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Cheyenne Mountain Team America Rocketry Challenge
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By Jeff Lane

Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Rocketry (NAR) sponsor the Team America Rocketry Challenge. The Challenge is for 7th to 12th graders to design, build, and fly a rocket carrying eggs for a precise time and reaching a precise altitude. Qualification Scores are submitted in April, and Cheyenne Mountain has competed for a share of $60,000 at the National Finals in The Plains, Virginia two of the last three years. We compete against approximately 750 teams across the United States.

Team with Trophy

Our Teams
The Cheyenne Mountain teams were formed in late 2006, have had many meetings and build sessions, have built and launched virtual rockets in Rocksim, and have launched test rockets to gain build experience. The teams includes students from two District 12 (Cheyenne Mountian) schools.

Our goal is to continue building multi-year TARC teams. The educational benefits include practical experience in aerodynamics, craftsmanship, physics, propellant dynamics, trigonometry, and teamwork. The team members are experiencing enthusiastic support from local experts. At finals they speak to recruiters from most of the nation's top aerospace companies like Boeing, General Dynamics, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin , Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Pratt & Whitney. During the flurry of activity leading up to and during the finals, there is a significant boost in local and national news coverage and public relations for the school district and students. Last year at finals there were broadcasts on national networks and online of the finals competition, as well as lots of local news coverage.

In order to pay for materials and plan for trips to the finals, the parents of the team members approach local businesses and aerospace education organizations for corporate sponsorship to pay for all engines, building supplies and materials, travel and lodging expenses. Sponsors may get exposure on three national networks and our sponsors' logos will be prominently displayed on our rocket proportional to their amount of support. We have opened bank accounts that are accessible to the team accountant. The team submits a full report of financial activities to sponsors at the end of each year's efforts. If a team doesn't make it to finals in a given year, we have a substantial monetary foundation for the next year's effort.


Launching with TARC
In the classic film The Matrix, the red pill is dangerous. It calls your name, you can't take your eyes off it. Same with the red button.

The blue one is gentle. The green one is pastoral. The black one is utilitarian.

Press the red button and the world drops out from under your feet. Reality shifts. Things explode. Immovable objects meet irresistible thrust. But eventually you yield to the intense desire and press the red button.

TARC students from Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy and Cheyenne Mountain High School are brainiacs out for a bigger thrill than the boringly consistent state-topping scholastic scores they regularly churn out. They revel in the smell of burning ammonium perchlorate. They love neck-snapping, 200 mph, egg-scrambling ballistic trajectories. Their brains reflexively require them to push the red "immediate gratification" button again and again.

FinsThese rockets cost between $50 and $300. The average team at finals in May will have designed and built six of them and spent $1200 to qualify. Each flight costs between $10 and $30 in propellant or single-use motors. Fortunately, the Cheyenne Mountain team has had substantial corporate support. They've discovered the reality and challenge of the world of presentations, grants and proposals. And local businesses love to have their logo on the side of a competition rocket on national television and Youtube.

On a gorgeous weekend morning, the Colorado sky is an incredibly deep blow-your-eyeballs-out blue. Three team members, male and female, crouch intently around a launch pad with a heavy-duty rod and blast deflector, prepping a flight. Others examine the clear sky. One slathers on sunblock, one carefully calculates new altitude projections and thermals estimates, entering revised parameters as the brilliant sun warms the air and its density changes.

Then the rocket is ready. The electronic altimeter chirps impatiently, awaiting the freedom of flight.

In the distance, you can see military transports landing at Pete field. The antennae on top of Cheyenne Mountain, and beneath it the Stargate. The chapel at the Academy stands proudly to the North. There is no breeze on your face, and the world is awaiting that red button. Time slows.

"The range is closed. We're cleared for a launch. Timers ready? Going in at ten, nine..."

At "launch" the rocket, belching a flaming ball of fire, smoke and light, streaks into the heavens. Shockingly fast, faster than a shuttle or Saturn V's thunderous liftoff. It coasts for several seconds, achieves apogee straight above our heads, stops completely, then slowly starts gliding back down tail-first. One of the team members gleefully yells "Cool, a tailslider". The parachute pops and immediately opens. "That's Deana's handiwork... she specializes in folding consistent parachutes." The rocket with its precious payload of raw egg floats to a landing close to the launch pad. "What's the time..."

Can't reveal the time. Nor the altitude.


750 other TARC teams read these EMRR articles.

"The Challenge is like Racer's Edge at Buttermilk. You go so fast and hard-like 70 miles per hour-that if you stand up and increase your drag coefficient, all your effort is lost", says Jacob, who has been to finals in Washington, D.C. twice in four years. "Finding the performance edge and eliminating variables is what it's all about".

"Yeah, and the opposing team secretly wants you to wipe out spectacularly," says a smiling Warren Layfield, a NAR-TARC mentor, "they want scrambled eggs."

The current state of rocketry and TARC are all about supporting science, gritty competition, art, and fortitude. All about incubating the next generation of Mars-conquering rocket jocks. All about teamwork, fundraising, and the realities of cost-benefit analysis.

For the next launch, I take the controls to find out for myself what it's like. Funny, but my blood actually runs cold. Maybe it's the adrenaline, or the red button, but I've never experienced anything quite like this. The countdown seems audibly far away. My senses are heightened. As the word "launch" is shouted, I have a surging visceral sensation of power and hope as the rocket motor surges, pauses, then ignites. I can feel the pounding of the thrust through the ground and in my chest. The rocket streaks into the sky, achieves apogee, and, slightly embarrassed, I finally relax my white-knuckle death grip on the red button.

