ERAU Students Set Record With Rocket Launch

A team of Aerospace Engineering students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University made history on March 22 when they successfully launched their two-stage Icarus rocket from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

With 3,500 pounds of thrust in the first stage and 900 pounds in the second stage, the rocket set an altitude record for a student-built vehicle — 37.8 miles — and became the first two-stage student sounding rocket to launch from a NASA facility.

“The Embry-Riddle student-designed rocket was the most complex student project we have supported to date,” said Phil Eberspeaker, chief of NASA’s Sounding Rockets Program Office. “NASA subjects these student rockets to the same scrutiny as a NASA sounding rocket to ensure the flight can be conducted in a safe manner.”

Embry-Riddle student Mike Stackpole founded Project Icarus in 2003 with assistance from other students in the Embry-Riddle Future Space Explorers and Developers Society and has led the effort ever since. Current team members are Jon Barnhart, Brandon Boekelman, Josh Chatham, Jacklyn Duff, Curtis Ewbank, and Kevin Mock. Former team members who made significant contributions are Ron Driggers, Steven Trout, and Markus Zimmerman, all of whom have graduated in the past year. The team’s faculty advisors are Dr. Eric Hill and Dr. Rick Perrell.

“The mission of Project Icarus is to promote student rocket projects at Embry-Riddle, combining classroom knowledge with hands-on experience in rocket design and construction,” said Stackpole. “Icarus is the first in what will hopefully be a long line of vehicles, each pushing the envelope slightly more. The eventual goal is to create a rocket that reaches space.”

According to Stackpole, analysis of NASA radar and on-board telemetry data showed that the Icarus rocket performed nearly perfectly: The first stage blasted the rocket off the pad to reach a velocity of Mach 2.5 at an acceleration of 13.2 g’s; after the first stage fell away, the sustainer reached Mach 4.04 and a height of 37.8 miles.

The 16-foot-long rocket weighed 268 pounds fully loaded and carried a 15-pound electronic payload, including a telemetry system to relay information back to the ground via UHF radio signals. Data was collected on barometric pressure, acceleration, spin rate, GPS, altitude, and the temperature of the nose cone. The payload also included a capacitor discharge initiation system that ignited the second stage at a specified time during flight. The solid propellant, similar to that used by the solid rocket boosters on the space shuttles, was manufactured by Loki Research of Pennsylvania.

“The Icarus team put in a sustained effort over the years, and the importance of their achievement can’t be overstated,” said Dr. Perrell. “One of the many impressive aspects of this project is how efficiently the students used the monetary contributions they received in support of their work. The Icarus experience will stand them in good stead as they graduate into the real world of the aviation and aerospace industry.”

The students raised a total of $17,500 from funding sources that included United Space Alliance and two Embry-Riddle sources, the College of Engineering Director of Graduate Programs plus a Provost’s Undergraduate Research Grant titled “Project Icarus: Developing an Inexpensive Sounding Rocket for Space Research Payloads.” The funding was applied to the complete Icarus program, including ground support, workshop tools, equipment, and transportation.

In addition, the team received significant outside assistance, including material and labor donations from Florida Institute of Technology (FIT). Others who helped are high-powered rocket experimentalists Greg Peeples of FIT and Chris Holland of United Space Alliance; Jeff Taylor and Darren Wright of Loki Research; Erik Hall of Ozark Aerospace; and many individuals at NASA Wallops Flight Facility, particularly the team’s project manager, Dave Moltedo.

Additional details and a video of the Icarus launch are online at

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, offers more than 30 degree programs in its colleges of Arts and Sciences, Aviation, Business, and Engineering. The university educates more than 34,000 students annually in undergraduate and graduate programs at residential campuses in Prescott, Ariz., and Daytona Beach, Fla., through the Worldwide Campus at more than 130 centers in the United States, Europe, Canada, and the Middle East, and through online learning. For more information, visit

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