To Infinity and Beyond: YUAA Delivers ‘State of the Aeronautics Union’

Five years ago, two humble undergrads founded a club that could bring aerospace science to Yale; from their first venture building and launching a weather balloon capable of photographing the New Haven skyline from an altitude of 45,000 feet, the group has chosen projects that continually stretch their growing knowledge and abilities.

Now, the more than 50 members of Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association (YUAA) prove each year that they are capable of meeting any challenge they set for themselves. Whether launching an egg 1,500 feet into the air without breaking it or shooting aerial video for Yale Admissions using a custom-built quadcopter, YUAA is at the heart of Yale’s engineering culture.

On Wednesday, March 25, YUAA celebrated their accomplishments at the third annual Aeronautica — a “state of the union” presentation that provides the greater Yale community an overview of the team’s accomplishments and goals. “[YUAA’s] goal has expanded beyond simply bringing aerospace to Yale,” said Genevieve Fowler ’16, the group’s current co-president along with Bolun Liu ’16. “We’ve grown into a rich, fully-developed community.”

Central to the event was a keynote address delivered by former YUAA co-presidents Jeffrey Gau and Ari Brill. The keynote highlighted YUAA’s accomplishments over the past five years, culminating in an overview of the current projects being undertaken by YUAA’s four very active teams:

The Multi-Stage Rocket team aims to successfully launch and recover a rocket with two or more stages capable of reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet. The project’s challenges include designing upper-stage fins, stage separation mechanisms, recovery systems, and other parts unique to a multi-stage rocket. Warren Zhang, a sophomore economics major, is the Multi-Stage Rocket Project team leader; he has been a YUAA member since freshman year when he worked on the 2013-2014 Rocket Competition Team.

The Rocket Competition team aims to design and construct rockets and a payload to compete in two events in the Intercollegiate Battle of the Rocket Competition. For the Target Altitude event, their rocket will attempt to reach exactly 1,625 feet using a G motor; for the Planetary Rover event, their 11 foot tall, 7.5 inch diameter rocket system will be launched to at least 1,000 feet on a K motor, then deploy a payload rover with its own recovery system to land and perform a series of tasks on the ground. Lucia Korpas, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, is the Rocket Competition team leader; she worked on the Competition Rocket team her freshman year.

The Radio Telescope team aims to build a 2.4 meter fully steerable radio satellite dish complete with a collection of signal processing hardware and software, a project that unifies many different types of engineering and whose success will be contingent on how well all of those disciplines work together. After finishing the large telescope, the team hopes to mount the it on a trailer both for used by astronomy professors at Yale and to transport it to local schools for STEM outreach education. Devin Cody, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, is the Radio Telescope team leader, and is assisted by three sub-team leaders: Akshaya Suresh for robotics, Betsy Li for software, and Scott Smith for mechanical design; Cody worked on last year’s rocket competition team where he led the payload sub-team.

The Advanced UAV team aims to design and build an autonomous aircraft to compete in the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Seafarer Chapter’s 13th Annual Student Unmanned Air Systems Competition, scheduled to take place June 17th-21st. The competition consists of various flight missions, including target recognition, payload drops, and flight through GPS-bounded coordinates, all of which are to be performed autonomously by the UAV. Thomas Ryan, a junior biomedical engineering major, is the Advanced UAV team leader; he is also YUAA’s Chief Engineer.

After the keynote, Aeronautica attendees — including President Peter Salovey and Dean Jonathan Holloway — mingled with each of the teams to get an up-close look at the intricate rocketry and aerospace designs. “Aeronautica is truly a celebration of Yale Engineering and a dedication to aerospace innovation and exploration,” said Fowler. “YUAA was humbled to have so many members of the Yale community in attendance showing their support for and interest in our projects.”

In fact, it's that support, says Fowler, that has launched YUAA to such great heights.