From robotics to artificial intelligence to vehicle design, the Tandon School of Engineering offers NYU students countless opportunities to build a better world through research. And some of the most exciting opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and real-life problem-solving are offered through the Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program—multiyear, multidisciplinary projects for students of all majors and experience levels. For those interested in rocketry, the VIP team Rogue Aerospace provides practical experience in bringing aerospace applications to life.
From the Ground Up
Founded in 2018 by Tandon Class of 2021 student Jefferson Hu, now a field service engineer, Rogue Aerospace is a fairly new experience at NYU. At the time, Jefferson wanted to bring aerospace engineering opportunities to the University. “Since then, the team has grown from three guys working alone in a garage to a team of over 70,” says Naomi Conley. They are a Mechanical Engineering major at Tandon and a member of Rogue’s mechanical subteam.
From humble beginnings, the team has evolved into a sophisticated structure, with numerous subteams coming together to help the rockets reach the sky. Subteams focus on mechanical design, electrical engineering, software design, and manufacturing. Together, they oversee the planning, construction, and programming of the rocket itself. At the same time, the outreach and communications team works to secure sponsors and network. Those with an interest in design help with crafting a logo, maintaining the team website, and designing merchandise like T-shirts. Finally, other members run the team Kickstarter, pursue fundraising ventures, and focus on community outreach to get area high school students interested in rocketry.
“We try to incorporate as many majors as we can,” explains Herman Lin, Rogue president and Tandon senior. “We have mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, Computer Science majors, Integrated Design and Media majors, Business majors, and more. It takes a lot of interdisciplinary collaboration to keep Rogue running.”
Learning on the Fly
Training is a huge part of Rogue, since students of all majors are encouraged to join without any prior experience. “You’d expect, going to an engineering school, that you could just take a class and then be able to do something like this. But that’s not always the case,” says James Marbaix. The Tandon senior and Rogue mechanical lead has been a part of the team for two-and-a-half years now. “What you learn in class is more of a tool kit than the be-all and end-all. And a project like Rogue feels like being thrown in the deep end. That’s why the vertically integrated aspect of this project is so important. The team improves every year as current members mentor those coming up and help get them up to speed.”
Shooting for the Stars
Rogue has brought their rockets to a few different competitions over the years, but the NASA Student Launch is their current focus. “The competition is a long process because they try to mimic what NASA bids look like,” explains Ishtiaque Mahdi, Rogue’s vice president. “We send proposals to NASA. If they’re accepted, we turn in the Preliminary Design Review and Critical Design Review. Throughout, NASA gives feedback on what we need to improve. And at the end, we have the final launch.”
Last year—the first year Rogue participated in the NASA competition—they entered the Design Division and won first place. The team received a $2,500 prize—an amazing accomplishment for their first attempt. In addition, they won two category awards, taking first place for the Project Review Award and second place for the Rookie Award. This year, their task looks a bit different. They have to design a rocket they can locate after launching on Mars. “At this point, a lot of the teams have the rocketry part down, so they’re challenging us on the electronic portion,” Ishtiaque says. “We have to creatively think about how to work without GPS, which is only used on Earth. It may sound simple, but it’s actually very difficult to do.”
“I never really understood why people got so excited in those clips of Mission Control during rocket launches,” James admits. “Then, we participated in the NASA competition for the first time. When it all works out, it is so satisfying. Seeing all of your efforts come together with your teammates who have worked just as hard as you is rewarding. The moment that collaboration pays off is what sold the experience for me.”
Rogue accepts new members at the beginning of each semester. Team openings and an application timeline can be found on the VIP Recruitment web page. “What we look for in new members is a lot of ambition,” Herman adds. “If you show that you’re enthusiastic and have the ability to learn, we’ll welcome you.”