The University of Southern California rocket research lab made history last month.
At 8:00 am on April 21st, Traveler IV broke the world altitude record for student missile teams, reaching 340,000 feet and successfully overcoming the Kármán line.
Named after Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian-American engineer and physicist, the so-called line is an attempt to delineate a boundary between the earth's atmosphere and outer space.
There is no international law that marks the limit of space; the US Air Force and NASA define the limit at 50 miles (264,000 feet) above sea level.
Flying at 340,000 feet (with a margin of error of +/- 16,800 feet), RPL not only broke its previous record, but fulfilled its founding mission: to launch and recover the first rocket entirely designed by the student all over the world and manufactured space.
"We can say with 90% certainty that the last RPL spaceshot, Traveler IV, approved the Kármán line," Neil Tewskbury, head of RPL operations, said in a statement.
However, it was not always a regular navigation.
The predecessors Traveler I and Traveler II – victims of a mid-flight explosion of solid engines and a carbon fiber frame failure, respectively – are among the tortured metal corpses hanging from the ceilings of the laboratory.
The disastrous launch of Traveler III, meanwhile, left the missile in pieces too small to show.
However, RPL members remained cautiously optimistic about their new-generation spaceship.
"Against the 8-inch diameter roar, a 13-foot-high rocket that erupted from the launch tower, one could hear subdued jerks from the spectators, who had been ordered in silence to allow communication between the operational team, the avionics team, and the rocket itself ", according to a dramatic USC press release.
"Everyone remembered traveler III and the communication problems that had erased that rocket in the Nevada desert last September," the University said.
Four times is charm.
The Traveler IV accelerated to its maximum speed of 4.970 feet / s, or Mach 5.1, during its 11.5-second engine consumption, so it covered the remaining 140 seconds, before reaching the maximum altitude.
The RPL tailored avionic system recorded the flight using onboard sensors and deployed the parachute of the vehicle at the apogee, allowing the rocket to glide safely on Earth.
The triumphal flight lasted only 11 minutes.
"The ability of this team to overcome stoppages and continually innovate new technology has been a source of inspiration," student chief engineer Dennis Smalling said in a statement. "I'm so proud of what this lab has been able to complete so far and I'm incredibly excited to see where RPL goes from here."
His feeling was taken up by the USC Viterbi Dead Yannis Yortsos, which boasted of the laboratory's "indomitable spirit of innovation and perseverance".
"This extraordinary moment is a testament to their ingenuity and dedication," he said.
The students do not have the time, however, to delight in their successes: RPL has already begun to plan the next mission: a liquid fuel vehicle that aims at its own world record.
The team is also working hard on future projects such as the implementation of CubeSat, active rocket stabilization and new solid engine designs.
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