Local students reach finals of national rocketry competition

A group of Canyon Crest Academy students started Proxima Rocketry Club about two years ago.
A group of Canyon Crest Academy students started Proxima Rocketry Club about two years ago.
(Dr. Santosh Vetticaden)

A team of Canyon Crest Academy students learned on April 12 that they made it to the finals of a national rocketry competition.

Only about two years since its inception, the student-led Proxima Rocketry Club joined a field of about 800 teams from middle schools and high schools across the country who entered the American Rocketry Challenge. The competition required teams to design, build and launch a rocket that is at least 2 feet tall and can safely carry an egg 850 feet in the air, maintain flight for 42-45 seconds and return safely to the ground.

The team of CCA students are now 1 of 100 teams that will compete against each other for $100,000 in prizes on May 20 in Virginia. The team that wins the national championship will get an all-expense paid trip to Paris for an international rocketry competition. The top 25 teams will get to go to a NASA Student Launch workshop.

“I got this idea because ever since I was a kid I thought that planes and rockets were cool,” said CCA junior Vinay Vetticaden, founder and president of Proxima Rocketry Club. “Once I learned about model rocketry, I wanted to share my interest.”

Vinay’s father, Santosh, serves as the team’s coach. The team is also mentored by Chris Flanigan, an aerospace engineer.

“Nowadays rocketry is such a hot area of interest for everyone,” Santosh said. “They participate in the American Rocketry Challenge and within a year-and-a-half they’re in the finals, so that’s pretty cool.”

The team has continued to grow, and has made it a priority to promote STEM among other students throughout the region. Their latest opportunity to do that was at the Barrio Logan Science & Art Expo on April 15, where Proxima had a booth. The event includes art, science and culture, with exhibitions and demonstrations.

“I’m very STEM-based in terms of interests and what I want to go into after high school,” said Anush Rajan, the club’s head of marketing and a junior at CCA. “I thought rocketry would be a cool application of that.”

CCA junior Rohan Krishnan said he joined Proxima Rocketry to get some hands-on experience that complements his schoolwork.

“I think it’s cool to have that physical aspect,” he said.

About 5,000 students participated in the American Rocketry Challenge, which is in its 21st year.

“For the last 21 years, the American Rocketry Challenge has inspired and cultivated thousands of scientists, engineers, and business leaders working on today’s most dynamic aerospace missions,” Eric Fanning, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, said in a statement. “When 100 teams compete for the title of National Champion in May, it is fitting that a Challenge alumnus will be circling above them as an astronaut aboard the International Space Station. I can’t wait to see which team’s ingenuity and critical thinking will help them earn the title of National Champion!”