The Ramblin' Rocket Club Is Taking Tech to New Heights
In the second installment of exploring student-led organizations involved in aerospace engineering, Steven Zhao of the Ramblin’ Rocket Club discussed his time as president, the operations of the organization, and the bright future ahead.
“To my knowledge, the club started out as three or four guys building rockets in the Student Center,” Zhao said. The club was started in 2005 with the idea of bringing a hobby to life. In 2016, when Zhao became a student at Tech, that spirit stayed the same — but by then there were more than 30 members and they had a small room in the Engineering Science and Mechanics Building.
The club now has four teams: High Power Rocketry (HPR), whose members not only create and launch high-power rockets, but also receive certifications from the National Association of Rocketry. Georgia Tech Experimental Rocketry (GTXR) is geared toward the world’s largest international rocketry competition, Spaceport America. Student Launch Initiative (USLI) is a project focused on a reusable rocket with collaboration from NASA engineers. And High Altitude Balloons (HAB) has a long-term goal of developing a balloon to travel around the globe.
As president, Zhao explained, “My primary job is to oversee all four teams (GTXR, HPR, USLI, and HAB) and to grow the club by looking for sponsorships, partnering with other organizations, and looking for more competitions and projects to participate in.”
The club welcomes any student who wants to learn more, and membership begins with attendance of general meetings. These involve presentations, discussions about projects, and space news. There are also build sessions that happen after the general meetings, as well as advanced rocketry meetings on aerospace design and engineering. Watch parties are also held for space events such as the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and the landing of the Perseverance on Mars.
The club is continually participating in a myriad of rocketry competitions, which not only helps them fine-tune their future operations but also shows them how easy it is for things to go wrong right up until the last minute. At a NASA competition at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Zhao recalled, “The rover ejection charge went off on the launch pad, likely due to a short circuit, which blew off the nose cone and destroyed the rover. They gave us 15 minutes to fix it.” Although stressful and one of the worst possible circumstances, looking back, he said, “It was a fun time all around.”
Another challenge came during the pandemic simply by virtue of having to move the club online. “My primary goal at the beginning of the year was to keep the club running,” Zhao said. And, due to restrictions and lack of students on campus, the USLI and HAB teams were put on hiatus this year. Zhao described members’ passion and how it shone through despite the many uncertainties and changes brought on by the pandemic: “I am proud to have witnessed the club's evolution over the past five years, and to have been a part of its leadership in the last two.”
When asked about if the club reaches out to professors for help while working on a project, Zhao said, “Everything is student-led and student-built. We mostly reach out to our club advisor and faculty when we're looking for something specific to fit our needs on campus.” This includes requesting access to increased work space to accommodate social distancing and buying a trailer for their travel needs.
What’s in store for the Ramblin’ Rocket Club? Space! The GTXR team is working on a rocket utilizing solid motors that can reach the Karman Line within the next year or two. Similar to the Yellow Jacket Space Program, the team is aiming for new heights for Georgia Tech. And Zhao hopes for renewed interest in the USLI and HAB teams in the fall, as well as getting people in HPR their level 3 certifications from the National Association of Rocketry.