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Shooting for the stars

by Monica Matin April 9, 2019
Shooting for the stars

Space Concordia aims to launch first civilian liquid-propelled rocket

The rocketry division of Space Concordia is participating in the Base 11 Space Challenge, a $1 million race to develop the world’s first civilian liquid-propelled rocket to go to space.

Since its inception in 2010, Space Concordia has won several national and international competitions, including two first-place prizes at the Spaceport America Cup in 2018. The student society consists of over 200 students from various academic fields who are separated into the spacecraft, robotics and rocketry subdivisions. Today, the rocketry division is taking on its biggest challenge yet: going to space.

“No student group has ever succeeded in what we are trying to do,” said Hannah Jack Halcro, president of Space Concordia. “There’s no accounting for just how completely above and beyond the rocketry division is going with the space rocket project. Very little of what we do at Space Concordia is covered in our courses. The other 90 per cent is willpower, teamwork and good research.”

The Base 11 Space Challenge is a competition that encourages students to be the first to design, build and launch a liquid-propelled rocket to an altitude of 100 kilometres. This altitude is referred to as the Karman line, which represents the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. Schools across North America are competing for the chance to make history and win $1 million in prize money. If Space Concordia is successful, they will have built the most powerful amateur rocket motor in history.

“It’s insanely difficult, but you do these things because they are difficult,” said Khalimonov. “If you don’t think you can win, what’s the point in trying?”

“The dream was always to get to space,” said Rocketry Lead Oleg Khalimonov. “So we said, ‘Fuck the competitions. We’re going to do this; we’re going to build this rocket and we’re going to go to space.’ That’s why we decided, for the first time, to not enter into any other competitions, drop all side projects, and just consolidate all of our efforts and work very, very, very hard on this one crazy task.”

The first phase of the competition recently passed in March. Students produced a document of their designs for the rocket, its safety plan, as well as an outreach and diversity strategy. Space Concordia students are currently in the testing phase. They have built parts of the rocket and are preparing to test their engines.

“We’re taking this competition exceptionally seriously,” said Khalimonov. “We’re working night and day. […] The preliminary design review is basically a summary of all the work we’ve done to date on the rocket put into one big document. I’m proud to say it’s one of the most impressive documents I’ve ever worked on. It’s about 600 pages.”

The most prominent challenge the group faces is their lack of funding. Space Concordia is financed through sponsorships and donations. However, even a fraction of the project can add up to thousands of dollars.

“Imagine if the Apollo missions had a budget smaller than buying a house,” said Halcro. “Everything we are doing is so much bigger now, and our growth is so fast that our sponsorship team is having a hard time keeping up.”

Despite the obstacles they face, Space Concordia students are hopeful and determined to accomplish this milestone feat. The competition is the biggest challenge the rocketry division has ever taken on, and the team is working hard to achieve their longtime goal of launching a rocket to the edge of space.

“It’s insanely difficult, but you do these things because they are difficult,” said Khalimonov. “If you don’t think you can win, what’s the point in trying?”

Feature photo courtesy of Oleg Khalimonov

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