"Holy cow," I say as the parachute deploys and the tension drains out of my body. "That's not quite the same as the Estes Alpha I flew back in 1970... this is pedal-to-the-metal rocketry!"

With teens like this, the future seems bright indeed. In Colorado Springs we have an ex-NASA scientist and a retired college electronics teacher serving as official TARC mentors for teams throughout Colorado, Wyoming, western Kansas, even the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. We have enthusiastic individual, corporate, small business and educational organization support, including Boeing Employees Community Fund, Colorado Aerospace Education Foundation, Brandango, Dry Cleaning Equipment, Zeal Media, Wells Fargo, and others. Contact TARC or COSROCS if you're interested in the future.

Then find out how high that rabbit hole in the sky goes.

Profound Impact for the Future
"I want to be the first man to walk on the surface of Mars", said 14-year-old Jacob, opening a recent presentation to the Colorado Springs City Council. Jacob was asking the council to allow model rocketry flights to continue with special permits during the summer fire ban.

2006 Results:
Three students from two Cheyenne Mountain D12 middle schools competed in the TARC finals. 100 teams flew, and the Cheyenne Mountain team placed 48th. Our flight was an aberrant 100 feet too high, but our duration was too short, when it should have been too long since the parachute ejected beautifully at apogee. We had 3 test flights the previous day and if we'd been able to maintain consistency, we would have scored in the top 20 or so. We learned a lot and will be better prepared in the future to place in the top ten. The award we won was the Boeing Teamwork award. Our team worked together and had tremendous fun doing it, which was obvious to the judges. We had our prep and setup (which was much more complex than average because we launched from a 6" tube) down to a science, and each team member worked efficiently and cheerfully to launch successfully. Hearty congratulations to Noelle, Jacob, and Tanner.

The team supervisor from Colorado Springs Rocket Society (COSROCS) said, "The contest is an excellent opportunity for students to learn hands-on lessons in aerodynamics. Participants apply concepts like computing trajectory and eliminating drag to their models and see the results immediately... there's a deep satisfaction in knowing things you have learned are helping launch something into the sky; this brings these concepts home to the real world for the students.''

2007 Team

2007 Results:
The fundamental goal of the Cheyenne Mountain team is to have a strong multi-year foundation, so learning experiences like this were expected. The team had to submit their first official qualification score after a last-minute deadlines clarification and had to eliminate a full day of scheduled testing and flying to improve their precision. Nijat, one of the team members said "We are excited and very fortunate to be an alternate team since we didn't get to implement all of our planned testing and refinement flights." The team's web page has lots of photos and a couple of videos, including the flight that won the alternate position. We appreciate our sponsors, including Colorado Aerospace Education Foundation, the Lance P. Sijon chapter of the Air Force Association, Boeing, and Brandango.

2008 Results:
Team Stargate: Newbies built midsize kits to learn craftsmanship. Grizzled veterans designed multiple rockets in Rocksim. We had 52 test launches and two official qualification attempts. We had evil experiences all season, with two CATOS on official qualification attempts, three EFC failures, a lawn dart that destroyed our entire rocket except the casing, and a dud motor on our final qualify attempt. One of our last flights achieved an altimeter reading of 666.

Stargate Team

Atlantis: Another team of first-timers, they learned Rocksim, did some fundraising, finished three TARC rocket designs, and had 15 test flights and two official qualification attempts.


The SG-1 team took fifth place in the nation at Team America Rocketry Challenge. CMCA team members shared a prize pool of more than $60,000 with other top finishers.

Stargate Team

The 3-member 7th-grade CMCA team rose to the top of 100 squads of middle and high school-aged students facing off in the final round. About 7,000 students on 643 teams from 43 states and the District of Columbia took part in the qualifying rounds of competition.

"We had the most consistent flights of the day, allowing us to move from 17th position with our first flight to 5th on our second flight," said Kenneth, the team's captain. The two flights deviated less than two tenths of a point in a competition where some scores were as far as several hundred off the goal.

The team also received an invitation from NASA to participate in its Student Launch Initiative, an advanced rocketry program. "We're really excited about the possibility of participating in a NASA program," said Sara. "We'll be able to fly a science experiment a mile high using big, loud rockets that aren't even legal for most students our age." Sara recently won 1st place in her division in the Colorado State Science Fair for her project, "Are Biodiesel Emissions Safer Than Commercial Diesel Emissions?"

"I didn't realize what a prestigious accomplishment this competition was until mayor Lionel Rivera wrote us a letter and governor Bill Ritter called to congratulate us on our trip to finals," said Adelaide. "One of the coolest aspects of the competition was during our preparation and flight for the second round. A film crew from Vanderpool Films and NDEP was shooting our team for a national online broadcast. They were intrigued with our ages and our long list of sponsors, which they will put on TV." The team also had a live interview on KRDO television and radio locally the day they left for finals. The entire Colorado Springs community has been very enthusiastic and supportive.

SG-1 would like to give special thanks for our current supporters: Thad Zylka, Norm Black, ITT, Cheyenne Mountain Charter Adademy/PTO, El Pomar Foundation/ Cheyenne Mountain High School, American Astronautical Society, Rocky Mountain Section,, Compleat Games and Hobbies,The Schuck Foundation, Zeal, and Colorado Aerospace Education Foundation. Thanks also to Colorado Springs Rocket Society for going well beyond normal mentoring and support, especially Warren Layfield, Ernie Puckett and George Shaiffer.

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