five people standing holding a rocket
Matthew Paulino, Kelli Ching, Nikki Arakawa, Katlynn Vicuña and Kahiamaikalani Walker

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa took home five awards in a North American NASA rocket competition, the most of any of the 13 participating institutions from the U.S. and Canada. The final results from the April 2022 First Nations Launch High-Power Rocket Competition ​​at the Richard Bong State Recreational Area in Kansasville, Wisconsin, were announced in June.

three people standing next to a rocket

The UH Mānoa team entered the Moon Challenge phase of the competition. It captured 1st place for oral presentation, and third place for the grand prize award and written report. UH Mānoa also won the spirit award and aesthetic award.

Aside from reaching a height of 3,000 feet, participants of the Moon Challenge were required to:

  • Design and construct a dual deploy high-power rocket with a GPS data logger onboard
  • Maintain a stable flight
  • Reconstruct a 3D trajectory of the rocket flight from the data collected from liftoff until landing, and plot it against a satellite imagery map
  • Satisfy all technical requirements for the rocket

“I’m very happy and proud of the team’s accomplishments. Our team started off not knowing each other at all, but in the short time we had to complete the work for the competition, we hit it really hard and the team’s dedication and hard work can be seen through every step from design, to build, to presentations and our papers that we dedicated a lot of late nights to writing,” said Nikki Arakawa, team member and UH Mānoa senior electrical engineering major.

The event was an opportunity for students attending a Tribal college or university, a Native American-serving nontribal institution, or who are members of an active American Indian science and engineering society collegiate chapter to design, build and fly a high-powered rocket in a competition.

Other members of the UH Mānoa team included Katlynn Vicuña (junior, mechanical engineering with aerospace focus), Matthew Paulino (sophomore, mechanical engineering with aerospace focus) and Kahiamaikalani Walker (sophomore, mechanical engineering).

Faculty mentorship

people taking apart a rocket

The team members would like to thank Windward Community College faculty mentor Jacob Hudson, who served as the team’s rocketry mentor. The team would also like to give a special shout out to Kelli Ching, UH Mānoa Native Hawaiian Science and Engineering Mentorship Program director; and Kapiʻolani CC Professor Herve Collin and STEM program employee Li-Anne Delavega.

“If someone is not sure what to do while in college, seek out projects, they’re a lot of fun and you learn a lot in a very short time,” Arakawa said. “When it comes to myself, I didn’t know anything about aerospace and now that I got a taste of what aerospace means, I wish I had more time in school to be more involved in aerospace-related study.”

Continued excellence

Hudson and Arakawa are also part of the Project Imua Mission 10 team, which is preparing for a NASA space rocket launch in August at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The rocket will carry a scientific payload designed and built by UH Community College students. Mission 10 represents the fourth time that a UH Project Imua payload will be launched into outer space. The first Project Imua payload was launched from Wallops in 2015.

—By Marc Arakaki