Students build reusable rocket, win $5,000 from NASA

The University of Alabama in Huntsville took home the top prize at Student Launch 2023.

NASA has announced the 2023 winners of Student Launch, an annual competition where students from across the states and Puerto Rico get to experience the highs and lows of developing — and launching — a brand-new rocket with NASA.

NASA’s Student Launch: Every fall, NASA solicits proposals from teams of middle school, high school, and university students across the country interested in participating in its annual Student Launch competition.

Teams whose proposals are accepted then have nine months to design, build, and test rockets that meet certain specs. They must complete periodic milestone reviews with NASA experts — these milestones mirror the ones that NASA’s own engineers use when developing their rockets.

Students are also supposed to build and maintain social media pages for their teams, engage other students in STEM activities, and complete other tasks throughout the competition. 

Launch day: At the end of the nine months, teams that passed all of their reviews compete in a special launch event near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 

After the event, a NASA panel chooses an overall winner, as well as winners in categories such as reusability, the ability to hit a target max altitude, and best implementation of 3D-printing. Participants also vote for winners in categories such as best-looking rocket and best team spirit. 

In several categories, separate winners are chosen for the university teams and those from middle/high schools.

“Their competition flight and payload performance were spectacular.”

Kay Anderson

The winners: More than 800 students participated in the 2023 Student Launch event in April, and NASA has now announced that the team from the University of Alabama in Huntsville is the overall competition winner, taking home a prize of $5,000.

“The University of Alabama in Huntsville exemplifies what it means to be a well-rounded and disciplined team,” said Kay Anderson, the manager of communications for Northrop Grumman, one of the competition’s sponsors. “Their competition flight and payload performance were spectacular and ultimately prove their quality and dedication.”

The big picture: Not every team could walk away from the Student Launch competition a winner, but they did all get to experience something many only dream about: building a rocket with NASA.

“We’re just five kids from New Jersey,” said Sean McConoughey, a member of the Morris County 4-H Rocketry Club from Morristown, New Jersey. “We don’t go to the same school or even live in the same city, but here we are launching rockets with NASA.”

The complete list of Student Launch 2023 winners is below.

2023 Overall Winners

  • First place: University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Second place: University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Third place: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

3D Printing Award

College Level

  • First place: Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 

Middle/High School Level

  • First place: East Aurora High School, East Aurora, New York

Altitude Award 

College Level

  • First place: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
  • Second place: University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Third place: University of Alabama in Huntsville

Middle/High School Level

  • First place: Spring Grove Area High School, Spring Grove, Pennsylvania
  • Second place: Camas High School, Camas, Washington
  • Third place: MATHmania Robotics, Mission Viejo, California

Best-Looking Rocket Award 

College Level

  • First place: North Carolina State University, Raleigh
  • Second place: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg
  • Third place: Auburn University, Alabama 

Middle/High School Level

  • First place: Cedar Falls High School, Iowa
  • Second place: Yamhill Carlton High School, Yamhill, Oregon
  • Third place: Boy Scouts Troop 17, Charlottesville, Virginia

AIAA Reusable Launch Vehicle Innovative Payload Award

College Level

  • First place: University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Second place: Washington University in St. Louis
  • Third place: University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Judges’ Choice Award

Middle/High School Level

  • First place: Cedar Falls High School, Cedar Falls, Iowa 
  • Second place: Seabrook Intermediate School, Seabrook, Texas
  • Third place: MATHmania Robotics, Mission Viejo, California 

Project Review Award 

College Level 

  • First place: University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Second place: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee  
  • Third place: University of Notre Dame, Indiana

AIAA Reusable Launch Vehicle Award 

College Level 

  • First place: New York University, New York
  • Second place: Washington University in St. Louis
  • Third place: University of Alabama in Huntsville

AIAA Rookie Award

College Level

  • First place: United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
  • Second place: Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas
  • Third place: University of Central Florida, Orlando

Safety Award

College Level

  • First place: University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Second place: University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Third place: University of Notre Dame, Indiana

Social Media Award 

College Level 

  • First place: University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus
  • Second place: North Carolina State University, Raleigh
  • Third place: University of North Carolina at Charlotte 

Middle/High School Level

  • First place: Morris County 4-H Rocketry Club, Morris County, New Jersey
  • Second place: East Aurora High School, East Aurora, New York
  • Third place: Boy Scouts Troop 17, Charlottesville, Virginia

STEM Engagement Award

College Level

  • First place: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
  • Second place: University of Notre Dame, Indiana
  • Third place: University of Alabama in Huntsville 

Middle/High School Level

  • First place: Cedar Falls High School, Cedar Falls, Iowa
  • Second place: MATHmania Robotics, Mission Viejo, California
  • Third place: Camas High School, Camas, Washington

Service Academy Award

  • First place: The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York

Vehicle Design Award

Middle/High School Level

  • First place: Yamhill Carlton Rocketry, Yamhill, Oregon
  • Second place: Spring Grove Area High School, Spring Grove, Pennsylvania
  • Third place: Cedar Falls High School, Cedar Falls, Iowa

Payload Design Award 

Middle/High School Level

  • First place: Portland Rocketry, Portland, Oregon
  • Second place: Yamhill Carlton Rocketry, Yamhill, Oregon
  • Third place: Seabrook Intermediate School, Seabrook, Texas

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