NASA Announces Winners of 2021 Student Launch Competition

For the past nine months, 46 teams strived for success in NASA’s 2021 Student Launch competition, one of NASA’s Artemis Student Challenges. Countless hours were poured into the design, simulation, construction, testing, and launch of rockets and payloads. On June 3, teams were awarded during a virtual ceremony, announcing the University of North Carolina at Charlotte as the winner of the Launch Division and New York University in New York City as the winner of the Design Division.

NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson welcomed teams to the ceremony, encouraging them to continue to pursue their academic interests beyond the competition. “This year’s challenge will hopefully serve as an inspiration for a lifetime of learning,” he said. “Someday it may be you designing a new spaceflight system or spacecraft or even a vehicle to land on another planet.” Nelson also gave a nod to the unique circumstances of competing during a year affected by the global pandemic. “This season wasn’t easy. It wasn’t normal. But you all succeeded despite the challenges. So congratulations to all of you for seeing this mission to completion.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Student Launch program team proactively designed the 2021 competition with provisions to allow for a virtual season. Teams were permitted to use multiple connections to attend all milestone review sessions, including the preliminary design, critical design, and flight readiness reviews – which alleviated the need for all team members to be in the same room or location during their presentations to the NASA review panel. Teams were not required to travel to Huntsville, Alabama, to complete the project and compete. Instead, they were permitted to complete their competition launch at a National Association of Rocketry or Tripoli Rocket Association-sanctioned launch in their respective local areas.

At the awards, Larry Leopard, Marshall’s associate director, technical, reminded students to “appreciate every moment when everything worked as planned, and learn from those times when they did not. Support each and every member of your team. Most importantly, never lose the sense of curiosity that leads you to ask the ‘what if’ questions.”

Every year, NASA challenges middle school, high school, college, and university students from around the United States to design, build, test, and then fly and land a high-powered amateur rocket to between 3,500 and 5,500 feet above the ground. The young rocketeers are challenged to “call their shot” and predict their rocket’s altitude months in advance of competition launch day using rocketry principles and computer simulations. Referred to as their “target altitude,” teams can tailor their altitude to maximize the return of scientific value from their payload, just like NASA teams target specific altitudes for their own missions.

This year, the college/university division’s payload mission was a lander that deploys from the rocket during descent. The lander must land upright or contain a system to upright itself. The lander must level itself to within 5 degrees of vertical and then take a 360-degree panoramic image of the location and transmit the image back to the team. Teams in the middle/high school division could choose the college/university division payload or propose their own scientific or engineering experiment to perform.

“We are all aware of how difficult this season has been,” said Fred Kepner, an education program specialist and lead for Student Launch at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where the program is managed. “Though we were not able to celebrate these achievements in person, we are proud of the resilience shown by each of our competing teams.”


The NC State MAE High-Powered Rocketry Club finished:
  • 5th place Overall
  • 3rd place Social Media Award
  • 2nd place Safety Award
  • 1st place AIAA Reusable Launch Vehicle Award (which comes with a $1,000 prize)


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