When the University of British Columbia's rocket club headed down to New Mexico for the Spaceport America Cup last week, they had no idea they'd be coming out on top.
"It was pretty intimidating when we first walked into the conference room on the first day," said Joren Jackson, the UBC Rocket team leader.
"There were a lot of rockets in there, and they all were looking very, very good."
Jackson's team was up against stiff competition from top notch schools such as Stanford University, Caltech, and MIT.
The Spaceport America Cup, running June 20 to 24, is part of the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition which pits more than 100 post-secondary teams from 11 different countries against each other in varying categories.
When Jackson and fellow UBC engineering student Simon Bambey formed UBC Rocket last September, they did it with the Spaceport America Cup as their goal.
"Everything we have done as a team so far has been geared towards this competition," said Jackson. "I definitely would not have imagined that we would have won in our first year."
Jackson felt UBC's lack of a rocket club had to be addressed, and when he put the call out for interested students, he got a flood of responses. None of the 20 UBC students who went to the competition had any previous experience designing rockets.
Launch sequence engaged
Across the competition's five days, each team got to launch their rocket once. The rockets were designed with specific categories in mind and more than 50 were launched in the category UBC won.
The goal of the category was to reach exactly 10,000 feet, using a propulsion system of the rocket team's choosing. Using solid propulsion, UBC Rocket came exceptionally close at 10,053 feet, scoring big points. They also scored very well for the make and build of their rocket, named Cypress.
It was only after Cypress reached apogee (an object's farthest point from a planet) that the problems occurred.
"The "up" part of the launch went perfectly," said Jackson, speaking on The Early Edition.
"But we have two parachutes: the drogue and the main. The rocket falls quickly under the drogue and slowly under main. We deploy the main at a low altitude, so the rocket doesn't drift far away. But our main deployed early."
To hear the interview with Joren, click on the audio link below:
Luckily for the UBC team, it wasn't a windy day and their rocket didn't stray too far from the landing zone. Cypress also had a gentle enough landing that it was completely flyable again afterwards, a factor that also scored well.
Despite their initial apprehension, UBC Rocket left the Chihuahuan Desert outside Albuquerque, N.M. with a trophy in one of the competition's major categories.
Jackson credits meticulous attention to detail, a little luck and his team's hard work for setting Cypress apart.
UBC Rocket is currently designing a new rocket for next year's competition.
WATCH: Joren Jackson finally pushes the launch button after months of work.
With files from The Early Edition.