Wallkill grad enters rocketry competition

By Alberto Gilman
Posted 5/22/24

Wallkill alum and Plattekill native Dustin Colombo will be competing with his team from Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in a competition in the Mojave Desert from May 31 to June 1 at the …

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Wallkill grad enters rocketry competition


Wallkill alum and Plattekill native Dustin Colombo will be competing with his team from Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in a competition in the Mojave Desert from May 31 to June 1 at the Friends of American Rocketry (FAR) 51025 Unlimited competition. This competition showcases collegiate rocketry programs and student-built designs.

Since graduating from Wallkill, Colombo, who is attending Embry–Riddle in Daytona Beach, Florida, is studying aerospace engineering and following a track for astronautics. Colombo attributes his success to the time spent in Wallkill, Boy Scout Troop 195 in Plattekill, the bands he played in while in Wallkill and the aviation program at Ulster BOCES.

For the upcoming competition, two teams from Embry-Riddle will be competing; only 15 total teams are accepted, he said. According to Colombo, the project is part of the Icarus Sounding Rocket Program (ISRP), a newly founded organization at Embry-Riddle. This organization is dedicated to student research and enables the student research and undergraduate research sector of Embry-Riddle to have access to space through the program. The project is a spiritual successor of the student-led Embry-Riddle Icarus rocket project of 2007. According to the online forum Aero-News Network, students of Embry-Riddle on March 22, 2007 launched their sounding rocket at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and set an altitude record for a student-built vehicle of 199,580 feet (37.8 miles). According to Colombo, the University of Southern California (USC) currently holds the record for collegiate rocketry. Space.com reported on May 22, 2019 that the rocket Traveler IV reached an altitude of 339,800 feet (64.4 miles, or 103.6 km).

Under ISRP, Colombo leads the “Project ASTRID” team, which is dedicated to building a despin system for a sounding rocket. (ASTRID stands for “Altitude Stabilization Technology for Rotational Inertitial Dampening.”) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) explains that sounding rockets “carry scientific instruments into space along a parabolic trajectory. Their overall time in space is brief, typically 5-20 minutes, and at lower vehicle speeds for a well-placed scientific experiment.”

In creating the vehicle, the team uses a method known as spin stabilization during the ascent of the rocket.

The online forum The Model Rocket website provides the following definition on spin stabilization: “Spin stabilization works by spinning the rocket very rapidly in flight, creating a gyroscopic effect that resists outside forces that would alter its trajectory.”

Colombo further explained that when objects reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, they reenter with high surface temperatures and force, which is where the team’s despin system comes into play. “ASTRID is dedicated to building a despin system that is going to be a module flown on the actual sounding rocket that will be deployed once it’s left the atmosphere and stop the rotation of the rocket in order to let us reenter the atmosphere without shredding the rocket,” said Colombo. Leading up to the competition at the end of May, the team will be manufacturing and testing the rocket’s systems.

Colombo’s colleague Corbin Saunders, a junior from Georgia, is studying aerospace engineering with a focus in spacecraft design. His work mainly focused more on the overall integration of the systems, making sure that the rocket overall will be ready and well enough for flight. Saunders shared that tests will be conducted over the next few weeks to ensure that systems are working properly.

Looking towards the competition, Saunders said he is excited to be a part of this project with added pressure to make sure that everything goes as planned. “We would like to not only break the record, but establish more of a long-term program for the school to have potential access to space for research projects,” said Saunders.