The growth of rocketry in the Philippines

The growth of rocketry in the Philippines
Photo by AdDU Rocket Development Program

The field of rocketry in the Philippines is still emerging, but the Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) Rocketry Team decided to defy the odds. They embarked on a daring mission — to become the first Filipino team to compete in the prestigious Spaceport America Cup.

Their mission revolves around launching a rocket named "Sibol," which translates to “new growth or sprout”, symbolizing growth and advancement in the realm of space exploration.

The inception of the rocket "Sibol" finds its roots in the collective ambition of the AdDU Rocketry Team, supported by their dedicated adviser, Dr. Rogel Mari Sese. The journey began in 2023 when faculty adviser Wilfredo Pardorla Jr. proposed that the team take on the challenge of participating in the Spaceport America Cup.

The Spaceport America Cup 2024 is the world’s largest Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition for student rocketry teams, with around 200 teams from 20 different countries participating. "Looking at the history of the Spaceport America Cup, no Philippine university has ever qualified for the competition. And that became sort of our objective," Sese recalled.

Motivated by this aspiration, the team navigated a rigorous selection process, which included demanding flight readiness reviews conducted during late hours and ensuring all necessary travel documents were in order to secure visas for the expedition.

The team also shared how crafting Sibol was no easy feat. Dealing with hazardous materials like fiberglass demanded precision and care. Moreover, sourcing materials was a challenge as their components weren’t readily available locally. But the team persevered, translating tangible calculations from aerospace theory into the rocket’s design.

On June 17, upon arriving at the Las Cruces Convention Center in New Mexico, USA, the AdDU Rocketry Team prepared for the pivotal launch moment, drawing a parallel between their readiness and a rocket poised for takeoff.

However, the path leading to the launchpad presented its own set of obstacles, including logistical challenges and technical setbacks that tested the team's resolve. 

“We had an intended day to launch, but because of the weather disturbances, we had to halt the launch process,” Mariz Aylah Cenojas, the structures member and substitute recovery lead of their team, shared. 

On their rescheduled launch day on June 21, while they were at the ramp ready to head to the launch pad, they were called in due to unexpected developments: two rockets had encountered problems, jeopardizing their chances of launching. 

One pad was destroyed, while another rocket was stuck, adding an air of uncertainty to the proceedings. Being at the end of the queue meant if they couldn't secure a slot that day, they would have been rescheduled for June 22nd, risking the unpredictable weather conditions that might hinder their mission.

In a stroke of luck and camaraderie, the team from Arizona State University came to the rescue, offering their slot to the AdDU Rocketry Team. 

Guevara expressed his gratitude, stating, “It was very remarkable because we’ve been neighbors with that team at the convention center, and we’ve formed a connection with their team lead. It was really nice that they gave up their slot because I’ve been aware that they’ve been there for so long as well.”

With a renewed sense of determination, the AdDU Rocketry Team ignited the engines of “Sibol” and sent it soaring into the skies, with its 9.7-foot height reaching a target altitude of 10,000 feet. 

The rocket’s ascent wasn’t merely a technical achievement; it carried a profound message — one that resonated far beyond the launchpad.

Wilfredo Pardorla Jr., reflecting on the successful launch, emphasized its significance in the field of aerospace engineering. “That’s why we call this the ‘Sibol,’” he explained. “This is the growth of this particular aspect of aerospace engineering.” 

The AdDU Rocketry Team recognized that their achievement was not a solitary endeavor. They also acknowledged the support they received from their academic community.

Sese, recognized the role played by their university president, Fr. Karel Santos San Juan, standing at the forefront as he championed their cause. The Administration of the School of Engineering, the Assistant Dean, faculty members, and staff — all contributed to the dream of reaching the skies.

For students aspiring to venture into the realms of aerospace engineering or rocketry, the team shared invaluable advice derived from their own experiences. Franz Joseph Tinapay, a senior member, imparted words of wisdom, stating, "To become a good engineering student, you should know your priorities in life, avoid being distracted by the things around the modern world, have a healthy motivation, practice time management with realistic goals, and never lose hope, especially in the face of failures."

Moreover, the team highlighted the significance of remaining focused on the end goal, advocating for a mindset of resilience and persistence to overcome the myriad challenges that accompany the pursuit of excellence in aerospace engineering and rocketry.

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