By  Jennifer McManamay

UVA Rocketry team members successfully launched — and recovered from the rain-soaked New Mexico desert — their 11-foot rocket, Sabre 1, at the Spaceport America Cup 2024 on Friday, June 21, as part of a weeklong event that began June 17.

It was the team’s first-ever entry in the world’s largest collegiate rocketry competition. The Experimental Sounding Rocket Association organizes as many as 150 teams each year at Spaceport America, a commercial launch site in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin, 45 miles north of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Representing UVA Rocketry’s 40-strong membership in New Mexico were (back row, from left) Edison Wong, Emma Lubeshkoff, Jack Spinnanger, faculty advisor Mike McPherson and Shean Rahman; (front row, from left), Daniel Tohti, Anne Marie Branch, Jameson Phelps, Abishekh Gurindapalli and Zijun Wang. (Experimental Sounding Rocket Association).

Nine University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science students, all leaders on the student-run UVA Rocketry competition team, and their adviser, Mike McPherson, represented the University.

The week’s activities included a session with the competition’s judges, who inspected the rocket and quizzed the students on their design and fabrication choices.

‘A Textbook Flight’

After a couple of scrubbed launches due to a GPS issue and bad weather — including an epic dust storm and high winds that wrecked much of the tent city set up for the competition — Friday’s launch culminated a long year of designing, building and testing Sabre 1.

When the moment finally came, “we all watched a textbook flight,” McPherson said. The parachutes gently landed the rocket in the high desert. 

“Our recovery team made the 4-mile walk out and back in the rain through the increasingly muddy desert to return with Sabre 1 intact and big grins on their faces,” he said.

The team, competing in a 10,000-foot category, wasn’t among the winners, but for its first outing as a UVA Experiential Learning Program competitive team, New Mexico was an unqualified success.

Sabre 1 By the Numbers

Rocket Specs

Height – 11.3 ft.
Diameter – 6 in.
Launch mass 65.69 lbs.
Motor diameter – 98mm
Motor – Aerotech M2500
Airframe – G12 fiberglass
Fins – Carbon-fiber reinforced G10 fiberglass

Flight Data

Apogee (maximum altitude) – 8,013 ft.
Maximum speed – Mach 0.84 (645 mph)
Flight duration – 164 seconds

A rocket launching, photo courtesy of the Experimental Rocket Sounding Association

The Flight Path to New Mexico

Read about UVA Rocketry’s journey to the New Mexico desert by way of a farm field in Virginia.