STEM kids launch into learning with rocketry

Highlands Ranch students travel to Pueblo for project


Six students from STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch built a payload and flew it aboard a 25-foot rocket in Pueblo on July 18.

The payload is a 2-meter, 2-pound Automatic Packet Reporting System beacon that transmits radio frequencies to determine GPS data, elevation, speed and altitude while in flight at 10,000 feet.

Besides providing information, the payload will help students locate where it will land by giving the GPS longitude and latitude, said Bryon Paul Veal of APRL Rocky Mountain Division.

On July 13, the STEM kids, who are interns with United Launch Alliance and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., as well as other numerous interns from kindergarten through 12th grade, showed off their hard work at an open house in Centennial.

The open house included presentations, rockets being signed and printed with paint by hand and foot and photo opportunities of the Future Heavy rocket, which is the largest sport rocket in the world — set to launch in 2016.

Centennial-based ULA built the Future rocket the STEM kids flew their payload on.

When asked who all worked on the payload, 13-year-old Ari Martinez of Golden stepped up to say, “I did!”

Two others chimed in, including 14-year-old Gunnar Enserro of Lone Tree and 16-year-old Grayson Gerlich of Littleton. A handful of the students from STEM were present at the open house and were excited to explain their project.

The group is made up of beginning and advanced payload teams, a STEM academy instructor and a retired ULA engineer, Jeff Dunker said. 

Some of the kids, like Gerlich, have flown a payload on a rocket four or five times, while others are still learning and getting experience, he said.

According to Martinez, the teams have been working on payloads for years, ever since the academy began putting together teams that meet once a week. Gerlich said he’s been on a team for five years, and over the last two months the advanced group has put in a lot of hours on the project.

“This is an example of how our school’s AB0BX amateur radio student program is offering cross-curriculum opportunities with other established class programs at the school,” Veal said.

Enserro said he was responsible for building the parachute attached to the payload.

“It’s like fox hunting with radios. We find triangulations that are emitted by a frequency when it launches,” he said.

All three students alluded to the impact the program has on their future.

“Where else are you going to get this experience and get to work with rockets?” said Gerlich in regard to the STEM program.

Three sport rockets built and refurbished by ULA were propelled at the launch, with four payloads used from the dozen K-12 payload teams.

“This year’s rocket team includes approximately 60 interns and more than 20 mentors from ULA as well as 30 interns and 25 mentors from Ball Aerospace,” according to a press release.

ULA has teamed up with Ball Aerospace since 2009 to offer students real-world space industry experience through internships. Work with onboard instruments and experiments that deploy, such as payloads, was incorporated in 2012.

Each team has an eight-week period to work on their own time with their peers, mentors and instructors to build and test the rocket payloads.

For more information about the launch and the program, visit


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