The Reaction Research Society held an event at the Mojave Test Area (MTA) on May 1, 2021. Dave Crisalli was the pyrotechnic operator in charge. RRS president, Osvaldo Tarditti, was also present along with myself, It was not to be a launch event as all planned tests were static firings by the UCLA liquid rocket team and the UCLA hybrid motor team. The winds were very high that day consistently above 20 MPH and gusts above 50 MPH at times. The weather otherwise was very cooperative with comfortable temperatures.
Dave Crisalli gave a safety briefing in the George Dosa building to all attendees before the first static fire campaign would begin. The RRS pyrotechnic operator in charge is responsible for the safety of all during the event. Hazard identification (spiders, snakes, sharp objects) and good practices (hydration, sunscreen) are always part of the briefing, One of the most important things, Dave Crisalli mentioned was not to be in a hurry. It is very important to take the proper time to do things correctly and safely even if it means not proceeding with the intended test that day. Taking your time means avoiding mistakes and improving your chances for success.
RRS members, Bill Inman and John Wells came to the MTA for the event, but only as spectators. The Solar Cat project is still active and undergoing improvements to its sun tracking method. Bill is also expanding the collector area and adjusting the necessary support structures. It is likely Bill and John will be back for the next RRS MTA event.
Also in attendance was the Compton Comet team who have all recently joined the society as members. It was their first time visiting the MTA and getting a chance to see another university team conduct liquid rocket test operations at our vertical test stand.
RRS member, Wolfram Blume came by the RRS MTA to take measurements of the vertical test stand for a future static fire test of his ramjet upper stage engine. He intends to use a leaf-blower compressor motor to simulate foward air flow, but a lot of calculations and planning is required before proceeding. The vertical test stand has a winch and pulley system still attached from Richard Garcia’s liquid motor test in 2017. It should be adequate for Wolfram’s lifting needs when mounting the test equipment to the stand.
The UCLA team spent the night before on our site setting up their equipment. This advanced planning paid off as they were ready for the first of two hot-fires of the liquid rocket just past noon.
Often, it can take several hours to verify all systems are in good working order before testing especially with a liquid rocket, The hybrid rocket was no exception that day.
One of the two load cells had failed so the two teams had to share the same load cell between the hybrid motor and liquid motor firings. UCLA chose to let the hybrid team go next after successful results were seen with the first firing, The UCLA hybrid motor team corrected a few issues and were able conduct a successful hot-fire by late afternoon.
The society members in attendance also had time to make some minor repairs to the new mobile trailer asset, A steel plate was added to keep intruders from entering. Thanks to Waldo Stakes for doing the welding for this temporary fix.
There was sufficient daylight remaining for a second hot-fire of the UCLA liquid rocket, The team had another engine with the previous injector design from last built and ready with a fresh internal ablative liner. They had retanked another load of ethanol and the liquid oxygen cylinder had sufficient stores for another loading cycle.
Thanks to the hard-won, acquired experience of the UCLA team and their commitment to training new members and holding to their proven procedures, they were able to conduct the second firing safely for an impressive finish that day.
Initial data from both UCLA static firings of their liquid motor suggest that the 650 lbf nominal thrust motor outperformed expectations and will be ready for vehicle integration and flight by May 29, 2021. The UCLA team had reason to celebrate at the end of the day. The RRS was glad to be a part of UCLA’s continued campaign to fly liquid rockets that are competitive with any university team in the country.
For other universities interested in working with the RRS, please contact the society president submitting a Standard Record Form downloaded from our website,
Based on the recent lacking performance of the Contrails H222 nitrous oxide commercial hybrid motor, a pair of static fire tests were conducted to improve the ignition and severance of the nylon fill line. The latest of these static firings was conducted at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry site south of the RRS MTA on 4-17-2021. This was done for simple convenience since I was unable to attend the MTA launch event in the week prior. Mark Holthaus and John Newman oversaw my static firing and offered good advice. Fellow RRS member, Dmitri Timohovich, joined me that day and brought his four channel firing box to conduct the remote fill and fire operations of the hybrid.
Nylon is one of the stronger polymer tubing materials which can handle the 900 to 1200 psig nitrous oxide pressure when flow is supplied from the solenoid valve controlled manifold. The problem is that this strength makes it difficult to quickly and cleanly sever the Parker NBR brand, 3/16” OD fill line allowing the nitrous oxide to flow against the fuel grain while getting reliable ignition.
The original ignition method as designed by the manufacturer is a small resistor in place of an electric match and the use of a Pyrodex pellet which is essentially a pressed cylinder of black powder. The first flight attempt of the nitrous oxide hybrid rocket used this method but was not successful.
Earlier builds of the hybrid motor used electric matches and small scraps of composite propellant grain for a swifter and hotter ignition. The first two flights showed evidence of the fill line remaining connected. A better means of ignition and fill line severance was needed.
The composite propellant is an ammonium perchlorate, aluminum powder and HTPB binder mixture with some red iron oxide used as an accelerant. These scraps were from RRS member, Larry Hoffing’s, small solid motor that he unsuccessfully tested at the MTA in 2019.
