MTA launch event, 2020-12-12

by Dave Nordling, Reaction Research Society

The RRS held it’s last launch event of this difficult but eventful year, 2020. COVID-19 continues to pose a significant threat to the wellbeing of our members and the world at large. One of the advantages of our remote testing site is the ease that our members can socially distance themselves and with masks and proper planning of shared tasks the risk of contagion is easily mitigated. I was the pyro-op in charge for this event. We had three planned launches that would depend on good weather and a work task to repair our vertical test stand.

The winds were strong that day coming into the MTA site from the western route. A lot of sand swirling was a poor omen for the weather that day.

My late arrival found our participants waiting at the gate and with my apologies we entered and began our set up.

Wolfram Blume’s Gas Guzzler was to take it’s first flight today, but he decided to scrub for the day. The winds were a persistent nuisance and prevented launch operations for much of the day, but after 2pm calm winds prevailed. It is difficult to know when the weather will change except that it inevitably does. Wolfram’s first flight will have to wait for the new year,

The Gas Guzzler solid-motor booster stage to the left, the gasoline-fueled ramjet upper stage to the right.


The vertical launch structure at the RRS MTA has had a bent panel from an explosion from a failed test over a decade or more ago. This stretched 1/4” steel panel was significantly bowed away from the others which made mounting very difficult. Replacement panels were made back in October, but today was the day the bent panel would be cut away and the sides grinded to fit the replacement panel.

Dimitri Timohovich was able to cut away the bent panel using a length of aluminum channel clamped to the side for careful alignment of the plasma cutting process.

Dimitri Timohovich cutting away the bent panel from the vertical test stand.
The bent panel removed.

Dmitri brings a lot of mechanical skills and the society is grateful he joined us in helping make improvements to our site. The winds were too high that day for the shield gas flow needed in the welding process. The edges were blended to allow the replacement panel to be fitted accurately within the vertical launch rail using two lengths of unistrut. With careful measurements and the right equipment, Dmitri or Waldo Stakes can stick-weld the replacememt panel in place and keep a reasonable horizontal and vertical positional accuracy with the hole patterns of the plates above and below,

The replacement panel was bolted and held in place for the weld operations to take place at a later date.

The last step after a successful welding of the replacement panel would be applying the spray-on galvanizing paint product to protect the metal from the caustic and harsh desert environment for years to come, The unistrut pieces looked to be handy for future projects so we decided to leave them in place.


Bill Inman and his colleague from Nevada arrived with a third design iteration to his parabolic solar collector heating system for his two-inch steam rocket, This design featured a larger area collector and a launch rail system for his 2-inch SimpleCat steam rocket prototype. The launch rails guide the 2-inch steam rocket vessel at the collector’s focus for heating. At the exhaust end of the rails is the steam release mechanism that was simplified from prior successful designs.

It was dubious if the launch would even be possible that day but Bill’s solar collector system could be deployed from his trailer on our site and at least collect heating data even if the steam rocket wouldn’t fly.

After correcting some initial fit problems, the larger parabolic mirror was deployed.
The new solar collector in work under the early high winds and poor winter sunlight.

Launching was not possible for much of the day so the two groups waited for an opportunity. Bill Inman reviewed with me his steam rocket design and it’s simplified nozzle plug release design, The steam rocket despite its conceptual simplicity has many dangers. The mechanism for controlled release of the 400 degree Fahrenheit pressurized water liquid must be stable, sturdy, reliable and safe to remotely operate, Keeping a safe distance during the planned 3 to 4 hour solar heating cycle is crucial and having the continuous ability to safely scram the system at a safe distance is an absolute must. Bill’s design has a relief valve to avoid vessel over-pressure and relies on defocusing the sun away from the vessel if an abort is necessary, Removing the heat source immediately allows the fluid and vessel to cool if left alone for an hour or more and will ultimately return to ambient temperature once the heat source is removed,

During deployment, the solar collector and mounting frame had several fit problems which were solved at the site. The sun wasn’t consistent that day, but the mechanism held sturdy in the periodic gusting winds. By the end of the day, the collector was not able to generate sufficient heating for the rocket, but the experience in the field was valuable. Bill will be returning in the new year to try again.

