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TARC Star Spotlight: Victor Murphy

The Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association and National Association of Rocketry, is the world’s largest model rocketry contest and the aerospace industry’s flagship program designed to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Designed to emulate the aerospace industry’s design and engineering process, TARC challenges students to design, build and launch a model rocket carrying a raw egg and returning it safely to earth. A recent survey of TARC alumni showed that exposure to aerospace through TARC has had a positive impact on students’ career choices, as 81% of past participants plan to pursue careers in a STEM-related field.

This is a continuation in a series of spotlight features on TARC alumni who have decided to continue their studies in engineering and are now working in the aerospace industry.

Victor Murphy: Huntsville, AL

Since middle school, Victor Murphy has passionately fought for the importance of educational rocket engineering and STEM-based education.

From 2007-2012, Victor competed in TARC and continued his TARC expereince by mentoring his team during his first 2 years in college. Victor's tea, placed among the top finalists twice (2008,2009) and among the top 20 in the U.S. (2010,2013). Victor has given presentations to the NASA's Student Launch Initiative for his middle school rocket team; the Huntsivlle Association of Techonology about the benefit of educational rocketry; as well as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) about his rocket team's expereince at TARC.

"Programs like the intern program at ULA and the TARC [competition] allow students to witness applications of math and science instead of only seeing math on a blackboard and in a text book. It allows the students to feel a sense of accomplishment when they get rockets to fly." Victor said. "It made me think if I can do this, why can't I someday build a real rocket? I realized that I can, all I have to do is set my goals and work toward them!"

Victor graduated high school with a 3.6 GPA and won the SAVECA (Strengthening Alabama via Education and Cultural Awareness) Scholarship, the Christian Brothers Lasallian Scholarship, as well as the Huntington College Scholarship. He was also named Regional finalist in the Science Olympiad; selected for the Spanish Honor Society; was one of two students selected from Alabama to participate in Auburn’s McWhoter School of Building Science Building Construction Camp; and was invited to participate in NASA’s Student Launch Initiative.

Despite his impressive credentials, Victor still finds time to give back to his community. During his mentorship of his high school TARC team, Victor helped the team build two payloads that went up in the rocket “Future” (a rocket built by the interns at the United Launch Alliance (ULA)). Besides mentoring his own team, Victor has worked with inner-city school children on rocketry and worked in several environment-conservation programs.

Victor is currently a junior at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and is attaining a degree in Aerospace Engineering.

The New American Space Age

I recently had a unique opportunity to tour the Virgin Galactic facility at  the Mojave, CA Air and Spaceport. VirginGalactic, an AIA member, is actively moving forward with their plans to put anyone into space who buys a ticket – just  as is done in every other field of transport. While this may seem only logical, consider that, until recently, just about the only people the US government sent into space were test pilots, scientists or technical mission specialists (ok, ok, a couple of politicians as well).

Virgin Galactic is not alone in seeking to provide new commercial services in space; other companies such as Masten Aerospace, XCOR and Stratolaunch also have facilities in Mojave and many other firms around the nation– some new and  some long established - are also pursuing new commercial space concepts from nanosat earth observing systems and wi fi networks from low Earth orbit to commercial crew services for NASA and other customers.

Our national space exploration and research activities are increasingly  benefiting from the  dynamic commercial space industry as new commercial offerings and public/private partnerships augment and sometimes replace traditional government space capabilities. Today, the private sector is helping to create new space systems not previously possible, often providing relevant  solutions to today’s challenges  more quickly and at a lower cost than through traditional procurements.

For the military, faced with the twin challenges of ever more capable adversaries and draconian budgets, greater reliance on the private sector is increasingly essential. In a potentially contested space environment, it may be better to spread capabilities across hundreds of commercial platforms instead of a handful of potentially tempting targets. And for private sector ventures, DoD or other government agencies can be a valuable anchor tenant to help close a business plan.

For NASA, using the private sector for routine services is nothing new; in fact, the policy of using private sector launch service providers dates back to 1986 in the wake of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Now, for International Space Station cargo, NASA benefits from the commercial sector developing two systems for ISS resupply – both because SpaceX’s Dragon is still launching after the loss of Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket last October and because Orbital ATK was able to commercially contract with United Launch Alliance as a backup launch service providerfor its Cygnus cargo carrier.

A single government developed solution would not be nearly as robust in the event of a failure. And it should be noted that the NASA cargo business has helped U.S. companies such as SpaceX  develop launch capabilities that are increasingly competitive in the international launch market – restoring the U.S. commercial launch service market share that had nearly vanished.

This same model is now being applied to launching crew – and the sooner this effort starts launching the better, since the former Soviet space systems used by the Russians seem to be increasingly prone to failures – and in their case, there are no commercial alternatives.  Plus, every time we launch an astronaut to the ISS on the Russian Soyuz rocket, we have to pay $70 million for the ride.

While much attention and interest has focused on new entrants and some exciting new ideas using small satellites, this is not a simple story of new space versus old space.  The Boeing company was recently awarded a patent for innovatively taking advantage of the substantial weight savings of its all-electric 702SP satellites.  They can stack  two of them without a carrier structure on a rocket that otherwise could carry only one conventional satellite at a time. To do this, Boeing – a company that is nearly 100 years old – worked with SpaceX, a company that has only been in operation for a dozen years.

