Ridgefield's St. Monica’s Rocket Club to compete for national championship May 13

Ridgefield’s St. Monica’s Rocket Club has qualified to face off against 99 of the top middle and high school rocketry teams from across the country as they compete for the national championships in the 15th Annual Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) on May 13 in Washington, D.C. The home schooled team, coached by Don Daniels, beat 700 other teams to advance to the nationals.  

Coach Daniels, a corporate accountant, has guided his team to the TARC nationals two times previously, and thinks the third time could bring the charm.

“This team scored highest on its qualification flights of any other team I have coached,” he said. “This is a small team, and the dynamic has been fantastic. Over the course of the last eight months, the kids really managed the entire engineering process brilliantly, from concept to design and prototyping to testing and evaluation.”

“This year, the team scratch-built nearly all of the components using a variety of materials including carbon fiber, fiberglass and polycarbonate,” Daniels said. “The team launched more than 50 rockets, and overcame numerous design and operational obstacles before their qualifying flights in April.”

Team captain Natalie Turner, a junior, said, “One of our more stubborn challenges was related to our target altitude. We couldn’t reliably predict it, so we analyzed the flight data and realized the parachute was being deployed before the rocket reached its apogee.”

So the team solved the problem by using a longer delay for the ejection charge to perfectly time the parachute deployment.

“And then we had problems with the rocket’s first stage falling too fast,” Turner said. “We tried lots of design changes to solve that problem, until we discovered a second parachute worked reliably.”

The team says they gained many valuable skills and life lessons. “Aside from the obvious rocket science, we really learned the importance of teamwork and trusting each other to execute our designated jobs,” said fellow junior Justin Daniels, who co-created the original design and manufactured the 3D printed parts.

TARC is the aerospace and defense industry’s flagship program designed to encourage students to pursue study and careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The competition challenges middle and high school students to design, build and fly a rocket that meets specific altitude and flight duration parameters. This year's rules require a rocket carrying one raw egg to reach 775 feet before returning the egg to Earth, uncracked, all within 41 to 43 seconds.

The St. Monica’s Rocket Club will compete for more than $100,000 in prizes and scholarships, and the opportunity to represent the United States at the International Rocketry Challenge taking place at the Paris Air Show in June. At the international fly-off, teams from the United Kingdom, France and Japan will face the U.S. champions for the international title.

Sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Association of Rocketry and more than 20 industry partners, TARC is the world’s largest rocket contest. Now in its 15th year, TARC has inspired more than 65,000 middle and high school students to explore education and careers in STEM fields. This year, 812 teams representing 48 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands designed and built model rockets in hopes of qualifying for the National Finals.