<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=205228923362421&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">

What is the Spaceport America Cup?

T-Minus Space is sponsoring the 2023 Spaceport America Cup and we spoke with the President of the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association about the event.





T-Minus Space is a sponsor of the 2023 Spaceport America Cup and we spoke with President of the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association, Cliff Olmsted, about the event which runs June 20-24. You can find out more at SoundingRocket.org or SpaceportAmericaCup.com.

Remember to leave us a 5-star rating and review in your favorite podcast app. 

Miss an episode? Sign up for our weekly intelligence briefing, Signals and Space, and you’ll never miss a beat.

Audience Survey

We want to hear from you! Please complete our 4 question survey. It’ll help us get better and deliver you the most mission-critical space intel every day.

Want to hear your company in the show?

You too can reach the most influential leaders and operators in the industry. Here’s our media kit. Contact us at space@n2k.com to request more info.

Want to join us for an interview?

Please send your pitch to space-editor@n2k.com and include your name, affiliation, and topic proposal.

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

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: Welcome to T-Minus Deep Space. I'm Maria Varmazis, host of the T-Minus space daily podcast. Deep Space includes extended interviews and bonus content that takes a deeper look into some of the topics that we cover on our daily program. We hope you enjoy.

[ Music ]

Now, this week, we're doing a deep dive into the upcoming Spaceport America Cup. We'll start with a quick primer on what it is and then a closer look with someone who makes it happen. So, first up, a chat with my colleague, T-Minus show producer and cup superfan Alice Carruth. Okay, Alice. So set the scene for me, please. What is the Spaceport America Cup.

>> Alice Carruth: The Spaceport America Cup is the world's largest rocket engineering competition. It's held in New Mexico every summer. And about 1800 students and faculty members descend onto the southern New Mexico desert. The competition itself actually starts in October. That's when the teams need to form and put together their white paper for initial design to be able to compete in the competition. And, at that point, they accept those that they believe are a good standard to be able to compete. So I believe, in 2023, about 158 teams are accepted from about 24 different countries. Now, throughout the year, they have to meet various deadlines. Those deadlines are for making sure that they've put in their safety checks, their design checks. They have to be able to present their final designs, as well, to the judging team. So over the course of the year, some of the teams are eliminated. Sometimes it's due to the fact that they can't raise enough funds. Sometimes it's just that their safety standards aren't quite there. So about 120 teams will finally make it out to New Mexico, and they will launch over about a period of three days. So the first day is at the convention center here in Las Cruces, New Mexico. And I'm going to go along and participate in that this year, which I'm really excited about.

>> Maria Varmazis: How is T-Minus involved in the cup this year?

>> Alice Carruth: So T-Minus Space is a sponsor of the 2023 Spaceport America Cup. We decided that this competition really had a great story to tell, and it really fit with our ethos of news to knowledge, you know, really supporting the workforce and the future engineers that are going to be involved in aerospace. So I'm going to be at the competition from June the 20th to the 24th. I'm going to be speaking to some of the students that are involved, some of the judges, maybe some of the sponsors, as well, and really find out why this competition is so important. It's sponsored by some huge names in the aerospace industry. And these incredible sponsors use this competition as an opportunity to recruit from the best of the best of the engineering students from around the world. So we're going to have that chance to go and speak to them and hopefully speak to some of the students that competed previously that are now working in the industry, because I've certainly met quite a few of those at the competition over the years as well.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you for that overview, Alice. And now that we have a sense of what the Spaceport America Cup is, let's talk to someone who is really pivotal in making it happen. And that person would be Cliff Olmsted. Now, Cliff, to start off, can you tell us a bit about what you do?

>> Cliff Olmsted: In my day job, I'm a manager at Aerojet Rocketdyne. But I also volunteer, and I'm actually the President for the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association. And I've been in that role for four years, although I've been volunteering with ESRA for about seven years altogether. The Experimental Sounding Rocket Association is a nonprofit organization. We are totally dedicated to enhancing and fostering knowledge and engineering. And we accomplish that by essentially putting on what started as the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition, started very small. And 2003, it's been -- it's been about 16 years, I think, is when I started it. It was just a couple of teams that got together, university teams in the desert to fly rockets. But it's -- that whole competition is geared around it's an engineering competition, not a just come fly rockets in the desert kind of competition. So we saw a whole bunch of stuff that we do, but that's kind of a very high-level just for what our organization is.

>> Maria Varmazis: It's the driving force behind the Spaceport America Cup. I guess I want to get into like the why of putting on such a massive event. Why is it important to ESRA, and maybe also why is it important to you personally?

