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ROCKETEERS! The sky’s the limit

Rocketeers from Together We Shine Horizons assemble a rocket in preparation for a test launch. (courtesy of Soontorn Banchongsirichareon) 

ROCKETEERS! The sky’s the limit

By Nick Ng

NASA and SpaceX aren’t the only groups that are launching rockets. Scripps Ranch High’s (SRHS) Together We Shine Horizons, a nonprofit group that was founded by SRHS senior Saatvik Aggarwal, is among 760 middle and high school teams across the U.S. that compete in the annual The American Rocketry Challenge (TARC).

Formed in early 2021, Together We Shine Horizons is run by several students, including Sidsadee “Sid” Banchongsirichareon, Kevin Xia, Saatvik Aggarwal, Yi Ren Chen, Logan Garber, Leopold Li, Keshav Srinivasan, Anish Somchaudhuri and Matthew Poonoosamy.

The members conducted virtual meetings and discussed everything about rocketry at Scripps Ranch High’s Aerospace and Robotics Club. The competition provides students a glimpse of what the real-world competition is like in the aerospace industry.

“Ever since around seventh grade, I’ve been building model rocket kits that you can build and launch yourself,” said Banchongsirichareon, who is the design lead. 

TARC offers a different challenge every year. Last year, competitors had to fly their rocket to about 800 feet with one egg on it and parachute it to the ground with the egg intact. This year, their altitude goal is to reach 835 feet with two raw eggs and land within 41 to 44 seconds without breaking any eggs. To get into the finals in Washington, D.C., competitors must submit two recorded flights to TARC, but they may test as many times as they like. 

“You have to declare a qualification flight before you fly that rocket – three chances to get the best score possible,” Banchongsirichareon said.

Banchongsirichareon and his team make their own flight computers that they put inside the rockets, which can zero in the exact altitude the rocket needs to reach and land within the time frame. With their application of robotics, Banchongsirichareon is optimistic that the extra knowledge will give the team a competitive edge. 

But before they can even fly a rocket, the team consults with a designated mentor from TARC who guides them about using the software, designing a rocket and making sure the rocket works before they build it. 

Building and flying a rocket hosts many problems. Together We Shine Horizons faced a “malfunctioning parachute system” and too much “wavering” of the rocket before it launched during the test flights. The team also faces a shortage of rocket motors and covers that protect the eggs, as well as finding an appropriate launch site since their regular site was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Together We Shine Horizons plans to conduct more workshops this summer in several San Diego libraries as the team had done last summer at the Scripps Miramar Ranch Library. 

Banchongsirichareon said their last workshops filled up within hours after they launched their sign-up online last summer, especially their robotics course.

“Clearly, there seems to be demand for these experiences for people to just experience building things, especially in these times,” he said.

After high school, Banchongsirichareon wants to be an aerospace engineer. His interests in flight and rocketry stem from watching the Blue Angels fly at the MCAS Miramar Air Show almost every summer when his parents used to take him.

“I’m fascinated with all things that fly. Once I found out that it’s not just planes that fly but also rockets, that elevated my passion,” he said. “Anyone can learn anything if they are curious enough to explore it, even if they are unknown at the start. Thus, technical skills are obviously a part of Horizons team members, but this stems from everyone’s commitment to building a rocket that will take the team to nationals featuring technologies we never thought we would work with, such as our flight computers. Many members are excited in general by rockets in the real world or just building things in general,” Banchongsirichareon added. 

Visit twshorizons.com/home to learn more. Contribute to Together We Shine Horizons at givebutter.com/support-together-we-shine.

Together We Shine members examine a rocket prior to launch. (courtesy of Soontorn Banchongsirichareon)
Members of Together We Shine Horizons pose during a practice session. (courtesy photo)
Team Together We Shine Horizons prepares to launch at Fiesta Island. (courtesy of Soontorn Banchongsirichareon)