It is now official : the 2021 edition of the Spaceport America Cup will happen, but fully remotely. After a cancellation in 2020, the organizers of the international competition that usually takes place in the USA chose to maintain the event for 2021 but with a completely new structure : all teams will stay home.
Despite the first disappointment felt by the team, EPFL Rocket Team’s CTO Cesar Toussaint puts it into perspective. “It was to be expected, since September the risk of cancellation has been continuously at the highest level in the risk analysis we regularly do. And above all, it is not cancelled: it is just redefined, so there is a glimmer of hope,” he said. Hope because the team is still determined to win the competition, whatever its form: “if we manage to win this year, it shows that we have been able to adapt to a situation like the one of the pandemic. And it would also give some recognition to our members who have worked tirelessly all year on this project.”
The competition will therefore be based solely on the documentation provided by the participating teams. Each team will have to submit a technical report – several hundred pages long for the EPFL Rocket Team – that outlines the rocket design and construction process, as well as information on the team’s management, finances and support aspects. “The advantage of this form of competition,” explains César Toussaint, “is that we are not penalized by the fact that, because of Covid-19, we were unable to carry out all the tests we would have needed normally”. Beyond the competition aspect, this report is also very important internally as it is thanks to this type of exhaustive documentation that the EPFL Rocket Team can ensure the transfer of knowledge from one year to the next. “Our documentation is written in such a way that, just by reading it, the future generations of ERT members will be able to learn about the overall process of designing and making a student researched and developed rocket, understand the decisions we made, and reproduce this year’s rocket if necessary”.
Despite the impossibility to launch in the USA, the EPFL Rocket Team has nevertheless chosen to continue building its Bella Lui II rocket. Why? “Because going to the end of a project is the best learning process you can have, explains EPFL Rocket Team’s CTO. Interacting with workshops and suppliers to come up with something concrete, that’s what trains an engineer and that alone was worth building the rocket. And most importantly, we did it because we said we would, that’s reason enough.” Moreover, it would allow the EPFL Rocket Team to participate in other competitions during the year, “in real life” this time, such as EuRoC (European Rocketry Challenge), in which the EPFL Rocket Team participated in the creation. But while waiting for this potential opportunity, which would take place in October 2021, the team is focusing on a closer milestone: it is possible that in May 2021, it could launch Bella Lui II as well as several rockets from the Space Race project somewhere in the Swiss Alps. To be continued…