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SRHS alumna sets sights on the stars

Lauren Potterat is part of the USC Rocket Propulsion Laboratory. (courtesy photo)

SRHS alumna sets sights on the stars

A Scripps Ranch High School alumna is reaching for the stars, quite literally, as she and her team attempt to become the first student-run organization to launch a rocket into outer space without any assistance from an outside organization.

University of Southern California junior Lauren Potterat is part of the Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at the university which, according to its website, is an undergraduate research laboratory that designs, builds and tests experimental rocketry and propulsion hardware.

Potterat works in the avionics team division as the embedding software lead, with eight other coders under her direction. Her main job is to inspect the hardware’s coding, which enables the team to know where a rocket is and what it’s doing during the flight.

“We want to design and kind of show that we are capable of sending an advance rocket to space,” Potterat said.

Though Potterat has a deep passion for space and technology, she admitted it wasn’t something she pictured herself doing while in high school.

“In high school I was a pretty strong pre-med candidate,” Potterat said. “I thought that I was going to be a surgeon.”

However, she went on to enroll at USC as a computer science major, switching midway through her sophomore year to astrophysics.

Potterat said she was surprised to discover the type of advance work that was being conducted in the lab, stating that she discovered the group through some of her peers within the major. 

“For (the lab) to operate at an undergraduate level is something that I wouldn’t fathom – for it to be operating at this level,” Potterat said. “Once I joined, the ship was sailed, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

The lab currently holds the world record for student undergraduate altitude with the launch of the Fathom II Rocket on March 2017, but the team’s ultimate goal is to be the first collegiate lab to successfully launch a student-made rocket into space.

“We want to design and kind of show that we are capable of sending an advance rocket to space,” Potterat said. “On a technical scale, (we’re trying to) be the first undergraduate student organization that builds a rocket in-house ­– without industry assistance – that makes it to space.”

Potterat is hoping that the passion for space she’s seeing at the collegiate level trickles down and sparks a renewed interest in space among high school students and younger students so future generations continue to pursue space exploration.

“I’m a believer in the fact that space is the final frontier,” Potterat said.

The lab is currently gearing up for its next launch which will happen during the spring semester. The public can follow this project online through updates on the Rocket Propulsion Laboratory’s website: uscrpl.com.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of kids having a good time and doing some actual engineering,” Potterat said.

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