SDSU student team building supersonic rocket as first to use smartphone app to control system

SAN DIEGO - A lot of things are not rocket science, but for a group of San Diego State University students, it is.

Twelve seconds is all it took for their rocket to hit 10,000 feet at almost the speed of sound last October.

It was a major feat by the SDSU rocket project team, but that was last year. This year, they are aiming higher.

"Here you can see one of our supersonic fins," said aerospace engineering student Jennifer Wood – one of the team leaders – as she pointed to a new more aerodynamic fin still being tweaked. "We learned what we could do better and that's definitely a really valuable experience as an engineer."

The students have a couple of mentors, but they get no other help. Their team is more like a club, not part of a class.

"The key challenge is always money," said aerospace engineering student Alex Weiss. "We never have enough of it so it takes a lot of engineering to minimize cost."

Once fully assembled, the rocket will stand 18 feet. All of the internal systems will be controlled by something many people have, an Android smart phone. 

So does that mean there's an app for that?

"There's an app for that," said Weiss with a smile. "We replaced all the electronics with a phone and a microcontroller designed for android phones." 

Weiss added, "We're pretty sure we're the first people to do it."

They are following in the footsteps of a former team member and SDSU alumnus who now works at NASA's jet propulsion lab. In fact, NASA's rockets have a lot in common with the rocket project's one.

"They use the exact same types of fuels to get to where they're going," said Weiss. "They just use a lot more of it."

They expect the modified rocket to break the speed of sound hitting 22,000 feet in 18 seconds.

"There's really no limit on what you can do," said Wood. "Anything is possible."

Weiss said, "There's nothing better than seeing your engineering feat launching into the sky. We're hoping Google will give us a call after we launch."

Liftoff is set for May 18 at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry launch site in the Mojave Desert.

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