Planetary Lander

November 2016 - April 2017


The Federation of Galaxy Explorers hosts a Battle of the Rockets competition every year with a few different challenges at the collegiate and high school levels. For the 2017 competition, our team attempted the Planetary Lander challenge. The goal was to launch a rocket to a minimum of 1000 ft and deploy a lander payload mid-flight. The payload had to safely land, then collect and transmit live data about its environment to our ground station.

My Role:

I was a co-lead for this project. I organized the team's timetable and communicated with project members to monitor progress. I would meet regularly with the Software Lead and Mechanical Lead to understand what obstacles there were and how to best overcome them. I offered high-level design input and facilitated design meetings to determine how the payload would operate, and how it would be ejected from the launch vehicle. As co-lead I also ensured that the members of our project were learning along the way and taking active roles in the project.

Project Challenge:

The competition week involved a day for test launches, followed by competition launches the next day. During our test launch, the motor was improperly fastened and ignited within the rocket, breaking the stand-in payload our test rocket had. In the process, some surrounding corn stubble caught fire and the rocket sustained damage due to the water measures used to put out the fire. That evening, the team had to reform the launch vehicle using a combination of water (to soften the body tube), some extra tube (to reshape the body), and epoxy (to help the tube maintain its shape).

Competition Results:

The day of the competition, the rocket successfully launched without any issues. Its drogue parachute was deployed at an apogee of ~1200 feet, where the motor section and upper section each fell separately. The lander payload was ejected from the upper section at ~1150 feet. The payload was secured using a zip-tie and a small altitude-dependent zip-tie cutter. Very shortly after payload deployment, the upper section's main parachute also deployed, allowing for safe recovery of all rocket sections. Unfortunately, upon landing, the Lander's battery was dislodged and we did not receive any data once it landed. As such, we only received points for the launch vehicle and placed 9th overall among 16 participating teams.

Skills Learned:

  • Refined skills with laser cutter and 3D printer

  • Managed a large group with regards to logistics, the design process, and meeting deadlines


©2018 by David Siegel