A rocket entirely designed and built by students from the University of Southern California's Rocket Propulsion Laboratory was successfully blasted off into space for a record-breaking launch in April.
For the first time ever, the Traveler IV rocket has become the first single stage rocket built and launched by USC engineering students to fly higher than the Kármán line — the boundary that divides Earth's atmosphere and outer space.
It took four attempts before the students of USC RPL finally got it right. Learning from the failures of their previous projects, the USC RPL team set to work to fulfill their goal of sending the first ever collegiate rocket into space.
USC Students Launch Traveler IV Rocket Into Space
In September 2018, USC students attempted to launch Traveler III from the Black Rock Desert into space, but the rocket fell apart. As a result, during the launch of the 8-inch, 13-foot tall Traveler IV rocket on April 21, the students were "cautiously optimistic."
To avoid any communication issues between the avionics team, operations team, and the Traveler IV rocket itself, the students were asked to remain quiet during the launch. The team knew that what obliterated Traveler III were the miscommunication problems that ensued.
This time, Traveler IV blasted off into space without any trouble.
In fact, the rocket rapidly accelerated at over 17g's to its top speed of 4,970 feet until it reached an altitude of 340,000 feet or 103.6 kilometers. The avionics system recorded the flight, which lasted for 11 minutes, using onboard sensors and deployed the rocket's parachutes at apogee, which allowed it to safely land back to Earth.
"We can say with 90 percent certainty that RPL's latest spaceshot, Traveler IV, passed the Kármán line," said RPL lead operations officer Neil Tewksbury.
Traveler IV is the most advanced vehicle that the USC RPL has ever flown and it has broken the world record for highest altitude reached by a student rocketry team. It has also doubled the previous record set by the Fathom II in 2007.
The USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory's Journey Throughout The Years
Dennis Smalling of the RPL team said that after 15 years and millions of hours of hard work, the launch of the Traveler IV rocket beyond the boundary of the Kármán line is an incredible success. Indeed, the journey took over a decade of research, technological advancements, process improvements, and design changes.
"The ability of this team to overcome setbacks and continuously innovate new technology has been inspiring," added Smalling.
The RPL team has already begun work on several new missions: designing a liquid-fueled vehicle with its own world record, conceptualizing for CubeSat deployment, studying active rocket stabilization, and creating new solid engine designs.
The RPL student team is currently headed by advisor David Barnhart, a research professor in astronautics at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the director of the Space Engineering Research Center. With the incredible success of the Traveler IV launch, USC students believe the sky is no longer the limit.
Watch the story unfold here: