Project Update 4/8/2019

2019 Argonia Cup

Last weekend we competed in our second Argonia Cup competition. We placed second out of 12 teams. If you would like to read an extensive project report or if you want to see pictures and videos from the launch, check out the Argonia Cup Google Drive folder linked above. Thank you for your support! I am extremely proud of what we accomplished this year.

Over and out,

Adam Vogel


Project Update 2/25/2019

Pictures and videos from STEM Merit Badge Day

This was our team’s first experience with the STEM Merit Badge Day at SIU. This event is an opportunity for Boy Scouts to earn merit badges and other awards in STEM fields. It also exposes them to our clubs and the university as a whole. This year we taught the Space Exploration merit badge. Scouts learned about the history of space exploration and the requirements for sustaining human life on other planets. In addition, the scouts built and launched their own model rockets. We also showed them our rockets and explained some of our engineering process to try to bring their experience to a new level. We learned a lot and look forward to teaching this merit badge again next year.

Matthew Lunde (Senior)

Project Update 2/17/2019

Ejection Test Videos

Today we successfully tested our ejection system for the 2019 Argonia Cup. Before testing, we repaired a few cracks along the fins by sanding off the cracked epoxy and applying a new layer. While the epoxy dried we assembled the ejection charges. They consist of three grams of FFFFG black powder around an electric match packed tight with fireproof attic insulation.

Once the rocket and charges were ready, we drove out to a farm owned by the president of Winn-Star, an aerospace contracting company. We tested two charges, one in a cardboard tube and one in a PVC tube. Both of the charges worked but the PVC charge was slightly more powerful as we predicted.

With a working ejection system, we can put all of our focus on finishing our drone. The Argonia Cup is March 30 and 31st this year, about a week earlier than last year, but we will be ready.

Over and out,

Adam Vogel

Princeton Launch 2/9/2019

Princeton Launch

Both launches of Frostbite, our second 2.2” diameter 54” long rocket went according to plan this month. We launched on the 9th at the Quad Cities Rocket Society launch site. We had two goals in mind for these launches. Goal number one was to certify Pedro (me) as a level 2 Tripoli member, to ensure that the rocket team will always have an available team member who is certified to launch rockets at competitions. The second goal of the launches was to test a new altimeter that we won as a prize for getting second place at the Argonia Cup. This new altimeter is more advanced, but it was never used before, so we had to make sure it worked before we put it in our bigger rocket.

Rocket Information:

Name: Frostbite

Weight: 6 lbs.

Length: 54 in.

Width: 2.2 in.

Flight 1 Stats:

Motor: I430 Speed: 238.7 m/s Altitude: 5230 ft

Flight 2 Stats:

Motor: J712 Speed: 324.6 m/s Altitude: 7231 ft

After these two launches, we have gathered enough data to make sure that our new altimeter works as planned and will be ready to use in any of our next launches. The altimeter gave us real time information on all aspects of the flight, from altitude and acceleration, to speed and GPS coordinates. All of this was transmitted from the rocket to a smartphone that acted as our ground station. This will be really useful in future launches since it will allow us to see the data in real time.

Pedro de Oliveira (Freshman)


Project Update 2/4/2019

We attempted to launch Pedro’s certification rocket last weekend in Princeton, IL. Weather was fantastic on Sunday morning; no wind, temperature in the 20’s, and not a cloud in the sky. The launch site is on farm land so we were worried that leftover snow from the recent system wouldn’t be cleared from the roads. As luck would have it, every single road was plowed, except the final half-mile road that led to the launch site

We were driving in a mini van and attempted to push through the 2′ snow drifts to no avail. The launch was scheduled to start at 9:00 am and at around 8:30 we were the only ones there. We decided to park at the beginning of the snow covered road and began to prep the rocket. Just as we had finished, three trucks pull up next to us driven by the launch coordinators. They drove up to the snow banks, exited their vehicles, and talked amongst themselves for a few minutes. After their conversation one of them approached us and explained that they are unable to reach the launch equipment and that the launch was scrubbed.

We stopped by Starved Rock State Park on the way home in hopes that a hike would boost morale. Along with the hike came the realization that we will need to repeat the 12 hour round trip again in just two weeks for a launch on Saturday, February 9th.

While the certification launch did not go as planned, our Argonia preparations are moving right along. Since the last website update, we have enlisted the help of Phillip Kocmoud, a partner of Mayan Robotics (mRo). His company specializes in hobbyist autopilot systems for quadcopters, gliders, powered planes, and more. After explaining our design challenges, he was eager to offer his guidance. He is working on printing the second version of our autonomous glider and has sent us a flight controller to begin programming.

Perhaps the most convenient part of the new design is that it will fit inside of our already existing 4″ rocket. Rather than build an entirely new rocket while also trying to perfect our glider, we can focus solely on the glider and simply patch up a few cracks in the old rocket.

I would love to provide and explain the schematics for the ejection system we have designed, but on the off chance that a competing team reads this, we will wait until after Argonia to post.

Hopefully the weather cooperates for next weekend’s launch. Be sure to check the website for pictures and videos from the launch. If you have any questions or are interested in how the Argonia launch will work, send me an email at adam.vogel@siu.edu.

Thank you again for your support!

Over and out,
Adam Vogel

Project Update 12/29/2018

As winter break comes to an end, our team has been preparing for the busiest time of year. Earlier today, Adam Vogel and Pedro Oliveira picked up Pedro’s certification rocket from Wildman’s Rocketry Supplies in Van Orin, Illinois. We plan to fly that rocket in Princeton, IL at a Quad Cities Rocketry Society (QCRS) launch on January 27. This gives us two weeks from our return to campus to have Pedro’s rocket built and ready to fly. In addition to our certification rocket, we will begin planning our rocket motor mixing sessions, deciding on a commercial quadcopter to eject from our Argonia rocket and purchasing the fiberglass components of our Argonia rocket.

The motor mixing will be overseen by team member Jessica Jurak, as well as professor of chemistry Dr. Gary Kinsel. In the coming weeks I (Adam Vogel) will be reviewing our extensive safety procedures with them and the entire team as we prepare to begin mixing.

As for the delivery drone, we have decided to go commercial. Designing our own quadcopter from scratch proved to be more time consuming than expected and with a failed first flight, more costly as well. I would like to explain more about the drones we are looking at purchasing, but in the event a rival team were to read this, I will wait until after the Argonia Cup.

I will say that we require a larger rocket than expected to carry our drone. Ideally we will be able to reach the required 8,000 feet on a fiberglass rocket but if our flight simulations say otherwise we may have to look into wildly expensive carbon fiber components instead. In addition to modifying the rocket itself, we will also be flying essentially the largest motor that the competition allows, in hopes of crossing 8,000 feet with ease.

In addition to all of the above events, we are also beginning our annual fundraiser tomorrow. Larger rockets and commercial drones can be very expensive and we will not be able to compete this year without the generosity of our donors.

If you have any questions about what our team does, how you can help, or how you can join our team, send me an email at adam.vogel@siu.edu.

Over and out,

Adam Vogel

Project Update 11/7/2018

Underclassman Certification

In order to ensure the continued existence of our club, we are emphasizing underclassman involvement. In order to become a certified level two member of the Tripoli Rocketry Association, one must launch and successfully land an H class motor as well as an I or J class motor. In addition to the successful flights, the applicant must pass a written exam to prove their knowledge of safety protocols and the basic physics behind a rocket launch.

Each applicant must build their own certification rocket. Last year, Adam Vogel built a single rocket capable of flying both an H and J motor. We will conduct the same process this year. The materials and equipment necessary to roll our own fiberglass tubes are not warranted at this time. We will buy the fiberglass components and assemble the rest ourselves. Last year, Adam Vogel used two single-use motors to certify. This year, the team will be using two reusable anodized aluminum motors.


Rocket Motor Design and Fabrication

The reason for using more expensive reusable motors is that we will be able to use those same motor tubes to preform static tests and fly our research motors. There are many different formulas for making rocket motors. Some of the more popular ones include potassium nitrate and sugar, commonly called ‘rocket candy.’ Rocket candy typically burns around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The fuel we are designing will burn from 7,000-10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the volatile nature of chemicals involved, supervision is required at every step. A Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force checks our formulas before we even start mixing. He then observes the mixing process along with a chemistry professor to ensure everything is done safely.

