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The Ridgefield team is heading to the national American Rocketry Challenge

RIDGEFIELD – A local rocket team that qualified for a national competition did so with a very non-traditional rocket: a rocket shaped like a square.

“This year we are experimenting with a new design. Most teams fly cylindrical rockets, but we decided to try to build a square rocket,” said 14-year-old Sullivan Bradley of Yorktown, NY, about her team from St. Monica’s Homeschool.

“I think this gave us a good chance of qualifying because it made our flights very linear and predictable. It’s not super disturbed by the wind,” she added.

The nine-member team is among 100 American Rocketry Challenge finalists heading to Virginia for the national competition on May 18. This year’s challenge had about 920 teams, with more than 5,000 students from 45 states, said Ridgefield resident Don Daniels, coach of the St. Monica’s Homeschool team.

“These are not ‘in-the-box’ thinkers and are more than willing and able to take on a significant challenge like this without hesitation,” said Daniels.

Each team designed, built and launched a model rocket that carried one large chicken egg to a height of 800 feet; stayed airborne 43 to 46 seconds; and returned safely to the ground. The rocket must also be separated into two parts: one section must contain the egg and an altimeter to measure height and another section must contain the engine. According to the American Rocketry Challenge, both parts must land with their own parachutes.

The local team has been meeting twice a week since last August, said Sullivan, who has been involved for two years. “We meet every Monday to talk and build the rockets. Almost every Saturday we go flying the rockets in Durham,” she said

The rockets are made of carbon fiber, polycarbonate and 3D printed nylon.

Members of the National Rocketry Association judge each team’s performance, Daniels said.

“The idea is to score a zero point flight. The Top 100 teams are determined by adding their best two flights and ranking them from lowest to highest. The lowest 100 scores will be invited to the national fly-off,” he said. The team’s rocket netted 19 points, Sullivan said.

The team is making its third trip to the national competition after also being among the Top 100 in 2021 and 2022, he added.

Daniels, who has coached American Rocketry Teams for a decade, said this year’s team is “by far the most analytical team I have ever coached. They spent a lot of time looking at flight data and made sure all their decisions were based on facts.

“A lot of times students don’t do the work and just guess…sometimes they get lucky, but more often than not they make the wrong choice. That’s not the case with this team. They are very deliberate,” he said.

The team is “really interesting. Our mentor really has a solution for everything. There are a lot of different ways we can solve a problem,” said 14-year-old Adam Wilder of Katonah, NY, who has been participating for three years.