MTA launch, 2020-03-01

by Dave Nordling, RRS.ORG


The RRS held a launch event on Sunday, March 1st, 2020, at the Mojave Test Area.  It was a brisk morning with steady winds that occasionally slowed enough for a safe launch.

This launch event was originally for a university static fire and a few member projects.  The university had to reschedule but we had sufficient interest from our own projects so we held the event.

View from behind the RRS MTA large test stand, 2020-03-01

The weather was a concern with passing storms and rain predicted earlier in the week.  But as often happens, the weather shifted for the better on launch day with winds staying low enough to launch most of our projects.

Wolfram’s booster sits on its stand in the Dosa Building

Wolfram has been working for a few years on his Gas Guzzler ramjet rocket. He is just now entering the first system flight tests to demonstrate the staging and recovery systems.  He filled his ramjet with water in place of the gasoline to have a representative weight.

The Gas GUzzler booster stage on the 1515 rails, loaded and ready
Both stages of the Gas Guzzler sit on the 1515 rails as Wolfram inspects the fit between them

Wolfram was able to load his booster on to the 1515 rails with good alignment. His upper stage had some alignment problems due to using a different prototype for this initial flight.  After some examinations on the pad, he pulled his rocket stages back to the Dosa building for internal adjustments to assure a clean fit between the booster and upper stage.

Kieth Yoerg’s rocket, Charlie Horse is made ready for flight from the 1010 rail
Charlie Horse rises on the black plume of a Smoky Sam high-powered motor.

The next launch was Keith Yoerg’s high powered rocket, Charlie Horse.  He used an I-350 Smoky Sam motor and had a dual-deployment system with a GPS tracker built in.  The flight was smooth off the rails but the trajectory data seemed to show a steady wind pushing west to east. He reached an apogee of around 4000 feet. Recovery wasn’t a problem as his rocket landed just a hundred yards east of the RRS MTA.

Wolfram stands with his ramjet upper stage and its broken cowl piece. Some rework will be required.

Wolfram returned his rocket to the pad but accidentally dropped the second stage breaking a piece of the ramjet plastic cowl on the concrete below.  With this significant disruption of the aerodynamic surface, he was forced to abort the flight and rework this part.  He was also going to check some of the other parts in his assembly for this long-awaited first flight.  It’s important to not rush a project and wait until all is ready for a successful flight.

Osvaldo and Larry check the payload packaging of the hybrid rocket one last time
The hybrid motor is installed and ready for today’s launch.

The next flight was to be the hybrid rocket that Larry, Osvaldo and I have been working. The Contrails H222 motor was safely loaded from last month and after some improvements to the vehicle body for better parachute recovery functions, we felt we were ready.

The winds were still favorable so we proceeded with clearing the area and making our electrical connections back to the old blockhouse.  With just a handful of people and the lightweight vehicle, the old blockhouse was sufficient for our operations that day.

The RRS nitrous oxide bottle ready to fill our hybrid rocket motor

The nitrous bottle was refilled from the prior week and the manifold was plumbed to the vehicle tank.  With the opening of the nitrous bottle, remote operations could begin.  The time of tanking the small 38mm H-motor tank was not precisely known, but was not expected to take very long given basic calculations of the available flow rate.  As expected, the tank volume primed within 15-20 seconds.  We waited a full minute as we were initially unsure of whether the full volume was filled with liquid.  After spotting a jet of liquid escaping from the vehicle body vent, we were assured that the hybrid motor was ready to be ignited. 

Osvaldo conducted the firing operation after a short five-count. The resistor and Pyrodex charge ignited after a slight delay for the resistor to heat up sufficiently. The motor seemed to reach full thrust quickly and leave the rail as expected from the thrust curves from this commercial motor.

Kieth Yoerg’s onboard camera takes a test photo of me loading the hybrid motor on the 1010 rail

The vehicle was spotted tumbling after leaving the rails leading us to believe the rocket was not properly balanced.  More detailed calculations would have been beneficial, but from initial estimates and the heavier recovery system in the extended rocket body, it was believed the rocket would be stable enough.