Bill Inman at the end of an unsuccessful test at the MTA on 12-12-2020

Bill was disappointed in the results from that day’s activities as this month would have marked the 20th anniversary of his original successful flight of the Scalded Cat from the RRS MTA. I told him to take comfort in the fact that he has come a long way in a short time building three prototype devices in the same number of months. Bill is prolific and dedicated to his goal of being successful. Time should prove the value of patience and persistence.


My patience with the weather was ultimately rewarded as the winds subsided just after 2PM that day. I decided to make the next attempt to launch the larger 3-inch rocket that Larry Hoffing built that is adapted to fit the 16-inch Contrails Rocketry hybrid 38mm motor. A more energetic ignition system able to simultaneously sever the nylon fill line and ignite the combustion of the hybrid solid propellant grain was added and ready since the past July 2020 event. With the cooler temperatures, the solenoid filling valve would likely open according to the pressure gauge on our red supply bottle from Nitrous Supply Inc. in Huntington Beach,

The nitrous oxide hybrid rocket sits on the table in the Dosa Building at the MTA waiting for the winds to subside.

Dmitri Timohovich helped me set up the nitrous oxide bottle and manifold. The two-channel filling and firing circuit needed some labelling to clarify the proper wiring. A new lead-acid 12-volt lawnmower battery was acquired for the society as the previous one finally had to be retired and recycled. The new battery was ready for a launch that would ultimately not happen that day.

The rocket’s recovery system passed checkout as the original internal 9-volt battery installed months earlier was still healthy, The venting tube needed to be realigned with the exit hole to allow the white jet of liquid to be visually indicated when the nitrous volume is fully filled. It is important to detect this at a distance from the blockhouse as it is not safe to examine it more closely.

Fill, drain and firing circuit for a Contrails hybrid rocket motor

The launch would not take place due to a missing push-to-connect fitting to join the fluid filling tube from the rocket back to the nitrous manifold. The schematic above shows the key parts of the system minus the separate vent solenoid that failed on the original manifold, It is always frustrating to be missing one critical item despite days of preparation. After a lot of searching in vain for a single fitting, the container of materials will be better organized in the future and extra 3/16” push-to-connect Prestolok fittings will be ordered to arrive in time for the next launch event.

It was all the more painful to stand at the MTA under nearly calm winds and have to wait for another day. These are the trials and tribulations of rocketry,

Bill Inman and John Krell next to the old blockhouse at the RRS MTA.

At the end of the day, we gathered to discuss the progress or lack thereof that day. We made plans for the next launch event which seems to be best held on January 9th. We were glad for each other’s company and stayed at a safe distance throughout, We’ll return again to the MTA soon.

December 2020 virtual meeting

By the Reaction Research Society

The Reaction Research Society held its last monthly meeting of this difficult and eventful year 2020 on Friday, the 11th. The teleconference was well attended and included some students from Loyola Marymount University. We began the meeting with the treasurer’s report and moved to the first order of business.

Our meetings by teleconference will continue into the new year.


The results of the election were presented by this year’s appointed election chairman, Dave Nordling. The full slate of nominees were elected from the nominations at the November meeting.

President = Osvaldo Tarditti

Vice President = Frank Miuccio

Secretary = Keith Yoerg

Treasurer = Larry Hoffing

The society thanks our outgoing secretary and treasurer, Drew Cortopassi and Chris Lujan respectively, for their service in this year, 2020. We welcome our new executive council members as they start their annual term on January 1, 2021

We appreciate the many voting members who responded this year. The society was sad to learn of the passing of two of our lifetime members, Thomas McGaffey and Mike Gottlieb.


