It's Rocket Science: University of Southern Carolina Students Launched Their First Space Vehicle

2 years ago



On May 22, the University of Southern Carolina announced that a group of their undergraduates launched the first student-designed rocket that reached space. This very achievement drew a line under a 10-year-long unofficial competition among the major engineering schools all over the world to create a university rocket that will reach space. The officials from USC's Rocket Propulsion Laboratory confirmed that it was their university that finally won this informal competition. The Typical Student team shares the details. 


Student Space Vehicle Project



As told by, the Traveler IV rocket, designed and built entirely by USC students, passed the Karman Line which is considered to be the international boundary of space. USC officials also added that Traveler IV crossed the boundary of space at an altitude of 62 miles or 100 kilometers. The analysis made by USC officials proved the students’ achievement with 90% certainty.

USC students launched Traveler IV on April 21 from New Mexico's Spaceport America, on the anchor tenant of a future space-tourism provider Virgin Galactic. At 7:30 a.m. local time, the rocket successfully flew aloft and reached a maximum recorded altitude of 339,800 feet (64.4 miles, or 103.6 km) as well as a top speed of 3,386 mph (5,449 km/hr).

This very achievement made Traveler IV both the first student-designed rocket that reached the space and the highest flying craft made by students. Moreover, the Traveler is the first university rocket that successfully landed after the flight. For instance, USC officials said, “The achievement makes Traveler IV the first entirely student-designed-and-built rocket to fly to space, as well as the highest flying such craft — doubling the previous altitude record — and the first university rocket to be successfully recovered from space.”


Did Students Get Launch Permission?



Over 80 USC undergraduates took part in the Traveler IV design, construction and launch. Besides, the students had to get permission to launch their rocket from the Federal Aviation Administration. That being said, the project was conducted predominantly by students. 

This project was the University of Southern Carolina’s fourth attempt to cross the boundary of space. An astronautical engineer and USC graduate, Dennis Smalling, said: "After nearly 15 years and probably over a million hours of work, RPL has finally achieved its goal of being the first student group to launch the first student-designed and built rocket past the Karman line."




At the same time, USC identified several other top contenders for the first student-constructed rocket to reach space among which are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Princeton University; Boston University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, San Diego; and Portland State University. Besides, international competitors included TU Vien (Austria) and Delft University (the Netherlands).


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