One of the highlights of my freshman year was being involved in the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, which is USC’s entirely student-run undergraduate research laboratory determined to send a rocket to space. We are currently working on our third attempt at reaching space with a vehicle called Traveler III. The group has been designing and testing this rocket for many years, so it’s really exciting to be a part of RPL as the pieces come together.

Traveler III has a solid rocket propellant motor. In order to make sure our rocket can make it to space, we perform a motor test called a static fire. To do so, we firmly attach the motor to the ground and fire it. From this, we can collect important data about the motor that will tell us if it can propel the rocket to space. A successful static fire also qualifies the design of the motorcase and nozzle.

Last semester, we successfully static fired the motor for Traveler III, which was the largest composite case static fire performed by an amateur group ever!

In order to conduct the static fire, we drove out to the Mojave Desert to a site called FAR (Friends of Amateur Rocketry). The team then mounted the motor to the test stand and got our data acquisition system in line. Then, we all stood behind a bunker and waited anxiously for the ignition. When the static fire was successful, many team members burst into tears — the upperclassman in lab and the alumni who joined us at the firing have been working on this technology for years, sacrificing so much in pursuit of space. Seeing the burst of flames, along with these emotions, was honestly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I definitely wanted to be an engineer for moments like these, so this experience reaffirmed my choice to pursue mechanical engineering here at USC.

Now that we know our motor works, we have been working hard to build the rest of our rocket. We initially planned to launch at the beginning of summer, but due to some unexpected complications, the launch has been postponed. But stay tuned, as RPL has a dedicated core team and community that will continue to work towards space, no matter the challenges (our motto is space or nothing, and we stick to it!).

Check out my Instagram (@audrey.roberts) and blogs for updates later this year. You won’t want to miss this milestone in undergraduate rocketry!

Also, check out these super cool videos of the static fire here:

Audrey Roberts

Audrey Roberts

MAJOR: Mechanical Engineering YEAR: Class of 2021 HOMETOWN: Denver, Colorado PRONOUNS: she/her/hers INSTA: @audrey.roberts On campus, I lead outreach for the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, do materials research in the M.C. Gill Composites Center, and am the Academic Chair of my sorority.