USC testing at the RRS MTA – Traveler III

The University of Southern California (USC) Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RPL) team led by Haley Karow had a static firing of their prototype solid rocket booster at the RRS MTA on February 17, 2018. The RRS was glad to support USC on yet another advancement in their solid rocket motor program for students.

USC prepares their booster motor for testing at the RRS MTA, 2-17-2018

USC’s successful test demonstrated a 6-element bates grain solid motor with two improved features:
(1) a newly designed carbon phenolic nozzle with graphite inserts for the converging section and throat and (2) a linen phenolic and EPDM thermal protection system for the case. The motor grains were cast in Victorville at a site owned by Exquadrum.

USC Traveler III motor firing at the MTA, screen shot from Osvaldo’s camera

This full-sized motor design will power the Traveler III space-shot vehicle. The nozzle looked great after the firing, but a second nozzle will be used for the flight. The motor liner also did well. With a peak thrust of 4,864 lbf as measured by the USC horizontal thrust stand load cell, the total impulse was 41859.0 lbf-sec. Post-test inspections showed good results and the project can move forward with their flight vehicle. Ultimately, the Traveler III will attempt to reach an altitude of 400,000 feet (121.9 km) most likely from Black Rock, Nevada.

USC’s horiztonal thrust stand

The Reaction Research Society (RRS.ORG) is a 501(c)3 educational non-profit group that supports universities, high schools and other responsible private groups with both educational programs and resources for rocket testing. Now in our 75th year as a society, we hope to expand our reach to others as we grow into a new quarter century.

Contact USC RPL or the RRS for more details.
USC RPL contact information

MTA launch event, 2017-11-18

The RRS held a launch event with the Imperial Courts class on November 18, 2017 at our private Mojave Test Area (MTA). This launch event was the latest in a series of events we’ve had through the support of the LAPD CSP program. The event had 13 alpha rockets including 3 of these having smoke tracers in the payload section and the last one with a pair of keychain cameras on the tail. The USC Impact News crew was also in attendance to document this last event in the series with the Imperial Courts class.

Dave Crisalli was our pyro-op for this event. I was glad to assist on the loading and launching operations.

smoke tracer lead wires sticking out from the payload tube

One of the keychain cameras was only a dummy to balance the rocket. The actual camera was first thought to have been destroyed on launch only to be found a few inches into the soil when the rocket was recovered by shovel. We hope to show the footage if the data on the chip was also intact.

last alpha with the two cameras on the fins, one dummy, one actual

smashed keychain camera with XD memory chip still in place

Osvaldo tried a new method of loading of the micrograin propellant in preparing the alphas for this event. His method involved weighing out the whole propellant load and pouring it all at once in a large funnel being careful not to trap air pockets. Knocking on the side of the metal tubes with a wooden hammer is done to encourage settling then slowly lowering a heavy machined aluminum piston on a string down into the tube to gently but firmly tamp the propellant down and get a better and more consistent packing density in the tubes.

big funnel with aluminum piston on a string; new alpha loading method

The weight of the loaded alphas at the MTA before launch did show a small improvement by being slightly heavier from more propellant packed in the same tubes. The main advantage was the loading procedure was less messy than the prior method of incrementally loading the powder propellant then bouncing the bottom of the tube on a wood block. Despite the best efforts with this approach, small air pockets in the packed powder “grain” often results with packets of micrograin burping back up the tube getting on the propellant loader.

Osvaldo gives instructions on the weighing of the alphas before flight

The alphas from Imperial Courts had bright color schemes from each of the individual teams. Having each of the rockets labelled with the paper tags was very helpful in keeping track. We should continue this practice for future events.

alphas from the Imperial Courts class

I have been slowly working on a small horizontal thrust stand to incorporate the load cell transmitter donated to the RRS by Interface Inc.
Interface Inc. – Precision Load Cells

An existing concrete pad with a three anchor-bolt pattern will be used and I have the first piece which is a steel footing plate to mate up with the hole pattern. Many thanks to Matt Moffitt of CNC Specialty Machining of Huntington Beach, CA, for his craftsmanship.

anchor plate for an RRS horizontal thrust stand

The students of Chaminade High School in Chatsworth also hot-fired their 4-inch solid rocket motors of their own making. After resolving some problems with the casing, the results of the firing were good.

4-inch solid motors from Chaminade High School

We also hosted UCLA as they hot-fired their liquid rocket. They attached their propellant tanks to one of our thrust frames for a full system demonstration.

UCLA NO2 and kerosene liquid rocket being mounted for firing

UCLA makes final preparations for firing

After a lot of preparations and waiting until after sunset, UCLA’s hot-fire did not disappoint those of us who stayed into the cool hours of dusk. Their nitrous-oxide and kerosene liquid rocket fired for full duration and to what looked like great results.

UCLA fires for full duration.

RRS director of research, Richard Garcia, with his brick as a camera tripod

We thank all of the parents and the LAPD officers who made the event a success. Also, many thanks to Dave Crisalli and the RRS membership who helped with the hundreds of things that needed to be done. We look forward to the next launch event at the MTA early next year.

