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Blasting off to Spaceport America Cup

Yoali Rodriguez
The UTEP Sun City Rocket Team appeared at the 2023 Spaceport America Cup, the biggest intercollegiate rocket launch competition in the world.

“3…2…1… Lift off!” Echoed through the fields of the desert as the UTEP Sun City Rocket Team prepared to witness their rocket reach above the sky. 

Participating in the biggest intercollegiate rocket launch competition in the world, UTEP’s rocketeers made sure to make their mark at the 2023 Spaceport America Cup. Landing an honorable spot between 158 teams from all over the world, they debuted their project ‘DAEDALUS’ after two semesters filled with trial and error, mechanical advances and planning each detail that built it. 

Naming their rocket after the famous Greek mythology architect Daedalus, Senior Team Leader Jonathan Cuccinello mentions the team had a specific connection to the name.  

“In naming a rocket, I always try to attach deeper meaning to how a name is relevant to our project and team,” said Cuccinello. “We chose Daedalus because he was known in Greek mythology as a skillful inventor and craftsman seen as a symbol of wisdom, knowledge, and innovation.” Cuccinello mentioned how this name was meant to honor the fruition of their project built with their skillful team throughout two semesters. 

Taking hours and days to put life into the rocket, the design helped the big picture come together and help these rocketeers become more motivated to participate in the big competition. Junior Leader of the Structural Aerodynamics Sub team, Pedro Ferreira Da Silva mentions the main inspiration for the project.  

“The vision for ‘DAEDALUS’ was inspired by the design of Relativity Space Terran 1,” said Ferreira Da Silva. “We had the design on a 3D-model but transferring it to real life we had to create a real life-size decal that had to wrap around the rocket.”  

With much trial and error during the design process, ‘DAEDALUS’ came together with a smooth and colorful base. 

After five days of dealing with dust and winds of the New Mexico desert, the team came together to watch their results and celebrate other teams that came in with high hopes. (Yoali Rodriguez)

After five days of dealing with dust and winds of the New Mexico desert, the team came together to watch their results and celebrate other teams that came in with high hopes.  

Having their eyes set on the 10K COTS (Commercial Off the Shelve product) category, the team was able to get 9K. Which in retrospect may have seemed as if it would have been a loss, but their spirits were never crushed as the most important part for them was not only the launch but the recovery process. 

“I mean of course you know with these rockets you never know what you’re going to get,” said Andres Vicario, Junior Leader of Avionics Sub Team. “[Luckily] we were able to recover the entire rocket, the entire body of the rocket was intact, our electronics were working 100 percent.”  

Even though the team did not meet 10K, they found themselves ecstatic to find their rocket intact as it gave them the chance to compete; it is required to have a fully reusable rocket to qualify for the category.  

As second-timers, the team competed in the regional competition against New Mexico State University and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology called “The Chili Cup.” Established in 2019, they have declared different winners except from 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. This year, the Sun City Rocket Team lost to two-time winners, NMSU. Vicario mentions how the team remains to have high hopes this season regardless of the outcome, as the team continues putting every effort to make it to the competition.  

“What most people see is just a rocket that launches in the sky, which is the end goal, but there’s also a lot of background stuff,” said Vicario. “We were more than happy with what we have accomplished, the amount of work that we were able to do in just a matter of a couple of years has been extraordinary.”  

After experiencing the magnitude of the competition, The Sun City Rocket Team is expecting to compete at the 2024 Spaceport America Cup with efforts to bring home the Chili Cup. 

Yoali Rodriguez is a contributor and may be reached at [email protected]

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