Space Is Closer Than Ever for the Yellow Jacket Space Program
The Yellow Jacket Space Program has an ambitious goal in mind: to be the first collegiate team to send a liquid-fuel vehicle past the Karman Line, the official “edge of space.”
In conversation with the president, Sam Kim, it’s evident the student-run group has the tenacity to accomplish this major feat.
“The program was started around six years ago by four or five students who had this really crazy idea that they wanted to take this gigantic rocket to space,” Kim said. While the initial idea had an innovative design, the complexity of making that dream a reality slowed down implementation until a few years ago.
During the last year, the program has made great strides in reaching its mission. Under Kim’s leadership, the group’s structure has changed, membership has increased, and there is a sharper focus on developing the projects.
Currently, four groups are working on the actual rockets and three groups are concentrating on the ground support equipment. Roughly 160 students participate in the program with a wide range of opportunities to contribute, from managing social media accounts to developing a liquid rocket engine. On their website, they make it clear that any student from any major is welcome to join and curiosity is celebrated.
With no interviews or applications required to join, being a part of the program is what you make it. “I view this team as a vehicle for students to gain real engineering experience at a college level,” Kim said. For students interested in joining, before the start of every semester, information sessions are held about the team structure. Once a student decides what team they want to join, the onboarding process begins.
With such wide-ranging membership, project leads from the seven teams meet regularly with their groups to make sure goals are being met. There are weekly meetings with the teams to post updates on progress. There is also a monthly meeting for all members to meet and talk about ongoing projects. Kim estimates around a one- to two-year timeline for every project they undertake.
A key factor in the growth of the Yellow Jacket Space Program is their sponsors, including companies from Hermeus to Lockheed Martin. Sponsor donation tiers range from bronze ($1,000 – $4,999) to platinum ($20,000+). Each tier has perks such as access to the program’s resume book and access to student volunteers at corporate events. The sponsors receive monthly updates on projects. “It’s been heartening for sponsors to see that their money and time are not going into a black hole but are having a tangible impact on students,” Kim said.
As projects are underway, including Full-Scale (the rocket that will be launched into space), teams follow a process: a pre-design stage defining requirements and engineering planning, followed by engineering design, testing, and redesign until they get it right. A staple of the program has always been to apply information from classes and textbooks to real-world problems. To help fill knowledge gaps, the program holds design reviews for their vehicles and engineers from SpaceX, NASA, and Tesla provide feedback and tips from the industry.
What can students expect in the future from the Yellow Jacket Space Program?
A lot of content. In the fall, they hope to upgrade their streaming capabilities to make sure students can keep up with their tests. Early in the fall semester, they’re planning on testing Subscale in a test called "Static Fire" which is where they will bolt the rocket down using large structures to see if they can withstand the firing of the 800 lb. engine. “What we’re actually proving not only to ourselves, but to the world, is that Georgia Tech students are able to accomplish anything they put their minds to,” Kim said. If testing Subscale in October is successful, they will go straight into developing Full-Scale. Kim mentions an unofficial competition with the other universities aiming to reach the Karman line with their own liquid-fuel rocket and says, “We are pushing as fast as we can to put Georgia Tech on the map and make Georgia Tech the first.”
To contact the team with any questions, email the program at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit their website here.