Friday, April 4, 2014

Pink Floyd is gonna appear at Nationals!

Today, the 101 top TARC teams were announced; these are the hard working young men and women who will compete for the money and foreign travel at the Finals in The Plains, Virginia on May 10. Only one team from Alabama made the list - the Falcon Rocketeers from here in Huntsville, who had a 50 total score from their two qualified flights. Congrats to the team, to Bobbi Murphy, their sponsor, and to Duane Mayer, their mentor and "benevolent dictator"! I am especially pleased that their rockets, Pink Floyd and Green Hornet, will be in the national fly off - the other teams had better beware!

Pink Floyd is readied for launch
I also want to congratulate the other teams from north Alabama and Tennessee who turned in qualified flights. This year's challenge was difficult, and it was no small feat to design, build, and fly a rocket that could turn in a decent flight. Well done, and hope to see you in next year's TARC!

Now that the scores are in and the final teams chosen, I would like to make a few observations on this year's TARC:

  • This year's challenge - 2 raw eggs to 825 feet and down safely in 48-50 seconds using two parachutes of the same size with all parts of the rocket connected - was hard. I know I underestimated the difficulty in the beginning, and I think some of the teams did as well. I suppose the take away here is "don't think it's going to be easy."
  • The new scheme in which the two best flights were summed for the final score largely eliminated the luck factor. Many teams got a score in the teens, but were unable to score that low in the other flights. In the past few competitions, the cutoff was around 15; this year, the cutoff for nationals was 54, or an average of 27 for each flight. This is a full 12 points higher than past years, and illustrates the difficulty the TARC teams had in consistently hitting the altitude and duration marks. It is tough to do, especially given the 10% or so variability in the thrust of the motors. Huntsville would have had several other teams at the finals if the scoring had been the same as last year. I like this year's, as it rewards work and practice rather than a single lucky shot.
  • In past TARC competitions, you could separate the rocket and have the payload with the eggs and altimeter descend separately from the rocket. This year's requirement that it all come down connected resulted in several disqualifications due to the shock cord pulling free of the main sustainer. The opening of the two parachutes caused a double impulse to the shock cord mount, which would give way if it was not strongly secured. Something to pay attention to in the future.
  • There were many more disqualifications due to cracked or broken eggs than in past years. I observed that many teams seemed to devote far more attention to the rocket and parachute packing than to the padding in the egg capsule. Again, a lesson for future competitions.
  • Finally, some teams designed their rocket around a given motor, rather than the competition's altitude and duration goals. The latter should dictate the former, not the other way around. As a result, we had some very high (bad) scores and a few unstable flights.

Next year's challenge should be announced sometime in July - I look forward to seeing what the TARC organizers devise for the coming year.

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