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Competing in the 2023 Spaceport America Cup.

What’s it like to compete in the world’s largest student rocket competition? We speak to the lead of the University College London’s rocketry team.





158 teams from around the world were selected to compete in the 2023 Spaceport America Cup. Up to 120 will make it to the competition in New Mexico which runs from June 20-24. T-Minus Space will be covering all the action at the world’s largest student rocket competition. We spoke with the University College London (UCL) Team Lead Adrien Coutant about what drew his team to compete in the Cup.

You can find out more about the competition at SpaceportAmericaCup.com or SoundingRocket.org.

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T-Minus Guest

Our guest today is Dr. George Nield, former Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, Blue Origin Astronaut and Head of the Global Spaceport Alliance.

You can connect with George on LinkedIn and find out more about the Global Spaceport Alliance on their website.

Selected Reading

Seven US Companies Collaborate with NASA to Advance Space Capabilities- NASA

VAST selects Impulse Space for Haven-1 Space Station Propulsion- Vast Space


Luxembourg greenlights new military SATCOM network using SES satellites- Breaking Defense

Eutelsat reversing course with European retail broadband business sale- SpaceNews

Astronaut Chris Hadfield working with King Charles on 'Astra Carta'- CTV News

NASA recognizes James Webb Flight Operations Subsystem team at Raytheon- Military Embedded

Space Command's leader is building out his Colorado HQ even as Congress tries to force the HQ to move to Alabama- NBC

How a Shady Chinese Firm’s Encryption Chips Got Inside the US Navy, NATO, and NASA- Wired

Astrobiology Space Missions Need To Be More Aggressive And Less Risk Averse- Forbes

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T-Minus is a production of N2K Networks, your source for strategic workforce intelligence. © 2023 N2K Networks, Inc.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Today is June nineteenth, 2023. It's Juneteenth here in the US. I'm Maria Varmazis, and this is a special edition of T-Minus. One-hundred and fifty-eight teams from around the world were selected to compete in the 2023 Spaceport America Cup. Over 120 will make it to the competition in New Mexico, which runs from June twentieth to twenty-fourth. T-Minus Space will be covering all the action at the world's largest student rocket competition. We wanted to know what it takes to be a team in the Spaceport America Cup and spoke to a rocketeer from London that's travelling to the US to compete for the first time.

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>> Adrien Coutant: My name is Adrien Coutant. I am the co-leader of our competition team in UCL Rocket. So UCL Rocket, here, encompasses sort of three divisions, now. One is the main competition team, which I'm apart of, and who participates at Spaceport America coming up, and then we have two other divisions; one for first-year students who build a rocket for the National Rocketry Championship here in the UK, and another team doing some experimental work. We call it the Rocket Experimental Division, RED. I'm a mechanical engineering undergraduate finishing up my third year. One day last year, I was at a networking event for the Mechanical Engineering Society here at UCL. I ran into our leader at the time, and she said, "Hey, are you into aerodynamics?" So I said, "Yeah". She said, "Do you want to join the rocket team?" I said, "There's a rocket team?" I didn't know that that even existed. Our team only was founded last year, and just on a whim, I joined the team, got to meet the other students. They were all super welcoming, and you know, we got started pretty much right away working on our first big rocket, which launched last June. Now, I'm co-leading the team, which again, I never expected to happen, but I'm really happy about it. So I remember when I joined last year, everybody was talking about the Spaceport America Cup and it sound like, you know, this huge thing how big of an achievement it is to even just participate at this competition. So when we came second at our competition last year, which was our first proper competition, you know, it kind of gave us a good like base to stand on with the university, who are, you know, funding our projects. So we said okay, let's take on, you know, Spaceport America. Let's go for it. So we applied for the 10,000k-foot category. We're happy to say we got accepted, and we've been working really hard this year on a new design. We chose this year to focus a lot more on sort of the basics of high-powered rocketry design. Our motto this year has been repeatability, reliability, and redundancy. So that's sort of been our ethos in designing this rocket. We really want to create a good foundation for the future years to come, you know. To allow for more ambitious projects, we've got maybe a liquid engine in the works. For this year, our main goal - because we know how much of an achievement it is already just to be able to come to the US, participate in this competition, be amongst the big leagues.

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So after we applied for the competition, at the time, we didn't even have a team. We filled out the application form and got accepted, and then we got to work on two things. One was outreach. So we weren't sure about getting sponsorship from the university this year, so we were working hard on producing a nice brochure and contacting companies to try and get some financial support, and then also on conducting interviews for new students to join the team. It took us about a month, and then finally, we had a team, and then we got to work on our design. We spent quite a lot of time on the early design stage. Our leader Shiram, who's really just kind of a pioneer when it comes to design, his approach has been for us to forget all of the assumptions that people make when it comes to designing high-powered rockets and just, you know, go really down to first principles and question everything. Why is it that we design sections in this way? Why is it that the rocket needs to separate twice? Or only once, depending on if you're using a tender descender, for example, with your parachutes or not. And we really got to question everything, that way it gave the whole team, you know, a proper basic understanding of how every single component of the rocket works. And actually, that's turned out really well because they explained to us that when we get to the competition, there's going to be some very thorough safety checks going on, and they're going to be asking us lots of questions - the whole team - and everybody has to be able to answer those and be really knowledgeable about the rocket. So this is kind of an iterative process of going back and forth between design and also manufacturing - selecting manufacturing methods and materials. And once we kind of had a good enough understanding, then we got into using CAD. That's one thing that we like to not do is to get into CAD too early. That's one thing we learned from last year is that we ended up having to go back and make lots of changes because we - when you actually get to building and manufacturing things, you realize that certain components can't be designed in this way because, you know, they won't fit together, or the 3D printer just can't print that way. And after having made lots of mistakes, and lots of fixes, again, this iterative design process, and we got to testing our rockets, so the ground testing, which is testing the ejection system that we use for recovery, which is a black powder system that we went up to test at the East Anglian Rocketry Society that we've made really good friends with. I think that's actually been very key, also, in achieving the design we have this year is getting help from rocketry hobbyists such as our mentor, Ben Jarvis, and other universities, as well. We've been in contact with Leeds, as well as Strathclyde. And everybody is just so friendly and helpful.

[ Music ]

Everybody on the team kind of has their own different goals or personal growth that they're working on with this challenge, but I think as a team we just really want to show the department, all of us doing these extracurricular activities, we really can achieve some pretty great things. I think another big thing will be creating relationships. As I mentioned, we have some good ones here in the UK, but now we're going to be having access to all of these other teams. I think we're going to be spending a lot of time on the conference day going to see what other teams have done and trying to learn a little bit from them, and also take the time to discuss with the team where do we see our team going from here? Now that we've built a nice simple but well-designed rocket that we're happy with, you know, how can we start to innovate to sort of challenge the things that have already been done and make some more exciting projects? Maybe a liquid engine.

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I'm definitely, you know, so excited about aerospace, now. You know, I've been following, you know, along a little bit more with SpaceX and Starship. I'm definitely much more interested in that now. There's just something about knowing that, you know, the work that you do every day eventually leads to - and this is why the liquid engine is so exciting is that eventually, this like explosion of fire that you know, can launch a huge mass into the air, I don't know, there's no feeling like it.

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>> Maria Varmazis: That's it for T-Minus for June nineteenth, 2023. We'll be bringing you more from the Spaceport America Cup throughout the week. We'd love to know what you think of our podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in our show notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. This episode was produced by Alice Carruth. Mixing by Elliott Peltman and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltsman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman, and I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

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