A Guiness World Record and cash prize of $30,000 is not a bad way to spend a weekend Just ask Riley Meik. Meik and his group from the Brigham Young University Rocketry Club entered the 2018 Bayer Alta-Rocket Challenge in December and brought home the cash prize and the world record with their entry.
It all started, according to Meik in 2016. The BYU Rocketry Club was started by a group of students in 2016 and Riley joined the club his first semester at BYU, only a couple months after the clubs formation. The BYU Rocketry Club focuses on giving hands-on experience to students who have a passion for aerospace, Meik said. The club has many sub-teams so that students of all experience levels can participate. In 2017, Riley created the High Altitude Team, the most advanced sub-team within the club. The team focused on designing and building rockets that would push the limits of collegiate rocketry. In the spring of 2018, Meik and his team successfully built the most efficient student-built solid rocket motor.
Then, last summer the team found out about the Bayer Alka-Rocket Challenge. The challenge was to launch a rocket to the highest altitude possible with only alka-seltzers and water as the power source. The winner would receive $30,000 and the chance to break a Guinness World Record which at the time was 430 ft.
“Up until that point, our team within the rocketry club was funded out of pocket by the team’s members. We saw this competition as an opportunity to win funds for our next big project, a startup company focusing on providing low-cost access to space to university groups and small space companies. We started working on our alka-rocket right away and entered the competition in October of 2018,” Meik noted. “After we found out that we had been accepted into the competition, we continued optimizing our rocket to give us the best chance possible!”
According to Meik his team’s design was fairly simple. It was much like a cannon that fires a small dart into the air.
“We had a carbon fiber pressure chamber where 100 alka-seltzers and two liters of water reacted to create 160 psi of pressure. The pressure chamber was connected to a barrel with a valve between the two. A dart with an altimeter, a device used for measuring a change in altitude for rockets, was launched out of the barrel by opening the valve. When the dart reaches its maximum altitude, a parachute is deployed for a safe landing. It took us a couple weekends to build the alka-rocket but several more weeks to make adjustments to the design to get the highest altitude possible,” Meik commented.
In December, the team flew out to Florida for the competition. The competition was held at the Kennedy Space Center. Meik and his team were the first to launch and reached an altitude of 883 ft., more than doubling the current altitude record. The University of Minnesota came in second place, reaching an altitude of just over 150 ft. Meik and his team were awarded both the Guinness World Record and the $30,000 grand prize.
The team was extremely happy with the win and have been busy launching their business.
“All $30,000 went to Sugarhouse Aerospace, our startup company. It is being used right now to continue our research and development of solid rocket motors with the goal of launching a rocket to space by the end of the year,” Riley said.
Rocketry has been a passion fo Riley’s since he was very young however it became an even bigger part of his life in high school, he added. While attending Corcoran High School, Meik started the CHS Rocketry Club. The CHS team competed in the Team America Rocketry Challenge and went to Washington DC for the championship in the spring of 2017.
“Around that same time, I continued working on personal projects, including my first rocket motor. I launched my first homemade rocket motor while I was a student at CHS.” Meik commented.
Riley graduated from CHS in 2014 and a couple of months after graduation he served a mission in Lima, Peru where he lived for two years as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Meik is currently a junior in the mechanical engineering program at Brigham Young University. He plans of graduating in April of 2020. Riley is currently working at Sugarhouse Aerospace, a company that I co-founded and plans to continue that work after graduation.
Riley is the son of Angie and Dr. Kindon Meik of Corcoran. Other members of the World Record-Breaking BYU Rocketry team include Zach Lawless, Alex Laraway and Mark Johnson.