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Hope Christian Academy students rocket to national race

It took the team at Hope Christian Academy in St. Paul Park two months to design, build and test its first model rocket this winter. And, although that rocket qualified for national competition, there's a hitch.

"We have to build another one for finals," said ninth grader and team captain Aaron Anderson. "We lost the first rocket to an 80-foot-tall cottonwood tree after it qualified."

The replacement rocket must be built in less than a month to compete in the Team America Rocketry Challenge, the world's largest model rocket contest, scheduled at The Plains, Va. on May 17.

Student team members include Anderson, and eighth- graders Philip Gibbens, Matt McCall and Angie You. The team is one of 100 teams that qualified to compete in the national contest. More than 6,000 students on 643 teams attempted to meet the contest's requirements.

The contest rules are very strict, according to Art Gibbens, team mentor. Students are required to design and build a model rocket that can fly for as close to 45 seconds total flight duration and 750 feet maximum flight altitude as possible with a payload of two raw eggs, and successfully parachute the eggs back to the ground unbroken. In the qualifying competition, the rocket reached an altitude of 749 feet, with a total flight time of 40.24 seconds. It weighed 815 grams or a little more than one pound.

"I can't do anything. They have to do all the research and construction," said Gibbens, who has been building model rockets since he was in eighth grade.

At the beginning of the project, each team member designed their own rocket and everyone voted for the best design.

"We used the Rocket Sim program," Anderson said. "Once the rocket was built, we ran more than 600 virtual test firings."

"Our second rocket will have to be exactly like the first one," team member Philip Gibbens said, "Otherwise, we will have to test a lot."

Anderson expects the team to place among the top 10 teams in the finals. Three years ago, the Hope Christian Academy team placed fourth and won an award for the best recovery system. Last year, the rocket lost its recovery parachute, landed on top of a baseball dugout and the eggs were broken.

The rocket is made from paper, balsa wood and some plywood. The eggs are wrapped in memory foam. Clay is used inside to adjust for altitude.

The top 10 teams at finals will share a prize pool of $60,000 in cash, and the winning team will receive a free trip to Farnborough Air Show near London in July.

What do they like best about the project? Philip Gibbens and You like the building side. McCall thinks it's great to see their work succeed, and Anderson says the actual flying is the most fun. "You get to push the buttons," he said.

Toni Lambert can be reached at