Grounded in the realities of making something from nothing, student's setting her sights on the stars

Engineering at Alberta student builds a rocket research team and launch pad to a career in space

Brenda Reynolds - 08 September 2019

(Edmonton) Abby Lacson's first camping trip as a teenager sparked an interest in space during her high school years and changed the trajectory of her life.

"It was the first time I'd ever been out of the city without light pollution," she said. "I looked up at the stars, and thought, 'I want to go there.' I've made it my goal since then that I wanted to become an astronaut."

That dream inspired her to study mechanical engineering to start her path toward a career in space.

"You design things, you get to learn about how things work and how you can change society with new technology," said Lacson, who is entering her fourth year of studies.

Lacson had worked as the deputy mechanical team lead of AlbertaSat, a group that designed, built and launched Alberta's first satellite. Team member Chris Robinson told her about a rocketry competition in the United States and convinced her to start up a rocketry group at the University of Alberta. After recruiting like-minded students to create the team, the Student Team for Alberta Rocketry Research (STARR) was up and running.

Aerospace in Alberta

The goal was to build a sounding rocket for the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition in New Mexico, the world's largest rocket launching competition.

But building rockets is no easy task-especially when you're also a full-time student. Partly due to time management of having parts machined, establishing a new student group and finding funding, STARR was unable to meet the deadline for the rocket completion.

"It was a rocky year of juggling learning how to lead a student group and still study with a full course load. Things happens and it didn't work out; nonetheless, it was a lesson learned. "

The process was challenging, and Lacson says she learned a lot.

"If I would do it again I wish I had been more prepared before school started. School really does take over and leading a group at the same time, I was not prepared at all. This was definitely something I've learned and not to say that we failed, but just that if you go down, you got to build yourself back up again," she said.

There are no limits

Establishing STARR will help achieve two of her goals: promote the rising space industry in the province and spark an interest in the community about space.

"Space is becoming more of an interest for a lot of people since SpaceX is gaining a lot of interest from the public in terms of bringing people to the moon and to Mars. A lot of space research also goes back to finding ways to help the Earth in our sustainability."

Lacson plans to be back with STARR this year and even after graduation.

"I know there'll be other students who come into first year who will be interested in space, and finding those people and connecting them with our group and transferring the roles is super important to make sure that legacy's taken up."

She has other plans as well. Lacson's sights are set on following her engineering undergraduate degree by attending the International Space University in France for a Masters of Science in Space Studies.

Feet on the ground. But eyes in the sky. For Lacson, the possibilities are endless.