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UNA Rocketry Challenge held Sunday

The University of North Alabama Rocketry Challenge returned this year to give area rocket teams a chance to see how they measure up – and to try to qualify for a coveted Team America Rocketry Challenge slot.

Thirteen teams competed Sunday at the Mike Green Industrial Park in Russellville, including two teams from Russellville City Schools and one team from Phil Campbell High School. Rockets shot into the blue sky as parents, teachers and rocketry specialists shielded their eyes against the sun to track altitude and flight time. Teams were tasked with building a rocket that would reach a certain altitude (775 feet), land within a certain time duration (41-43 seconds) and deliver an egg safely to the ground. In a new requirement this year, students had to design a rocket that was a different diameter at the top and bottom, result in challenges to the aerodynamics. They also had to present a team notebook details their design and processes.

Russellville is fielding two teams competing for TARC this year, the Bears – which includes several of the veteran team members who competed and won the international competition in France in 2015 – as well as the Lions, comprising most team members who participated last year but did not try to qualify for TARC.

“Our teams have been doing really well. They’ve put the rocket in the air a lot of times,” said RCS co-sponsor Joseph Cole, who leads the team along with sponsor Mark Keeton and mentor Tracy Burns. Cole said the teams have worked well together, despite being technically being in competition with one another. “Right now the goal is to get all of us to D.C. … But they definitely don’t want to lose to each other.”

The top 100 teams from across the nation will be invited to compete in the national TARC competition in Washington, D.C. Also attempting to qualify this year, and competing at the UNA challenge, was Phil Campbell High School, with team members including team captain Ben Williams, Kristin Raper, Abraham Gonzalez and Seth Bullock.

“It’s been going good. We struggled a little bit with a couple of mishaps,” said team sponsor Jonathan Grimes. “We started working back in January … This improves their problem-solving skills, and once you figure out how to keep your notes and keep up with the data, you can start making proper adjustments to your rocket, so that helps with being organized and keeping track of your data properly.”

UNA Rocketry hub founder Lee Brownell said he was pleased with the turnout and with the way rocketry continue to grow in Alabama. He is working to help establish more hubs across the state and nation. “I hope we can continue to keep (the UNA Rocketry hub) going and get a good core of teams that continue to push themselves and come out each year and do better each time,” said Brownell, who was instrumental in establishing rocketry as a staple while he was at Russellville City Schools. “My goal is to get three teams (to nationals) before I retire.”

New to the scene this year were two teams from Sheffield.

Competition results were as follows:

– Best notebook: Covenant Christian 1, 1st; Sheffield Gold, 2nd; Russelville Bears, 3rd

– Best Launch: Hope Rising Rocketeers, 1st; Russellville Bears, 2nd; and Sheffield Purple, 3rd

– Overall: Hope Rising Rocketeers, 1st; Russellville Bears, 2nd; and Russellville FUMC, 3rd

The 100 teams that qualify for TARC will be announced April 7.