Club connection: Rocketry

Rocketry Club is a fairly new club that focuses on building and launching rockets.

Jessie Li, Reporter

Never before had there been a club at West that explores aerospace, but that’s changed since the fall of 2021. 

Sophomores Derek Hua ’25 and Richard Yang ’25 decided that West High needed a club focused on aerospace and engineering, so they co-founded Rocketry Club in their freshman year with the help of Keith Kraeplin, the tech teacher at West, as their advisor. But this club actually dates back to when they were in 6th grade.

“When a friend from New York came here, we launched a lot of rockets; we made engines by ourselves and I really enjoyed it so I decided I wanted to start [a club] with Richard since he was also with us,” said Hua.

We are building two separate rockets, one with this sub-system and one without; we’re preparing for a competition.”

— Derek Hua '25

They proceeded to found Rocketry Club the following year at Northwest Junior High, building and launching rockets. But then the pandemic struck, and online school made in-person meetings difficult. Entering high school, the team wanted to continue their club, especially since there wasn’t already one at West.

“Everything you do in the club like designing the rockets, using tools, and just the overall experience, that’s what high school ideally is about,” said Yang. “It’s about doing actual activities, not just sitting in the classroom all day; you’re doing something that has relevance to the world.”

This year, the co-founders stepped up their game. Rocketry is now divided into two groups: thrust vector control (TVC) and assembly. The TVC  group is developing the thrust vector control system, which drastically improves the rocket’s maneuverability. The other group assembles the rocket itself. Both teams are necessary for the final product, but this doesn’t stop them from experimenting with various methods.

“We are building two separate rockets, one with this sub-system and one without; we’re preparing for a competition,” said Hua. 

Every year, Rocketry Club works towards The American Rocketry Challenge (TARC). It is a huge nationwide rocket contest sponsored by more than 20 aerospace industry partners, including NASA and the Department of Defense. This competition is the industry’s premier STEM program, and has thousands of participants every year. Rocketry Club invests a lot of time into this spring competition. Despite their serious goals, they have an easygoing environment.

“It’s fun,” said Neil Houston ’25. “It’s a good chance to spend time with my friends.”

The members are all friends and enjoy hanging out together, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t committed to their work. As leaders, Hua and Yang even meet up outside of school to discuss future meetings and general management aspects such as budgeting. Currently, they are receiving approximately $250-300 in funding from West annually to help cover building material costs and registration fees. These experiences have taught them many new skills every year and have given them hands-on experience. Furthermore, Rocketry Club benefits anyone who is interested in STEM or wants to pursue a career in a similar field.

“I want to be an electrical engineer, so this is a good opportunity to learn some skills,” said Joseph Lin ‘25.

I want to be an electrical engineer, so this is a good opportunity to learn some skills.”

— Joseph Lin ‘25

Throughout the years, they’ve learned a lot and have improved in designing and building their rockets, but they still are working hard to be the best engineers they can be.

The club leaders Derek Hua and Richard Yang can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], and the club advisor Keith Kraeplin at [email protected]