Launch Event, 2023-04-22

by Bill Claybaugh, RRS.ORG

Editor’s Note:

RRS member, Bill Claybaugh, built and launched his second 6-inch rocket from the RRS Mojave Test Area on Saturday, April 22, 2023. Target apogee was 69,000 feet. Winds were very low that day. Jim Gross was the pyrotechnic operator in charge for the launch event. Dimitri Timohovich and Rushd Julfiker assisted with the efforts. Bill launched from a 24-foot aluminum channel type launch rail using a pair of belly-bands that disconnected from the vehicle after clearing the end of the rail. The following is Bill’s update report on the flight as of July 1, 2023.

Flight 2 – Six Inch Rocket

Fight II Flight Report


Something fairly violent happen to this vehicle at about 3.4 seconds into flight: onboard data and ground video indicate the rocket pitched at least 30 degrees while traveling at about Mach 2.2 at around 4100 feet above ground level (AGL).

Recovered hardware indicates the vehicle broke up under these conditions.  The parachute compartment, which was attached to the top of the motor by four ¼-20 fasteners, was torn away by fracture at all four fasteners (the fasteners remained attached to the motor). The payload, which was attached to the parachute compartment via four 0.250” diameter pneumatic separation system pins, remained attached—indeed, it was recovered with the separation system still functional and still latched to the top of the parachute compartment.

Bill Claybaugh with his second 6-inch rocket before launch.

Video shows a sudden pitch at about 3.4 seconds after first vehicle motion.  The onboard data (which records the initial part of the breakup because the computer was located in the payload section) shows that the gyro tilt went from about 5 degrees to 50 degrees over 0.08 seconds.  Measured longitudinal acceleration went from the previous around 26 g’s to 34 g’s in 0.05 seconds, and after returning to around 24 g’s for 0.15 seconds, to -12.7 g’s (the sensor floor) for 0.03 seconds, before recovering to -9 g’s for 0.01 seconds followed by loss of power. (See Chart 1.)

Chart 1: Acceleration and Tilt

Video shows the vehicle recovering from this pitch maneuver and continuing on a near vertical ascent though burnout at a video-based about nine seconds after first motion.


Following failure of the AlClO (Aluminum / Potassium Perchlorate) based head end initiator to successfully ignite the rocket (AlClO based initiators have had this issue previously, AlClO appears to be too energetic for this application, tending to blow the secondary ignition materials out the back of the rocket and on to the ground rather than igniting the grain) a jury-rigged rear end ignitor was substituted and the rocket successfully lifted off about 0.25 seconds after flames first appeared around the vehicle base.

Onboard data shows the vehicle ascending at about 88 degrees from horizontal to about 50 feet altitude when a lazy “S” turn (first to the northeast, then back to the southwest) is visible in the video and data. This turn starts about the time the belly-bands can be seen on video falling away from the vehicle.

Following this maneuver, the vehicle returns to near vertical flight to the Southwest, turning, with perturbations, from about 88 degrees tilt to an 86-degree gyro tilt over the next two-plus seconds.  Acceleration steadily builds from an initial 18.6 g’s to a maximum of 27.3 g’s at 2.53 seconds; this acceleration broadly follows the curve expected from the combination of the thrust curve, drag, and the lessening weight of the vehicle as propellant is consumed, however, the measured acceleration is much higher than expected based on static tests and flight simulations.

Telemetry reported Loss of Signal (LOS) at 2.7 seconds and at an (accelerometer-based) 2313 feet altitude and 2440 ft/sec velocity.

Measured onboard acceleration suddenly jumps from a base around 26.5 g’s at 3.18 seconds to 32.8 g’s at 3.21 seconds; measured onboard acceleration stays above 30g’g for the next 0.06 seconds, peaking at 34.7 g’s at 3.21 seconds and followed by a return to around 24 g’s for 0.15 seconds and a sudden drop to -12.7 g’s (the sensor floor) from 3.42 to 3.44 seconds and a final reading of -9.3 g’s followed by loss of power to the on-board computer.

Onboard data shows the gyro tilt angle moving from around 5 degrees at 3.37 seconds to 50.6 degrees at 3.45 seconds, followed by loss of power.

Video over this period show the vehicle suddenly turning through an apparent (visual) 30 degrees or so before pitching back to a near vertical ascent.


A less energetic initiator is required for this vehicle; a development program will be initiated to achieve both a more reliable and a gentler ignition in future.

Figutr 1: Recovered Nozzle

Following flight, a single sliver of graphite was found on the ground about 150 feet from the launch tower.  This piece of graphite was exactly the correct shape to fit at the very rear of the graphite throat insert where that insert blends into the titanium nozzle extension. 

Recovered nozzle hardware showed that about 1-inch of the rear of the nozzle insert was missing (see Image 1); assuming the two pieces of the insert found inside the rocket were broken by impact forces, it follows that around one inch at the rear of the insert failed prior to impact. This failure would have induced a flow discontinuity in the rocket’s exhaust which thrust vector could account for the sudden pitch at 3.4 seconds into flight. The vehicle’s return to near vertical ascent appears to be due to aerodynamic assisted dampening of the perturbation, based on the tilt data from the earlier–possibly belly-band related–slow spiral of the vehicle.

