LoyolaMARS Launches Students Aerospace Experience

Sitting in the LMU Engineering Design Center is a group of undergraduate students who are passionate about rockets. They network with leading aerospace engineers, learn about aerospace technology, and throw themselves full throttle in attempting to launch two rockets into space.

“This is a club that is going to focus on developing people for aerospace jobs… You have a lot of people in Seaver that are coming together and saying, ‘We want to do aerospace,’ so I think that’s what makes LoyolaMARS so special. It’s not just a project, it’s something that brings everyone together who is interested in that field,” said Andrea Montes De Oca, a member of LoyolaMARS who is also a senior Mechanical Engineering major.

LoyolaMARS has been around for approximately a year now, and is made up of about thirty Seaver College undergraduate students working tirelessly on several projects. Seniors are working on their Capstone project which involves a hybrid rocket, while the others are focusing on their Base 11 Challenge and CubeSat project.

Loyola MARS w Tom Mueller 300x225 - LoyolaMARS Launches Students Aerospace Experience
Alumnus Tom Mueller, SpaceX Propulsion Chief Technology Officer, advises LoyolaMARS.

“There’s a joke that ‘it’s not rocket science.’ They say that because rocket science is so hard. You are trying to mitigate a million things that can go wrong, but it can only right one way,” said Michael Rea, also a senior Mechanical Engineering Major who is the Head of the Propulsion Team.

The goal of the Capstone Project is to build a hybrid rocket, both at the sub-scale and full scale level. This will be the first time that a student-led team at LMU has ever attempted to build a hybrid from scratch, so the team is working diligently to collect data to make sure that the rocket launches successfully before seniors graduate in May. LoyolaMARS estimates that the hybrid rocket will be anywhere from 10 to 12 feet long and will weigh no more than 100 pounds, yet its propulsion system is designed to achieve an apogee of 10,000 feet.

The Base 11 challenge is a partnership between LMU, Compton High School, and Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum in Compton. Base 11 is the team’s most intense project, since they are competing to launch a full scale liquid propulsion rocket that needs to reach the Karman Line- the distinct border between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, about 100 kilometers high. LoyolaMARS estimates that the launch will be anywhere between December 2020 to May 2021, so they are working consistently to build each component of the future rocket.

In addition to building the rockets, LoyolaMARS is also building industry connections. Leaders from aerospace corporations such as SpaceX, Raytheon and Aerospace Corporation help guide the team through the complicated process. The team’s faculty advisor Claire Leon, director of LMU Systems Engineering Program and former Boeing executive, has close ties with aerospace leaders. The team emphasized that without these connections, they wouldn’t be where they are today: about to launch two rockets within a years time frame.

“Absurdly ambitious” was what Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Office at SpaceX, said to LoyolaMARS when they told her about their two projects–two projects that have these students reaching for the stars.

Communication studies major Kathleen Leslie is a communications assistant with the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering.