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Community connections will help send ASU rocket to the edge of space

February 11, 2020

Student-led Helios Rocketry lays the groundwork to compete for $1M prize

What do you need to build a liquid-fueled rocket that can reach the edge of space? 

First, a place big enough in which to build it. 

For Arizona State University’s Helios Rocketry, a team of about 50 students competing in the Base 11 Space Challenge, use of 9,000 square feet donated by CAVU Aerospace near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport just made the race to the stars a lot more attainable. The space is a portion of the new 80,000-square-foot CAVU Component Repair facility.       

“It’s exciting to watch this all come to life; we are so impressed with the drive and vision these young adults show,” said CAVU partner Kenneth Kocialski. “The CAVU team is happy to be a small part of this!”

ASU alumnus Benjamin Hernandez, a founding member of the Arizona Spaceport Alliance and an aerospace representative with Scottsdale-based commercial real estate brokerage firm Keyser, connected with Aric Bopp, executive director of economic development at ASU Knowledge Enterprise.

Hernandez and Bopp reached out to Kocialski and, almost immediately, the team had its manufacturing site.

Helios Rocketry Manufacturing Plan: CAVU Aerospace

Elvis Leon, Helios Rocketry president, shows the team the rocket manufacturing layout within the CAVU Aerospace Facility. Photo by Theresa Grant/ASU

Elvis Leon, Helios founder and president, said the entire team was astounded by how quickly it happened.

“When we walked into that space, we were actually able to visualize our dream,” Leon said.

Said Bopp: “The Mesa Gateway aviation/aerospace ecosystem continues to be the hotbed of technology and innovation with accessible infrastructure, economic incentives and proximity to ASU’s talent pipeline and research facilities. We thank CAVU and Keyser for their support of the ASU’s student-led Helios Rocketry team.

“This support continues to build momentum in prominent areas of scientific research and startup technology that strengthens Arizona as a globally competitive place.”

Another key component of sending a rocket into space is building and testing the engines. 

Hernandez introduced Leon to ASU alum Ryan Christian, vice president and field engineer for Vic Myers Associates, a representative for aerospace and defense manufacturers. From there, the connections increased exponentially.

Most importantly, Christian connected Helios to Honeywell’s San Tan Engine Testing facility, and they are working out details for the team to test-fire its engines there.

“As far as we know, none of the other college teams have access to manufacturing and test-firing facilities of this caliber,” said Leon. “Our alumni keep coming through for Helios.”

Christian also brokered a deal with Dewesoft, a leader in data acquisition for aerospace engineering, that gave the team a significant discount on critical software. He is now working with two additional companies to offer discounts on pressure temperature sensors and flow meters to support the static fire test stand.

Also supporting the team is Ron Alto, STEM advocate and employee development executive for the local chapter of the Vertical Flight Society. Alto connected the team to Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies, which has volunteered to 3D print critical metal engine parts.

“What I love about Elvis Leon’s vision with Helios is its inclusion of several ASU disciplines and how they've become interdependent,” said Aram Chomina-Chavez, the team’s Fulton Schools of Engineering faculty adviser. “He’s created a real-life work environment.”

ASU Helios Rocketry Team

First row, from left: Glen Hamilton, Ryan Falls, Sergio Rodriguez and Dhruv Jain. Second row, from left: Aaditya Raje, Khushi Singh, Paulina Gomez, Vivian Rodriguez, Jonathan Hernandez, Elvis Leon, Karime Arreguin, Haatvi Thakkar, Karryn Baca and Briana Lopez. Third row, from left: Chinmay Bhale, Abhigya Raval, Josh Stoffel, Avery Wenta, Taylor Inase, Andy Schmidt, Surya Rajagopalan, Prathamesh Mhatre, Chandler Hutchens and Tommy Montero. Not pictured: Areli Diaz, Paul Romero, Genaro Bautista, Sameer Nagul, Peter Vu and Ken Pena. Photo courtesy of Helios Rocketry 

The first team to launch a rocket that crosses the Karman Line, the 100-kilometer designation for the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, will win the $1 million Base 11 competition prize.

Helios team members are from all ASU engineering disciplines and divided into six specialty areas: structures, propulsion, avionics, testing, flight dynamics and systems integration. They are looking for business team members to build on existing partnerships and manage fundraising campaigns. According to Leon, they’ll look to the business team to take on the next hurdle of funding tools and materials, including the carbon fiber they’ll need to build the rocket.

“Engineering is a process of lifelong learning,” said Christian. “These students are already working with industry to get the job done. They will take that experience of interfacing with business and building relationships with them out onto the job market.

