This weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer with Fiore Industries at Spaceport America just outside of Truth or Consequences, NM. The event was the Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) or Spaceport America Cup 2019, the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) flagship competition. There were universities all over the world that met for the one week of the where all colleges are out for summer break. Launches began Wednesday night and continued until noon on Saturday. The rockets were categorized by intended height, 10k and 30k, motor type, SRAD or COTS, and propulsion type, solid motor, hybrid liquid and all propulsion. The event was super cool! I got to talk to students from Canada and Brazil as well as universities from the US like Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Alabama.
I was invited to go to this by a friend who also attends UNM. She is a computer engineer and is an Intern at Fiore Industries. She participates in the UNM Private Sector Internship Program (SPSP) through ESS for the summer and receives a stipend for the summer where she works with engineers and technicians from the company. Fiore is a security guard service company and was providing paramedics, firefighters and security for the event. Fiore is also a contractor for the commercial spaceport company. The competition took place on Spaceport America’s FAA-licensed vertical launch areas.
I arrived Thursday around lunch time. I got to walk around, talk to some students and take some cool pictures. I learned about some of the common types of failures and the competition was scored. Throughout the year, there are certain technical write ups and the show and tell of the rockets at Las Cruces Convention Center that account for around 70% of a team’s score. The last 30% is not only launching and achieving the intended height but also finding the rocket. I sat down from the champions from the 2018 cup on the last day and they were telling me they lost their rocket due to GPS malfunction and they were effectively saying goodbye to the competition. Queen’s University had that same problem but also took a second to explain the leaderboard to me. The expo markers indicate what order they launched, the sooner you launch the more ‘bonus’ points you could get, what frequency the radio of the rocket is (depending on the motor) and the flight status. For the most part, you want a nominal flight: when everything goes great. This part of the board will indicate if a chute was early or late as well as CATO or a catastrophic launch. For Rochester Institute of Technology, CATO indicated their motor exploded, melted the aluminum body and the rocket did not reach the target height and they lost a chance for their second ‘do over’ launch.
Not only did I meet students from all over, I met the president of ESRA Matthew Ellengold, President and CEO of Fiore Industries Bill Miera and CEO of Spaceport America Dan Hicks. Thursday ended early with major winds throwing off the rockets, knocking over tents and sandblasting everyone. We all headed back to Truth or Consequences for a good night’s sleep. On Friday, we woke up early and started helping wherever we could. We delivered meals to the security guards on station and picked up trash that blew away from teams’ stations.
Right after lunch, a few employees of Fiore and I got to tour Spaceport America. We checked out the firefighting station that responds to onsite calls as well as calls from surrounding areas. I got to try on some gear take a ride in the massive Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) truck. We also saw the visitor’s center inside Spaceport America with a direct window to the hanger that houses White Knight and Unity, the spacecraft that takes the astronaut into suborbital space.
Friday was shut down early as well due to the winds. We headed back early where I got to check out Elephant Butte State Park and Riverbend Hot Springs. Saturday only had seven teams launch. These were many second chance launches and last efforts for a successful launch. We headed home after the launches and unfortunately did not stay for awards. Regardless of who one, this was undeniably an awesome opportunity that I will never forget. I got to witness some of the coolest innovations and technologies to the date and talk to some really awesome people. If you ever find yourself in Truth or Consequences, NM totally check out Spaceport America.