The last static test at the MTA failed to achieve ignition and only created a small tear in the fill line without achieving ignition of the grain. The composite fuel grain fragments were getting clean ignition but the electrical tape wrapping method I used failed to adequately focus the high temperatures to getting clean ignition and severance of the black nylon fill line.
At John Newman’s suggestion, we used a small ring of composite propellant grain at the forward end inside the hybrid high-performance (HP) fuel grain. These were made from a 22mm cylinder that was cut to a 3/4-inch length and drilled out to a 3/8-inch hole size which is roughly twice the diameter of the black nylon filling line passing through. This larger hole would allow the electric match head to be in close contact with composite propellant ring. As the solid propellant charge burns it focuses the tremendous heat of combustion on the nylon fill line causing it to soften, extrude and cleanly sever.
With everything in place, we called over the pyrotechnic operators in charge for this FAR event. After inspecting the connections and describing the fill and fire procedures, we were authorized to begin the short filling process.
The hybrid motor was loaded, fired, reloaded and fired again. Both times stable ignition was achieved and the fill line dropped out of the motor as expected. We had to abort the initial second firing as visual confirmation of the nitrous oxide completing fill was not apparent. Given the hybrid motor has a small weep hole in the head end of the motor means that given time the nitrous oxide will leak out safely. The clear 1/8” acrylic vent line had become tangled in the unistrut obscuring the liquid plume. Trimming the acrylic vent line helped to keep the tip more visible on the second and last firing that day.
The next step will be to purchase a 75mm rocket body able to integrate the 16-inch long, 38mm standard hybrid motor inside. The 3-inch Little John rocket from Mad Cow Rocketry was selected and should arrive soon. With luck, the rocket can be built and ready for 1010-rail launched flight at the next RRS MTA event on 5/1/2021.
The RRS is thankful for the support of FAR at their facility for this static fire. Dmitri and I conducted a safe dispoal burn of the scrap propellant. I was able to acquire a few more propellant ring segments for subsequent tests of the hybrid in flight. Later, we plan to revisit the Pyrodex black powder charges with the electric resistors as the initiator. It is not clear if this will be as effective as the high temperature composite grains and an electric match, but it is worth a try.
The RRS held a launch event at our Mojave Test Area (MTA) on March 20, 2021, the spring equinox. COVID-19 still remains a threat so everyone had to observe protective protocols. We had a lot of wind that day making launch impractical, but we still were able to get many things done that day including another static fire of a hybrid motor, some system checkouts of the Gas Guzzler and a possible flight of the Solar Cat steam rocket. Osvaldo Tarditti was our pyrotechnic operator in charge. Also joining us that day was fellow Rockets 2nd Class pyrotechnic operator and RRS member, Jim Gross,
MOBILE TRAILER CLEANUP
Mike Gottlieb was a lifetime member of the RRS who passed away over 2 years ago. Years prior, he had acquired a surplus mobile trailer from the former Rockwell International company which was left to reside at the RRS MTA. By permission from his surviving family, this single-axle, climate controlled trailer has been donated to the society. The trailer was opened by the RRS president and the interior inspected by our members present at our March 2021 launch event.
For now, the space will be used for light storage until more space can be acquired elsewhere. We used the time to reorganize the contents of our storage trailer. We hope to renovate this new mobile trailer soon and restore its climate control systems which will be convenient in the summer months.
PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM AT THE MTA
During the cleaning and reorganization of our storage space, we pulled out the public address equipment we had. The 12 VDC battery powered system including loud speaker and microphones worked well in a test from the old blockhouse. The society has talked about having a more distributed system around the main areas of the site. This will require some further equipment purchases, but for now we have a core system to start from. The goal is to make coordination of our events easier to do when we have large groups of people at the MTA again. Further still, we’d like to coordinate launch timing better with our neighboring amateur rocketry group (FAR) to our south.
NEW RESTROOM FACILITY
As discussed at the March 2021 monthly meeting, the society is going forward with building a new restroom facility with flushing toilets. This will be a big convenience to our visitors and members alike. The executive council has received bids and plans for the restroom and is working with suppliers to find the best solution given our budget. We are grateful to our generous benefactor and the many people who supported this project with their time and skills. More progress should be made soon as we would like to deploy this facility before the hot summer months arrive this year.
FIRST FLIGHT OF THE SOLAR CATFROM THE MTA
Bill Inman and new member Jonathan Wells returned to the MTA for another attempt to launch the solar powered steam rocket, the Solar Cat. He has been making many adjustments and had his first launch near his home in Carson City. Today would be his first launch of his Solar Cat from the MTA.
Bill was able to work out minor problems on his trailer mounted systems last month and was fully ready to use his solar heating and tracking system for the hours necessary to reach launching temperatures of the stored water load in his steam rocket.
