Indigenous student team compete at NASA rocket launch

Monday, June 24, 2024

A team of five Indigenous students from Waterloo Engineering participated in the First Nations Launch, an annual high-power rocket competition sponsored by NASA’s Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC), designed to provide a unique aerospace learning experience.  

It was the team’s first time taking part in the competition which involved designing, building and launching a high-powered model rocket carrying cargo to an apogee of 2000 feet. Months of hard work and invaluable support culminated in an epic — and windy — weekend in Kenosha, Wisconsin that everyone agrees, was a blast. 

“We didn’t know what to expect going in,” says Matthieu Lavallee, a second-year chemical engineering student and Algonquin Anishinaabe member of the Wolf Lake First Nation in Québec. 

“Each step was a massive learning curve which was great. There were lots of technical parameters we had to meet such as payload size and deployment timing, we also had some testing challenges as it isn’t possible to launch a high-powered rocket in Canada without proper authorization. But we had tons of support and nothing felt impossible.” 

Under the gaze of event attendees from United States space industry heavyweights including Blue Origin, the United States military’s Space Force and NASA, the Waterloo team launched their rocket successfully and celebrated its apogee of 786 feet.  

"I enjoyed this project for so many reasons,” Lavallee says. “I really liked that we could all try a bit of everything — from managing the budget to writing reports, programming, designing and building, event logistics and project management — there’s really something for everyone. But nothing beats seeing your rocket take off after months of hard work, I’ll never forget that rush.” 

The team’s Faculty advisors Andrew Milne, a continuing lecturer in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, and Mary Robinson, associate dean of Outreach, Equity and Diversity, say it was a thrilling moment and they look forward to supporting next year’s team. 

Go to Launching future space explorers for the full story.