SINGAPORE — A team of Singaporean university students recently achieved third place in an international rocket-building competition held earlier this June.
This remarkable achievement marks the first time that a Singaporean student group has successfully launched and recovered a rocket designed entirely by themselves.
The Friends of Amateur Rocketry competition is an event organized by a non-profit group Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) organization, held in the Mojave Dessert at the FAR rocketry range near Edwards Air Force Base in California, United States.
The team representing Singapore, “The Singapore Propulsion Lab”, comprised of members from Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) Singapore, dedicated tireless efforts on 2 and 3 June to assemble a new rocket for launch on 4 June, the competition’s final day.
On Wednesday (14 June), SEDS Singapore joyfully shared the news of their accomplishment on their official Instagram account.
They expressed their immense pride in these talented Singaporean students and how far they have progressed with their inaugural rocket project.
The team members comprised eight students from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), the National University of Singapore, and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
45 university students and graduates dedicated approximately three years to the rocket project, and raised over $30,000 for the construction and testing of the rocket, with funding from the Office for Space Technology and Industry.
Additionally, the Singaporean rocket and space launch company, Equatorial Space, offered lab space, assistance with hardware selection, and guidance in launch procedures.
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona came in first place in the competition, followed by the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.
Significant challenges prior to their achievement
However, the team faced significant challenges prior to their victorious achievement. Critical components of their rocket, including the engine, were unexpectedly delayed at the United States Customs, due to an administrative conflict with the courier.
At the eleventh hour, they were on the verge of withdrawing from the contest.
As reported by the Straits Times, while the students were already at the site to assemble the rocket, to their dismay, the very heart of their rocket—and the lower airframe was held up at the custom.
Determined to find a solution, the team’s leader, Mr. Dhruv Mittal, 25, hastily made his way to Los Angeles International Airport, while the rest of the team scrambled to devise a backup plan.
At the rocketry site in the US, the team members managed to salvage parts from an old rocket to serve as an airframe. They also procured a conventional solid-fuel motor with the help of the competition organizers.
This posed a challenge as they had primarily been working with hybrid engines. They needed to adapt to the new components, construct an igniter for the rocket, and acquire suitable ground-support equipment for solid-fuel engines.
Furthermore, the team members arrived in the US already physically drained, having juggled demanding schoolwork and intense preparations for the competition, adding the arid and chilly desert climate exacerbated their fatigue.
During the competition, half of the team members fell ill, further hampering their efforts.
On 4 June, when the team’s completed rocket was finally raised onto the launchpad, Mr. Mittal harbored concerns that it might fail to ignite.
With little expectation, the team cautiously positioned themselves behind the safety bunkers and initiated the launch.
To their astonishment, the slender red-and-white rocket, dubbed Project Mynah, soared to an altitude of approximately 3.2km, successfully reaching the competition’s target elevation.
“It was surprising to us that we reached the altitude. We were already mind-blown by the fact that the rocket even flew straight,” said Mr. Mittal. “We were shocked because we rigged something last minute. We changed the rocket’s entire flight profile.”
The team plans to build a more advanced rocket for the 2024 Spaceport America Cup
Due to restrictions on the use of gunpowder and pyrotechnics in Singapore, the team was compelled to switch to carbon dioxide canisters as a means to deploy the rocket’s parachute for landing.
Furthermore, Singapore lacks a dedicated launch site, prompting the team to conduct motor tests at a propulsion lab in Malaysia.
Looking ahead, the team has set its sights on the 2024 Spaceport America Cup, where they intend to construct an even more advanced rocket.