Examination of Osvaldo’s high speed camera footage from the hybrid flight revealed the reason for the vehicle tumbling.  Some of the frames show that the nitrous fill line remained attached to the rocket during launch and even after clearing the rails. The fill line did snap loose in the flight at some point, but it was supposed to completely sever at ignition.  This imparted a significant torque to the vehicle leading to a tumbling and short trajectory back to ground.

Note the nylon filling line is still attached as the rocket leaves the rails
Just a little later in the high speed footage the fill line and igniter cable start to come out, but the rocket is already knocked off course.
Both the fill line and cables are free of the rocket while the nitrous still flows over the fuel grain and the motor is lit.

Worse, in my rush to get the hybrid loaded on the rails and made ready for filling operations, I forgot to arm the recovery system.  This is a classic mistake and one that I could have easily avoided. 

At least, the other issues with the flight limited the distance the rocket travelled.  The rocket was recovered just north of the 1010 launch rail still within the bounds of the MTA.  The rocket landed on its nose breaking it and significant body tube damage was sustained. After disassembling the hybrid motor from the body, we opted to scrap the rocket body and rebuild a new one for the next flight.  The fill and fire operations were successful and the equipment we built worked fine.

The first hybrid rocket destroyed in flight. A new rocket build will start soon.
The spent hybrid fuel grain extracted from the Controls H222 motor tube.

The Contrails H222 motor parts survived well. We were able to easily remove the motor assembly and disassembled the parts for inspection. The graphite nozzle showed very little ablation and will be reused.  None of the parts had heat damage.  The fuel grain didn’t exhibit much ablation as compared to the other unburned grains we had. The burn duration in flight seemed to be similar to what is shown on the thrust curve, but this should be reviewed against the flight footage.

More review of the flight footage will be necessary to better understand how the hybrid motor operated. We are considering changing the ignition method to use an electric match and maybe a shape charge that would better ignite the hybrid motor.

We are considering building a static testing rig for the hybrid motor to verify some changes we intend to try with the ignition.  There will be more on this subject in later reports.

Larry holds his experimental solid motor, a simple end burner to test his mixture
Larry suspends his motor from an old steel rod from our modular rail system still under repair

Larry Hoffing had built a custom composite solid rocket motor using a spent casing from a commercial solid motor. This simple end-burner grain also had a custom-made nozzle.  Larry had suspended his experimental motor a length of metal piping threaded on our large adjustable box rails that is still undergoing refurbishment.

Still image from Larry’s motor firing, rapid overpressurization just after ignition

Unfortunately, Larry’s motor design was not successful and rapidly overpressurized scattering both end caps and propellant grain fragments across the desert floor.  No fires resulted from this static firing failure and no serious damage was done to nearby structures used for this demonstration.

Larry’s motor case ripped at both ends, back to the drawing board

The last launch attempt was Keith Yoerg’s smaller model rockets using the tiny B and C motors.  The winds became stronger as the day progressed and by that time sustained wind levels were too high for any launch particularly for such a small vehicle.  These rockets would be saved for a later event and Keith began examining his Charlie Horse rocket and its camera footage.

Kieth’s model rocket launcher being brought back to the Dosa Building as high winds prevented further launches that day.
Tiny desert flowers bloom in the spring at the RRS MTA

It was a good day for the RRS to have a launch event exclusively for our member projects. We plan to hold more of these events for both universities and our membership very soon.


MTA launch, 2020-02-22

by Dave Nordling, RRS.ORG


The Reaction Research Society (RRS) held a launch and static fire event for three UCLA teams and one of our own RRS teams at the Mojave Test Area (MTA) on Saturday, 2/22/2020. Poor weather was a persistent threat from the day before with light rains coming and going from the early morning hours and even throughout the launch day. Winds calmed just enough for a successful rail launch of UCLA’s solid rocket motor. Fortune favors the bold and this proverb did not disappoint our participants that day at the MTA.

Rain clouds still filled the skies on a very calm morning. Preparations began for UCLA’s solid rocket motor launch from our rail.

