It’s Rocket Science: A Summer with M51 Space

Sophia Fitzsimonds, COL ’24, New Haven, CT, USA

M51 Space, a UPenn student-founded startup, is an educational nonprofit focused on enriching student’s knowledge and experience with the research, design, development, and deployment process of high powered rockets. This summer, I was fortunate enough to work at M51 for my summer research experience. Given the start-up nature of the organization, I was able to wear “many hats” within the company, which allowed me to work with every sub-team within M51. So, while my official title was Chief Systems Engineer, I was exposed to every aspect of the company and worked closely with all of its members.

As Chief Systems Engineer, my summer project was focused on creating an intricate schedule for the upcoming academic year’s project – a 25,000 ft COTS solid motor rocket to be launched in competition at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry 51025 Competition in the summer of 2023. As I had no prior experience in the rocketry field, I began my assignment by taking several weeks to research the fundamental principles of high powered rocketry and project design. This research allowed me to get a solid foundation to build on as I entered the early stages of planning the upcoming year for all of the team members. The difficulty in my assignment fell in the interdependencies intrinsic in the design and build of a rocket. As in any engineering assignment, project complexity increases directly with the number of interdependent tasks, and unsurprisingly, high powered rockets have a plethora of components that are integral to the function of one another – and interdependent tasks are not isolated to specific teams. This pushed me to work closely with the heads from the mechanical, avionics, and recovery sub-teams. Between my research and their invaluable experience, we were able to categorize groups of tasks into three main groups: series, parallel, and coupled (interdependent). After several iterations and refinements of the sequencing of tasks, we were able to move into the next phase: establishing a concrete timeline. I, along with the sub-team heads and CEO, developed realistic deadlines for each assignment. I translated this information into a Gantt chart program which I developed to be shared with every member of the M51 team so that there could be a well-organized visualization of daily deadlines for the 2022-23 academic year. I am incredibly proud of the final product, and I believe it will be useful as a guide this year as well as years to come.

In the final weeks of summer, I am turning my focus to the corporate side of the operation. I am working closely with the CEO and founder to raise funds for the project. This process includes reaching out to potential donors/sponsors, as well as creating a series of sponsorship packages.

Overall, my summer research at M51 Space was incredibly inspiring – I got to work with brilliant people who are passionate about their work and the company itself. While I certainly learned a lot about rockets this summer, my main takeaway are the invaluable research and collaboration skills I developed along the way. I certainly look forward to continuing my work with M51 Space in the future!

I am so thankful for my time with M51 Space, and this rewarding summer experience would not have been possible without the support from the University of Pennsylvania Career Services.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2022 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services