We have ordered all of the necessary chemicals and prepared the machinery necessary for mixing. Since this is a university web page, I am unsure how detailed I am allowed to be. If all goes according to plan, we should have our first motors mixed and ready before or right after Christmas break. Tripoli does not allow research motors to be used for certification so we had to purchase commercial reloads that fit in our motors.


Recovery Drone

Perhaps the most complex project we have this year is designing some mechanism for accurately delivering a golf ball to the ground from 8,000 feet. Originally, we planned to design a quadcopter with hinged arms that would eject at apogee and be able to autonomously fly to the ground. We recently tested a simplified version of that drone with negative results. After a brief second of flight, the drone flipped onto its back and crashed into the ground damaging the $150 flight controller beyond repair.

We thought autonomy was necessary because we likely won’t have visual contact with our vehicle. If we can see what the vehicle sees, however, then we don’t necessarily need to see it from the ground. First-Person View (FPV) cameras are relatively small and can be mounted anywhere on a vehicle. Even with a low resolution camera we would still be able to discern ground from sky. The problem with FPV alone is that last year when we launched, there was snow on the ground. A high resolution camera would be of no use if everything is white. We still need to have a rough idea of where our drone is. GPS transmitters solve that problem. One of our prizes for earning second place in the Argonia Cup was a GPS transmitter. With some minor modifications to ensure an adequate transmission rate, the GPS system we already have should work fine.

We are still deciding whether or not to switch from a quadcopter to a powered glider. There are benefits to each but as far as simplicity is concerned, it seems like a glider would be best. There are RC and FPV systems with more than enough range, so while we might lose autonomy and a few yards of accuracy, we should be able to complete our mission.

Argoina Cup 2018 Results

Back in February, we launched the first rocket ever made by Southern Illinois University twice, without fail. Once we had these two flights under our belt, we were inspired to fly larger rockets at higher speeds to greater heights.

This craving was to be satisfied by building an eight foot tall, four inch wide rocket to compete in the 2018 Argonia Cup. With less than 3 months to complete our project, it seemed like we didn’t have enough time or money. However, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of a few people that will be mentioned later, we were given the resources necessary to reach our goal. It was now on us to build the rocket.

The construction of our Argonia Cup rocket was underway. This process required countless hours sanding each fitting, measuring out holes for venting, rivets, and shear pins, calculating pressure changes, max velocities, and apogees as well as 3D printing specialized centering rings to ensure the fins were perfectly straight. While we were caught up in building the rocket, we lost sight of what the Argonia Cup actually required of us. We were building a rocket that would fly very high and very fast. The Argonia Cup is focused more on precision recovery. The competition requires reaching an altitude of 8,000 feet and then returning a golf ball as close to a predetermined location as possible.

Our early calculations were projecting an apogee in excess of 16,000 feet, so altitude was no worry. The problem was that we had not started building our recovery system. This recovery system was originally a spring-loaded quadcopter that would deploy at apogee and autonomously fly itself to the exact GPS coordinates of the target using an open-source flight controller. It seemed as though the closer we were to finishing the drone, an increasing amount of problems arose. How were we going to safely get the drone outside of the rocket? Will the drone’s internal electronic orientation be offset by the 15G’s of acceleration? How long will it take for the drone to stabilize itself? Will the drone be able to fly in strong winds? We were able to find solutions to most of these problems, however we could not solve all of them while also building a reliable rocket. We decided that instead of quickly building an expensive drone that we would not have time to test, we would ditch the recovery method all together.

Once we had our rocket ready to fly we gave it to our adviser Bob Baer to paint. His work speaks for itself and we are grateful for his assistance. With our newly painted rocket, we were about two weeks from the competition and needed to finalize travel details. We had planned to camp at the launch site, but when we checked the forecast, we saw a Friday night low of 19 degrees. We promptly made reservations for two nights in a hotel about 15 minutes from the launch site.

There were three things that I did not want to see happen at this competition. First, I did not want our rocket to land in a tree. Our second flight in February landed in a tree and took an hour and a half to retrieve. This worry was minimized when I shared it with the experienced flyers at the competition. One flyer said that of his 400+ launches, only 4 have landed in trees. Also, we were in the middle of a state that is famous for not having many trees. Second, I did not want to break the rocket. We had invested far too much time into the rocket to see it fail. Finally, and most importantly, I did not want to end up in last place. I am happy to say that of those three things, only one happened. As you can see in the pictures in this folder, we somehow managed to get our parachute tangled in the only treeline within eyesight.

