Former SOAR captain Joins AERO-CORE for Master’s Degree in Rocketry

July 22nd, 2021

SOAR Competition

Will Nelson is a Master's Student with the AERO-CORE Group. He spent 4 years with SOAR, had an internship at the Schulich School of Engineering Machine Shop, and worked as a research assistant.


Liana Goodman


May Chan

Will Nelson, a May 2021 graduate from the Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering bachelor’s program at the Schulich School of Engineering, has stepped down from his captaincy with the Student Organization for Aerospace Research (SOAR). In SOAR’s place, Will has joined the Aerospace and Compressible Flow Research (AERO-CORE) Group for a Master’s of Science focused on rocketry.

Having always been an aerospace enthusiast, Will started looking for aerospace opportunities and found SOAR. He joined the propulsion team back in 2017 with a desire to get more hands-on experience in mechanical engineering. That year, SOAR was working on a hybrid rocket for competition. A hybrid rocket has a solid fuel and a liquid oxidizer, allowing for burn control while reducing the system complexity (compared to a liquid rocket). Will helped design and manufacture the motor.

With the winter semester ending, Will was getting ready to begin his internship at the Schulich School of Engineering Machine shop. At the machine shop, he was in charge of using metalworking equipment and 3D printers to manufacture parts for student teams and researchers. Will was also partially involved with the creation of the Engineering MakerSpace, which is now used by students in all faculties of engineering to make their own parts. Over his internship, Will manufactured many of the parts for the SOAR rocket.

By the end of the summer, SOAR was driving down to New Mexico’s Spaceport America for the Intercollegiate Rocketry Engineering Competition (IREC) to launch their rocket. The IREC competition scores participants on a final report, trifold conference, and a successful launch. SOAR managed to place 3rd in the 30,000 ft hybrid rocket category.

[A competition] is legitimately the best team bonding you can have. Watching everyone be so committed to the launch was amazing. You learn so much from other subteams and other competitive teams. Overall it was a great experience, definitely one of my favourite memories from undergrad

Will Nelson

Former SOAR Captain, Master's Student in Advanced Propulsion

Will Nelson

Will Nelson, Advanced Propulsion

His experience in New Mexico led Will to become the propulsion co-lead the following year. Now in charge of coordinating all propulsion projects, Will worked to refine and modify the motor. He kept his team motivated and worked towards reliability in testing.

In 2019, now his third year with the team, Will became VP Manufacturing for SOAR. He worked to revise designs and ensure their manufacturing feasibility. He also used his skills to manufacture the parts for his team.

During his third year with SOAR, Will was also working on his capstone; developing air-breathing hybrid rocket motors. Air-breathing rockets use incoming air as an oxidizer (in addition to oxidizer onboard); this method requires great speed (around mach 2), making it a complex design challenge. The goal of the capstone was to assess the feasibility of such a motor given design complexity and testing challenges. Unfortunately, due to the beginning of the pandemic, the project was cut short of completion. This capstone was under the supervision of Dr. Craig Johansen, the director of the AERO-CORE Group.

With 5 courses left to cover for his undergraduate degree, Will decided to extend his undergraduate by a full year to take over captaincy of SOAR and help lead the team to competition once again. During this year, he also worked as a research assistant for the AERO-CORE group. Through the pandemic, Will worked with Launch Canada and Spaceport America to find an ameteur rocketry competition for his team. Securing a tentative competition with Launch Canada, Will has now left the team.

Now with much experience with rocket motors and propulsion, Will returned to AERO-CORE as a Master’s Student with a focus on Advanced Propulsion. He hopes to continue pursuing his passions in Rocketry.

Student teams are the best way to get hands-on experience in whatever field you have chosen. It fosters community and allows for some of the best experiences in undergrad. I strongly encourage any engineering student to get involved with teams in some way

Will Nelson

Former SOAR Captain, Maser's Student in Advanced Propulsion