With the liquid and hybrid rockets, Osvaldo Tarditti, our RRS president was our pyro-op in charge. I served as his apprentice for this event as part of building my experience for becoming a pyrotechnic operator 1st Class. This was the second of two apprenticeships I have served under two first class pyrotechnic operators. Osvaldo gave our safety briefing to all of our attendees that day before beginning the scheduled events.

UCLA gathers around to hear our safety briefing. Most have been to the RRS MTA before but we give the briefing each time to reinforce good practices.

UCLA had three projects ready for flight or static-fire at the MTA. The first was the solid motor driven rocket built by the UCLA Project Prometheus team. They were using a commercial K-sized motor with a vehicle equipped with a downward-facing camera built into the lower body.

UCLA’s Project Prometheus built a rail-launched rocket with a commercial solid motor.
The Gerald Ticonderocket in the color scheme of a common wooden pencil.

Elizabeth, the UCLA team leader for this solid rocket project assisted me with the launch preparations. The rail launched rocket worked perfectly and the recovery system operation was visually confirmed as it descended to the west of our launch site.

My 2-1/2 inch rocket with a commercial H-222 hybrid motor from Contrails Rocketry. The body has been extended for better packaging.
The motor has been successfully loaded into the body tube complete with retainer. All that remains is to complete the recovery system packaging and find our next opportunity to launch.

Larry, Osvaldo and I have made progress on improving the 2-1/2 inch rocket with a commercial H-sized hybrid motor. Larry made an extension on the payload tube to fit all of the recovery system more easily. We have the Contrails H222 motor fully integrated and ready for loading.

The RRS reloaded and refurbished our nitrous bottle and valve manifold, but we didn’t get to loading operations.

Our nitrous bottle was refurbished and reloaded for the testing and we successfully conducted a valve test of the manifold that verified that our control box works well. We were reworking the black powder charge and repacking the parachute when the weather shifted and the winds picked up.

Weather changes quickly in the desert. Our smaller rocket missed our window for launch that day.

The weather was perfect 15 minutes earlier with the launch of UCLA’s solid motor, but at the time we were discussing launch of our hybrid motor it became clear the weather would be getting worse and winds too strong for launch of a smaller rocket such as ours. Since the RRS will be returning to the MTA site on Sunday, March 1. We figured we would do some minor improvements to the payload packaging and try again when we are fully confident and hopefully with better weather for the flight.

The hybrid motor is secured to the RRS I-beam. This is one of the very first assets of the society which predates our arrival to this MTA site.
UCLA hybrid rocket team making load cell adjustments on their thrust stand before hot-fire.

UCLA’s hybrid rocket team under the same name, Project Prometheus, sought to static fire a commercial M-sized hybrid motor as part of getting ready for a flight later this semester. They secured their test stand vertically to our historical I-beam location which was the original article from even before the RRS moved to the current MTA site in 1955. The RRS was glad to assist UCLA in securing to this location and making ready for nitrous oxide fill operations then ignition for static fire measurements.

Hot-fire of the hybrid motor took place around 5pm which by all appearances was a success. The motor case was intact and post-flight assessments looked promising, but an error in data acquisition resulted in no thrust measurements being recorded despite successes in pre-test checkout. UCLA is considering re-attempting this testing at the RRS MTA very soon.

UCLA working on their liquid rocket’s pressurant system.

The last of the three projects would be the static fire of the liquid rocket for Project Ares. The liquid rocket team mounted their hardware to the vertical test stand simultaneously as the hybrid rocket team mounted to the I-beam thrust stand. Both teams worked hard to be ready before the other but in the end, the liquid rocket took longer to be ready.

This would be a second attempt to static fire their liquid rocket system from 2/1/2020 at the RRS MTA. UCLA had been finding and fixing leaks in their pressurization system in the weeks leading before this test.

Making some preliminary checks before commencing liquid oxygen tanking of the rocket.

They proved their fixes before departing to the RRS MTA, but again ran into problems with leakage in the pressurant system. After several more repairs and discussion with the team and pyro-op in charge, the decision was made to proceed. All other systems had passed checks and the leak rates measured were consistent and would only reduce the burn time while assuring safe engine hot-fire.

