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‘Reaching new heights’: STAR launches rockets, future careers

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Senior Staff

SEPTEMBER 15, 2023

The first custom flight computer developed by Berkeley Space, Technologies and Rocketry, or STAR, will be tested this week. 

Conor Van Bibber, a deputy in the avionics specialty, is excited to see his hard work come to fruition. Since joining STAR in 2021, Van Bibber has been able to learn about a variety of specialties and develop the flight computer. 

“I’ve been developing a custom flight computer for the rocket so it can get all of the sensor data that it needs,” Van Bibber said.

STAR focuses on bringing experiences like these to help UC Berkeley students learn more about applying theoretical concepts through rocketry. 

Members work on a variety of projects to learn about rocketry, including the designing, building and rigorous testing of vehicles. 

“As a group we work to develop our skills in engineering, specifically aerospace, and learn to apply the theoretical knowledge that we get in classes to practical problems,” said Liam McHugh, one of STAR’s project managers. 

As of now, STAR has built nine successful vehicles with three projects currently in progress.

The projects typically include the building of aerospace vehicles, payloads and propulsion systems, including an engine that combusts using liquids. 

Furthermore, every vehicle built by the club is reusable “The idea is that every single rocket needs to not be a missile,” said Aarabhi Achanta, president of STAR. “So we need to have it come down safely and also protect all of the technical work that’s on there so we can recover our payload experiment data and also refly our rockets again and again.”

To accomplish the creation, testing, documentation and funding of their vehicles, STAR is divided into ten teams. The technical teams are airframe, avionics, propulsion, payload, recovery, simulations and systems and the non-technical teams are business, media and outreach. 

In total, the club has around 200 members with students from a variety of backgrounds and majors. 

“A lot of the members that we have aren’t necessarily engineering majors at all,” Van Bibber said. “So if you just have an interest in engineering or building stuff, it can be a good club to check.”

When Van Bibber joined in 2021, he had very little engineering experience; he now feels confident in his rocketry knowledge and recognizes it is transferable to other engineering jobs. 

Like Van Bibber, students can join STAR with no experience. All necessary skills are taught through workshops and mentorship. 

 “No experience is required, Achanta said. “We teach you everything you need to know.” 

The club has also found significant success at competitions. STAR has won a variety of awards, such as “Most Commercializable Payload” in 2023.  

Additionally, there is an active alumni network in STAR made up of about 300 past members. Alumni work for a variety of industry companies, including SpaceX, NASA and General Motors. 

Alumni also give back to the club by providing resources such as resume reviews and guest speaker series. 

“Our alumni are very active on our team because I think our team is a very immersive experience,” Achanta said. 

A scholarship program is also offered by STAR, which focuses on assisting women of color pursue higher education in engineering.  

This past year, four young women were recipients of the scholarship; they received a variety of workshops and a monetary stipend. 

“We provide scholarships to low income women of color in the Bay Area, specifically high school students that are looking to go into four year STEM degrees,” Achanta said. 

Joining the club does not actually require an application. Achanta made sure to emphasize that no experience is required to join the club.  

“I hope every student walks away learning something that they hadn’t before and just has passion for building and engineering and reaching new heights,” Achanta said. 

Contact Kyle Garcia Takata at 


SEPTEMBER 25, 2023