>> Cliff Olmsted: This competition has grown so much. I think that, you know, for me personally, seeing students have an opportunity and providing it, being part of an organization that provides opportunities for students to be able to not only kind of grow in their field of engineering but get some really practical experience and be able to come out and do this and show what they've accomplished, whether they succeed or fail doesn't really matter. Just the fact that they've gone through this competition is huge. I see that come through and kind of, you know, a few different ways. Certainly one of them is, okay, you get some practical experience. And when you go apply for a job, you can put it on your resume. That's one piece of it. But the other piece is you just see the passion of the students that get involved in this. And especially when they succeed, you know, it just erupts into this, you know, kind of really joyous sense of accomplishment. And that's just incredibly inspiring. You get to see that. You feel it, even though I'm not directly tied with any individual team. It's just an incredible experience. So it's been inspiring for me and I think for a lot of others too. We have an all volunteer crew, and we do this out of our own passion in our spare time, which is a little insane.

>> Maria Varmazis: It sounds like a second full-time job to me a little bit. Can you tell me a little bit about what's involved in putting on an event like this?

>> Cliff Olmsted: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. You know, I've -- before we even go too far, I certainly want to acknowledge that 2017 -- oh, jeez, if I'm remembering right -- that's right. We partnered with Spaceport America. So this competition that started as what was called Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition, IREC for short, evolved into what is now Spaceport America Cup. And be honest. Without Spaceport America providing the -- you know, their property, their facilities, their backing, I don't think it would be very feasible for us to do this with the ESRA crew alone. So that's huge. The things that go into this are you would have no idea. It's incredible. You know, first and foremost, we need physical space, right, to be able to fly rockets to 10 and 30,000 feet, these rockets exceed the speed of sound. We've got to have airspace clearance. That's one aspect. Also, there's just a practical thing. We've got about 120 teams continuing on to the desert. We are expecting upwards of 1800 students. They're all going to be in one location. You've got to have facilities. You've got to have, you know, the ability to get people in and out. You've got -- obviously got to have, you know, restrooms. And you've got to deal with medical emergencies, if that's a thing. We'd want to make sure that safety is paramount, right. And then all of the safety reviews that go into assessing rockets and determining whether teams are safe to fly, number one; and, when they do fly, that they have as successful -- as successful a flight as we can make for them. And so all the work that goes into that, it's huge. We've got a volunteer crew that is probably about 20 dedicated over the course of the year. And then, when we get to competition event week, which is coming up in just a few days, we have about 100 volunteers just on the ESRA side. And then we also have our friends at Spaceport America that are providing a huge amount of their logistics and [inaudible].

>> Maria Varmazis: So I -- when I was reading about the history of this event, it used to be just for students in America. And then some years ago it opened up to the International. Can you talk a little bit about the decision behind doing that and why it's important that this competition become international.

>> Cliff Olmsted: I think it kind of naturally started as a US-based competition. And with so few universities initially participating, it would -- kind of organically grew. And in about I think 2016 and maybe a little bit before, we started getting teams from Canada who expressed interest because access to airspace and the ability to fly rockets to these kinds of altitudes is limited in different countries, for sure. And so we started getting some of that presence. And then really, especially as we evolved into what is now Spaceport America Cup, that international presence, that kind of I think the hunger, right, coming from international communities and different countries really started to shine through. So now it's almost 50 percent of the competition is international teams from Canada, India, England, Australia, Turkey. We've had teams from Egypt. I think we have a team from South Korea this year. I mean, it's totally amazing.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back after this quick break.

[ Music ]

So I have to ask, did you do anything like this when you were a student? A rocketeering competition or anything like that?

>> Cliff Olmsted: Good question. Actually, no. Not really. My background.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's okay. We're not kicking you out.

>> Cliff Olmsted: Right. I didn't start coming in with a bunch of knowledge about rockets, especially the field of amateur high power rocketry. As a kid, I've made little model rockets, you know, with my mom, right? We went up to the park and shot them up, and that was kind of cool. Life went on. For me, I studied electrical engineering. And so I didn't follow rocketry, per se, although I've always had an interest in space and things like that. About 2016, actually, a coworker formed a team with a local school, and I've started helping with them. And that's kind of how I found my way into volunteering with ESRA, right, and just continued that on. And now I'm the President, and I've been the President for four years, which still kind of blows my mind. And, yeah. It's just been great. So, you know, we have a range of volunteers, from people who, like me, may not have a background necessarily in the field of high power rocketry. But we have an engineering background. You know, we understand how to kind of talk to teams, and you can get a really good sense for whether they know what they're doing, what their technical knowledge is. But then we have a whole team of people who are very experienced in amateur high power rocketry. And they -- you know, we absolutely leverage their expertise to do more thorough, right, deeper reviews, and especially from that [inaudible] aspect. So it's -- yeah. Anyway, whole variety of backgrounds.

>> Maria Varmazis: I think that's great because it speaks to sound engineering principles can apply across different fields. But, also, there isn't just one path to get into. If you're interested in rocketeering, there isn't just one path to get there. And, certainly, if you're interested in space, it's -- there are different ways to approach that. So I think that's actually really great because I was curious. I never did anything like this as a kid, either, for example, but I'm very interested in space. And I was wondering, you know, is this something that's almost like required to get an aerospace career? And it certainly doesn't hurt, but it's not mandatory.

>> Cliff Olmsted: I mean, I can talk to that a little bit. You know, it's interesting. Couple of points. You know, one, that background of engineering, certainly, that's a piece of it. Doesn't even have to be engineering. I mean, we're talking basic physics. There's electrical engineering. There's mechanical engineering. There's chemical engineering. There's artwork. I mean, there's -- it doesn't have to be engineering. There's teams that design payloads that accomplish science missions on a rocket that goes to 30,000 feet. I mean, it's really amazing. So there's a huge amount of just creativity and experience, and that really can feed into, yeah. It makes a difference in going out into industry, right, or going back to home and say, okay. I want a job. Well, I've done this. And having gone through this event, especially with a large team, you've got to manage budgets. It's very technical. I mean --

>> Maria Varmazis: That's real life right there when you get budgets.

>> Cliff Olmsted: You've got to -- you know what the thing is, right. And so, you know, I know for sure in certain aspects of industry where experience with solid rockets is desired, right, that's hard experience to get. And so it's very cool that we can provide that.

>> Maria Varmazis: All right. I have to ask. You've done this for a number of years. Do you have any favorite stories or anecdotes that have come out of this?

>> Cliff Olmsted: You know, it's my favorite story. I've told it before, but I'm going to tell it again. And I'm going to call out Rowan University. So this actually was before we became Spaceport America Cup. It was the first year I got involved with ESRA just volunteering, right. And this was a small team. It was literally, from memory, it was three students. They showed up in the desert and had a rocket. It wasn't very well built. We looked at it and said, Ooh. Okay. You need to make some changes here. And they're -- they're pretty significant changes. And, you know, we've only got three days that we're going to be out here. So, you know, go back. I mean, they went to Home Depot. They had to buy drills and drill bits, they were just working like mad. And, on the last day, their team lead came up to me and said, you know, we met last night as a team, and we decided we're not going to fly this rocket. And that was huge, very -- I still get emotional about that because the recognition and the acknowledgement by the team itself to say we are not safe to fly, and we're not going to just try to fly because that's not in the spirit of what this event is, whew, really hit home. It just was very huge. And, you know, just a very cool kind of a very human, I think, story of having to make that kind of tough call. And, anyway, just very cool. And, you know, you see that. You see these teams just working their behinds off, right, out to make things happen. And sometimes things don't go well and according to plan. And you've spent thousands to get out to the desert, and it's not going to happen. And that's life too.

>> Maria Varmazis: That takes a lot of maturity to recognize that, too, that it wasn't safe. So, yeah. Kudos to them for recognizing that.

>> Cliff Olmsted: Well -- and we've -- you know, we've even included awards now for team spirit and that kind of thing because of those types of things that happen. It's like, hey. But that doesn't necessarily mean that, what do you say, you know, we don't just give awards based on all the technical greatness. Sometimes there's other stories happening that deserve some recognition, right, in different ways.

>> Maria Varmazis: That makes a lot of sense. Well, Cliff, is there anything else you wanted to mention about ESRA or the Spaceport America Cup before we close out? I want to give you the floor.

>> Cliff Olmsted: I am really excited for this year's event. This is the second time we've been back in person after the pandemic. The competition events are June 20 through the 24th. We'll be at Las Cruces on the 20th, and then we head out to Spaceport America grounds the rest of the week, and they have our awards wrap-up on the 24th. So if you want to come join us, go visit our website. You can go to soundingrocket.org, and you can buy tickets that way. If that's too much, remember, go to spaceportamericacup.com.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: That's it for T-Minus Deep Space for June 10, 2023. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com or submit the survey in the 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 Peltzman and Tré Hester with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer is Brandon Karpf. Our chief intelligence officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thanks for listening.

[ Music ]

Similar posts

Stay in the loop on new releases. 

Subscribe below to receive information about new blog posts, podcasts, newsletters, and product information.