Cal Poly Rockets to New Heights with SLO Propulsion Technologies 

Members of the Let it Loose team hold their rocket, Goose
The Let it Loose team holds their rocket, Goose, before the launch from the Friends of Amateur Rocketry site in the Mojave Desert. From left are composites lead Ej Gabriel, electronics member Rogelio Correa, fluids lead Stuart Austin, chief engineer and propulsion lead Mohab Wahdan, ground station equipment lead Kaleb Lam, testing and integration lead Sophia Kainz, recovery lead Alex Kessler and aerodynamics lead Adam Boegel. Not pictured is electronics lead Raheel Rehmatullah.
Student Teams Achieve Milestones in Aerospace Technology and Gain Global Recognition 

Just one year after its founding, SLO Propulsion Technologies is driving Cal Poly into a new era of aerospace innovation through small-scale propulsion projects, with two teams capturing international attention for their rocketry achievements. 

The HOP team became the first collegiate group to complete a demanding throttle test in the Collegiate Propulsive Lander Challenge, earning a $15,000 prize with the potential for even greater rewards. Meanwhile, the Let it Loose team launched Cal Poly’s first liquid rocket, joining an elite group who have launched amateur rockets above 10,000 feet.   

“We work fast, fail often and test relentlessly,” said SPT co-founder and mechanical engineering student Kyle Schumacher, highlighting the elevated Learn by Doing philosophy that has driven the IRA since its recognition in April 2023.  

But beyond the countless hours of innovation and machining, another element fuels SPT’s success: the simple tradition of sharing Sunday dinners.  

Let it Loose team members examine the engine of their rocket
Let it Loose leads Mohab Wahdan, Stuart Austin, Kaleb Lam and SLO Propulsion Technologies member Noel Murao-Rolufs examine the engine of their rocket, Goose, at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry site in the Mojave Desert. 

The Goose is Loose 

Nothing unites people like food – a principle that SPT co-founder Adam Boegel instilled in the group.  

After honing his culinary skills at a traditional French bakery in San Francisco, he began hosting Sunday dinners for his fellow club members that featured legendary dishes like brisket. These gatherings quickly became a cherished tradition, creating a sense of family among members.  

“People work best when they feel connected,” said Boegel, a graduating aerospace engineering major from Walnut Creek who will leave his recipe book for SPT members to follow.  

Around his dinner table, members shared their dreams for projects, including launching the school’s first-ever liquid rocket – a type of reusable rocket that uses liquid propellants, commonly used by leading aerospace companies like SpaceX.  

The Let it Loose team solidified their plan over spring break after securing a launch date from Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) to use their facility in the Mojave Desert.  

Let it Loose members raise their rocket on the launch rail in the Mojave Desert
Let it Loose leads Mohab Wahdan, Stuart Austin, Ej Gabriel and SLO Propulsion Technologies co-founder Kyle Schumacher raise their rocket, Goose, on its launch rail at the Friends of Amateur site in the Mojave Desert.  

“We knew how to make things happen fast,” said Mo Wahdan, a graduating aerospace engineering major with triple citizenship in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States.  

And fast they would have to move with mere weeks before their launch window on May 25.  

“Our philosophy was, ‘Get all your homework done Friday night. Work Saturday to Sunday night, then head to family dinner,’” said Wahdan, who became hooked on rockets after watching SPT hot-fire its first engine in May 2023.  

Seven weeks and $2,200 later, the team of nine was on their way to the FAR facility – the exclusive site for launching amateur liquid rockets in the U.S. – with their rocket named Goose.  

“We asked ourselves, ‘Is it good enough to give it a try? Yes. Is it safe? Yes. Then, it’s time to go,” Wahdan said with a grin.  

Their true test came at 11:30 a.m., when their first attempt failed. 

Students fit the tank and bulkhead together
Let it Loose leads Sophia Kainz and Mohab Wahdan fit the tank and bulkhead assembly together for the first time.

Wahdan, who had played as an offensive lineman for Cal Poly’s football team before diving into rocketry, had drilled the team like a coach, preparing them for any obstacle they could imagine. He watched as his teammates kept their cool, problem-solved and prepared for attempt No. 2.  

“Those failure moments worked for us, and I’m glad we had them,” Wahdan said.  

To the absolute delight of the team, the second attempt was a success. 

