“Encouraging school children to enter the world of aerospace, engineering and science”

This is the motto for the Aerospace Youth Rocketry Challenge which takes place across the globe.  The prize, if you accept the challenge, is an all-expenses paid trip to Paris and Toulouse for the final fly-off against teams from countries such as America, France and Japan.  The venture involves secondary school students designing, building and launching a model rocket with a fragile payload to a set altitude with a specific total flight duration.

So who can enter and what exactly is the challenge?

The Challenge for 2014 was to achieve a target altitude of 825 feet with flight duration of between 48 and 50 seconds.  The payload on-board was two raw medium sized hen’s eggs and the lift-off weight was to be no more than 650 grams.  The entire rocket must also return to the ground safely using two parachutes of the same size.  The challenge promotes technical, business and teamwork skills.  By working together in a team, the same way in which Aerospace engineers do, students have to meet the competition deadline and raise the funds required to participate.  The competition gives students a realistic experience in designing a space vehicle to perform in a mission.

St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon and Armagh Planetarium

For the 2014 Competition Armagh Planetarium were very proud to sponsor St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon.  The Academy entered the competition for the first time in 2013, but due to bad weather did not get to launch their rockets.  Although disappointed that they didn’t see their rockets blast-off, it proved to be a very valuable experience into how to make and create a competitive flying machine.


Making the Rocket

Making the Rocket


Mr Stephen Grew, astronomy club teacher at the Academy, says that the pupils were very excited at the prospect of seeing the rockets actually lift-off.  “For the pupils of the school’s Astronomy Club, this is a novel experience – working together as a group, using a computer programme to design the rockets and using new materials.”


Like the Saturn 5, this rocket was assembled in a vertical orientation.

Like the Saturn 5, this rocket was assembled in a vertical orientation.


On the launch day the pupils along with their teacher, Mr Grew, made the trip to Langford Lodge.  The hangar where we were to set-up was buzzing with teams eagerly awaiting the launch window.  When the time came, we made our way to the launch pad and watched as the rockets soared into the skies.  The joy on the children’s faces as they witnessed their rocket launch was great!




launch day





As I looked around the launch pad I could see rockets of all shapes and sizes.  As long as the rockets did not exceed 650 grams (23 ounces) gross weight they could be designed in any style, and some schools had logos and names on their craft.



The other stipulation was that they must be powered only by commercially-made model rocket motors of “F” or lower power class.  Any number of motors may be used, but the motors used must not contain a combined total of more than 80 Newton-seconds of total impulse.  Rockets must not contain any pyrotechnic charges except those provided as part of the basic commercially-made rocket motor used for the flight.




After the launch we awaited the results with bated breath.  After the weather had dampened the spirits the year previous, Mr Grew was more than happy that his pupils got to see their creation take to the skies.  We were all delighted when St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon was announced as the team in second place.  This result was a great achievement for the school and the astronomy club.



Armagh Planetarium was honoured to have had the chance to sponsor the school and to be a part of their success.  Well done St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon!

(Article by Sinead Mackle, Senior Education Support Officer)


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