Barrington-built rocket headed for NASA launch
Barrington High School graduates Eric Meyers and Chris Wessel are are working with an enginnering team at Harper College to build a rocket. The team also includes Kevin Compton, Scott Mueller and Craig Babiarz. | Photo courtesy Patrick Bromley
Updated: March 15, 2013 8:08AM
BARRINGTON — Two Barrington High School graduates are working with an engineering team at Harper College to build a rocket that will be launched next month at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
Eric Meyers, who is now a freshman at Harper, said the rocket includes a walking robot designed to deploy when the rocket reaches 300 feet.
“Then it walks back to us on its own,” Meyers said.
The inspiration for the four-legged robot, he explained, was the Curiosity Rover that NASA recently sent to Mars.
“We decided to take that concept and scale it down substantially,” Meyers said.
The engineering team also includes Barrington resident Chris Wessel, Scott Mueller of Elk Grove Village and Craig Babiarz of Rolling Meadows.
Wessel, a Harper sophomore, set up a barn in his Barrington backyard to build the rocket. He said one of the team’s challenges was to build a rocket light enough to accommodate the required velocity.
“We’re running three different payloads that are quite heavy, but we have to get our rocket as light as possible,” said Wessel.
The rocket is mostly made out of carbon fiber, a thin but very strong material. It weighs 34 pounds without the motor and 54 pounds with it.
Meyers said the rocket has three payloads, which he described as scientific information placed on or inside the rocket that instructs it to perform tasks. One of the three is the robot. Another, Wessel said, is inside the nose of the rocket. The payload in the nose can be extended or contracted according to the weather conditions.
“It works a lot like a cruise control on your car,” Wessel said.
Meyers said the third payload consists of a data sensor that can relay information back to the ground station.
“It measures temperature, pressure and humidity,” he said. “It also has a camera to take pictures of the outside.”
The rocket project is part of a national competition in which college and university teams build rockets to be launched at NASA’s Huntsville, Alabama space center. The goal, they explained, was to launch the rockets one mile.
Of more than 50 teams that applied for funding for the projects, the Harper team was one of six to be selected. The Harper students are competing against schools as prestigious as MIT, Georgia Tech and Northwestern University.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be put in the same category as a big engineering school like MIT,” Meyers said. “It’s really an honor.”
Meyers said the team also will have the opportunity to show NASA engineers the success of their built-in payloads and materials used.
“It’s going to be awesome to meet all the NASA engineers that work on all the big projects,” he said. “The exposure to that kind of magnitude is excellent for us. I think the hard work all paid off in the end.”