For the last few years Canadian university rocketry teams have won several awards at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC), which since 2017 has been competed as the Spaceport America Cup.
The Canadian feat is quite something. There were over 1,400 student from 124 teams competing this year. The competition has six IREC category competitions. Canada was ineligible for the 10K and 30K Student Researched and Developed Solid (SRAD) rocket categories as it isn’t legal for them to develop these technologies in Canada. Of the other four categories, Canadian teams won three of them.
All told Canadian universities picked up 7 awards and 2 honourable mentions.
Genesis Cup (1st place overall) – McGill University
Honourable mention/runner up overall – Concordia University
Dr. Gil Moore innovation award – Polytechnique Montreal
1st place: McGill University
2nd place: Brigham Young University – Provo
1st place: Concordia University
2nd place: Stanford University
10k SRAD Hybrid/Liquid:
1st place: University of Waterloo
2nd place: University of California – Los Angeles
30k SRAD Hybrid/Liquid
1st place: University of Washington
2nd place: AGH University of Science and Technology
10k SRAD Solid (No Canadian team entered)
1st place: The Ohio State University
2nd place: West Virginia University
30k SRAD Solid (No Canadian team entered)
1st place: University of Illinois – Chicago
2nd place: University of Minnesota – Duluth
Jim Furfaro Award (most accurate altitude prediction)
University of Sheffield (off by 17 feet)
Charles Holt Award (computational analysis)
Jim Farrowman Award (general engineering)
Ecole Polythechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Team McGill’s reaction
In an email exchange with Sandro Papais of McGill’s team, Sandro told SpaceQ “rockets built by 14 Canadian teams competed against 124 international teams. That is about 11% of the total pool of competitors and we won 4/5 of the most prestigious awards we were eligible for (1st place in categories and overall winner). Also, many of these (other) teams have drastically larger budgets than ours, particularly funded from their schools, requiring less sponsorship effort. I think these results speak for themselves in terms of the quality and skill of the talented students in Canada relative to our population size and level of funding. I would also like to add that this is not a one year showing from Canada, but the continuation of our domination at this competition that has spanned several years. In fact, in the past 5 years Canadian teams have received almost twice as many awards per capita than the average.”
With these kinds of results why isn’t the government doing more to promote rocketry in Canada and make it possible to hold competitions of this nature? And why aren’t we developing an indigenous rocket capability to launch our satellites to space?
Papais further stated that “even though we are competitive in nature, there is also an immense spirit of collaboration among the Canadian teams. Roughly a year ago we formed the Canadian Rocketry Consortium to help foster our collaboration. In part due to the CRC this year, we have shared a huge amount of technical knowledge amongst ourselves. We have also applied to grants together, sparked national news articles (CBC article on rocketry in Canada), held panel discussions at conferences, and generally become closer friends.”
The Dean of the McGill Faculty of Engineering, Jim Nicell, said “this victory is something that McGill takes great pride in. Our students pulled together this team only 4 years ago and have already demonstrated what can be done by a group with smarts, perseverance, resourcefulness and teamwork. We can only begin to imagine what they are capable of. We are very proud of them.”
The Canadian university teams that participated included: École de technologie supérieure, University of British Columbia, University of Waterloo, Laval University, University of Calgary, McGill University, Queen’s University, University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Polytechnique Montreal, Concordia University, University of Western, University of Windsor, Ryerson University and the University of Victoria.
In his final comments Papais said “this is such a challenging and unforgiving competition; the amount of research, design, and testing that must happen to have a nominal flight with all SRAD (student researched and designed) components is immense. In the end I think that our desire to meet this challenge drove the team to go above and beyond at every opportunity, in our technical documentation and our quality of engineering design and manufacturing. We tested every system rigorously, and many times they didn’t work, causing us to iterate very quickly and improve. We have several graduating senior members who have been on this team since its inception and who have dedicated all of their undergraduate years to this project. In particular Charles Cossette, Kyle Weissman, and Jonathan Lesage, who this award would not have been possible without. I cannot think of a better way for them to leave the team and pass the torch to the next generation.”
Let’s hope these students find jobs in Canada and use their talents to help Canadians.