One access point for people to develop enthusiasm for space is rocket clubs. These exist in many countries around the world and give individuals an opportunity to build and launch small-scale rockets. How does one go about starting such a club? To learn, we spoke to Simon Willoughby-Martin. He and his wife established Christchurch Rocketeers, located in New Zealand. The club puts particular emphasis on including demographics that are underrepresented in STEM fields. Simon told us more about the club and why he started it.
Where did you get the idea to found Christchurch Rocketeers?
My wife and I moved from Hawkes Bay in late 2019. For a few years before that, we’d been dabbling in some low-power hobby rocketry using store-bought kits. We visited the New Zealand Rocketry Association’s National Launch Day and attended an international launch in Australia, aptly named Thunda Down Under. We realized that there was no cohesive group of rocketry enthusiasts in Christchurch. So, we went about setting up our own, quickly amassing a number of active launchers. Shortly after running a few launches, we came to realize there was a real barrier for lower-income families to join in on the hobby. The cost of imported kits and motors put it out of reach. To allow for better representation in the hobby, we went about sourcing low-cost materials and looking for discounted rates.
What are some of your typical activities?
As a club, we provide monthly Low-Power Rocket Launch days in the city. They are free to attend for any member of the public. We showcase our latest builds and show off the hobby as a whole. Our latest venture, however, is to make rocketry more accessible. We do this by providing rocket build workshops in cooperation with Turanga library’s learning center. We make our own kits, have kids or adults design and laser cut their own fins on the in-house laser cutter, and 3D-print nosecones using the center’s printers. The aim of these workshops is to increase interest in STEM fields and promote the community’s use of the library’s makerspace.
Our future aim is to take these workshops on the road to low-decile and girls-only schools. These demographics traditionally have very low STEM participation rates, both at tertiary and industry levels. We also collaborate with UC Aerospace at Canterbury University to provide pathways into tertiary level rocketry and aerospace. UC Aerospace also allows us to use their High-Power Rocketry launch site.
What advice do you have for others interested in pursuing hobby rocketry?
Start small. It can be a big learning curve. Like other pursuits, it’s easy to do but hard to do right! Join a club. Here in New Zealand, there are a few throughout the country, all working under the banner of the New Zealand Rocketry Association. You’ll find these in Christchurch, Wellington, and Hamilton/Auckland. These clubs allow you to see a larger number of flights than you could accomplish on your own and help you meet a very experienced bunch of enthusiasts. Attend an NZRA National Launch Day if you’re able. These will get you hooked. They’re the largest concentration of rocketeers in the country. These launch days are held on Waitangi weekend each year in Taupiri, which is one hour south of Auckland or 30 minutes north of Hamilton.