A team of students from the University of Sheffield have launched themselves into the record books after competing in the world’s biggest competition for student rocket engineers.

Team SunrIde, which is made up of engineering and science students from across the University, has set a new UK altitude record for high powered rockets which has since been officially verified by the UK Rocketry Association (UKRA).

Beating a longstanding 19 year old UK record of 34,579ft, the Sheffield students smashed this by reaching 36,274ft while representing both the University of Sheffield and the UK in the Spaceport America Cup – competing against other students from more than 120 of the best science and technology universities from around the world. Footage of the dramatic launch and recovery can be seen at the SunrIde team’s Facebook page.

The students travelled to New Mexico in the US to take part in the competition after designing and building their rocket throughout the academic year as part of the University of Sheffield Space Initiative (SSI). The record-breaking rocket was named Helen, in honour of Dr Helen Sharman OBE, the University of Sheffield science alumna who was the first Briton to go into space.

The SSI is a programme of extra-curricular activities for any student at the University who is interested in space or space exploration. Open to undergraduate and postgraduates in any faculty, the initiative was founded to help engage students in the science and engineering challenges involved in the exploration of space.

Vishan Nair, a fourth year mechanical engineering student at the University of Sheffield and Project Lead of the SunrIde Rocket Team, said: “Setting a new altitude record for the UK has been the aim of our team since we started designing the rocket at the start of the academic year. I’m massively proud that we have fulfilled this amazing feat.

“This would not have been possible without the amazing team of student engineers, scientists, academic mentors, technicians and our corporate sponsors who have collectively helped us to break these boundaries despite only being just under two years since SunrIde’s inception.

“I’m super proud of the team and would like to thank all of them from the bottom of my heart. Without those late nights, the countless meetings throughout the year, and them balancing their full-time studies with this project on the side, this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Vishan added: “I strongly believe that SunrIde has the potential to evolve into the leading rocket engineering programmes for science, technology, engineering and maths students in the UK. Sheffield is in a unique spot for being consistent and continuously breaking boundaries in UK student rocketry. With the great influx of support from the different departments and the University’s Advanced Manufacturing and Research Centre (AMRC), we can truly define ourselves and be at the forefront of rocket engineering in the UK.”

Matthew Lennard a third year mathematics student at the University of Sheffield and SunrIde team member, said: “From the first meeting with the team I could already tell that I would become part of a very intelligent and driven group of people that wanted nothing less than to push the boundaries of what students can achieve throughout their academic career. During my two years on the project I have had the opportunity to learn an uncountable number of new skills as well as properly applying techniques and knowledge that I have acquired in my degree.

“It has been an absolute pleasure this year to be able to fly out to New Mexico to participate in the launch of Helen in person. There is no feeling more incredible than witnessing something that you have poured your time into become a success.

“SunrIde has taught me that nothing is impossible as long as you have the mindset, drive and are willing to put in the hard work.  There has been a strong team spirit driving the project and it has been an excellent opportunity to reach out and network with fellow students from across departments and the world. I would recommend that anyone who is passionate about science and technology should seek out an opportunity like this as it is completely life changing and will be an achievement that you can always be proud of.”

Viktor Fedun, a Senior Lecturer in the University’s Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering, and Academic Lead of SSI and SunrIde, added: “The space industry in the 21st century is growing year by year. It is very exciting to be part of it. The Sheffield Space Initiative was founded in 2017 to further engage our students in the science and engineering challenges related to the exploration of space. Currently the SSI is running five different student-led projects and is dedicated to establishing mutually beneficial links with industry and academia.

“The SSI runs highly cross-disciplinary space science and engineering projects for our STEM students that bring successful technological developments to the University of Sheffield. SSI has now also forged partnerships with other institutions in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia and the US.  The great success of rocket Helen this year is built on our great achievements in the past.  In 2018 the SunrIde team won the James Barrowman Award for Flight Dynamics – 10,000ft category – at the Spaceport America Cup with the successful launch of rocket ‘Amy’, named after Britain’s famous aviation pioneer and University of Sheffield alumna, Amy Johnson.

“It would not have been possible without the hard work of all the students and academics involved and strong links we have established between the SSI and industry. In particular, during this year we have got incredible support from the University’s AMRC, SHD Composite Materials Ltd and AC Composites Ltd who helped us build a rocket body that is capable of performing at a speed of 2.67 Mach and acceleration of 29G.

“The University of Sheffield has shown its leadership in the student space exploration as our success in last year’s competition was an inspiration for three other UK universities to take part in the Spaceport America Cup 2019.”

Gary Verth, a Lecturer at the University’s School of Mathematics and Statistics added: “Through the SSI, it has been extremely rewarding to help mentor our multinational and cross-disciplinary SunrIde team. As well as home students, the team consisted of students from Romania, Greece, Russia, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, India and Malaysia.

“Although we only established the SSI in 2017, it has already proved successful in attracting STEM students from around the world who specifically want to get involved with our space science and engineering projects at undergraduate and masters level. I must emphasise that all these activities are extracurricular but all the students involved in our SSI projects will be credited for their individual contributions in their final Higher Education Achievement Reports.”

The SSI also accelerates and enhances the impact of the space related research carried out at the University of Sheffield and enables students and staff to transfer knowledge and skills – thereby increasing the impact of the university and its research.

The SSI collaborates with universities across the globe and is supported by the University’s Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Science, Alumni Fund, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), Higher Education Innovation Fund, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), IPE, SHD Composite Materials Ltd, AC Composites Ltd, RS Components UK, ANSYS, Inc. and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMecE).