UC Davis Students Win First Nations Rocket Competition

Members of the UC Davis First Nations Launch team with their rocket.
Members of the UC Davis First Nations Launch team with their rocket after a successful launch in the Mojave Desert on April 17, 2021. Pictured, from left: Anthony Pham, Willie Feng-Liu, Andrea Lopez Argüello, rocketry advisor William Walby and Tyler Mayxonesing. (Courtesy of Andrea Lopez Argüello)

A team of UC Davis students has placed first overall in the First Nations Launch competition sponsored by NASA and the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium. As winners, the team will be invited to a VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center later this year. The team was also awarded a grant of $15,000 to compete in the NASA Student Launch Initiative competition in Georgia next spring. 

The UC Davis team successfully launched their rocket April 17 at a site in the Mojave Desert. They carried out a second launch May 15 on behalf of a team from Queens University, Ontario. The Canadian team was unable to carry out their own launch due to pandemic restrictions. 

The Queens University team won first place for their written reports and also won the award for aesthetics. 

The UC Davis team members are: Andrea Lopez Argüello, majoring in physics with an emphasis in astrophysics; Tyler Mayxonesing, computer engineering; Willie Feng-Liu, electrical and computer engineering; Anthony Pham, electrical engineering; and Pratham Goradia, aerospace engineering. Advisors for the First Nations Launch team are James Letts, assistant professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology; and Maria Maldonado, postdoctoral researcher in molecular and cellular biology,

More than 40 students participated in the program, representing six colleges and universities from four states in the U.S. and Canada. The teams had to design and build a high-powered rocket to meet a series of challenges, including reaching a height of 3,500 to 4,000 feet, having a hatch door that opens at maximum height, and deploying two parachutes to slow the rocket’s descent and bring it back to Earth intact. Most competition points are awarded for design, with a series of detailed monthly reports.

Andy Fell, UC Davis News and Media Relations

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