MASA Rocketry Team continues work on space shot rocket despite pandemic

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Michigan Aeronautical Science Association is continuing to break expectations of a collegiate rocket team as they work toward reaching space with their new rocket, the Tangerine Space Machine.

One of the most successful engineering design teams at the University of Michigan is the Michigan Aeronautical Science Association (MASA) Michigan’s rocketry team. After winning the overall title at Spaceport America Cup in 2017 and launching the first liquid bipropellant rocket at the competition in 2018, MASA set its sights higher on the Base 11 Space Challenge, which charged collegiate teams with breaking the 100 km Karman Line (the edge of space) by the end of 2021. MASA received $25,000 and first place for the preliminary design report phase of the Base 11 Challenge. They then began work on the Tangerine Space Machine, the rocket that, they hope, will win them the $1 million grand prize. 

Michigan Aeronautical Science Association (MASA) team

Originally scheduled for launch in December 2020, a year ahead of the Base 11 deadline, the Tangerine Space Machine is a remarkable engineering project even if one forgets the engineers are college undergraduates. The rocket is designed to reach 400,000 ft, which is higher than Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. To reach that height, the rocket will generate 4,071 lbs of thrust with an engine designed in house by MASA’s propulsion team. Once its 41 second burn is complete, the rocket will return to Earth by parachute which, considering the Space Machine is 25 ft long and weighs 1,400 lbs, is no simple task. 

Like the rest of the University, however, MASA’s plans have shifted due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. To encourage social distancing, the University has shut down design team workspaces, including MASA’s and many of MASA’s team members have returned to homes spread across the country. 

Tangerine Space Machine cutaway

Prior to the shutdown, MASA was moving from the design to the testing phase, including a burst test of their liquid oxygen tank and a hotfire test of their PT-163 engine. Although the testing campaigns have been derailed, MASA has been able to continue work that can be done remotely. 

“Subteams are continuing their regularly scheduled meetings virtually,” Says Theo Rulko, a Sophomore in Aerospace and President of MASA. “While a lot of work has been halted by not having access to testing… we’re using this time to improve and expand our documentation in the MASA Wiki, to work on simulations and CAD designs, and also to take on the massive project of designing the flight plumbing and avionics systems for the rocket.” 

To facilitate the computer modeling of the complexities of rocket flight, MASA has utilized the Great Lakes Slurm cluster, a high performance computing cluster at the University of Michigan which the students can access from off campus.

Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, MASA has found ways to continue their remarkable work in rocketry. The Aerospace Department wishes them luck in their upcoming design reviews and hopes that they, like the rest of the College of Engineering will be back in the air soon.


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