The RRS treasurer reminds our society membership that annual dues are to be paid on January 1st of each year. This is a continuation of RRS policy set forth by the executive council in 2019. In year 2021, membership dues have increased for student membership while full membership dues remain the same. As always, student membership in the RRS is valid all year regardless of how many events we hold.

Full membership = $40 USD / year

Student membership = $30 USD / year

Annual membership dues are an important source of revenue to support the society’s operational costs. Associate, administrative, student and corresponding members are required to have their dues be fully paid to maintain active membership status.

For questions regarding dues payments, contact the RRS treasurer:

There are two common means of dues payment:

(1) Click the “Donate” button on the RRS website which links to Paypal. This is the easiest method for the society to receive and confirm payment. When using this method of payment, please make a note that you are paying ‘annual dues’ and the name of the person it is for. The Paypal website gives you the option to share your address with the society, Please do so as this marks who the payment is from. Contact the RRS treasurer if you have questions.

(2) Payment by check can be submitted to our post office box in Los Angeles. As the executive council checks the post office box only periodically, it may take some time for your payment to register. With all mailed correspondence, please email or call the RRS treasurer to let them know it is coming.

Reaction Research Society
P. O. Box 90933
Los Angeles, California, 90009-0933

When making your dues payment, it is also important to update your contact information with the RRS treasurer. It is the responsibility of the RRS treasurer to maintain the membership roster and record payment of membership dues. It is the sole responsibility of every member, past and present, to keep their email and other contact information up to date with the society.


Keith Yoerg announced he has made significant progress in his application to becoming a licensed pyrotechnic operator. The RRS has been supportive of increasing our roster of pyro-op’s. Keith is one of several RRS members in this process. The RRS and the Friends of Amateur Rocketry organization have been working with CALFIRE since last year on improving definitions for state regulations on amateur rocketry in California. Our two organizations have been supportive of each other’s members’ desire for training and instruction in the course of becoming licensed pyro-op’s. It is to our mutual benefit to have more people knowledgeable about safe operations in our hobby.


The RRS continues to evaluate its options for an improved restroom facility at the MTA. The council has put this as the top concern and is in the process of evaluating bids. The society would like to proceed with a replacement during this winter season. More storage space, replacing the roof on the old blockhouse and finding a towable fire-wagon with a water pump are also on our list of improvements.


The RRS has a scheduled launch event on December 12th. Dave Nordling will be the pyro-op in charge for this event. Three launches are planned including Wolfram Blume’s first systems flight test of his two-stage Gas Guzzler ramjet and Dave Nordling’s and Larry Hoffing’s 3-inch rocket with an improved nitrous oxide hybrid motor. Bill Inman also plans to be at the MTA to test his third design iteration of his solar collector which will now include his launch rail and his new SimpleCat 2-inch steam rocket.


The society was happy to welcome upperclassmen students from Loyola Marymount University to our December meeting teleconference. Loyola MARS is a recurring senior capstone project to incrementally design, build, test and fly liquid rockets leading to a final design capable of reaching the von Karman line in under 10 years. It is an ambitious project that was inspired by the former Base11 competition. The RRS has supported the Loyola MARS team since its start and was impressed by their initial systems design. The society looks forward to supporting their first fluid systems tests and static hot-firing at the MTA in the coming new year.

As an educational non-profit group, the RRS provides assistance to several local universities who are building rockets for class projects. We welcome student groups to indicate their interest in attending our meetings by contacting the RRS executive council.


2020 Constitutional Committee is overdue in presenting the new draft and policy statements to our active membership for review. This will be delivered at next month’s meeting by the appointed committee. Once our membership has had the chance to offer it’s feedback and suggestions, the new Constitution will be sent to our voting membership for ratification.

The RRS treasurer’s report on membership status will also be deferred to next month’s meeting.

The RRS wishes everyone to be safe in this holiday season and take appropriate precautions in this COVID-19 pandemic.

The next monthly meeting will be on Friday, January 8, 2021.