Note that the recovered nozzle shows plating of Aluminum Oxide onto the ZrO coated Titanium nozzle extension above the end of the graphite nozzle extension but not in the area originally covered by the graphite insert.  This suggests the insert was present during startup (when Aluminum Oxide would be expected to condense on the nozzle extension surface) and the loss of the about 1-inch of the bottom of the graphite nozzle insert must have occurred later.

Analysis indicates that thermal stress cannot have been the cause of the loss of the back of the nozzle insert: maximum thermal stress occurs at the throat and reaches no more than 60% of the tensile strength of the graphite.  Careful measurement shows that the break occurred at the location of the joint between the titanium nozzle extension and the aluminum nozzle support structure, it thus appears that a (possibly heating related) stress concentration at that location was the probable cause of the graphite failure.

Loss of telemetry at 2.7 seconds appears to be a consequence of the GPS and transmitter antenna assembly failing mechanically; the flight computer was recovered with a clean break at the antenna PCB board.  This suggests the need for more robust support of these parts of the payload.

Breakup of the vehicle began about 3.41 seconds after launch.  The recovered pieces indicate separation of the parachute compartment from the motor was due to the upper part of the vehicle being pulled longitudinally forward, away from the (thrusting) rocket motor; further, the fracture pattern indicates an abrupt failure rather than a slightly slower swaging of the metal.  Based on the acceleration data indicating at least four hundredths of a second of significant negative g’s just before loss of power, coupled with gyro data showing the payload being thrown through an about 45 degree turn over the last 0.08 seconds of data, we can guess that the mechanical failure was a consequence of rather than the cause of the sudden turn of the vehicle.

Figure 2: Booster, post-impact


Development of a gentler and more consistent initiator is required; an effort focused on BKNO3/V (Potassium Nitrate with Boron held in a Viton matrix) has been started.

The vehicle nozzle has been redesigned to use a single piece titanium throat insert support structure and nozzle extension.  The angle of the joint between the graphite insert and the titanium shell has been increased to the conventional 5 degrees (the flight nozzle used a 3-degree angle that may have been too thin at the very end of the throat insert).

Heat paint testing of the Titanium nozzle extension on the flight nozzle indicated a maximum heat soak temperature of about 800° degrees Fahrenheit on the outside surface; this suggests a maximum outside wall temperature during operation of about one-half the paint-indicated heat-soaked temperature. Since these temperatures are well below the maximum working temperature of 6Al4V Titanium under these loads, the new nozzle is designed to allow for greater heating of the shell.

Analysis based on assuming a maximum Titanium temperature during operation of about 400° F indicates a maximum possible temperature of about 1140° degrees at the ZrO / Titanium interface and about 2800 °F at the inside surface of the Graphite insert, implying a maximum surface temperature at the nozzle throat of about 4350 °F.  A similar analysis indicates a maximum possible temperature at the inside surface of the nozzle exit of about 3300° F.

The high temperature RTV layer between the graphite insert and the ZrO layer was originally 0.005” in thickness in two sections separated by a 0.030” cork layer (a total of 0.010” of RTV); it thus should have had sufficient space, after pyrolysis of that layer, to accommodate the estimated 0.0024” thermal expansion of the Graphite Nozzle Insert.

The payload internal fiberglass support structure for the flight computer failed both at the base and at the antennae.  This structure will be redesigned in aluminum so as to provide still more robust support to the flight computer assembly.  Making this change will reduce the sensitivity of the GPS antenna and will absorb some of the transmitted energy from the telemetry antenna (the reason for going with fiberglass previously).  The effects of lower sensitivity will have to documented once that hardware is available and assembled.

The measured inflight acceleration is significantly higher than that expected from static testing and modeling of the flight trajectory; however, the burn time indicated from multiple videos is about that expected from motor modeling and the previous static test.

Analysis of the cause of the apparently higher than expected thrust has proven inconclusive.  A grain crack or void (possibly associated with the energetic AlClO initiator) would usually be expected to grow until the motor case failed.  The slightly higher than modeled initial grain area (see the report from the first flight of this vehicle for a discussion) is too small (at 0.86%) to account for the higher initial thrust (123% of the expected level). A static test motor is being prepared to try and resolve this question.

Strengthening the joint between the motor and the parachute compartment is relatively easy; additional fasteners and a thicker section to the joint should reduce the probability of a failure similar to that which occurred on this flight.  Alternatively, the motor tube could be extended by six inches to avoid having a separate parachute compartment altogether, albeit with some induced operational inconvenience when placing the initiator into the forward bulkhead.


Partial nozzle failure appears to be the main concern with this vehicle design; a secondary issue is strengthening internal components and some joints to better survive the extremely harsh conditions encountered on this flight. Finally, a cause for the apparently higher initial thrust will be sought via static testing of a new motor, which will also confirm the new nozzle design.