Bill has had some minor problems with the release system which led to a unintended release of the rocket. No one was injured but it did cost him several useful hours for insolation (heating). His second attempt was only a partial heat load but sufficient to conduct the first (technically second) flight at the MTA. Keith Yoerg managed to capture the short flight in the late afternoon. It’s a bit comical to watch given how short the flight was, but it is a significant milestone in getting this non-traditional form of liquid propulsion to work. We look forward to the advancements, Bill will make for future flights from the MTA.
REBUILD AND SYSTEMS CHECK OF THE GAS GUZZLER
Wolfram Blume had made several improvements since his last flight attempt of his two-stage ramjet-solid motor rocket. He was able to correct software issues but also made physical feature changes to his booster. Wind speeds were excessive for much of the day, so he used his time at the MTA for fit checks while on the 1515 rail launcher.
Wolfram was able to conduct his tests making use of the 1515 rail launcher. He left in the afternoon after completing his tests and will return for our next launch event planned for April 10. 2021.
WIRELESS FIRE CONTROL AT THE MTA
Wireless fire control is a remote means of conducting launch without stringing long wire connections. This has been a controversial subject at the RRS with some of our members actively supporting using these systems and others being skeptical about their safety.
Richard Dierking mentioned the Wilson F/X wireless firing system which has been used at the Rocketry Organization of California (ROC) and at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) site. Fellow RRS member, Dmitri Timohovich, has used Cobra Firing Systems for pyrotechnic events in the movie business with success. He brought one of these systems to demonstrate at the MTA with test bulbs. The 64-bit encryption in this system vastly reduces the possibility of stray signals causing an unintended firing.
A decision was made at the March 2021 meeting to proceed with care by testing one of these wireless fire control systems with only low-power simple model rockets. We also thought meeting with a sales representative or technical advisor from a wireless fire control system manufacturer to explain the safety of these systems to the society would be an excellent idea. Some of our members have had a negative experience with these systems with unintentionally firing. Older wireless fire control systems have had safety issues. Safety in operations with pyrotechnics of any kind is of paramount importance.
The RRS plans to educate themselves further about wireless firing system technology before making any further policy decisions. It is agreed that every pyro-op in charge at the event has the final say about what systems are and are not allowed at the event. The best course of action for any project leader is to discuss all aspects of their test or launch with the pyro-op in charge well in advance of the event at the MTA.
STATIC FIRING OF THE HYBRID MOTOR
The last two firings of the Contrails H222 38mm 16-inch hybrid motor left some questions about how reliable the ignition of the motor is. From both prior flights, it was evident that quick severance of the nylon plastic fill line at the launch command was not happening. Altitude was very low from such a powerful motor according to the curve. Since the last flight damaged the rocket body beyond repair, the next firing was intended to watch the startup sequence in careful detail under static conditions.
The motor survived in tact from the last short flight, The nozzle, spent grain and floating injector were shoved forward from the impact, but all parts were able to be removed, cleaned and reassembled for another firing with the last of my three fuel grains from the kit.
The static test firing was done on the vertical test stand using a simple wooden fixture and 1/2-inch fasteners. The fixture was built quickly and unfortunately not perfectly. We had to fire the motor upside-down which is not representative of how the engine flies.
The igniter used in the 3-20-2021 test used an electric match as was done in the second test. The kit comes with an electric resistor. In the first test, this was insufficient to get ignition and sever the fill line. Second firing used an electric match and a fragment of composite propellant. This achieved ignition but the fill line wasn’t fully severed. The third attempt used a similar load with a bit more composite propellant. The idea was to produce an ignition flame hot and fast enough to soften and sever the pressurized nylon fill line, With the escaping oxidizer liquid, the combustion should be enhanced and help sever the line. In practice, this doesn’t seem to occur quickly enough,
In the hybrid firing that day, the igniter fired and some chuffing from the nozzle was seen but the combustion was not sustained and the oxidizer supply emptied. The motor will be disassembled and inspected to see if all the composite propellant was consumed or if the nitrous oxide dispersed the pack before the full burn could finish.
MORE WATER ROCKETS
Dmitri upgraded his water rocket launch system to fire multiple rockets. He had a remote firing box which made it very easy to set up. The winds were too strong for any high altitude flights, but the modest water rockets were plenty of fun.
The Yoerg Challenge started as a simple request to those attending our meeting on March 12, 2021 before the launch event: build as many model rockets from as many people as possible and launch them from the multi-wire launcher array that Keith built last month. Dmitri and I both answered the challenge for the event, Although many of our members have built many model rockets since they were kids, some of have not. For those experienced and inexperienced, the Yoerg Challenge was issued. More rockets at each successive event inspires others to build more rockets and more ambitious rocket builds. The RRS is for all forms of reaction propulsion even with a simple model kit.
At the end of the day, Keith and Dmitri launched their model rockets using small “A” sized motors to keep their altitudes low and avoid being carried far downrange with the high winds. I decided not to fly my first model as I left early that day. We hope others will build and bring theirs at our next event.
Next launch event will be April 10, 2021, with USC and member projects.