Meeting your Waterloo

June 18 is the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the final major clash between Napoleon’s French Imperial forces and the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian allies arrayed against him, near a small village in modern-day Belgium.  The battle clearly resonated throughout the western world, resulting in the eventual use of the name “Waterloo” for a county and village in Ontario, and a university named after the city where it was founded.  There is also a Waterloo in Quebec, Iowa, New York State, New Zealand, and many other locations according to Wikipedia.  You might wonder what history has to do with the theme of this blog, but I’ve managed to find a connection.

In one of the skirmishes on June 17 leading up to the decisive battle, Congreve rockets were deployed by the British Royal Horse Artillery against French forces.  These rockets had been developed by Sir William Congreve in 1804, and theoretically had the advantage of being much lighter and easier to transport than the standard iron cannon of the day.  Unfortunately, their trajectory was rather unpredictable and they had a tendency to fly towards friend and foe alike.  The rocket’s effect was perhaps more psychological than physical, but it was nonetheless an important step forward in rocketry.

For students interested in aerospace, the University of Waterloo has a rocketry team that has been competing in Utah for the past couple of years, and there was a story about them in the local paper today.  Their rocket trajectories seem to be much better than Congreve’s, and they aim to achieve heights of over 7 km in the upcoming competition.  This was a group of students with a common interest that got together a team and obtained some space in the Student Design Centre to start designing, building, and testing rocket components.  It must be quite a challenging field, as even commercial rockets fail to launch from time to time.  Some day I’ll have to wander over to the Design Centre and find out more about this team and their technology.


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