Members rushed to the facility’s windows to catch a glimpse of the rocket’s rapid ascent from 0 to 100 mph in just 0.5 seconds. As Goose reached an altitude of 15,300 feet, traveling at Mach 1.1, emotions ranged from elation to relief.  

They marked their altitude at the launch site and recovered the battered Goose, which will serve as a relic for future teams aiming to launch and land the next iteration.  

At the family dinner the following night, they celebrated the project that marked the culmination of Wahdan and Boegel’s college careers. Both shared their commitment to rockets as a lifelong passion and their plans to inspire their future children to build their own. 

“We have a lot of great science fairs ahead of us,” Boegel said, as Wahdan laughed in agreement.  

Let it Loose members recover their rocket after it lands in the Mojave Desert
Members of Let it Loose and SLO Propulsion Technologies recover a mostly intact Goose after its flight in the Mojave Desert. They include Stuart Austin, Noel Murao-Rolufs, Rogelio Correa, Sophia Kainz, Adam Boegel, Paul Staley, Mohab Wahdan, Alex Kessler, Kyle Schumacher and Ej Gabriel. 

HOP Team Leaps Ahead 

Another SPT team is on a bold mission: to become the first in the world to achieve all five milestones in the Collegiate Propulsive Lander Challenge. 

This international competition offers awards ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 to motivate university teams to develop self-landing rockets, with tasks progressing from hot-fire tests to touchdown, tethered hover and finally, a hop – a short, low-altitude test flight.  

Cal Poly’s six-member HOP team was the first to achieve two milestones in under a year, outpacing schools with more funding and established rocketry programs. 

Composite images captures 24 different short-duration hot-fire tests
This composite image captures 24 different short-duration hot-fire tests from the HOP team’s throttle test campaign, including their winning throttle attempt. 

“We’ve adopted a fail-fast mentality, which allows us to improve quickly,” said Olivia Madrigal, a materials engineering major from Maryland, who is passionate about rapid, hands-on engineering. 

While other university teams are still pursuing the thrust vector control milestone, which involves hot-firing a propulsion device with over 500 pounds of thrust for at least 10 seconds, HOP was the second team to achieve it. Months later, they became the first to maintain controlled thrust above 500 lbf for 4 seconds, throttle down to 40% for 2 seconds and then return to full thrust during hot-fire.  

“We are definitely in the lead,” said Schumacher, a mechanical engineering major from San Jose who has big dreams to become an astronaut.   

With an accumulated $30,000 in prize money, they will build their vehicle for the next test: touchdown.  

Student stands in front of the test stand and rocket engine setup
SLO Propulsion Technologies co-founder Kyle Schumacher, a member of the HOP team, stands in front of the test stand and rocket engine setup used for milestone challenges and engine tests.

“It takes a certain amount of insanity to take on a project this big, but I am generally optimistic,” said Schumacher, before proclaiming, “This team will complete the challenge.”  

They just might do it, given their devotion to the cause. 

“We spend as many hours a day on the project as we can without failing our classes,” said Wendy Dong, a mechanical engineering major from Yorba Linda, estimating the hours they put in are equivalent to a full-time job.  

The machine shops, where they all work as student techs, and the Propulsion Lab have become their homes away from home as they follow a rigorous testing regimen, intent on improving with each iteration.  

HOP team members review data in Cal Poly's Propulsion Lab
HOP team members review data in Cal Poly’s Propulsion Lab. They are on a mission to become the first in the world to achieve all five milestones in the Collegiate Propulsive Lander Challenge.  

The entire team will return in the fall, eager to tackle the remaining three milestones. The final task, worth $50,000, is a hop where they must ascend the vehicle with a payload to 50 meters above ground level and then land successfully within a designated circle.  

“We are all deeply committed to this challenge,” said Madrigal, noting their willingness to fail repeatedly has been a major factor in the team’s success.  

That, along with Sunday dinners, of course.  

Watch SPT members hot-fire their engine and launch their rocket, Goose, by visiting their YouTube page here.  

By Emily Slater 

SLO Propulsion Technologies members share a Sunday dinner together
In its first year, SLO Propulsion Technologies has celebrated achievements, including Cal Poly’s first liquid rocket launch, and reached significant milestones in the Collegiate Propulsive Lander Challenge. An element that has fueled the group’s success is sharing Sunday dinners, where they offer support and encouragement for their propulsion pursuits.