Rocketing past the competition

EWU and Riverpoint Academy have teamed up and are ready to showcase their unprecedented rocketry design at IREC

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Rocketing past the competition

Photo contributed by Isaiah Irish

Photo contributed by Isaiah Irish

Photo contributed by Isaiah Irish

Photo contributed by Isaiah Irish

By Brad Brown, Managing Editor

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Last year’s results at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) were one small step for EWU’s Rocketry Club. Finishing third place in the basic category out of 50 teams, they were only outdone by renowned tech schools Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA) in Brazil. This year, they are looking to take one giant leap by designing a rocket with techniques they believe have never been done at the amateur level.

Annually hosted in Green River, Utah by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA), this year’s IREC competition will unite over 80 teams from five separate continents on June 15. Each team is designated into either the basic category (10,000 feet target apogee) or the advanced category (10,000 feet minimum apogee). This year, EWU has designed two separate rockets to compete in both categories.


With the help of STEM magnet school Riverpoint Academy, EWU’s Rocketry Club has raised the bar by building a dual propellant motor, a technique only commonly used in the military for missiles.

This ambitious design change was spurred to help meet the advanced category’s requirement that the rocket gets off the launch pad at 100 feet per second. According to EWU senior and propellant lead Isaiah Irish, traditionally changes are made to the core geometry of the mandrel to allow more propellant to burn at the start, creating a higher initial kick.

Incorporating a dual propellant design will allow them to carry two different kinds of solid propellant in the same motor, slow and fast, essentially creating two separate layers of propellant. According to Irish, solid propellant burns radially so when they ignite the center, the fast propellant will burn first giving a high initial kick and eventually reach the slow propellant to give a longer sustained burn.

To allow room for the two layers of solid propellant, they were forced to create a larger motor. With motor classes doubling in size by letter association, their motor is categorized as O-class at about 4-feet 7-inches tall and 6-inches in diameter.


“The motor itself will be, as far as we know, the biggest solid propellant motor ever at the competition and by far the biggest team-built solid propellant motor,” said Irish. “Generally everybody just buys their motors because they just don’t have experience making them.”

In their most recent test at the fire department’s testing facility, police were called to the scene due to a noise complaint from the Visitor’s Center over a mile away. “We are fairly certain that our test last Saturday of the O-class dual propellant was probably the biggest one ever by an amateur in the world, as far as we know.” Irish said.


While EWU’s team is tasked with getting the rocket in the air, Riverpoint Academy will be turning heads and scoring points at IREC with their own contributions. This year they’ve been charged with the entire 10 pound payload requirement. Integrating solar panels in the nosecone to plot the efficiency of the solar panels by altitude and mounting a GoPro camera to live stream data are among the things they’re including in the payload.

“It’s a phenomenal group of kids we’re working with there,” said EWU professor Dr. Weiser. “They think way outside the box. They try things that our students wouldn’t even think about trying.”

The upcoming competition will culminate the second year of partnership for EWU with Riverpoint Academy and the two are the leading the way for K-12 outreach at IREC. According to Weiser, some of the other K-12 contributions have been a little as having students write their name on a Post-it note and placing it on the rocket.

Weiser said last year when they accepted the honorable mention third place award, they asked their Riverpoint Academy students to stand up with them. “A bunch of the teams looked like ‘oh, they’ve just upped the bar dramatically,’ to have actually worked with a high school and brought them with us,” Weiser said.

However, Riverpoint Academy students aren’t expected to have a good representation this year due to their own innovation competition. According to Weiser, they’ll be busy at MIT after winning a $10,000 award plus travel to design, build and display their work.


Building rockets isn’t cheap. However, in only their second year, the EWU Rocketry Club has developed a number of various donors who believe in what they’re doing.

One of their main donors is AGC AeroComposites out of Hayden, Idaho. As a company that builds parts for the U.S. Army, they’re often stuck with leftover parts that fail to meet MIL-SPEC and have “expired” by the military’s standards.

According to Irish, all of the pre-preg carbon fiber “expires” within six months after being purchased and they’re unable to use it all as fast as they buy it. Graciously at the end of the six months, they donate some of their extra pre-preg to EWU for free.

“It’s incredibly expensive,” said Irish. “I think it’s about $100 per square foot and we have used about a couple hundred square feet, but they are kind enough to give it to us.”

The total cost of this entire project including travel is expected to be around $15,000, which is a relatively low budget in comparison to other schools.

”I know one team, just from Redmond that is spending $15,000 for their bus to get to and from,” Weiser said.

The new website fundEWU, which essentially works for EWU specific projects in the same fashion as the well-known website Kickstarter, garnered over $3,500 in contributions from friends and family and two major contributions from Key Tronic in Spokane Valley and Tri-City Vault in Richland.

With the likes of SpaceX, Orbital ATK and other industry-leading companies sending recruiting teams to the competition, IREC is providing an opportunity for students to get noticed in the field.

According to Irish, the skills that are gained in this competition go well beyond rocketry.
A lot of the work is with composite materials and electronic machine fabrication, and Irish said he’s seen people get jobs those fields.

“Unfortunately I already have a job, so if NASA offered something I’d have to wait a year.” Irish said.

Expectations are sky-high this year for EWU’s Rocketry Club and in only their second year competing, the IREC competition is quickly becoming one of the hallmarks of EWU’s engineering program. With a year’s worth designing a testing in the books, all that’s left for them now is to let it fly.

“Last year was about starting something big, this year is about trying to continue something big,” Irish said.