Rocket Rebels Aim High

Students to compete in NASA Student Launch Competition on April 8 in Huntsville

Members of the Rocket Rebels include (from left) Olivia Lanum, Kyle Parton, Peter Dowling, DJ Johnson, Blake Horner, Barrett Freeman, Dillon Hall (team leader), Ryoma Thomas, Garrett Reed, David Biggs and David Thomas.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Rocket Rebels, a team of students from the University of Mississippi’s Center for Manufacturing Excellence, are preparing to compete in the NASA Student Launch Competition on April 8 in Huntsville, Alabama.

During the competition, the team, made up of 15 Ole Miss students, hopes to launch its rocket, named Presidium, a mile into the sky. The crew has been preparing for participation in the competition since last semester.

The Rocket Rebels team includes mechanical engineering majors Dillon Hall, of Saltillo; Ryoma Thomas, of Canton; Branden Livingston, of Madison; David Biggs, of Norman, Oklahoma; Olivia Lanum, of Brandon; David Thomas, of Brooklyn, New York; Blake Horner, of Frankfort, Illinois; Peter Dowling, of Lexington, Virginia; DJ Johnson, of Fairhope, Alabama; and Matt Whitfield, of Madison; chemical engineering major Kyle Parton, of Ocean Springs; business major Will Thomas, of Somerville, Tennessee; and accountancy majors Garrett Reed, of Abbeville; Caroline Rose, of Bluffton, South Carolina; and Barrett Freeman, of New Albany.

“Many long hours had to be put into this project, and we had our fair share of obstacles that pushed our deadlines,” said Hall, the team leader. “However, the team was dedicated to finishing what we started. We are representing the CME and Ole Miss on a national stage of scientific experts, and we are determined to prove that we can compete.”

CME has played a large role in the success of the Rocket Rebels. Besides financial and material support, the center and its manufacturing tools have provided the team a great advantage over the competition. Additionally, industry sponsors have been helpful throughout the rocket-building process.

“The Center for Manufacturing Excellence is an absolutely incredible resource for the Rocket Rebels,” said team mentor Cody Hardin, a manufacturing engineer from Orbital ATK. “The resources and capabilities available to manufacture Presidium in the CME are equivalent to what’s found in industry.

“The Rocket Rebels also have the benefit of GE Aviation next door in Batesville, that has provided engineering support and autoclave time, and Orbital ATK in Iuka, that has provided carbon fiber and aerospace adhesive material that is used on actual NASA rockets, along with engineering support. The growing aerospace industry in Mississippi has been hugely beneficial for the team.”

While the space provided by CME is second-to-none, so, too, is the opportunity to participate in the nationwide contest.

“The obvious opportunities are the contacts within the aeronautics communities that are being made through this competition,” said Jack McClurg, the team’s faculty adviser. “The students have gone out to the community and have acquired corporate sponsors that have provided material, expertise and services in order to ensure the success of this project. Hopefully, contacts with these types of people will lead to employment opportunities in the near future.”

McClurg said he admires the team members for their hard work and determination.

“There is a fundamental pride that you sense in the students when all of the hard work pays off. As a faculty member, that’s what excites me the most,” McClurg said.

While it may be the team’s inaugural year to compete in the Student Launch Competition, McClurg and Hardin both believe the team has a good chance at bringing home the trophy.

“The main goal, in my opinion, is to get some real-world, practical experience in working as a team to successfully accomplish the mission at hand,” McClurg said. “It is the chance to get out of the classroom and apply the principles of teamwork across the majors to successfully complete something as exciting as launching a rocket. Even if the team doesn’t bring home a trophy, the excitement of watching the fruits of their labor shoot into the sky are reward enough.”

To find out more about the Student Launch Competition, visit To learn more about the Rocket Rebels, visit To watch a video from the test launch, visit