A team of Windsor engineering students are heading to a New Mexico desert this weekend to launch a rocket they hope will outperform dozens of others in an increasingly popular international competition. 

The University of Windsor team, which has been working on their 2.4-metre rocket since last fall, are the school's first to compete in the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition.

They will be up against 50 other teams, all trying to see which rocket can get to an altitude of 3,000 metres while carrying a four-kilogram load.

"They've been an extremely self-motivated and self-directed group," said Jeff Defoe, the school's assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "They've been in the driver seat the entire time."

Jeff Defoe

Jeff Defoe, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Windsor. (Melissa Nakhavoly/CBC)

The team recently tested the rocket in Muskegon, Mich., home of the National Association of Rocketry, a space modelling organization that promotes rocket safety in the U.S.

They were impressed with the rocket's abilities, but there were a couple glitches with the parachutes that are supposed to deploy and bring the rocket back to the ground safely.

"We did some testing last week and this week, and we think we found a solution," said team captain Patrick Pomerleau-Perron.

Alexandra Rose is the avionics lead for the team, designing a lot of the electronics and making sure the black powder charge goes off inside the rocket in order to deploy the parachute at precisely the right time.

"It's not worth much, if you make it up to 10,000 feet and the rocket comes crashing down to the ground," she said. "It's been a great learning experience."

Alexandra Rose

Alexandra Rose is the avionics lead on a team of engineering students from the University of Windsor who are competing in an international rocketry competition in New Mexico this weekend. (Melissa Nakhavoly/CBC)

Defoe discovered the international competition in a news article he read online and presented it to his students. Almost right away, the team formed and quickly learned the project is about much more than just engineering. 

They've had to raise money on their own, file interim reports and provide progress updates monthly. That experience gives the team an idea of what their careers will be like, Defoe explained. 

"They get a very real sense of what it's like working on a large-scale engineering project, like a contractor would," he said. "They've had to manage their budget, go fundraising — it's been great."