A photo of five people standing in a field around a large pole
Ram Rocketry is a student-led organization within the VCU College of Engineering, introducing students to the aerospace industry through the research, design and building of competition rockets. As stated on its website, Ram Rocketry’s mission is to “mentor the engineers of tomorrow and answer the call of the burgeoning aerospace industry.” (VCU College of Engineering)

High hopes: Ram Rocketry at VCU competes in prestigious contest this week, with one member who has already reached rare air

The College of Engineering club is an aerospace training ground for students, and Thomas Goldstein, a mechanical engineering major, has claimed a notable certification in the field.

Share this story

From its inception only three years ago, Ram Rocketry has quickly soared to impressive heights. The student club at Virginia Commonwealth University is competing this week in the prestigious Spaceport America Cup – and one of its members earned a distinguished achievement earlier this year.

Ram Rocketry is a student-led organization in VCU’s College of Engineering, introducing them to the aerospace industry through the research, design and building of competition rockets. The club says its mission is to “mentor the engineers of tomorrow and answer the call of the burgeoning aerospace industry.”

A photo of a man smiling and holding a rocket.
Thomas Goldstein with his fully assembled level-three rocket. (VCU College of Engineering)

Though relatively new, Ram Rocketry has quickly become one of the most popular engineering student groups. Nearly all of its 30-plus members are pursuing rocketry certifications through the Tripoli Rocketry Association, a nonprofit that promotes safety and education in high-powered rocketry across the globe.

By the end of this year’s launch season, more than 20 Ram Rocketry students will have earned their Level 1 certification, more than 10 their Level 2 certification and two their Level 3. Of more than 8,300 Tripoli members nationwide, only around 1,200 have achieved Level 3 – and Thomas Goldstein, a VCU mechanical engineering major, is now among them.

“The whole process took around 250-300 hours of work,” he said. “From meticulous construction to rigorous testing, every step demanded precision and perseverance. Typically, Level 3’s are pursued by older hobbyists and can take months to years to complete.”

From statics and thermodynamics to mechanical systems design, Goldstein uses skills learned in his engineering courses in nearly every aspect of rocketry.

“We use classroom concepts to calculate pressure holes for rocket sections, tensile strengths of integral bolts, shear strengths for epoxy joints, and so many more applied situations,” he said. “One of the most important subjects, especially to those of us pursuing Level 3’s, is materials science. It is applied absolutely everywhere. It explains why we add milled glass fiber to our epoxied joints, why epoxy heats as it cures, why we can’t use steel or PVC in certain motor sections, why our bolts need to be stainless in certain sections and even why different parts of the rocket are the material they are.”

After a year of technical challenges, perseverance and a 12-foot-long rocket taking shape in his dad’s living room, Goldstein earned his Level 3 certification this February.

“It was sometimes hard to stay motivated while balancing a full course load, competition rocket work, my senior design project and keeping a social life,” he said. “But the infinite support of fellow club members, especially Ishaan Thakur who was pursuing his Level 3 alongside me, pushed me through to the finish line.”

A photo of a person sitting on the floor surrounded by tools
During the build process, any space can become a workshop – including Thomas Goldstein’s dad’s living room. (VCU College of Engineering)

In addition to the support from his peers, Goldstein emphasized the dedication of the club’s faculty adviser, Robert Klenke, Ph.D., whose expertise has been instrumental in building the club in its early years.

Ram Rocketry is going full throttle this week in the Spaceport America Cup. Held in New Mexico, the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket engineering competition requires students to launch their rocket to 10,000 feet, along with facing several design reviews and delivering a comprehensive presentation throughout the week. Ram Rocketry is among more than 150 teams from universities all over the world.

“The team just successfully flew and recovered our competition rocket on its maiden voyage,” Goldstein said after recent testing. “It was an all-day effort, but we learned so much, and we now know exactly what needs to be tweaked and fine-tuned to hit that 10,000-foot goal.”

The club then planned to give the rocket a black-and-gold makeover, excited to showcase the VCU College of Engineering at new heights.

With its exceptional growth in such a short time, Ram Rocketry is establishing VCU as a leader in student rocketry groups and aerospace engineering education programs. In addition to being an equally fun and educational extracurricular, Goldstein emphasizes how influential his work in Ram Rocketry has been in his career readiness.

“Getting a job in the aerospace industry is very competitive,” he said. “But I ended up getting hired almost solely off my work with Ram Rocketry for both my internship and full-time job.”