We left for Argonia, KS at 9:00 am on April 6th. We arrived in Argonia at 7:00 pm that night. After a quick dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, we went to bed. We woke up the next morning around 6:30 and met up with our team’s mentor, Air Force Major Bryan Sparkman, and his friend Chris Maier for breakfast. After we ate, we drove 20 minutes to the launch site, appropriately named “The Rocket Pasture”. We started preparing for our first flight around 9:00 am and were ready to launch around 11:00 am.

Flight prep includes many important aspects. First, we had members Jinal Valand and Matthew Lunde prepare ejection charges for our rocket. These consisted of four grams of black powder packed into a sealed cardboard tube with an electric match at the bottom. The electric match is ignited by our altimeter, either at apogee to split the payload and booster sections or at 800 feet to release the main parachute. Since this rocket is substantially larger than our previous one, some extra precautions were taken. Our rocket had two independent PerfectFlite Stratologger altimeters, each wired to a charge in the front and aft portions. This ensured that even if one of our systems failed, we could still safely recover our rocket. Once we had the electronics ready to go, James Cabahug and myself assembled the motor. For this rocket we used a four grain Aerotech L1420 with a total impulse of 4,608 Ns. To put that into perspective, that motor is about seven times more powerful than our previous flight. As the motor was being assembled, Caleb Dushman packed our 58” parachute and fireproof chute protector. With the motor, electronics, and parachute ready, we were set to fly.

After mounting our rocket on the launch rail, we took a few pictures, backed up to a safe distance, and waited for the launch.

Three. This is it. A semester of hard work lead to this moment.

Two. I really hope I am not forgetting anything

One. With a thunderous roar our rocket screamed through the air.

Launching the rocket up is only half of the problem. The other half is getting it safely back down. With ears pointed skyward we waited in silence for a sound indicating a successful apogee event. A small pop was heard as we turned our heads towards the rocket’s smoky trail, squinting at the empty sky in hopes of making visual contact. No such luck. With our rocket out of sight, we relied on a small HAM radio tracker used for falconry to find it. An hour of searching passed before we heard a faint beeping indicating the direction of the rocket. The rocket was found! At the time, we thought it was about a mile and a half away from the target. We were too excited about recovering a successful flight to remember that we were not allowed to touch the rocket before an official measured the distance. By touching the rocket, we had disqualified this first flight from winning. It was not until we returned to the launch site that a mentor from Oklahoma State University informed us that not a single team besides us was able to reach the required altitude and land in a flyable condition. Teams had frozen parachutes, exploding motors, and broken fins. This slightly disheartened us but we were told by the officials that if no other team was able to land successfully, we would win. Thus we finished the first day of competition ‘technically’ in first place.

The second day strongly resembled the first. Except there was one difference. A sense of haste filled our heads as the weatherman predicted increasing winds all day with a chance for rain in the afternoon. The flight waiver opened at 9:00 am, so we made sure we were ready to fly exactly at 9:00 am to beat the wind. Our second flight went just as well as the first and was rather unaffected by the wind. Typically, the biggest problem with flying rockets in heavy winds is weathercocking. Due to the aerodynamic nature of rockets, they will weathercock themselves by a few degrees into the wind. This means that if a team is using a motor that will get them only slightly above 8,000 feet, they may not reach the required altitude. We, however, made sure this would not be a problem in the slightest and used a motor which is essentially the most powerful motor the competition allowed. Our thinking behind this was that since we do not have a recovery system, we probably will not win the competition, so we might as well go as high and as fast as we can.

Our rocket’s first flight reached 12,306 feet with a max speed of 1,090 mph – it landed 4,220 feet from the target and would have won the competition. Our second flight reached 11,941 feet with a max speed of 1,130 mph and landed 5,914 feet from the target. Oklahoma State University reached 8,998 feet and landed 5,069 feet from the target to win first place. Of the 8 teams in attendance, we were the only team to have two successful flights. We were one of two teams to have a single successful flight. Oklahoma’s winning flight took place on the second day of competition after they experienced a parachute failure on the first day, breaking two fins off of their rocket. They were able to drive back to their workshop that night, make repairs, and fly again the next day.

