Downey students lead team to rocket payload competition

Andres Ruiz and Joseph Ramirez. Photo provided by Joseph Ramirez

Andres Ruiz and Joseph Ramirez. Photo provided by Joseph Ramirez

DOWNEY - Two Downey High School students were able to return to school saying “mission complete” after a summer competition had them gazing onward and upward.

DHS seniors Andres Ruiz, 16, and Joseph Ramirez, 17, led a team of nine aerospace engineer-minded Vikings to the 2019 United Launch Alliance (ULA) student rocket launch program in Colorado this past July. The competition began in January and carried into the students break from school.

Students were tasked with building a payload that would be ejected from a rocket at approximately 4000 feet. If all goes to plan, the students’ design would find its way down to a ground target.

The three closest teams would win a cash prize.

Ruiz and Ramirez were the team’s sole representatives.

While the official results are not yet known, Downey’s team unfortunately hit a last-minute snag that left them at a distinct disadvantage.

“The night before, they banned UAV’s, which meant anything with a remote control that was in the sky couldn’t compete for safety reasons, and our design was a drone,” said Ramirez. “We weren’t able to compete to our full capacity.”

This curveball was especially frustrating for Ruiz and Ramirez, who say they have put in hundreds of dollars of their own money into their design in addition to the other funding they received from sponsors. They also met with their team several times a week for up to six hours at a time.

“It was really frustrating, especially because of all the time and work we put in,” said Ramirez. “The best thing we could do was get the exact weight of a payload and have it parachute a certain distance and hope it’s close enough.”

“The night before, we were doing calculations of how much weight would get us closest to the target,” added Ruiz.

The abrupt change in strategy made it hard to compete with other teams who used rovers to drive their payload to the target after landing, Ramirez said.

Although in their senior year, Ruiz and Ramirez are far from done with the ULA competition.

“I think we may be leading another team next year, since United Launch Alliance, they said they might give us another spot for next year since the FAA banned our drone,” said Ruiz. “We’ll definitely be leading that.”