Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, it’s a rocket. 

Eyes were fixed on the skies this week as more than 120 teams from across the globe gathered in the New Mexico desert to compete in the third annual Spaceport America Cup. 

University of New Mexico Lobo Launch placed top five in the 10,000 feet Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) motor category, announced Saturday at the awards ceremony. 



“It’s about precision and getting as close to that as possible and we were 600 feet off, which with our category is pretty good,” Victoria Ramirez, Project Lead for the 2019 Lobo Launch team, said to the Daily Lobo on Thursday. We’re optimistic to see the see the results.” 

Ramirez just graduated from UNM this spring with her degree in mechanical engineering.

The Lobo Launch team was first to launch on Wednesday. Their rocket, the Lobo Harbinger, reached a height of 10,614 feet. Ramirez said that the launch “looked beautiful.”

Lobo Launch is a year-long capstone course for senior mechanical engineering students at UNM. It is one of three capstone offerings by the University for mechanical engineering — the most well-known is the class that constructs a Formula One racecar. 

“I feel like we matched our needs really well. We’ve begun a foundation," said AJ Pantano, a member of the Lobo Launch team. “It will be really interesting to see what future Lobo Launch teams can accomplish.”

Although this is the third year of the Lobo Launch program, this is UNM’s second time completing a full, launchable rocket. Additionally, this is the first year UNM had a successful launch.  

“We had a lot of unknowns, but we had a really strong team and everyone really put their weight in,” Pantano said. “Going out to the launch pad, maybe there were a few bumps that we can learn from, but it was pretty smooth considering.” 

In 2017, UNM built the world’s largest amateur rocket standing at 47-feet tall. Its fate was less than desirable when the rocket exploded mid-launch during a test run that May. In 2018, the rocket went unfinished due to the goal of it being larger than 2017's, Pantano said. 

“Without that team doing that, there is no way we could’ve learned from their mistakes. And they really did set the foundation as well,” Pantano said. “It was really impressive what they did.” 

Pantano said the team was going to design a rocket with the same color scheme as the 2017 counterpart, but they ran out of time. 

The 2019 Spaceport America Cup kicked off the competition on Tuesday at the Las Cruces Convention Center. There the teams were able to show off the designs of their rockets. 

From Wednesday until Friday, the teams gathered in the blistering heat at the Spaceport America Vertical Launch Area, near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. They underwent tests and revisions to their design by judges before being able to launch their rocket. 

The University of Washington was both the Judges Choice and Overall Award Winner for the 2019 Spaceport America Cup. At the awards ceremony on Saturday, only the first and second place winners for each category were announced. The rest of the official scoring placements will be released in a couple months.

“I think space is really hot right now, so it’s time to take a step, dip your toes in those waters,” Pantano said. “It’s really exciting.”