Bagley College of Engineering student team rockets to success

June 3, 2010

The Mississippi State Space Cowboys, an undergraduate student rocket design team, recently placed second in NASA’s University Student Launch Initiative. The annual rocketry challenge designed by NASA is a national competition created to motivate and excite the next generation of tech-savvy, “sky-minded” American engineers and scientists.

“The stipulation for the competition is to build a rocket that reaches one mile in altitude and that it carries a scientific payload,” said Christa Finley, chief engineer of the MSU Space Cowboy team. “We designed and built an electronic circuit board to support altimeters [a device used to calculate altitude] that gave us altitude and pressure readings to run the scientific payload.”

The team’s rocket stands nearly eight feet tall and is six inches in diameter and carries a unique scientific payload concept. Called “Bluff Bodies in Tandem” the rockets nose is designed with a flat plate that directs airflow, versus a traditional cone shaped nose.

“The plate shaped nose is adjustable and it makes the rocket more compact. This concept taught us a lot about aerodynamics,” said Finley. “By running wind tunnel tests we were able to determine the correct length to adjust the plate from the front of the rocket for best altitude and velocity.”

Throughout the year via video, Web conferencing, the team gave preliminary design, critical design and flight readiness reviews to NASA engineers, who are rocket enthusiasts and professionals.

“At the end of each review we had a question and answer session and through that interaction we really got to know the NASA engineers,” explained Finley. “So, it’s a really great opportunity to not only get some experience to add to your resume, but to get your name out there and network.”

MSU Space Cowboys also earned a first place award called the “Educational Engagement Award” for their outreach efforts in inspiring the study of rocketry and other spaceflight-related topics to students in their community at the K-12 education levels.

The NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Academic Affairs Office organizes the NASA Student Launch Projects challenge with corporate sponsorship by ATK Aerospace Systems of Magna, Utah.

For more information about the NASA Rocketry Challenge, please visit their website at