By Amber Galaviz
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Five teams of students from three Northern Virginia schools will compete for more than $60,000 in scholarships and prizes in the finals of the Team America Rocketry Challenge, the world’s largest student rocket competition, on May 11.
The 100 finalists will include two teams from Lake Braddock Secondary School in the Fairfax County community of Burke; two teams from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria; and one team from Falls Church High School.
The finalists, who hail from 29 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, emerged from a winnowing process that began in September with 725 teams. The champions will be decided at the national fly-off on May 11 at Great Meadow in The Plains, in Fauquier County.
TARC was formed in 2003 through a partnership between the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Association of Rocketry to engage and attract students to careers in the aerospace and defense industry.
The Aerospace Industries Association is made up of companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Anne Ward, who works for the association, serves as TARC manager. She says the rocket competition will pay off for the industry down the road.
“We’re really investing in the future workforce,” Ward said. “It’s a recruitment tool for us.”
Ward said more than 70 percent of students from TARC competitions go on to study for careers in the STEP disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math. President Obama says those are the kinds of skills the country needs. Last week, he met with TARC students when they displayed their rockets at the White House Science Fair.
In the competition, teams of three to 10 students construct a rocket that must be less than 60 millimeters (about two and a half inches) in diameter. The rocket must carry a payload of a raw egg and reach an altitude of precisely 750 feet. (Each foot the rocket is off costs the team points.)
A parachute must return the egg safely in 48-50 seconds. The team that returns the egg safely and has a score closest to zero wins.
“Projects like this help students to gain an interest in engineering aspects of physics and show them that all of the formulas and concepts they learn can be applied to complex problems like rocket science,” said Chris Beatty, a physics teacher and a student-faculty mentor at Lake Braddock Secondary School.
“Each year, Lake Braddock Secondary School enters four or five teams in the Team America Rocketry Challenge. These teams typically comprise of Honors Physics and AP Physics students in 11th and 12th grade. I’m in my sixth year teaching, and Lake Braddock has had teams reach the finals each of these years.”
TARC has always attracted a lot of participants. But in the past two years, the number of teams entering the contest has grown by 20 percent.
Ward says it’s because young people are interested in “really applying what they’re learning in the classroom in a meaningful way, like they will do in a career and industry.”
The competition is designed to give students a look inside the aerospace industry. From working in teams to executing the designs they plan on computers, students learn engineering and problem-solving skills.
The top 10 teams in the May 11 finals will share a pool of more than $60,000 in scholarships and prizes. In addition, Lockheed Martin gives $5,000 in scholarship funds to each of the top three teams, and Raytheon pays for the winning team to attend the International Paris Air Show in June.
On the Web
The website for the Team America Rocketry Challenge is www.rocketcontest.org