Ridgefield team to compete nationally with model rocket that can keep 2 eggs safe, 835 feet in air

The rocketry team putting the rocket on the launch pad and getting it ready for launch at one of the practice flights in Durham. From left, Peter Sebestyen, Damien Seidman, Amelia Lekovic, John Paul Sebestyen, Brian Daniels, Adam Wilder. Not pictured; Adriel Lekovic.

The rocketry team putting the rocket on the launch pad and getting it ready for launch at one of the practice flights in Durham. From left, Peter Sebestyen, Damien Seidman, Amelia Lekovic, John Paul Sebestyen, Brian Daniels, Adam Wilder. Not pictured; Adriel Lekovic.

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RIDGEFIELD — Seven young rocket scientists will compete in this year's American Rocketry Challenge, which will take place this weekend in Northern Virginia.

These budding scientists are in a rocketry club affiliated with St. Monica's Homeschool, which is made of students and their parents from Connecticut and upper Westchester County in New York.

They’ll compete among 101 national finalists in the National Final Fly-Off, which is set to take place on Saturday in The Plains, Virginia.

This year's rules require teams to design, build and launch a model rocket that safely carries two raw eggs to a target altitude of 835 feet. The flight duration must be from 41 to 44 seconds, according to the regulations.

“It’s pretty cool to see our rockets go up and realize that, oh my gosh… we actually did it” said Peter Sebestyen, a high school senior from Brookfield and member of the St. Monica’s finalist team.

This is the sixth time a team from the St. Monica's group has made it to the finals. Now in its 20th year, the American Rocketry Challenge is sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Association of Rocketry, and 20-plus aerospace and defense companies.

All totaled, more than 4,000 students from 41 states took part in the American Rocketry Challenge this year.

“The goal of the Rocketry Challenge is to get kids excited about science and technology,” said Don Daniels of Ridgefield, the group’s lead coach.

This year, St. Monica’s fielded two teams. While one team qualified for the finals, the other did not. “The requirements change significantly from year to year,” Daniels said. “Part of the deal is that students can’t use any of the same design from the prior year. Last year, they built a rocket that came down in two parts, once of which landed with an egg inside. In addition, last year our kids installed a flight control computer for the first time.”

This year, there are two rocket compartments and two eggs, but the entire structure must land intact at the same time. Beyond those guidelines, teams have considerable design latitude, Daniels said.

Team members can use components that can be purchased online or at hobby stores, or they can develop and build their own.

Practice launches take place at a field in Hartford County, where the two teams receive advice from experts at capital region aerospace firms.

Membership in the St. Monica’s rocketry club fluctuates, from as few as five students to as many as 20. There are 14 rocket club members this year, equally divided into two teams.

“The collaboration involved is what interests me most,” Daniels said. “For instance, a student who is a future architect did all the design work. Another student is interested in computer-aided design and handled that aspect of the project.” Club involvement does often lead to careers in technology for the students who participate, he said.

Daniels' daughter Ann Daniels is a high school senior who joined the rocketry club in eighth grade. She’s headed to the Colorado School of Mines, where she will major in chemical engineering and minor in biomedical engineering.

Sebestyen, however, will study mathematics and physics at Christendom College this fall. While Ann Daniels’ team did not qualify for the finals, younger brother Brian — a middle schooler — is part of the finalist team. The entire family will go along to watch.

Ann Daniels said the hands-on nature of the club made the team makes it a learning experience.

Besides rocketry, she often helps her parents with yard work or tinkering with cars. "I wanted to be part of something hands-on, as opposed to just theory... and the club is set up that way," Ann said.

Sebestyen described the experience as a lesson in teamwork. “On the flight field, we are separate and distinct teams, but when we come home we help each other out regardless of what team we’re on,” he said.

The club also gives Sebestyen an opportunity to hone his technical skills in new ways, he said. Last year, he helped build the actual rocket while this year he worked on the flight-simulation database. Simulation helps the group develop software that controls the rocket’s movement.

This weekend’s Final Fly-off will take place in an open space area in Northern Virginia known as the Great Meadow. The national champion will receive $100,000 in prizes and an all-expenses-paid trip for team members to travel to the international competition. That event is set to take place July 22 during the Farnborough International Airshow, southwest of London.