From zero to seventy in two weeks: McGill Rocket Team breaks multiple barriers

Back in 2014, Aissam Souidi (BEng ’18) was a second-year engineering student. A recent immigrant, he had come from Morocco to Montreal at the age of 17, looking to broaden his educational horizons and to live in a bilingual city. One day while discussing hobbies with fellow engineering student Hamza Tikka (BEng ’18) who had immigrated to Canada from Pakistan, he realized that there was no club where the two of them could take part in their shared fascination for rocketry.

“We thought it was sad that there was no such team at McGill,” Souidi said. “There were three other university teams in Montreal but none at McGill. And there was no one researching the topic at the Faculty level either.”

The solution was to start their own club. They soon found out they weren’t the only ones with a passion for rockets: within two weeks of establishing themselves as a design team, 70 members had signed up. Clearly, there was an interest in rocketry, and it was coming from a diverse student body.

“The ethnic mix really helped us,” said Souidi. “We had people with a wide range of experiences, such as launching water rockets in India or flying quadcopter drones in China. We were also one of the few teams with all Departments represented.” Importantly, they also brought in students from other McGill faculties, who took on non-engineering dimensions of their work.

Just eight months after starting up, the team entered its 1st competition, the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) in Utah, USA. “By the time of the competition, there were only four of us who could attend,” he recounted. Although the team did not place well, that was hardly the point. Just taking part was a major success for a team that hadn’t existed the year before.

The Rocket team has grown since those early days. It is now the Faculty’s 2nd largest design team, with over 100 members. They’re still focused on the IREC (now known as the Spaceport America Cup), but the team will send over 15 members to take part. And diversity is still a key component.

“The competition is very multi-disciplinary, whether it’s the chemistry required for the fuel or the biological components for the payload,” said current team president Sandro Papais (BEng ’18), who took the reins of the group this past year. “We’re trying to promote interest in aerospace across campus, and we’ve been successful at recruiting members from other faculties like Arts or Science.”

Aside from competing, the group also hosts industry symposiums, including one with the European Space Agency, who presented their plans for future travel to the moon and mars. “Even at the industry level, diversity is important,” continued Papais. “Creating these future communities will require incredible resources, and the more people who can contribute to them, the better.”