TONEY, Ala. (WHNT) – 60 teams of students will be launching rockets as part of a NASA competition to give middle and high school students, along with students at universities a chance to learn how engineers design rockets in the real world.

Marshall Space Flight Center is once again hosting the Student Launch Competition, bringing together 60 teams from 23 states and Puerto Rico. NASA said 27 of those will be traveling to North Alabama for a launch day on Saturday, April 23, open to the public. Teams that don’t travel to North Alabama will be allowed to launch from their home field.

For the 2022 launch, in-person launches are back after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. Teams are required to build a rocket that can fly to a peak height of between 4,000 and 6,000 feet…and land successfully. For colleges and universities competing, they will be mirroring a task similar to missions like the Curiosity Mars rover. Rockets in those divisions will carry a payload that autonomously locates the landing site. This is accomplished by identifying the rocket’s grid position on an aerial image of the launch site, and transmitting the data back to the ground station.

The caveat – this landing site positioning has to be done without any GPS assistance, mirroring the challenge NASA mission managers face when sending spacecraft to distant destinations well outside the GPS coverage area.

Regional teams in the College and University Division include:

  • Auburn University
  • Fisk University – Nashville
  • Lipscomb University – Nashville
  • The University of Alabama – both the Huntsville and Tuscaloosa campuses
  • University of South Alabama – Mobile
  • The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
  • Vanderbilt University – Nashville

Students in the middle/high school division can choose to attempt the college/university challenge or develop their own science or engineering experiment.

As part of the challenge, teams predicted their peak heights weeks in advance. The team that comes closest to their prediction in each division will win the altitude award. Teams will also be scored in nearly a dozen other categories, including safety, vehicle design, social media presence, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) engagement.

Winners will be announced during a virtual awards ceremony on June 2, after all teams’ flight data has been verified.

The event will start at 9 a.m at Bragg Farms (1180 Grimwood Road, Toney) with remarks from NASA, MSFC, and Northrop Grumman. Following those remarks, the first rocket will launch. The competition will conclude at 2:30 p.m. or when the last rocket launches, whichever comes first. Pets are not allowed at the launches. For those who can’t make it in person, but still want to watch, you can follow along on the Student Launch Facebook page or MSFC’s YouTube channel. Both live streams will start at 8:30 a.m.

For a full list of teams in the competition, click here.