Press Release

NASA Names Winners in 2013-14 Student Launch Challenge; Vanderbilt Repeats, Takes Top Prize

By SpaceRef Editor
May 29, 2014
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NASA Names Winners in 2013-14 Student Launch Challenge; Vanderbilt Repeats, Takes Top Prize

For the second year in a row, the Aerospace Club from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, earned first prize in NASA’s Student Launch challenge. The educational project tasks student teams to design, build and test-fly sophisticated, reusable rockets capable of carrying working science payloads to a predicted altitude and returning them safely to Earth.

This year’s event — designed to inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists and explorers — culminated with a “launchfest” May 17 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, organized the event with assistance from the event’s corporate sponsor ATK Aerospace Group of Promontory, Utah. Each team was given the opportunity to launch its rocket with a custom-built recovery system and three payloads on the salt flats. To determine a winner, NASA judges evaluated the rocket designs of each team based on a series of technical design reviews, the results from the rocket’s flight including altitude, educational engagement activities in their home community, a team-built website and a final written report from the students.

Vanderbilt beat out 20 other colleges and universities to win the $5,000 top prize, provided by ATK. Mississippi State University in Starkville and the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, won second and third place, respectively.

The University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez won this year’s Rookie Award, and The University of North Carolina-Charlotte team took home Best Vehicle Design for the most creative and innovative rocket design.

Besides designing and building the rocket, NASA Student Launch teams also must design and operate the science payloads, maintain websites to document the experience and devise local educational engagement campaigns to share their enthusiasm for rocketry. The challenge seeks to inspire younger students to pursue technical learning fields, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“This challenge helps students stretch their intellectual skills,” said Tammy Rowan, manager of Marshall’s Academic Affairs Office, which manages the rocketry challenge for NASA. “The project is a valuable tool for students and faculty. The students use knowledge gained in a classroom setting to create a complex launch vehicle, honing skills that could lead them to a future in the aerospace industry. Plus, their enthusiasm when their rockets fly is inspirational to those who already work in the many different aspects of space exploration.”

NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, sponsors the Student Launch challenge. ATK provides corporate support and the National Association of Rocketry assists NASA engineers in providing technical review and launch services.

A series of preliminary awards were given at the annual banquet following the launch event. Besides finishing in first place, Vanderbilt University also won four other awards: the Altitude Award, coming closest to their target altitude of 5,000 feet; missing the mark by only 150 feet; the Project Review Award for their technical reviews and formal presentations; the Education Engagement Award for educational outreach and engagement efforts; and Best Web Design for the best rocketry website.

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, won the Best Payload Design award for the most creative and innovative payload experiment. The University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, won the Safety Award for maximizing safety and science value in their design.

The University of Hawaii in Kane’ohe was honored with a peer award voted by all the rocket teams: the Best-Looking Rocket. The Team Spirit prize, also a peer award, went to the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Hundreds of flight enthusiasts flocked to the launch site to cheer on the student rocketeers. Thousands more watched live commentary on the NASA-TV broadcast channel and the live stream on the agency’s UStream service. Archived launch-day coverage is available at:

For complete lists of participating teams, visit:

Visit NASA Student Launch Projects on Facebook and Twitter:

For more information about NASA education projects, visit:



SpaceRef staff editor.