MTA launch event, 2017-07-22

The RRS hosted a launch event on Saturday, July 22, 2017, with the students of Jordan Downs, sponsored by the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Community Safety Program (CSP) at our Mojave Test Area (MTA). This launch event was the final part of the educational program put on by the RRS. The event was very successful as we fired 10 student alpha rockets and one more alpha from LAPD.

RRS sign at the MTA entrance

It was a typically hot day (105 F / 41 C) for late July at our private test site the Mojave Desert, but everyone was well prepared. Some even brought umbrellas which was a great idea to stay out of the sun’s rays. The misting fan we bought from Home Depot seemed to work well in the observation bunker. Home Depot was also very kind to donate water misting bottles for this event which helped tremendously in keeping people cool. RRS treasurer, Chris Lujan, was also very well prepared for the event as he saved me with a cold water bottle just after launch. Looking after each other is what we do.

RRS VP Frank Miuccio talks with students from Jordan Downs

Larry addresses the Jordan Downs students at the MTA

Our pyro-op in charge was Dave Crisalli and he gave our safety briefing before we got started. The students were well prepared and seemed to get a lot from it. New RRS member, Alistair Martin was nice enough to film some of the briefing.

Alistair films the burn demonstration

We also gave a propellant burn demonstration after the safety briefing to give everyone an appreciation for the power of the chemicals commonly used in amateur and professional rocketry. I have a still of the sample composite grain below. I took a video of the composite burn and will have it posted on our YouTube channel very soon.

sample composite grain sitting in the cage

Larry and Osvaldo had already loaded the rockets the night before so we could get the event started as quickly as possible. The rockets were safely stored in our old blockhouse ready to go.

Each of the students had painted their rocket with a unique pattern and color scheme to better help identify them later. The photo below is from just after the build event.

Jordan Downs alpha rockets painted and ready

Dave allowed me to assist on the pyro-op duties including rail loading and connecting for firing. As promised, we worked quickly to call out each one as they were loaded in the rails. Dave and I worked very efficiently to get each one off swiftly and safely.

The LAPD rocket was the 11th one in the series. It had a few special features including a smoke tracer in the payload section and a tail-fin mounted camera.

LAPD’s alpha rocket

LAPD payload with red smoke tracker inside

LAPD’s alpha rocket, tail fin camera

The LAPD rocket was able to be recovered shortly after launch thanks to the smoke tracker. The nose cone wasn’t able to be recovered but the camera on the tail fin remained in tact. We have had good luck with one of these keychain cameras in the past. Although the camera imparts a spin on the rocket, the flight is very stable. Once the footage is downloaded, and depending on the quality, the RRS will post it on our YouTube channel. It should be a lot of fun to see (fingers crossed).

YouTube – RRS channel

The specific brand of smoke tracker used was “Enola Gaye”. Given the success of the flight, the RRS should certainly use more of this product in the future. There has been some discussion to increase the number of holes in the payload section to allow more of the smoke product to escape throughout the flight.

Dave Crisalli with the recovered LAPD rocket

Due to the summer heat, the students of Jordan Downs didn’t go downrange to search for their rockets after the launching was over. However, Frank was able to locate and recover (dig up) one from the event.

Frank in the Dosa Bldg. just before going out to search for rockets

The RRS thanks LAPD officers Acuna, Plascencia and Terrazas

The RRS is grateful to all of the parents and adults who supported the event with us. Also, the RRS is grateful to LAPD officers, Acuna, Plascencia and Terrazas, for their help in making this event a big success.

Osvaldo receives Cert of Recognition

University of Southern California (USC) and RRS president, Osvaldo Tarditti, were glad to receive a certificate of recognition from L.A. City Councilman, Joe Buscaino of the 15th district for putting on this event with the students of Jordan Downs in Watts. It is with gratitude that the RRS accepts the certificate and we hope to work again with the students of Jordan Downs and other groups in the city.

As for my own rocket which would have been the 12th alpha launched, an electrical problem with the timer forced me to pass on launch. Although each part of the circuit seemed to work individually when I tested them the night before, the fully integrated system failed the demonstration at the site. Working with Richard and with some more time, I can resolve the issue, improve the design a little, and fly the parachute system in the alpha at the next launch event.

Dave’s alpha parachute deployment system, still in work

UCLA was also at the MTA to continue their work on their liquid rocket project. UCLA proceeded after the Jordan Downs launch, but had an electrical problem which prevented their scheduled cold flow testing. UCLA hopes to reset their efforts and be back at the MTA for more testing in late August.

Chris, Richard and I discussed making some rocket candy (sugar/KNO3) at the MTA loading area, but it seemed that there wasn’t enough time to get things started. With most of the resources already on hand, we’ll wait for the next event for Chris to cook a small batch of this classic amateur rocketry compound for demonstration purposes.

If any one has any pictures or video of the event that they’d like to share on the RRS website. Please send them to me at
Or comment to this posting below.

For more information on the RRS educational programs, please contact us at:

Also, if I have missed or misstated anything, please let me know. Our next monthly meeting will be August 11th at the Ken Nakaoka Community Center in Gardena, CA.