1 March 2019

Rocketing ahead!

Engineering students prepare for SpacePort America Cup – the world’s largest rocket engineering competition and conference.

Team SunrIde is made up of science and engineering students from across the University of Sheffield

Amy Johnson and Dr Helen Sharman are familiar names in the world of engineering and science, and for a group of engineering students at the University of Sheffield, they hold even more significance – as they’re the inspiration and namesakes of their student-led project.

SunrIde (Sheffield University Nova Rocket Innovation Design Engineering) is a student-led team based in the Faculty of Engineering.

First established in 2017, they wanted to bring rocket engineering to Sheffield and as a result, became the first team from the UK to take part in the SpacePort America Cup – the world’s largest rocket engineering competition and conference, involving over 1000 students and 70 different institutions.

It attracts sponsorship from a number of spaceflight companies too, including Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Boeing and SpaceX.

“The idea for SunrIde came from seeing the success of another student activity, Project SunbYte which built and successfully launched a nova balloon telescope. We realised that rocket engineering could be a great project to get involved in too, using the skills we were developing as student engineers,” explains Georgios Rontogiannis, a second-year mechanical engineering student and co-leader of the SunrIde team for 2018/2019.


With students coming together from across the Faculty of Engineering – as well as the Department of Mathematics - we decided to set ourselves the challenge of designing and manufacturing our own rocket and enter it into the SpacePort America Cup.

Georgios Rontogiannis

Co-leader of the SunrIde team for 2018/2019


And so the plan for ‘Amy’ was born – a high power rocket designed to reach 10k feet altitude - named after Amy Johnson, for her pioneering spirit as the first female pilot to fly from Britain to Australia.

“We were so happy to have our Amy rocket design accepted to the SpacePort America Cup in 2018,” says SunrIde co-leader Vishan Nair, a final year mechanical engineering student.

“Whilst building it, we learnt lots of new skills and met some amazing people, including Charles Simpson from the UK Rocketry Association (UKRA) who mentored us as part of the UKRA Team Project Support (TPS) scheme.

“Yet as student engineers with no previous experience of rocket engineering, we went to SpacePort purely for the experience. We had no expectations at all, so you can imagine how thrilled we were when we won the James Barrowman Award for the most accurate altitude prediction!”

After a fantastic experience in 2018, the team are now ready to do it all over again and busily preparing for the 2019 competition – and they’re still up for a challenge.

“This year we’re taking it a stage further and entering a new rocket into the 30k feet category. Alongside designing for a higher altitude, we’ll also be incorporating a scientific payload that will be ejected at apogee – the highest point it reaches. This means it could be used for observation during situations like natural disasters or rescue missions,” adds Vishan.

“The new rocket is called Helen, named after Dr Helen Sharman CMG OBE, the first British astronaut. As the rocket will be reaching a 10th of the way to space, we thought it was quite fitting especially with the Sheffield link.

“Most of all we want to inspire others, just like Helen, and encourage more students to get involved in rocket engineering – and with another three more UK teams now competing alongside SunrIde this year, we think the word is spreading!”


I think it’s definitely something that will be beneficial to me as a mechanical engineering student and the team have been so welcoming and helpful, supporting me to bridge the gap between theory and practice

Karan Mangat

Mechanical Engineering student


Karan Mangat is a third-year mechanical engineering student who recently joined the team and is looking forward to getting involved.

“It’ll be a lot of work but a lot of learning too. I think it’s definitely something that will be beneficial to me as a mechanical engineering student and the team have been so welcoming and helpful, supporting me to bridge the gap between theory and practice.”

The team has also recently learnt that SunrIde will be presented in the 24th European Space Agency’s Symposium on European and Balloon Programmes and Related Research, in Germany this June too.

All the very best of luck to all the team with their plans this year!

SunrIde is part of the Sheffield Space Initiative (SSI), the umbrella body that links all space-related projects across the University of Sheffield.

Other projects include SunbYte, Moonworks, Avalon and CubeSat.

The SSI aims to engage students in the science and engineering challenges involved in the exploration of space.

Rocket specifications

Amy (2018)

  • 10k feet altitude category
  • 4kg payload
  • Solid COTS (commercial off the shelf) motor
  • Phenolic kraft body tubes enhanced with fibreglass
  • Fibreglass reinforced plastic nose cone
  • Flywood fins
  • Achieved 10,017ft and 99.83% accuracy

Helen (2019)

  • 30k feet altitude
  • Scientific payload
  • No restrictions on height or weight
  • Novel design

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