SSL,a pioneeringcommercial satellite manufacturer whose first satellite was launched in 1960,last year was awarded a contract to produce 13 very innovative small LEO satellites for Skybox Imaging,  one of the newest startups out of Silicon Valley.  SSL’s high-volume production capability and experience is enabling Skybox to cost-effectively scale its fleet, while allowing it to focus on prototyping next-generation systems.

Innovation and commercial service success isn’t only limited to satellites and launchers -Digital Globe rapidly provides space imagery and geospatial content to customers ranging from U.S. federal agencies, including NASA and the DoD's National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Recently, in response to the devastating earthquake that struck central Nepal on April 25th, DigitalGlobe quickly made high-resolution satellite imagery of the affected areas freely available online to all groups involved in the response and recovery effort. Can you imagine how long it would take to provide imagery using a traditional procurement?

Lastly, commercial companies can apply their solutions to a wide range of customers – reducing costs and development time. Ball Aerospace’s BCP is a family of spacecraft designed for cost-effective, remote sensing applications. Built on a customizable, proven spacecraft design, the BCP accommodates a wide range of missions – from commercial systems supporting Digital Globe to cutting edge Earth science and meteorological applications.

So where is all of this leading? Some of these new initiatives, perhaps most if trends elsewhere are any indicator, will fail. But some will succeed and the world will be forever changed. Think of commercial communications satellites, GPS, and satellite radios; within a generation, we grew accustomed to watching the Olympics live from the other side of the world, never getting lost and always having a radio station tolisten to while driving. Some think of the 1960’s when they hear the term “Space Age”; I think we’re just getting started!

Over the DC Sky – A Reminder of the Need for Air Supremacy

Washington DC provided on May 8th “the Greatest Generation” another opportunity to receive the heartfelt thanks of their countrymen.   That day, World War II veterans gathered at the memorial honoring their service to watch more than 50 vintage military aircraft in 15 formations fly over the National Mall in recognition of the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, the official end of World War II in Europe.

Joining in the excitement of the incredible Arsenal of Democracy flyover, AIA’s staff watched the procession of such planes as the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Grumman TBM Avenger and North American Aviation P-51 Mustang from our offices across the river from downtown Washington, DC in Rosslyn, Va.  Meanwhile, photographers from AIA’s Communications Department (Amanda Jaeger, Keith Mordoff, Dan Stohr and myself -- see our photos here) recorded images of the warbird flyover and spectators from different locations throughout the city.

I viewed the airplane procession from the west front of the U.S. Capitol.  While watching these aircraft pass in back of the Washington Monument, head east toward the Capitol Building and then gracefully exit “stage left,” I couldn’t help but think of the U.S. Army service of my father, Henry—still going strong at nearly 102 and ½--a member of the Army Corps of Engineers who was part of the allied expeditionary force on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, and of my Uncle Louis, an Army Air Corps Navigator who went on several perilous bombing runs across the English Channel over occupied Europe.  I wondered how many other people watching that day were experiencing similar emotions and remembering their own family member’s service.


Following the flyover, I decided to view the scene at the World War II Memorial.  Several proud veterans were still there, graciously accepting the thanks of citizens young and old.  Among them was one of our country’s most famous World War II Veterans, former Senator Bob Dole.  The Senator was in high spirits, and I took the opportunity to join others in thanking him for his service to our country and for being such a great symbol of the millions who wore the uniform.


In addition to the veterans, it also struck me that the strength of our industry was on full display.  It’s amazing to consider the huge role the industry back home contributed to the war effort; when I worked for Rockwell International (now part of Boeing) I learned the story of Dutch Kindelberger, President of our predecessor company North American Aviation, who even prior to U.S. entry into the war promised to the British and delivered in a remarkable five months time the first of the legendary P-51 Mustangs fighter aircraft.  Yes, due to the complexity of the global security demands faced on our modern military, it takes much more time and expense for industry to develop and build the sophisticated aircraft and equipment we need to ensure American air power remains second to none.  But given adequate resources our industry, powered by its skilled work force, continues to be up to the task producing the aircraft and related systems  that help to maintain our air power superiority—thusly signaling to potential adversaries that the phrase “peace through strength,” continues to have great credibility.  That said, industry’s ability to invest in technological innovation and gear up in the event of an immediate national crisis is being harmed by the budget caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. 

This year I’ve also had the opportunity to write about the centennial of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor organization to NASA.  The story of NACA’s many contributions to allied air supremacy in World War II—reduced drag, better aerodynamic engine cooling, high powered piston engines, increased aircraft stability, control and handling qualities and new deicing measures--also reminds us that it’s important for our government to make long term investments in fundamental aeronautical research, which benefits both civil and defense aviation.  And cutting such investments through our misguided decade long commitment to budget austerity just doesn’t make sense. 

A few months after the D-Day invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and his son John – then an Army 2nd lieutenant – walked along the Normandy beaches and pondered the course of the war.  “You’d never get away with this if you didn’t have air supremacy,” the son told his famous father.  “Without air supremacy,” Ike responded, “I wouldn’t be here.”  That lesson underscores the impressive air show we saw on the National Mall.