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Students get a taste of aerospace engineering in international rocket launch program

aerospace engineering

By Richard Cairney

Two engineering students who took part in a rocket launch in Norway say the experience has enhanced their education and inspired them to pursue careers in aerospace engineering.

Alberto Palomino and Shawn Smith both took part in the Canada-Norway Student Sounding Rocket exchange program, travelling to the Andoya rocket range in Norway to learn about the engineering, technology and science behind rockets and to get hands-on experience and launch a rocket of their own.

The program accepts students from across Canada and Norway to study and work together for a week, under the eye of staff at the Andoya range. Palomino and Smith, who were joined by University of Alberta physics student Marc-Olivier Lajeunesse, say it didn’t matter where students were from—they shared the same interests and worked together well. It helped that the Norwegians are fluent in English, but there’s more to it than that, says Smith.

“It was we like were all following the student stereotypes,” he said. “At lunch we’d start talking and you’d end up in a conversation about string theory.”

Palomino agrees that the atmosphere was welcoming.

“It was almost like we all could have been friends before we even got there,” he said.

The engineering students were placed on the rocket physics team. Their job was to learn about the physics behind rockets,  investigate the effects of wind on rockets and run a launch simulation. They also made a prediction about their rocket’s flight path. Both students say the week of lectures and hands-on projects—including assembling and launching small rockets of their own, enriched their engineering education. Palomino and Smith are both in the third year of the mechanical engineering biomedical – co-op program, and are also interested in aerospace engineering.

“I have a huge interest in the aerospace industry and it’s something I want to do going forward,” said Smith. “It’s one of my interests and the other is biomedical engineering. There are some very specialized areas where the two overlap.”

“Ever since I was a kid one thing that has fascinated me is knowing how airplanes and rocket ships work,” Palomino said. “It’s an ongoing motivation to continue in engineering. The opportunity to learn more about space science was great. One thing they talked a lot about was the northern lights, and I learned a lot.”

The international student team did manage to launch its rocket, a sounding rocket that stood over eight feet tall on the launch pad and soared to an altitude of more than 8 km at speeds approaching 2,500 km/h.

Watching the rocket take off—and understanding how it worked—wrapped up a fascinating week for the students.

“This was one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable experience I have had in the undergraduate program,” said Palomino. “Not only because of the hands-on work but also because of the international experience. You get to see different cultures and meet students from around the world. We’re very fortunate to have this experience.”

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