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UC Aerospace rockets to victory at Spaceport America Cup

02 July 2024

For the second year running, UC鈥檚 Aerospace team took home the trophy in the 30,000-foot Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) category at the Spaceport America Cup.

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Te Whare W膩nanga o Waitaha | 91制片厂 (UC)鈥檚 Aerospace team competed against more than 120 teams from 20 countries, with their single-stage rocket, K膩rearea, soaring to success under the leadership of fourth-year mechanical engineering student James Graham.

Graham, who served as Team Lead, expressed immense pride in the team's accomplishment.

"It was exhilarating to win," Graham says, reflecting on the intense competition. "Last year we won but didn鈥檛 get the award on the day. To accept the award at the competition this year is beyond words."

Graham, a member of the UC Aerospace Club since he started at UC, is currently pursuing a minor in Aerospace Engineering, and the Spaceport project has contributed to his final year. "This year, I led the team as part of my honours project," Graham explained.听

Graham emphasised the collaborative effort behind their success, acknowledging the help of sponsors and support from the UC Mechanical Engineering Faculty. "We wouldn't have been able to do this without everyone鈥檚 help," he says.

UC academic supervisor John Cater and Project Client Bruce Robertson accompanied the nine students to New Mexico. As Project Client, Roberton鈥檚 role was to ensure the students have a customer for the project to provide a real-life professional setting.

鈥淎 lot of the requirements for the honours project are around the competition, but the client also sets a path and works with the students to achieve the right outcome,鈥 says Robertson. 鈥淲ith a project such as this, where a competition is involved, the students are really motivated, they鈥檙e completely committed. It makes my role easy, I鈥檓 there to remind them, hey, we鈥檙e going to win this.鈥

Reflecting on the technical aspects of their achievement, Graham detailed the complexities involved in crafting the rocket. "The motor and flight computers are off the shelf. Everything else, except for the tubes, were all manufactured and finished by students," he explains. The meticulous planning paid off with a flawless launch and recovery. "We had a fully nominal flight and recovery, we got the rocket back and there weren't any scratches," Graham said.听

Graham was surprised by the significance of the achievement, saying how 鈥渁wesome鈥 it was to see Space Minister Judith Collins comment on their win.听

鈥淎mbition like this is exactly what we need to see more of, and the team鈥檚 international success is great to see,鈥 Minister Collins said.听

As Graham prepares to finish his studies at UC, he鈥檚 looking ahead to a career in the aerospace industry.听

"Now that Spaceport is done, next for me is finding a job. I hope to end up in the aerospace industry, and like everyone I guess, I want to make something that goes to space."听

The following companies and organisations supported the UC Aerospace team to compete in New Mexico: RD Petroleum, Superior Minerals, ChristchurchNZ, Track Industries, Perfect Autobody, UC Students Association, Autographicnz, Shamrock, Pederson Reid, C-Tech, Pilot Brands, Ansys鈥痑nd Leap Australia.

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