“More importantly, this team is highly motivated to be successful. We think they have a real shot.”

Top image: Members of ASU’s Helios Rocketry team line up to show the length of the rocket they’ll send into space. The team will build its rocket in a 9,000-square-foot industrial space donated by CAVU Aerospace. Photo by Theresa Grant/ASU Media Relations

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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Students showcase remarkable ideas at ASU's Day at the Capitol

February 11, 2020

Schools and student groups present their latest work to Arizona state legislators

The marvels of engineering: Our world revolves around remarkable concepts and feats of design, many of which start in classrooms like the ones at Arizona State University.

During the 34th annual ASU Day at the Capitol, students from various ASU schools and colleges, including the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, showcased their work for legislators at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, across from the Arizona Capitol building. The event gives students, professors and lawmakers an opportunity to connect with each other about the work being done within their districts.

“Today’s exhibits represent just a few of the ways our students and faculty put to practice their creativity in designing solutions to real-world problems that impact the world around us,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools. “As a hub for engineering and technology innovation, we are working with partners in our community and throughout the state to leverage our place — to make research breakthroughs that will catalyze the tech ecosystem in the Phoenix metropolitan area, drive creation of future industries and improve the communities that we serve.”

One of those real-world solutions was created by the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, which brought a small-scale model to the event to demonstrate the effects of rainfall, runoff and the erosion process in Arizona. The tool is used by the Flood Control District of Maricopa County for public outreach to help people understand the dangers of desert floods.

“Our No. 1 thing is flood safety,” said Chandra Miller, flood warning program specialist at the Flood Control District of Maricopa County. “What is monsoon? Why is it an issue in Arizona? It’s really important for people to understand why it’s happening, and this makes it visually easier for someone to see.”

The School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment is currently working on a larger-scale model for research purposes, which will be used to evaluate engineering designs.

At ASU’s Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics, students and researchers are using nature to come up with sustainable, biologically based solutions to challenges like dust mitigation. Researchers are using the jack bean, a nuisance plant primarily found in southeast Asia, to create a natural cement. The bean produces an enzyme that creates calcium carbonate cement. When mixed with soil and water, it bonds like glue. The center is working with three industry partners to test the water-based solution in an active landfill in Apache Junction.

It’s research like this that may lead to spinoff companies such as Aquavitas — a company that uses wastewater samples to monitor public health risks, including opioid consumption.

“We’re here to save lives,” said Adam Gushgari, CEO of Aquavitas and an ASU PhD graduate of environmental engineering. “We’re here to make lives better. We’re here to improve the quality.”

Gushgari and his professor, Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Environmental Health Engineering, were able to take their research and give it a broader application, offering full consultation services for municipalities and organizations.

Video by Jordan Currier and Dana Lewandowski/ASU

ASU President Michael Crow also was at the Capitol, talking with students about their work. Motivated by the Helios Rocketry exhibit, he emphasized the importance of engineering.

“How will we ever get to Star Trek? How will we ever build Starfleet Academy, unless we drive engineering faster, harder and larger in every way? That’s what we need to do at ASU,” he said.

Helios Rocketry is an ASU student-led organization that is building a 25-foot-tall, liquid-propelled rocket capable of reaching an altitude of 100 kilometers. The team will compete in the Base 11 Space Challenge in California. The deadline is late next year with a top prize of $1 million. No university team has ever taken on this challenge, but the team’s lead, Elvis Leon, realized the importance of the challenge, especially to further STEM fields.

“If ASU were to build a team and compete in the competition and win, it would be extremely amazing,” said Leon. “We’d be able to use those resources to leave behind something so that other students can have the same sort of experience and get hands-on experience to supplement their classroom education.”

MORE: Community connections will help send ASU rocket to the edge of space

There’s a growing interest in STEM fields, reflected by ASU’s fall enrollment in engineering, which totaled 23,903 — a significant increase from 16,596 in 2014. The bachelor’s degrees currently in high demand are computer science, electrical engineering and information technology. And recently, the school’s online master’s program in electrical engineering was ranked No. 1 by U.S. News and World Report.

ASU has been educating engineers for more than 60 years and now offers 25 undergraduate programs and 44 graduate programs in the six engineering schools. In 2019, engineering research expenditures topped $115 million with the bulk of the emphasis on energy, health, sustainability, education and security.  

Top photo: Sparky poses for a photo with Arizona House Minority Leader and District 4 Rep. Charlene Fernandez during the annual ASU Day at the Capitol at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix on Tuesday. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Jimena Garrison

Copywriter , Media Relations and Strategic Communications