HVA AeroHAWKS: It is rocket science

Susan EspirituKarns/Hardin Valley

The Hardin Valley Academy AeroHAWKS team qualified to participate in the high school category of NASA Student Launch by way of their two teams’ performance in the 2023 American Rocketry Challenge. Schools which finished in the top 25 at ARC nationals are invited to submit a proposal for the NASA SL program.

This actually is rocket science! Student Launch is a 9-month-long, hands-on challenge that tasks teams from across the United States to design, build, test and launch a high-powered rocket carrying a scientific or engineering payload. It culminates each year with a final launch in Huntsville, Alabama, home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

The HVA AeroHAWKS’ proposal was accepted in August and has advanced through each stage of the program: Preliminary Design Review, Critical Design Review, Flight Readiness Review and finally, the Launch Readiness Review.

Each program milestone requires a detailed written report and accompanying virtual presentation with NASA.

The AeroHAWKS designed a rocket (30 lbs., 8 ft in length) that would carry an autonomous UAV to 4,100 ft and then deploy it to complete a thermal mapping mission during descent.

The team named the rocket Sam, in honor of a team member it lost in November.

The program concluded on Saturday, April 13, 2024, in Huntsville at NASA SL Launch Week. The AeroHAWKS were one of roughly 25 high school teams eligible to compete alongside 60 universities which had advanced through to launch week.

Team mentor and STEM teacher Tim Smyrl says of the experience, “While a competition for the universities, the high school category serves as an invaluable learning experience and it’s safe to say our team learned lessons they will never forget as they designed, built and flew our SL rocket.”

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