The NASA Rocket Build

Nick Herrera and Gavin Nall with their award winning rocket.
Nick Herrera and Gavin Nall with their award winning rocket.

When NASA and art combine forces, you know the final product is going to be something truly out of this world (yes, pun intended). Nick Herrera and Gavin Nall are both engineering students at Windward Community College (WCC), on the island of Oahu, who also work at Kamanu Composites Canoes. We’ve shown you in previous blogs just how much these guys are into engineering their crafts and they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty and build them too. When an opportunity arose to compete in a NASA-sponsored (yes, the NASA that sends astronauts and the Mars Rover into space!) competition, these two friends dove in headfirst. The competition was layered with so many details that we’ll just give you the basics. They had to build a rocket, test it, choose a payload to launch, do all of the necessary paperwork that NASA requires (which turned out to be a 3”binder full of reports), be approved for launch and then travel – to Utah for the actual full-scale launch. Nationwide, 48 schools entered including MIT, of which only 23 made it to the launch stage (unfortunately for MIT, they did not). Nick and Gavin came in 11th place overall and they took home the honor of the “Best Looking Rocket”award from NASA for their 10’1”creation. Fiberglass Hawaii supplied the materials needed to complete this intense project. The guys were even kind enough to throw us a shout-out and put our name on the rocket! We traveled to the engineering department at WCC to experience the rocket first-hand and sat down with its creators Nick and Gavin to learn more.

Fiberglass Hawaii (FGH): What am I actually looking at? What’s the scientific term for this contraption?

Gavin Nall (GN): What do we call it? Our launch vehicle?

Nick Herrera (NH): Yeah, uh, we never really named it.

GN: It’s the launch vehicle to carry our scientific payload up.

FGH: What was in the payload?

GN: One was a look-down camera, that as it’s coming down, it looks at the ground and Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 8.44.15 AMdetects hazards. One was the metal plate at the front for triboelectric charging which, is basically static build-up from wind currents over metal. And the last one was…

NH: Opai shrimp. We were measuring the…

FGH: Wait, wait, wait…what?

NH: Opai shrimp. They’re endemic to the state of Hawaii.

FGH: No, wait, I get that. But why would you want to put them in a rocket and then launch them?!?

inside the nose coneGN: We filmed them and we were also monitoring their behaviors under high acceleration and weightlessness.

NH: The competition had different payloads that you could select to study and that was one of them. We teamed up with biology students from Honolulu Community College (HCC).

GN: The HCC people are really into the Opai shrimp.

FGH: Why? Why? I don’t get it?

GN: I don’t know. They’ve been studying them for a long time now.

FGH: So what are these parts of the rocket? Break it down for me.

NH: This is the nose cone. In here we had our GPS and Opai. This right here is the triboelectric payload, which is connected to the electronics.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 8.40.08 AMFGH: How about this next part?

NH: This is our payload section. In here we had a go pro camera. We filmed the launch of the rocket through here. So this is part of what we built.

FGH: What type of layup did you use on this?

NH: We used the twill 5.7 ounce carbon fiber.

FGH: Was this similar to anything you do over at the Kamanu Composites shop?


The boys and their rocket.
The boys and their rocket.

GN: It was like six layers of carbon.

NH: Yeah, the same principal of layering composites but we don’t really do custom parts.

GN: We used an aluminum tube and wet sanded it and buffed it forever, until it was shiny. We wet out the carbon and wrapped it around the tube six times and then vacuum bagged it. We put it in the curing oven and then boosted the temperature.

FGH: How did the release go after it was cured?

NH: The aluminum expands when it gets hot and then contracts when it cools so it slid off so easily.

FGH: Well you can’t ask for much more than that.

NH: We didn’t expect it to be that easy.

apogee detectorFGH: What’s going on in this section of the rocket?

NH: This is what detonates the rocket.

GN: This is what detects apogee, which is basically when the rocket is at its highest altitude. When it does that, then it fires a charge using black powder and that separates everything and blows the parachutes out.

FGH: You guys are allowed to use black powder? Wow, that’s pretty awesome.

GN: Yeah. Once the rocket descends to 2000 feet it blows the second charge and bigger parachutes come out.

FGH: How high did the rocket go?

NH: I think we hit 7,000 feet?

GN: Might have been 8,000 feet. We were aiming for 10,000 feet.

NH: I think it was just shy of 8,000 feet.

FGH: That must have been really exciting to see in person.

NH: Once it got off of the pad and didn’t blow up we were pretty relieved. Then it kept going and we were pretty stoked.



The back portion of the rocket after the successful launch.
The back portion of the rocket after the successful launch.

FGH: You guys also built this back part too minus these (pointing to fins). What do you call these?

GN: Uh, the fins.

FGH: Just fins?

GN: Yeah, there’s no fancy scientific name for them.

FGH: Come on guys, make something up! What was the construction on that?

GN: This was the plain weave 5.7 ounce carbon fiber and Aluzine epoxy resin. And a clear coat with the gold pearl in it.

FGH: What’s going on in the back of the rocket?

GN: That’s the motor retaining system. This ring screws off of here and then the whole motor comes out.


What other type of motor can you hold with one hand that will launch something 8,000 feet?
What other type of motor can you hold with one hand that will launch something 8,000 feet?

FGH: Wow. What a cool project to be a part of. We’re glad that we were able to help get you guys the materials that you needed in order to launch successfully. Any other projects coming up in the near future?

NH: We’re going to be making a quad copter frame out of the carbon fiber material.

FGH: Those are pretty hip these days. There are a lot of guys using them to get some pretty cool Go Pro footage for various sports events.

NH: Yeah, that one should be pretty cool.

Think Fiberglass Hawaii is all surfing, boating and canoes? Nope, we have most of your aeronautical material needs too! Hopefully we’ll be invited back to help with their next project and bring that to you in a future blog. This should inspire you to think out of the box and go beyond traditional surfboard and boat building, we can clearly say now that it’s not rocket science! But wait, is anyone else wondering…what happened to the Opai?!?!


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