MTA work event, 2022-10-20

by Dave Nordling, President, RRS.ORG

The Reaction Research Society has built a new and larger pad to the west of our current launch pads at the Mojave Test Area (MTA). This has been due to the generous donation of lifetime member, Bill Claybaugh, both of his time and resources. This 12-foot square pad is angled to the southwest and is intended for larger launch vehicles soon to be launched from the MTA. This work started a few weeks back with the initial excavation which was delayed due to the extreme heat this summer.

This work event took place over a few days starting Thursday, October 20th and going to Saturday, October 22nd. Bill and the society would like to thank fellow society members, Dimitri Timohovich, Rushd Julfiker and Joe Dominguez for giving their time and sweat to this facility improvement,

Excavation and rebar supports in place.
Add gravel
Spread to an even layer
Adding water is important.
Add concrete
Leveling the pour
Finishing the edges

This is only the first steps to building a useful platform for launching larger rockets from the MTA. The pad must cure over several weeks during these cooler months before temperatures drop below freezing at night, Next steps will be preparing the surface for anchors then adding Bill Claybaugh’s launch rail which is in work right now.

This work will continue to be documented in our work event reports. We are a member driven society and deeply appreciate the hard work it takes to improve and upgrade our site to support our mission as an organization.

Our next monthly meeting is always on the 2nd Friday of the month at the front office of the Compton/Woodley airport at 7:30pm. Come join us on November 11th.

October 2022 meeting

by Dave Nordling, President, RRS.ORG

The society met at the Compton Airport front office again for our monthly meeting on October 14th. Mike LaGrange joined us by teleconference for the first time. Joel Cool-Panama was welcomed as our newest administrative member.

We first reviewed past events,

  • USC RPL sample grain burns
  • pad anchor modifications
  • restroom progress at the 10/1/22 work event

We spoke of pending events

  • Bill Claybaugh’s new pad, 10/20-10/22
  • Aerospace Corp launch of experimental motor, 10/20
  • next work event, 11/5-11/6, more plumbing
  • USC RPL static fire on 11/12
  • Events subject to change, public calendar soon to come online with the new website

The RRS reported quarterly dividend from

Further concrete repair work is needed. Four of the 28 mounting holes need more work. This will likely be done by the society. We need to determine best way to extract old anchors and patch the holes with sufficient time for curing before redrilling. USC RPL will assist by drilling final anchors once repair work is done. USC has been very helpful in making this important site improvement.

A budget update on restroom with expenses to date and how much to finish. Last estimate showed we’re on target. An update is coming before next month. Our goal is for the restroom to become operational by year’s end.

The society is working hard to help other members to become pyro-ops. More pyro-ops means safer operations and greater flexibility in future events. Frank and Bill Inman have their letters and are working on their applications. The best way to start is being active with society events and apprenticing under experienced and licensed individuals.

RRS has updated their flight waiver with the FAA to 100,000 feet. Some planning and advance notice required. Laminated copy of our waiver and instructions will be put in the Dosa Bldg. Also, launch requirements available from the RRS president.

Patrick Finley of the Collegiate Propulsive Lander Challenge attended. He explained his foundation to encourage propulsive landing technologies among university groups. Five technology prizes. The RRS is a supporter of this initiative. He can be reached at “”

Wolfram Blume has been working on the Gas Guzzler over the summer. Fuel pump and flameholder fixes. Next flight could be in December?

Bill Inman is building the 2nd generation Solar Cat with fellow member Dale Talcott in Nevada. Subscale prototype built in the summer had excellent focus and heating. Next test at MTA could be December, perhaps January.

John Krell’s avionics chips have had some improvements. Now can do 16 channels at over 1 kHz all on a chip fitting in a slim alpha payload tube

First meeting with LACMA by the president and VP on a STEAM project focused on the arts. Further discussions will better define the RRS role. 

2023 Symposium will celebrate our 80th anniversary, tentative date is April 8. Researching locations, food service and potential speakers. Official launch will be in the new year.

New launch rail design proposed for high power rockets using 24-feet of 1515 launch rail and a 1-ton hand-winch to operate. It will be an outdoor fixed asset and supplement existing launch rails. Need to get a materials list and drawings made for a contractor quote.

Larger 60-foot launch rail for liquid rockets is in the planning stages. The RRS has had several entities interested in using such an asset.

We will soon be starting the effort to sort out the old equipment in the north yard, determine the purpose, origin, and dispose or refurbish each item. We must use our space wisely and not store articles without a relevant purpose. Junk will always fill a void.

RRS may be getting a new pair of storage containers and fire-fighting equipment. Council is in discussions and supportive of this site improvement. More details later.

Some at the meeting indicated strong interest in learning how to weld. The RRS is seeking an instructor which may give us training for a nominal fee. More on this next month.

3D printers were discussed near the end of the meeting. Several members have the devices, but design tools are just as important. Google Sketchup, Solidworks and CATIA are options but costs on some can be prohibitive. This would make a fine topic for a future article on RRS.ORG

Nominations for executive council offices will be at the November meeting next month. An election chairman will be appointed who is neither a current office holder or a candidate for office.

Next meeting at Compton Airport front office on 11/11/2022 at 7:30pm.