UCLA begins the final operations following their proven checklist.

Around 5:30pm in the last light of that long day, UCLA’s liquid rocket was proven in a brilliant, steady and powerful hot-fire of their ethanol-LOX propellant liquid rocket. It was an exciting time which showed reasonable thrust results that led UCLA to conclude that the testing that day was sufficient to proceed with flight vehicle integration operations for their motor.

UCLA’s static fire on 02/22/2020 was steady and well controlled.
All initial inspections of the liquid motor looked good. Preliminary review of the data was encouraging and will be useful in grounding their vehicle performance predictions.
In the last rays of daylight, all three UCLA teams pose with their project’s pride at the RRS MTA vertical test stand.

UCLA did a great job of cleaning up at the site. They also returned the LOX dewar back to the nearby Friends of Amateur Rocketry site. We’re thankful to everyone who made this day a triple success. Our next launch event is scheduled for March 1st. We’ll also discuss this and our other recent MTA events at the next RRS meeting on March 13, 2020.


November 2019 meeting

by Dave Nordling, Secretary, Reaction Research Society


The Reaction Research Society (RRS) held it’s monthly meeting on November 8, 2019 at the Ken Nakaoka Community Center in Gardena, California. The society had a full agenda plus our annual nominations for the executive council. Frank Miuccio attempted to establish a teleconference at the meeting to connect our director of research, Richard Garcia, and an outside organization that wanted to address the society. This teleconferencing was successful and the society will consider having more of these to help bring in more participants on special topics.

[1] Treasurer’s report on membership and dues status

The RRS treasurer is conducting a review of our membership roster to not only update our records with the many new members that have joined us this year, but also to determine the dues status for each. Like in all non-profit organizations, regular annual dues payment is essential to keeping the society funded for the many projects we do and are planning. Upgrades at the MTA are also impacted if our membership does not keep their dues payments current.

Chris’s report was not ready at this month’s meeting, but he will be soon notifying some of our delinquent members that they need to keep their dues paid to remain in active status. It is the duty of all RRS members to keep their contact information current with the RRS treasurer. The society can not be responsible for missing communications if our members do not do their part by making communication possible. Also, members who are not current in their dues payment risk losing their active status with the society.

treasurer@rrs.org

I have always paid my dues to the society on January 1st of each new year. This greatly simplifies the process and I need no reminder to do so. Membership dues ($40 USD per year) to the society can be paid through the “Donate” button on the RRS.ORG website which links to Paypal.

We remind all of our donors and those paying dues in this manner to include your name in the “Notes” section along with the purpose of your donation. Without including your name, the RRS can not tell who has paid their dues.

The RRS.ORG website has more information on this subject. For any questions, please contact the RRS treasurer.

[2] Update on the next RRS MTA launch event with LAPD CSP and 99th Street Elementary School

Frank, Larry and Osvaldo are in the middle of another class, this time with 99th Street Elementary in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Community Safety Partnership (CSP). The class is going well and the final launch event is still planned for Saturday, December 7, 2019.

At this same launch event, we are also planning to host the University of Southern California’s (USC) Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RPL) with the launch of their latest solid motor powered rocket. USC has been making continuing progress even after their landmark flight to be the first university-built rocket to break the von Karman line into space.

[3] Preparations for the 2020 RRS symposium

With the society approving the symposium for our fourth year in a row, Frank is working with the Ken Nakaoka Community Center to establish the date. Tentatively, the 2020 RRS symposium will be held Saturday, March 28, 2020. The society has decided to try to hold the symposium earlier in the year to avoid the onset of the summer heat which makes the event very uncomfortable in the absence of climate control at the Ken Nakaoka Community Center.

