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The sky is not the limit, but rather the goal for a team of four Lawrence University students who will attempt to reach the lower troposphere with their own hand-built rocket.

Nathaniel Douglas, Aditya Goil, Duncan Ryan and Rupesh Silwal will represent Lawrence next April in a student-designed rocket competition sponsored by the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium. The contest will culminate with a rocket launch at the Bong Recreational Area in Kenosha County.

The foursome will compete as FLY, an acronym for Fellowship of Lawrence Yjigyasus. Yjigyasus is a Hindi word that means scholar or seeker of knowledge. FLY will be one of 11 teams representing seven Wisconsin colleges or universities participating in the first-time competition to determine the best model rocket builders.

Supported by funding from NASA, the WSGC will provide each team with $1,000 seed money, two motors, a tri-axial accelerometer and an altimeter. From that, each team will be required to fabricate a two-stage rocket that safely deploys its second stage and lands safely under an operating chute.

Achieving the highest altitude without exceeding a ceiling of 12,000 feet is one of four categories on which each team’s rocket will be evaluated. While flight height will account for nearly half (45%) of the evaluation, points also will be awarded for design analysis, oral presentation and assessment of data results. Professional engineers will score the competition, which comes with a first-place prize of $5,000. A second-place prize of $2,500 also will be awarded.

FLY was the serendipitous offspring of a well-timed glance during a late-night study session in the physics department lounge. While collaborating on some homework, Goil and Silwal happened to spot a bulletin board flyer announcing an opportunity to launch rockets.

“That flyer sparked a conversation about the experiences we have had with rockets — lighting firecrackers and some mini-rocket modeling — and different movies and science shows we’ve seen about rockets,” explained Goil, a junior physics major from Mumbai, India. “The more we talked, it became clear we both had an interest in rocketry.”

The next day, Goil and Silwal approached Professor of Physics John Brandenberger with their interests and he agreed to serve as the team’s faculty mentor on the project. Fellow physics majors Douglas and Ryan were invited to join the team and suddenly FLY was born.

“Even though I have never built any sort of rocket before, I’m very excited about this competition,” said Silwal, a junior from Kathmandu, Nepal. “We’re confident that we can do a good job, but will it be good enough to win the competition? There should be a lot of strong teams and I’m sure that we will be up against a tough group of rocketeers.

“For me, this is really going to be as much about the experience as it is the competition,” Silwal added. “However it turns out, at the end of the day the experience of going through all this will be the one that I surely will remember as one of the best experiences of my undergraduate days.”

Along with Lawrence’s FLY, there will be will be four teams from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, two teams from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and single entries from UW-Madison, UW-Oshkosh, Marquette University and Wisconsin Lutheran College vying for the rocket competition title.

The 26-member Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium was founded in 1991 as part of NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. Created in 1988 by an act of Congress, the NASA program works to address the national need for a highly skilled, technology-savvy workforce. The WSCG fosters the recruitment and support of students in science, mathematics and technology by funding research, student scholarships and outreach projects in a wide variety of fields related to aerospace.