A group of college students from across the U.S. and Canada will attempt to launch a rocket into outer space this summer, which would be a record for a student team. And they’re doing it without the primary backing of a single university, company, or investor.
The 40-member Operation Space organization is “focused on building two identical rockets which will hopefully give us a shot at the Kármán line, which is the 330,000-foot boundary between earth’s atmosphere and outer space,” said Josh Farahzad, project lead for Operation Space, in a video posted on the group’s website. “If we’re successful, we’ll be the first student team to have ever launched something into outer space.”
The hope is to at least surpass the current 144,000-feet student record held by the University of Southern California, Farahzad said, but the overarching goal is to prove it’s possible to do something “as intensive and technically challenging as a rocket” in a matter of months. The Operation Space team is one of many student teams hoping to cross the Kármán line.
“That’s one of the aspects of the project I’m excited about, just breaking the odds,” Adam Katz, an MIT Sloan undergraduate, said in a phone interview.
Katz is a member of Operation Space’s business team, and his job is to help raise $20,000 to pay for the design and materials needed to build the rockets. The Chappaqua, New York, native joined the team after a hometown friend who is also on the Operation Space business develop team told him about the opportunity.
Katz said the idea for Operation Space’s goal came about when Farahzad and fellow Duke University student Luke Truitt were sitting around talking about summer plans.
“They were talking about something fun they could do for the summer and they are both also interested in space, computer power and what we can do with our computing power, and what we can do with hardworking individuals,” Katz said. “And before they knew it, they were recruiting people.”
The team members hail from across the United States and Canada. While they do have some sponsorship from heavy hitters like SpaceX and SolidWorks, the team wants to get most of its money in small amounts, from a lot of places.
“Everyone thinks space is for the big universities and the companies, but that’s exactly what we’re trying to do: we’re trying to inspire others and prove that we don’t need financial backing from an institution directly or one big company,” Katz said.
Katz said the technology team is close to having a prototype done for the rocket’s nose, which will help him during presentations to potential donors. He also credited Slack, a cloud-based communication tool, for keeping everyone on the same page until the members meet up in late July to build the rockets.
The team is scheduled to have a “mechanical hackathon” in Bethpage, New York, Farahzad explained, where the rockets will be assembled in the same hangar where the Lunar Module was built.
After two weeks, the rockets will be driven in pieces out to Spaceport America, in New Mexico, and launched mid-August.
Katz said after the project’s completion, Operation Space will be publishing all of its planning and design information so that others can use it.
“Our goal is to inspire others,” Katz said. “This project is ambitious, obviously, and we’re just hoping people look at it and say ‘why can’t I set my mind to something and do it.’ This project really started from two kids sitting around asking about what they should do for the summer, and it stemmed into 40 people working so passionately about achieving one goal.”