BYU Rocketry Club sets world record

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(BYU Rocketry Instagram)
BYU Rocketry Club members, from left, Riley Meik, Zachary Lawless, Alex Laraway and Mark Johnson at the Kennedy Space Center for the Bayer U.S. Alka Rocket Challenge. (BYU Rocketry Instagram)

BYU Rocketry Club team High Power set the new Guinness World Record for the highest launch of an effervescent tablet rocket at the U.S. Bayer Alka-Rocket Challenge.

The competition was held at the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida, on Dec. 12. A team of four BYU students — Zachary Lawless, Mark Johnson, Riley Meik and Alex Laraway — was one of five finalists selected to compete in the Alka-Rocket Challenge.

According to Johnson, 18 college teams entered the competition, but the finalists included California Polytechnic State University, University of Minnesota, Texas Tech University, the University of Georgia and BYU.

The team more than doubled the previous world record height with its rocket soaring to 883.0 feet. The previous record, held by University of Minnesota, was 429.7 feet.

BYU Rocketry Club President Mark Johnson said he was surprised by the hype about the competition’s result. According to Johnson, the rocket is essentially a potato gun.

Members of BYU Rocketry’s High Power team, Zachary Lawless, Mark Johnson, Alex Laraway and Riley Meik, wear big smiles as they hold their award at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after doubling the previous Guinness World Record. (BYU Rocketry Instagram)

“Traditional rockets, like NASA rockets, carry all their fuel with them, and they burn all the way up into space,” Johnson said. “Our rocket was a cannon that shot a dart, and that dart was unpowered. The only force to it was from the initial launch, so it functioned like a potato cannon.”

According to Johnson, this is not the team’s most ambitious project, and he is surprised by the response and attention the club has received because of the competition.

“This is not our most technically complex project, our coolest project or most ambitious project,” Johnson said. “It’s just kind of another project. And suddenly it’s been huge.”

In preparation for the competition, Johnson said the team members felt pretty confident with the rocket they created.

“I personally knew we were going to win,” Johnson said. “We were putting up big numbers.” 

According to High Power team member Lawless, the team hit 860 feet the day before the competition.

BYU Rocketry makes history by setting the Guinness World Record and takes home $30,000. (BYU Rocketry Instagram)

Simplicity is key in these competitions, Lawless explained. According to Johnson, BYU was the only team out of the five whose launch was 100 percent successful every time.

“A design doesn’t have to be complex to be effective,” Johnson said.

Lawless has always been interested in aerospace. Although he didn’t have a lot of hands-on experience before joining the BYU Rocketry Club, Lawless said he always knew he wanted to do something related to aerospace and engineering. 

“I always wanted to be an astronaut as a little kid,” Lawless said. “Then I hit six foot and they have a height requirement, so I realized I couldn’t be an astronaut, so I wanted to build rockets instead.”

Lawless’ passion for aerospace is what led him to major in mechanical engineering and join the Rocketry Club. Lawless and Johnson said they are proud of the results and excited for the opportunities that lie ahead.

The team won $30,000 from the competition and has plans to put this money toward future projects and competitions. Johnson said he hopes to get another team together for upcoming competitions.

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