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Our Eight Favorite Things About This Weekend’s Student Launch

Our Eight Favorite Things About This Weekend’s Student Launch

We’re ready for another year of sky-high fun, literally, as student teams launch nearly 50 high-powered rockets during the 16th annual Student Launch, April 16, near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.


Hundreds of students from high schools, colleges and universities across 22 states have spent the past several months designing, fabricating and testing single-stage rockets and autonomous ground support systems. So, what makes this event so great? Start here to find out as we list our eight favorite things.

1. A Mile-High Target

Our Eight Favorite Things About This Weekend’s Student Launch

Setting goals is a part of life, and so, too, is this competition. Teams will attempt to launch their rocket to an altitude of one mile, or 5,280 feet. That’ll earn the maximum number of altitude points of 5,280. But, if teams go over or under, there’s a penalty. Teams lose 2 points for every foot over and 1 point for every foot under.

2. Return of the Mars Ascent Vehicle Challenge


Back for a second consecutive year – the MAV challenge runs parallel with Student Launch – requiring teams to design an autonomous system capable of retrieving and storing a mock Martian sample into their rocket. Sponsored by the Centennial Challenges program – our citizen prize program – MAV focuses on designing rockets for future sample return missions to Mars.

3. Why, Yes, It Really Is Rocket Science


Static stability margin, thrust-to-weight ratios and ammonium perchlorate composite propellants may seem like a foreign language, but it’s just everyday lingo for these young rocket scientists. In addition to designing and fabricating a rocket, students hone skills by completing electrical wiring and operating computer-aided software for launching rockets and analyzing payloads.

4. Putting Rocketry Skills to the Test


During launch week, we host a “Rocket Fair,” where each team gives a technical presentation about their rocket and any autonomous systems, to hundreds of engineers and team members from NASA, corporate sponsor Orbital ATK of Promontory, Utah, and the media. Doing so provides students an opportunity to gain valuable feedback from real rocket scientists and engineers.

5. Hard Work Pays Off, Literally


Yes, a year’s worth of bragging rights are on the line, but so, too, is some cold, hard cash. Orbital ATK offers an overall cash prize of $5,000 to the highest-ranking college/university team to meet the Student Launch objectives. Plus, the MAV challenge offers a share of $50,000 for completion of its objectives.

6. Safety, Safety and More Safety


Teams complete a lengthy series of comprehensive flight and safety reviews, all overseen by our staff, engineers and scientists. Multiple reviews are scheduled throughout the 8-month-long design process, as well as during the launch week at Marshall Space Flight Center. These reviews mirror the engineering design lifecycle used by our workforce.

7. Celebrate Good Times


After the smoke clears from rocket launches, teams gather for a well-earned evening of celebration. The awards banquet – held at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and funded by Orbital ATK – recognizes teams with awards including Best Design, Altitude, Safety and more.

8. Teams Make Dreams Come True


More than just a friendly competition, Student Launch and MAV Challenge provide long-lasting life experiences outside of the classroom. Students benefit from working as a team, applying STEM skills and overcoming technical obstacles – all aspects related to the success of our work. 

The MAV Challenge and Student Launch are open to the public and will stream live on line at:

For more details, rules, photos from previous events, and links to social media accounts providing real-time updates, visit:

For more information about the Centennial Challenges MAV Challenge, visit:

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