, representing the Apollo astronauts, to reach 856 feet before returning the uncracked eggs to Earth – all within 43 to 46 seconds.

Why such an odd height of 856 feet? That, too, is an homage to Apollo. Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon at exactly 8:56 p.m. Central Standard Time (Houston time) on July 20, 1969.

A new requirement this year is that rockets must have at least two parachutes. Sadly, another new rule hurts Maharishi School by limiting the number of teams a school can send to two. Last year, Maharishi School sent three teams.

Nevertheless, the Pioneers are determined to continue their history of excellence in this competition. The school had a team place in the Top 10 each of the past two years.

“The one thing I’ve wanted to focus on this year was getting our teams to be rigorous in their design and processes the entire year,” said Rick Rudloff, who teaches upper school science at the school and advises the rocketry program.

Side gigs

In addition to building rockets that rise hundreds of feet in the air, the students are participating in a few optional, side competitions. One of those is to see which team can produce the best engineering notebook, a journal documenting the team’s test flights and progress throughout the year. Members of the team have designed articles of clothing for yet another side competition. When The Ledger visited the school earlier this month, team members were sporting their personalized jackets with their name, team name and Team America Rocketry Challenge logo on the back.

Nine students from Maharishi School will participate, eight of them girls. Freshman Drishikaa Thimmaiah said the large female contingent has been a source of pride for the two teams. Maharishi School got to post three times on the official TARC Instagram Account. Thimmaiah said one of those three posts was a “shout out” to all the girl rocketeers in the competition.

Team members

Each member of the two teams has a unique task. For instance, junior Thu Tran’s job is to build the rocket. This is Tran’s first year at Maharishi School, and her first in America. She is from Vietnam, where she took advanced physics classes “but I didn’t have this opportunity to apply my physics knowledge.”

Tran said she likes the hands-on approach to science this program offers. She said curriculum in Asian countries focuses on solving problems on paper, but she wants to solve problems with a more practical application – like launching a rocket.

Sophomore Veer Malik, the only boy on either team, said he got into rocketry because he heard it was competitive, and he loves competition. Malik helped design the rocket using a computer program that simulates a rocket’s maximum altitude and hang-time based on its size and aerodynamics.

At Maharishi School, rocketry is an extracurricular for middle school students, but can be part of the school curriculum for upper school students. Freshmen Elan Jenkins and Adel Cynolter were on the rocketry team last year, and this year they’re doing it as part of their coursework.

Both explained that they joined the rocketry team after Thimmaiah’s encouragement. This year, Cynolter has been responsible for drawing the illustrations that appear in the engineering notebook, while Jenkins helps with construction and creating the team’s TARC outfit. Their team’s outfit will consist of backpacks with fans blowing “flames” out the back, part of TARC’s clothing competition.

Thimmaiah was responsible for writing the team’s engineering notebook, which includes details of the team’s goals, test flight recordings, statistics and explanation of why it chose certain motors or other parts.

“Both of my parents are in biology, but I got interested in astronomy when I was 11,” Thimmaiah said. “I want to become an astrophysicist.”

New 3-D printer

A couple of years ago, Rudloff bought a 3-D printer, and used it to print parts for the rocketry team. However, he discovered that the parts were too brittle to use consistently. Last year, he raised $5,000 to buy a new 3-D printer that he calls “a completely different animal” much better than his first 3-D printer.

The first 3-D Rudloff owned relied on bonding one layer of plastic to another through heat. The new 3-D creates a chemical bond, which is stronger. Rudloff tested this by dropping the rocket’s 3-D printed nose cone from 8 feet in the air with no parachute. The old material dented, but the new nose cone showed no dents at all.

The old 3-D printer is still used, Rudloff said, to make the rail guide that helps the rocket stay vertical as it accelerates up the 6 foot rail.

One interesting thing to come out of the 3-D printer is quite possibly a brand new product. Rudloff said students designed a threaded nose cone that screws into the body of the rocket, and has a bottom that can be unscrewed to carry cargo, such as the eggs. Rudloff said “nobody in the commercial industry sells anything like it,” and that the students have applied for a patent for their design.

In the meantime, the students are focused on winning the national finals. In addition to competing for a total of $100,000 in prizes, the winner of the national finals will advance to the International Rocketry Challenge, taking place in Paris, France in June. The top 20 finishers will earn a spot in next year’s NASA Student Launch competition.