Future site of the 2020 RRS symposium

More information on this subject will be posted as it develops. Our symposium coordinator for the 2020 event will again be our society vice president, Frank Miuccio.

vicepresident@rrs.org

[4] RRS solid propellant making classes at the MTA

The RRS has been approached by an outside organization about conducting solid propellant motor making classes. Many years ago, the RRS held a few of these events which became very popular. The RRS has not yet decided if we will restart these classes, but a group is examining the possibility and will report back to the society on the viability of such a project.

composite grain, before and after

[5] 2020 Constitutional Committee progress report

pending… carried over from October 2019 meeting report

[6] Annual elections for the RRS executive council

As required by our Constitution, the RRS appoints an election chairman to oversee and execute the process of nominations and balloting for each of the four executive council offices for new terms starting in the new calendar year. Larry Hoffing, again, agreed to be our election chairman for this cycle.

Nominations were held and were open to our administrative membership. Nominations were received and our election chairman will be sending out ballots by email. This is another good example of why all members should keep their contact information current and remain in active status with the society. Balloting will be closed prior to the next monthly meeting in December and the results announced at that meeting.

[7] CSFM committee on amateur rocketry

Last month, the RRS and Mark Holthaus of the Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) met to discuss a list of proposed changes to the California State Fire Marshal’s (CSFM) definitions that govern amateur rocketry. This small group was intended to be made from active amateur rocketry groups around California to help advise the CSFM subcommittee on changes that would help improve regulation of amateur rocketry and make needed clarifications to help all groups continue to operate safely and legally.

from left to right, Mark Holthaus (Treasurer of FAR), Osvaldo Tarditti (RRS president), Larry Hoffing (RRS events coordinator), Dave Nordling (RRS secretary) meet to discuss proposed definition changes to CSFM laws governing amateur rocketry, 10/15/2019

The RRS and FAR held a second meeting at the Ken Nakaoka Community Center which included David Reese of the Rocketry Organization of California (ROC). ROC members, Chris Kobel and David Reese have been very helpful in providing helpful improvements to how the certain classes of rocketry are defined.

This amateur rocketry committee will be presenting their collective suggestions to the Fire Marshal in early December 2019. The RRS, FAR, ROC and the rest of the amateur rocketry groups in California are glad to assist the CSFM office in making these suggested updates.

[8] Social media updates

There was no report from Alastair Martin and/or Bill Janczewski this month for social media improvements for the Reaction Research Society. We hope to have more to discuss in the next month on this regular topic. As always, members are welcome to offer their advice and proposals to either or both of our media coordinators.

Alastair and I did have a conversation about expanding our following on Instagram. We will continue to show the highlights of our events and the people involved, but I hope to bring more technical content which seems to be our primary source of interest.

See the RRS on Instagram: reactionresearchsociety

Alastair and his production company, Production Tribe LLC, has created yet another podcast in the “Before SpaceX” series with special guest, rocket propulsion expert, author and RRS member, James R. “Jim” French. RRS secretary, Dave Nordling, and RRS director of research, Richard Garcia, supported this excellent discussion about the American Rocket Company (AMROC), a space start-up company in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The show is still in editing and will be posted very soon his website.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/rocket-talk-radio/id1474556513

[9] Compton Comet STEM club formation and program

Several students from the Compton College STEM club attended the November meeting of the RRS along with their advisor and fellow RRS member, Kent Schwitkis. Jamie Alvarez, the STEM club president was in attendance. The Compton Comet is the project name for the liquid rocket projects that the Compton College team is working on. There are about 20 students in the group and the RRS is glad to support this team and the other university teams looking to compete or at least expand their range of practical skills.

The Compton Comet team has been holding meetings at Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (TAM) at the Compton/Woodley airport. They are planning a few trips to inspect launch and additional hardware assembly sites and make a report back to the RRS at the December 2019 meeting. RRS member, Waldo Stakes, has also been an important part of this program.

The STEM club is having another Estes rocket competition later this month. The first of these events was very successful. Part of the experience is getting practice with the simpler rockets and using OpenRocket simulation software to make and verify predictions.

IN CLOSING

RRS members, Frank Miuccio, Alastair Martin and Kent Schwitkis contributed to this report. The next RRS meeting will be December 13, 2019. If there are any corrections or additions to make for the monthly report, please contact the RRS secretary.

secretary@rrs.org