Humble ISD students use rocket science to compete for drones

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Updated 12:04 pm, Friday, December 15, 2017

At only about five to six miles from George Bush Intercontinental Airport, an occasional plane whooshed relatively close overhead as approximately 20 Humble ISD high school students prepared for a rocket launch in the Turner Stadium parking lot.

“That’s the scariest part. I hope I do not hit a plane today,” joked Kaseen Burnett, eleventh grader at Humble High School.

Of course, Burnett and her fellow student rocket scientists in the Humble ISD Career and Technology Education Tuesday Night Technology Club (CATE TNT) had done their homework. Under the guidance of CATE teacher Joe Paneitz, they learned how to account for different variables, including wind – knowledge that proved quite useful on the blustery morning of Tuesday, Dec. 12.

This was the first of a two-day rocket-launching competition. The four competing teams were a mix of students from Humble, Atascocita, Summer Creek and Kingwood Park High Schools.

“Their target is to shoot inside that pink ribbon,” Paneitz said, indicating a target zone 150 yards away. “As long as the rocket lands inside of it, they get a point. There’s a bow about halfway down that ribbon. If they get inside the bow, they get a point-and-a-half.”

The teams’ objective was to get six points. Each time they launched, the rocket’s engine power was increased, meaning students had to work out new calculations for every launch.

“They have to go to a more powerful engine, so the rocket keeps going higher and higher,” Paneitz said. “Before they launch, they’ve got to take (into account) wind direction, wind speed, (the) launch pad, give it a direction, and compass reading. So they’re trying to make predictions on – ‘OK, the wind’s going this way, and it’s going this speed, where do we need to put this angle?’ They write down all the very precise, exact angles on everything they’re going to do.”

Using the measurements from the first day of competition, the students will analyze the data to formulate even more precise calculations before their second, and final day of competition in January.

At the end of the second competition day, members of the winning team will each receive their very own drone, donated by The College Money Guys.

Burnett has been working to obtain her drone piloting license. She is on track to receive her license by the time students return to school for the spring semester.

“She’ll be our first Humble ISD pilot,” Paneitz said.

Burnett explained that her drone pilot license will open doors for her to work for realtors and other companies taking aerial photos. Winning one of the drones in the rocket competition would go hand-in-hand with her aspirations.

“I’m trying to get one so once I get my license I’ll be able to fly my own drone,” Burnett said. “It’s something that’s good for me to know how to do and have and be able to put on an application that I know how to fly a drone and have my own.”

Winning a drone may serve as an additional motivator for students participating in this contest, but Burnett said launching rockets was something they’d be doing anyway.

“We ended up launching rockets after school one day because we didn’t have anything to do, so we thought, ‘Let’s launch the rocket,'” Burnett said.

Later, when the club was brainstorming where to go on a field trip, the idea for a barbecue and rocket-launch event came up.

“Next thing you know, we’re launching rockets for fun,” Burnett said.

Ultimately, the experience engages students in using STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math), which may help students like Burnett in college and beyond. But first Burnett plans to tackle her upcoming physics final.

“This rocket launch has helped a lot because I did not understand physics before this, and now I do,” Burnett said. “Calculating the wind speed and the direction and the angles and the way the planes are flying – it’s really helpful. I have finals in physics and this should help me pass.”

For more information about Humble ISD, visit


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