By Riley Morningstar

The Journal

CLEMSON — On Saturday, members of the Clemson Rocketry Team will be packing into minivans and carrying precious cargo to New Mexico for a rocket launching competition. 

The Clemson Rocketry Team is taking 18 people to Las Cruces, N.M., to compete against 128 teams from 20 countries at the Spaceport America Cup.

From left, Will Lane, Charles Dove, Charlie Black and Cole Winkler stand in front of Howard’s Rocket, the Clemson Rocketry Team’s competition rocket set to go to New Mexico later this week. The team will be taking 18 members to the Spaceport America Cup to compete against 128 teams from 20 countries and is aiming to reach 30,000 feet.
Riley Morningstar | The Journal

“It would be a success if we launch, have nothing break, have GPS telemetry and get to at least 24,000 feet and can find it,” graduate student and mechanical engineer Charlie Black said. “That’s a big thing, because it’s in a middle-of-nowhere desert, and if there’s no wind and purely parabolic trajectory, we’re going to end up 2 miles downrange. Hiking 2 miles in the desert to go get the 50-pound rocket would be interesting.”

Black is part of the 50-person team who put together Howard’s Rocket, a play on the university’s historical landmark inside the football stadium.

“We try to have something ‘punny’ with the name,” he said. “Two years ago, when Deshaun Watson was here, we had the celebration of him shooting an arrow, but with him launching a rocket, so we called it ‘Deshaun’s Aero.’” 

Last year, the team’s rocket hit around 12,000 feet, and the group is now aiming for nearly triple that height.

“We’re going for 30,000 feet,” electrical engineering senior Charles Dove said. “We’ll be working hard over this week and putting everything together for the final time. We’ve done well this year about being proactive, so we have pretty much everything down. We know what time we need to have things done by, and we’ve stuck to that pretty well.”

Team members will be driving two days to get to the competition, with a series of launch days later in the week. 

A year of man-hours has been put into the project, as well as nearly $40,000 in funding. 

“We get most of our funding through the Clemson University Student Government, and this year we had about a $30,000 budget from them, and then we had about a third of that extra come in from outside from dues, fundraising or sponsorships,” Black said. “As a whole, we’re pretty confident. There’s some aspects that are riskier than others, but as a whole, I feel pretty confident this is all going to work.”

The group is also hopeful work with the university’s virtual reality team can come into play, should the cameras strapped to the rocket record the launch successfully. 

Footage from the launch would then be provided to the group, allowing viewers to watch the launch through VR.

Vision for aerospace work goes beyond the competition, as team members are hopeful interest continues to grow in the program around campus.

“We like to say we’re Clemson’s only aerospace research program and are an outlet for undergrads,” Black said. “Clemson is very heavy in automotive and manufacturing engineering, but there’s a growing interest and communal sense in aerospace engineering. We’re trying to be that push on campus that creates different classes and interest groups to grow in aerospace so one day it can grow and be a minor, major or degree focus. We want to get our name out there and try to do big things.”

Industrial engineer junior Cole Winkler said building rockets has been a dream since he was young.

“I hope this program gets better, and I’ve wanted to build rockets since I was little,” he said. “It’s something I want to do for the rest of my life, so I hope it gets bigger, and we’re trying to grow the club because this is really it at Clemson. There’s no other outlet for aerospace, and I hope it grows, and I’ll do everything I can to get it there.”

Winkler, in his first year with the group, said regardless of whether the group hits the 30,000 mark, he’ll be proud of the work it’s taken to make it to the competition. 

“This has been an awesome process, and I’ve learned a lot,” Winkler said. “I’ve put this on my resume and people have talked to me about it, and it’s fun to learn how to build things. I’m definitely a little nervous along with everyone, and I’ve never been out there before. 

“Putting all the man-hours into this has been a lot and a lot of work, but it’s rewarding to look at,” Winkler continued. “It’s going to feel really good when it goes up — even if it doesn’t go the whole way, it’s going to be rewarding to watch it fly.”

To follow the group’s journey to New Mexico, visit | (864) 973-6685