On a bright December morning, five student teams gathered at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida to launch rockets powered only by effervescent tablets. As finalists in the second-annual Alka-Rocket Challenge, the undergraduate students came from around the country to compete for a chance to set the news Guinness World Record title and a prize of $30,000, courtesy of the sponsor Bayer.
The teams launched their rockets one after the next, each one reliant only on 100 crushed effervescent tablets for propulsion. Things did not go smoothly. Cal Poly State University mistakenly burned out their altimeter before launch, a disqualification, which left them to launch as demonstration only. Both the University of Georgia and Texas Tech University managed to make qualified launches, but due to various difficulties neither was able to claim the title.
Brigham Young University had the most spectacular launch of the day. The team’s rocket soared to 883 feet—more than doubling last year’s Guinness World Record title—but the descent was rocky. Though BYU’s recovery system deployed, it failed at some point, leaving the rocket to hit the ground with such force that it buried itself two inches into barely moist soil.
The team from University of Minnesota, last year’s champion and the holder of the Guinness World Record title, sent up a much more modest launch, just 204 feet. But unlike BYU, their recovery parachute held through the entire descent and brought the rocket safely see-sawing back to Earth.
In the end, the judges were forced to make a difficult decision. BYU claimed the Guinness World Record title and the University of Minnesota was also rewarded for their launch, which exemplified the spirit of safe rocketeering. Both teams will receive $30,000 for their efforts.
Scientific American Custom Media was the media partner for the event, and we would like to congratulate all of the teams. The National Association of Rocketry also assisted in judging. Each team put forward a compelling and well-engineered design, and while 883 feet is a formidable height, records are meant to be broken. 2019 is already shaping up to be a very interesting year in student rocketry.
To learn more about the Alka-Rocket Challenge and the wonder of effervescent powered rocketry, visit our page.