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SystemsGo rocket launches successful

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Alison Penn Photo Goddard students make adjustments to their rocket in Jal on Tuesday for their final exam in the SystemsGo New Mexico rocketry program.

The Roswell High School and Goddard High School rockets achieved flight for their SystemsGo New Mexico final exam.

Leaving Roswell at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, 52 GHS students and six students from RHS — along with their teachers Celena Miranda and Monica Rodriguez-Hudson from GHS, and Stephen Lewis from RHS — traveled nearly three hours to the Woolworth Ranch in Jal.

A total of 17 rockets were launched on Tuesday according to Dave Willden, executive director of the Pecos Valley Regional Cooperative and SystemsGo representative. GHS launched five, RHS launched one and Lake Arthur High School had two rockets on the launch schedule.

SystemsGo New Mexico is a program in which students are given rocket parts and, through self-driven study, build three different rockets during the school year, conducting a launch for each rocket. RHS and GHS had their final launch, which saw rockets carry a one-pound payload for one mile. Some of the students had cheese, sand and even cookie dough as their payloads.

The next level of this program would involve building a transonic rocket, which breaks the sound barrier. 

“This program, the SystemsGo program specifically, really does make you think about things for yourself,” GHS student Cason Jones said. “You have to do the research on your own. All of these rockets are individually designed. They tell us the basics, but then we have to go in and find out, well, how many holes does this altimeter need to know the barometric pressure, so that it knows the apogee of the rocket? So we have to find all of this out on our own and then build our rocket and design it based upon those observations and research.”

Upon arrival, the schools checked in at Jal High School’s gymnasium and had to go through three stages before launching. Naria Stearnes, stage two coordinator, explained in stage one students received badges and checked in.

Stearnes said stage two was a safety check conducted by range safety officers (RSO) to ensure stable flights. She said the RSOs were two people from Virgin Galactic, creators from Fredericksburg, Texas where the program originated, veterans, retired educators, a superintendent and a variety of trained volunteers.

After clearing the first two stages, students were bused to the launch site and they unloaded their rockets for a final evaluation and loaded them with black-powder charges. Devon Energy performed rocket recovery and an engineering firm, Pettigrew & Associates, oversaw stage three.

Once approved the teams walked out to the launchpad with three launch rails labeled Alpha, Bravo and Charlie, took a photo with their rocket and walked back to the main spectator areas. Graduate students from New Mexico Tech in Socorro and two supervisors loaded the rockets and then raised the launch rails.

The event’s various emcees explained prior to each set of launches that mission control would test nitrous oxide for the loaded rockets. After the test, the launch crew would go behind bunkers in case a rocket went ballistic — and the 10-second countdown would begin.

Finn Donato, a GHS student, reflected on himself and his class starting the program months ago with very little knowledge and “now here we are meticulously researching every single thing …” Donato was a team member of one of the first GHS rockets to launch and recalled that his team’s rocket launched, parachutes did not deploy, and it went into the mesquite fields.

RHS’ rocket and the final GHS rocket were among the last launched around 5 p.m. RHS students Josh Lucero and team leader Manuel Archuleta explained their team only had six days to complete the only dual deployment rocket, a rocket with two parachutes, among the 17 single-stage rockets.

Prior to the launch, Lucero said he felt they were the “underdogs” and Archuleta said “somehow by some grace, some stroke of God, some stroke of luck” that their rocket passed all three stages. Archuleta said he spent extra hours dedicated to the rocket and rallying his team up until the night before the launch. 

Archuleta explained the rocket was in place on the rail to launch earlier in the day and there was a malfunction, causing RHS to have to make a fix, delaying their launch.  

“At first whenever we rolled up with this rocket, they were a bit skeptical at first and were being a little hard on us,” Lucero said. “And then, as slowly as it started coming together they were like ‘You know what — you’re actually making it somewhere.’ And we only expected to get barely to stage two and now look at us! We’re technically the best rocket.”

When the RHS rocket deployed both parachutes during descent, the crowd was whooping and cheering and all parts still connected when the rocket was recovered. Raul Rivas from RHS expressed pride in his team and said seeing their work fly gave him a feeling of “giddiness.” Mission control and stage three representatives congratulated the team for their successful launch.  

Some GHS MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Achievement) students also went to a MESA Day competition in Albuquerque on Wednesday. GHS will also be hosting a student showcase on May 13. 

“A lot of the kids are inspired for going higher and bigger next year,” Miranda said.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.