Considering we entered the competition with no recovery method besides 20 feet of caution tape acting as a streamer to keep decent vertical, ending up in second place is fantastic. As I said earlier, I could not be more proud and thankful for my team. We not only built two incredibly successful rockets, but they helped me develop my leadership skills and became some of my closest friends.

Without the help of Dan Welling and Air Force Major Bryan Sparkman, we would not have been able to learn the complexities of rocket building as quickly as we did. Both of these men have been flying rockets for decades and were generous enough to act as my mentors and answer my thousands of questions. Maj. Sparkman also attended the February launch with us.

I would like to thank all those that donated to our project. None of this would be possible without the financial support of our donors, in particular our Rocket Boosters:

Dan Korte

David Mercier

Bob Baer

Mark Vogel

Jim Garvey

Jerry and Roberta Ling

Gerri Bernard

Barbra Dillow, in memory of Louise and Jim Biggs


Finally, the team and I extend our gratitude for supplemental funding from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, the Office of the Chancellor, the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and the STEM Outreach Center.

If we are able to get second place with only one semester of work, imagine what we will be able to accomplish with an entire year. Enjoy the photos in this folder and if you have any questions about our project, or about joining our team, my e-mail is adam.vogel@siu.edu.


Over and Out,

Adam Vogel


Rocketeers of Southern Illinois

Project Update 2/27/18

Both of our launches on the 17th of February went extremely well. We are having trouble publishing our launch video but will post a link to the YouTube video when it is live. Our 2.2” diameter 62” rocket was expected to reach an altitude of 2100 feet on a 234 Ns H motor with a max speed of 250 mph. The J motor had an impulse of 700 Ns, we were expecting it to reach about 5900 feet with a max speed of 700 mph.


Our on board altimeter recorded both flights allowing us to review data from the flights including temperature, pressure, velocity, and altitude. The H motor launched our rocket to 2068 feet with a max speed of 272 mph. Our rocket soared to 6,839 feet on the J motor with a max speed of 760 mph (that’s 7 mph away from going supersonic).


Notice our first flight was only 32 feet below the simulation while the second flight was 939 feet above the simulation. This is due to OpenRocket’s inability to accurately account for drag coefficients as velocity reaches the speed of sound (767 mph).


This past Thursday, we received materials for our main competition rocket and ordered a pixhawk autopilot system for our drone. Construction of this rocket will be essentially the same as our previous rocket on a larger scale with four main differences.


  1. Our first rocket did not have a drogue parachute, this rocket will. A drogue parachute is a relatively small parachute with a hole in the middle. The drogue chute will allow our rocket to fall fairly straight and slow, allowing us to safely eject the drone and main parachutes at our desired altitude.
  2. There will be two independent avionics and ejection systems inside this rocket. They will both be set to eject at the same heights. The redundant system allows us to have one system fail while still safely returning our rocket to the ground. Since this rocket is substantially longer, wider, and heavier than our previous rocket, more involved safety measures must be put in place.
  3. This rocket will be carrying much more weight than our previous rocket, as well as carrying a drone. This will shift around our center of gravity and we must be careful to keep mass as centered as possible. We will put two centering rings on the forward and aft sections of our drone which will keep it from rocking around while inside. The drone itself will be placed behind the nose cone and in front of the main parachute. This will allow the drone to be pushed out by the parachute after the nose cone is separated by the ejection charges.
  4. Our competition rocket is using a P75-4G (Pro 75 four grain) reloadable motor. While the mechanical construction process is unaffected by this, it will result in a heavier load on our rocket. The majority of commercially available high powered motors (L and above in my experience) do not come as single use motors like our H and J did. Instead, they are single use solid cylinders classified by their number of grains that are then placed inside of a reusable motor tube. All of the anodizing and engineering that goes into a tube able to withstand numerous thousand degree high-pressure burns drives the price of these tubes way up. Our L motor case was $309, about $5 less than the cost of the fiberglass rocket itself. Each reload for this case will cost $280.