Rocket flight test

On Saturday, April 27, the rocket team from the Clark College Aerospace & Robotic program traveled to Brothers, Oregon, and successfully launched their rocket, named “Emperor Penguin,” for the first time this year.

Here are some noteworthy highlights from our expedition:

The crew: Five students Ethan Walters, Vyacheslav Lukiyanchuk, Alex Kari, Rebekah Irvin, and Bladen Mitchell, and advisor Sophie Lin

The rocket: “Emperor Penguin” is 14 feet long and weighs about 63 pounds

The journey: It is a long drive (about four hours) to the launch site in Brothers, Oregon. Departing from campus at 5:30 a.m., the crew arrived at Brothers around 9:30 a.m.

Tasks accomplished: Demonstrating remarkable efficiency, the team accomplished two major tasks during the trip:

  • An ejection charge test to figure out the black powder needed for rocket separations, and
  • A flight test to assess the rocket’s design, construction, and avionics system.

The flight test: The rocket soared to an altitude of roughly 7,200 feet before safely landing approximately 0.5 miles from the launch pad.

Retrieving the rocket: Despite a glitch in the GPS system onboard the rocket, the team successfully located it utilizing a radio tracker, with an unexpected assist from a team member and her dog, who managed to find the rocket before the radio tracker.

Other college teams at the launch site: Two other college teams, one from Oregon State University and another from Portland State University, were present at Brothers, though neither managed to launch their rockets that Saturday. During the weekend, the Clark College rocket team was the only college team to launch and recover a rocket without any deployment failure successfully.

Returning to campus: Wrapping up their activities, the team departed Brothers at 7:30 p.m. and returned to campus by 1:30 a.m. the next day.

Next flight test: Looking ahead, the team plans to return to Brothers in mid-May for another flight test, utilizing a motor designed and constructed by their students.

Ultimate goal: The team plans to fly “Emperor Penguin” at the 2024 Spaceport America Cup competition in New Mexico, alongside approximately 160 teams from across the globe. Stay tuned for further updates as we progress towards this competition!

Special Note: Last year, Clark’s team was the only community college team among 1,700 teams.

Learn more

Photos courtesy of Xiunu “Sophie” Lin, Ph. D.

Spaceport America Cup

Four Clark Aerospace students carry their Little Penguin rocket to the launch pad at Spaceport America Cup.

The Clark Aerospace team launched its rocket, Little Penguin, at Spaceport America Cup competition in Las Cruces, New Mexico in June. It is the world’s largest IREC (Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition) for student rocketry teams.  

Nearly 6,000 rocketeers on 158 teams hailing from 24 countries competed at Spaceport. Clark College was the only community college accepted to participate in the competition.  

Xiunu “Sophie” Lin, Ph.D., Professor of Physics and Director of Clark Aerospace Program, shared the team’s video with college staff in an email: “I’m excited to share a brief video that showcases the Clark Aerospace rocket team’s incredible journey to the 2023 Spaceport America Cup competition. This video provides a glimpse into our experience at the event and offers valuable insights into our participation.”  

  • Watch the team’s video about their experience at Spaceport America Cup Competition here
  • Read an earlier Clark 24/7 News story about the team’s rocket test launch in April here.  

Fall and winter: Building the rocket 

In October 2022, a team of six Clark students, an advisor, and a mentor was organized by the Clark Aerospace program to build a rocket for the 2023 Spaceport America Cup. 

Clark College Aerospace rocket team: 

  • Students Tyler James Lawrence, Samuel Remus Banceu, Ethan Lloyd Walters, Vyacheslav Timofeyevich Lukiyanchuk, Osvaldo Monroy, and Vee Dunn 
  • Mentor Jack Caynon, who guided and supported the team from beginning to end 
  • Xiunu “Sophie” Lin, Ph.D., Professor of Physics and Director of the Clark Aerospace Program 

Rocket specs: 

  • Name: “Little Penguin” 
  • Length: 114 inches  
  • Diameter: 5 inches 
  • Weight: 39 pounds without a motor 

The team spent about six months building the rocket for the competition. After several flight test failures and rebuilds, eventually, they had a rocket ready for the competition. 

Image from test flight in April, Sophie Lin pictured second from the right in the hat.

Spring: Test flight 

Every spring, the college’s Aerospace program travels to the scrappy sagebrush landscape of Brothers, Oregon, a premier launch site for high-altitude rocket projects, 40 miles east of Bend to launch their rockets in test flights. 

Clark Aerospace launched their rocket, dubbed “Little Penguin” on April 28 using an M1845 motor. According to the team’s simulations, the rocket with that motor could potentially reach a high point of about 16,000 feet (called “apogee” in rocket lingo).  

Little Penguin launched—and reached an apogee of about 12,000 feet, but the team quickly lost sight of it. Several hours later, the team located their rocket 11 miles from the launch site. It was banged up and hadn’t held up as well as they’d hoped. 

Dr. Lin said, “After the flight test at Brothers, we had to rebuild some parts of the rocket to make it stronger.” 

Spaceport America’s Cup 

Day 1 (June 18), Arrival:  

Clark Aerospace team flew to Las Cruces, New Mexico, and checked in at Spaceport. One Clark Aerospace student observed: “It was thrilling to finally meet so many young rocketeers who share the same passion and dream we have about space and technology.” 

Day 2, Project Presentation:  

Clark Aerospace showcased their rocket at Las Cruces Convention Center. The team’s rocket attracted much attention. Next, the team took their rocket through the flight safety review. Eventually, they were granted permission to fly the following day. 

The night before the launch, students worked in the garage of the Airbnb house to correct some minor issues identified during the flight safety review. Together, they prepared the rocket for the next day’s launch. 

Day 3, Scheduled Launch Day:  

Students worked on the rocket to earn the opportunity to launch the rocket on the first day and accumulate more points. They took the rocket to the flight readiness safety inspection, where the launch control officer reviewed their rocket. It passed the final safety check. They were cleared to take their rocket to the launch site.  

Unfortunately, strong winds picked up in the late afternoon. All launch events were suspended. Little Penguin would have to wait another day to fly. 

Day 4, Second Launch Day:  

The students awoke at 3 a.m. and lined up at the gate of the launch site at 6 a.m. Building their rocket in the early morning light, Clark Aerospace was in the first group of teams to set up the tent and work on their rockets. 

One student said, “We were trying all we could to earn an edge to compete with the four-year universities. There is not much difference between us and the students from four-year universities, as long as we are willing to work as hard, or even harder than them.” 

Just like the previous day, they lined up for the flight readiness safety inspection. They were given the green light to take their rocket to the vertical launch site, where they set up their rocket. Then they settled into the bleachers to watch Little Penguin fly. 

The launch site announcer said: “We’re looking at Clark College. This is a community college. It’s good to see community colleges participate. You don’t have to be a major Division 1 school. You just need students who have the passion and interest, a little bit of support from the community and the school. Clark Aerospace is launching from Pad B3. Skies are clear. LCO (launch control officer) is counting it down. Launching in 5-4-3-2-1!” 

The rocket lifted up. For this flight, the team had attached an M1419 motor. The rocket reached an apogee of 8,529 feet. Little Penguin was recovered about 200 feet away from the launchpad, a new record for the rocket team. 

Dr. Lin said, “Our program’s projects offer a valuable chance for students to voluntarily step up and take on responsibility, enabling them to delve deeper into their true potential and explore the possibilities of who they can become.” 

Spaceport America Cup by the numbers: 

  • 5,913 rocketeers participating 
  • 158 teams 
  • 1,329 (22%) of participants were women  
  • Students hailed from 24 countries on 6 continents  
    (Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Nepal, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States) 

Next challenge: Spaceport 2024 

The next challenge for Clark Aerospace: Building their project to compete in the next Spaceport America Cup competition in June 2024. The team plans to make their own motor, build a six-inch diameter rocket, and compete in the SRAD (Student Researched and Designed) 10,000-foot category.  

Interested in joining? 

Clark Aerospace is looking for interested Clark students to join them. No prior experience with rockets is required.  

Clark’s Aerospace Club actively participates in science, technology, engineering, and math-based experiential project/aerospace design competitions, and students also attend launch events, museums, and aerospace-related activities. 

To learn more: Email 

Clark College to expand in the Gorge

Bingen, Wash.

Bingen, Wash., is the site of a new Clark College facility offering educational opportunity to the residents of the Columbia River Gorge.

Less than a year after establishing a location in the Columbia River Gorge, Clark College is expanding its academic and technical offerings and moving into a new, larger facility.

The new location in Bingen, Wash., which is still being negotiated, would house both new classes designed for the needs of local employers as well as existing classes currently run out of Clark’s facility at the Wind River Education Center in nearby Carson. That facility was opened in fall 2013 in response to widespread interest from Columbia Gorge residents and school districts in having access to affordable, college-level classes; it will close when the Bingen facility opens in order to house all Clark programs in one convenient location.

The expansion is made possible in part by a $315,000 grant received by the college from the State of Washington to increase enrollment in aerospace education, approximately half of which is going to provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education at the Bingen facility. The grant is part of an $8 million, statewide program to help two-year and technical colleges prepare future employees in the aerospace field.

The new Bingen location will include a computer lab and classroom space for classes in Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD), a skill that many regional employers cited as in high demand. The college will also be hiring a full-time employee in the Columbia River Gorge. The college is on an aggressive timeline, and will be ready to offer classes in the fall of 2014.

The college is also moving its Transitional Studies (basic education, GED preparation, and ESL) programs and other academic offerings previously provided at Wind River to the new Bingen facility. These other offerings include classes taken by area high school students through Washington State’s Running Start program, which allows students to take college-level classes while still enrolled in high school for little or no tuition—potentially earning their associate degree while still in high school.

Additionally, Clark College Corporate and Continuing Education (CCE) will use the new facility to continue and expand its specialized training for local employers. Beginning in fall 2014, CCE will also begin providing professional-development courses to the public, including LEAN, blueprint reading, Excel, Word, Outlook, Business Writing, email etiquette and communication, and essentials of supervision.

A full list of courses and activities in the Columbia River Gorge will be available on the Clark College website later this summer.

Photos: Clark College/Jenny Shadley