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Captain Jennifer

Mission control of the all-girl rocket team from Belfast

24 April 2009

I am the leader of an all-girl rocket team called Rocket-2-YA. In April this year we came third in the annualUK Aerospace Youth Rocketry Challenge. It was really close – our rocket was 0.3 seconds faster than the winning team, but it travelled five feet higher and we lost points for that.

Its been a brilliant thing to do. I’ve always been fascinated by space – though my family is not at all scientific - and I’ve always loved making things. Victoria College is an all-girls grammar school in Belfast, and I am studying for my A levels. Our college team – Victoria Vipers - was doing well in a UK Formula 1 competition and our technology teacher, Mr Winning, found out about the rocket challenge. He suggested to me that we should have a go. We asked who was interested and ended up with a team of five from Lower sixth: Nadia, Tiffany, Juliet, and Joanna with myself as Mission Control – Captain Jennifer.

Andy Willis from Space Connections was a great help and got us on our way. Miss Connolly and Mr Jamison from the Technology Department were always on hand to give us good advice and support.

We started in the autumn term. The others weren’t free to begin with, so I did some research and found out about model rocketry and built a prototype. The ICT side of things was important – you can’t control the rocket once it’s in flight, but you need to know about weight, mass, balance for example to determine the flight path in advance. For the competition you have an egg in the nose of the rocket, and when the rocket lands that egg has to be intact – it’s where the astronaut would be and they have to be safe. So when you test the rocket you hope it will land safely.

At first the school gave us some funds, but then Mr Winning and some of the team went out to get sponsorship and we raised £1,500 in total. We did some practise runs – the wind kept changing direction and we were jumping ditches and climbing barbed wire fences to retrieve our rocket.

The UK finals took place at Charterhouse School, Surrey (near London) and we were the only school to qualify from Northern Ireland. It was crazy! Our first flight used three rocket motors which were faulty – all three blew up and nearly destroyed our rocket. Luckily we had a back-up rocket for a second launch, which came third. It was so exciting! I really recommend rocket-building to anyone – there are lots of websites, videos and people who are really helpful if you want to have a go.

I hope to study aeronautical engineering. My aim is to be an astronaut. I’d love to see earth from outer space.

Jennifer is in the Lower Sixth studying Maths, Physics and Technology at AS Level. Mr Mark Winning teaches Technology at Victoria College: “This was an excellent competition which gave the girls an opportunity to apply many skills which they have developed at Victoria. Already the girls are looking forward to competing again next year”.

The 2009 UKAYRoC challenged teams to design, construct and launch a rocket, carrying one raw medium size hen’s egg to an altitude of 750 feet with a flight time of 45 seconds, then return this payload safely and undamaged to earth. Entries for the 2010 Challenge open in September 2009.

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