Rocket launch video by Sam Blevins (Nov. 10, 2023)
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Rocket Mocs team recently hosted a meet-and-greet for students to come and meet the team while they built their certification rockets. The Rocket Mocs are preparing for their upcoming competition hosted by NASA in April called the NASA United Student Launch Initiative (USLI) Challenge.
This is the fifth consecutive year the Rocket Mocs have qualified for the national competition. This year, the team has to build a rocket that can reach an altitude of at least 4,000 feet—but no higher than 6,000 feet—for their competition launch. The rocket must fit NASA rules, which can be intense.
Rett Stockman, a senior at UTC majoring in mechanical engineering, is the team leader for the USLI Rocket Mocs program.
Stockman said the rockets are what appealed to him the most when asked what made him interested in the Rocket Mocs.
“The experience on the team has been really good,” Stockman shared. “Everyone on the team has pulled their weight, so it’s been a lot of everyone figuring out what section they’re working on and pulling it all back together when it comes time to do a report. It’s been really fun, and it’s definitely built leadership skills in helping get everybody delegated and working together.”
Stockman said the team initially felt concerned about the competition because it was a lot of new information and the first deadlines were rough.
“We’ve come to understand what we’re building a little bit better,” he said, “and that’s a part of what we’re doing today is building our first smaller rocket. Now that we’ve understood it in a bit better detail, we’re feeling really good about it.”
Although the Rocket Mocs have until April to prepare for their competition launch, the clock is ticking.
“We’re working really good together and it’s going to take everyone to get it done on time,” Stockman said. “We’ve only got eight people on the team currently and we’ve pulled a lot of underclassmen in, so I think with their help we’ll be able to get it done.”
The Rocket Mocs are one of 49 collegiate teams selected nationwide and have proven their spot in the yearly competition.
Dr. Trevor Elliott, UC Foundation associate professor of mechanical engineering and the Rocket Mocs’ faculty advisor, explained the Rocket Mocs meet-and-greet was set up for several reasons.
“The Rocket Mocs organization is a very engaging group. They really do love getting anyone involved in STEM work and even those already in STEM further engaged to keep their enthusiasm going,” Elliott said. “They set the event in a public space to get their name out in the public to help recruit and improve their chances of success with the first initiative of engagement and involvement.”
To further this engagement, the Rocket Mocs organization opened the rocket-building event to the campus community—with six underclassmen from three different majors participating. The team’s senior members used the occasion to complete certifications in high-powered rocketry as an essential step for their capstone project.
Elliott said the club engaged with 40 campus community members during the event, which took place in the breezeway of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The idea for the Rocket Mocs first came into existence when four UTC students came to Elliott’s office in 2016 to see if he would support a rocketry project as their senior design project since his research involves full-scale rockets. That team went on to enter its first national rocketry competition. The following year, the Rocket Mocs finished third in the nation.
“The next team brought the College of Engineering its first national title, taking first place in the (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space University Student Rocket Competition) in 2018,” Elliott said. “In 2020, the Rocket Mocs achieved the college’s first international title by breaking the world altitude record for the complex, multistage I impulse class.
“They still hold that record to this day.”
This year’s nine-month-long challenge will culminate with on-site events April 10-14, 2024, at Bragg Farms in Toney, Alabama, located just north of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
In last year’s competition, the Rocket Mocs placed second in the payload performance subcategory in the NASA competition.