No rocket ever launched by a team of college students has reached outer space. Last year, a group at the University of Southern California set what they believe to be the altitude record for such an endeavor, when its Fathom II booster ascended to a height of 44km above the Earth's surface. This mark easily eclipsed prior records set by other ambitious college rocket organizations, including the Delft University of Technology and the University of Stuttgart.
While impressive, 44km is still not all that close to outer space. Outer space is generally accepted to begin at the Kármán line, a 100km high arbitrary boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space. And ultimately, this altitude is where college students want to go.
Now, the Space Enterprise group at the University of California-Berkeley says it plans to launch a rocket beyond the Kármán line by July 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of human landings on the Moon. So far the group has raised $30,000 through crowdfunding sources and intends to spend about $150,000 developing the Eureka-1 booster.
A race to 100km
Jiayong Li, a Berkeley undergrad and member of Space Enterprise group, said he and other students have taken inspiration from commercial space developments driving down the cost of launch. “What if a student team took ideas that other people were using and developed a rocket that was bare bones, cheaper, and more efficient, and got us to space?” Li toldMotherboard.
That's easy to say but harder to do. But the Berkeley students have a plan. Their proposed Eureka-1 rocket will stand 7 meters tall, with a diameter of 40cm. It will be powered by a single, liquid-propellant "Ascella" engine capable of delivering 2,700 pounds of thrust. The Berkeley group anticipates that its rocket will have the capacity to deliver a payload up to 5kg to an altitude of 135km. Perhaps, if the effort is successful, the Berkeley group will even start a small commercial service to deliver commercial payloads into space.
But they've got to get to space first, and among the college ranks there is a lot of competition. The USC group, named the Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, has a head start. And it, too, has ambitions to launch the world's first entirely student-designed and built rocket past the Kármán line—and recover it, too.