The sky’s the limit for student rocket launches at University of Leicester

Local sixth form students set their sights sky-high at the University of Leicester, as they test-launched rockets on campus in readiness for a national contest.

The University played host to thirty Space Engineering A-Level students for a session preparing and testing their model rockets at its Stoughton Road Sports Ground in Oadby, organised by the National Space Academy.

They set up their launch site on the University’s playing fields using standard model rocket kits of the type hobbyists use, roughly thirty centimetres in length and weighing around 8oz. Rather than using liquid rocket fuel, as full-size rockets do, these used gunpowder rocket motors that only burn for one or two seconds, but that is enough to launch them up to a hundred feet into the air. Once they reached their maximum height, each rocket would deploy a parachute and float gracefully to the ground – as long as it was built correctly!

Each student spent the morning at the National Space Centre, with funding from UK Space Agency, carefully assembling their rocket with an expert. In the afternoon, they then launched their creations at the University’s Sports Ground and evaluated how well they flew, how straight they flew, whether they stayed on course and how high they reached.

The event aimed to increase the students’ confidence and knowledge of rocketry and practical skills, and forms part of their A-level education and participation in the National Space Academy and the Space Engineering course at Loughborough College. It also served as a practice run for several of the students who are competing in this year’s UK Rocketry Youth Competition with a larger rocket in partnership with the University of Leicester.

Josh Barker, Education and Outreach Officer at the University of Leicester, said: “The science behind these small launches is exactly the same as the science that propels probes off to the moon and Mars, just at a smaller scale. We hope that supporting this kind of activity gives students practical experience of putting what they are learning in school and their classes into use, supporting them through their A levels through to university, and potentially future careers in STEM.”

Sophie Allan, Head of Teaching and Learning from the National Space Academy said: “Our Space Engineering students are part of an intensive enhanced A-level programme delivered in partnership with Loughborough College. We provide them with relevant, curriculum focused activities that really bring home key points and skills needed to work within the thriving UK space sector. Activities such as this are impossible to run without support from organisations like the UK Space Agency and University of Leicester. It’s been a fantastic day, with extremely successful launches, and we are now even more excited to move forward with the University into a bigger and better model rocket programme, and of course, the competition!”