Representatives of the Reaction Research Society were invited to attend the 1st annual Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) liquid propellant rocket symposium at the EAA Chapter 1 headquarters at the Flabob Airport in Riverside, California, on January 28, 2023. Dimitri Timohovich and I came to observe and participate in the all-day event including a range of topics related to safe design and operations with liquid rockets. There were hardware demonstrations giving attendees a direct appreciation for the importance of safety and careful planning with their system designs.
The intended audience was university rocket teams looking for best practices and expert advice. Mark Holthaus (president of FAR), Mark Ventura (RRS member and owner of Ventura Energy Systems) and Derek Honkawa (FAR member and private business owner) all gave excellent presentations covering igniters, propellant handling, part cleaning, and pressure system safety with a generous amount of examples of successful and unsuccessful projects at FAR.
FAR will soon make their presentation files available on their website for download. The RRS was glad to be there for this first of its kind event.
The RRS similarly has experts that have supported liquid rocket projects for decades at the Mojave Test Area. Contact the RRS president for requests and scheduling.
Also, the RRS will be holding our 80th anniversary symposium on April 15th at a venue location to be announced soon. This will be our first symposium since the pandemic and we look forward to having many speakers from industry, government, academia and the hobbyist community on topics related to liquid propellant rockets and many other subjects of interest to our public audience.
The latest meeting of the Reaction Research Society took place this past Friday, April 9th and had 15 attendees – including another guest presenter. We kicked off the meeting by watching footage of Bill Inman’s Solar Cat launch from March, and a video of a liquid engine static fire from the Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Space Program, who presented to the RRS about their project last month.
GUEST PRESENTATION – WILSON F/X LAUNCH CONTROLLERS
Brad Wilson from Wilson F/X launch controllers was our guest presenter for this month, continuing our recent discussions on wireless launch controllers. Brad started the company roughly 20 years ago with Dan Fox, after building launch controllers for their local high power rocketry club in the midwest. They began with a wired single pad controller, and have since expanded to build 64-pad systems as well as adding wireless firing capabilities. Their wired and wireless modules are in use by many local rocketry clubs including ROC and FAR, as well as others around the country. The largest motor known to have been flown on a Wilson F/X system was a size Q at a rocket launch in Black Rock.
RRS members had a lot of good questions for Brad, who was gracious enough to explain several different features and specifications of his system. Both the wired and wireless Wilson F/X systems use 32-bit encryption to send the firing signal from the control box (where the operator flips the switch) to the pad box (which supplies the current to light the ignition charge). This means the control box is required and the pad box cannot be used by itself to fire the motor. Brad sent along some product specification sheets for RRS members to review. Any member that would like a copy can request one by emailing the RRS secretary at: email@example.com
EVENTS AT THE MTA
After a brief discussion about the March launch event, the group began planning for the MTA event the day after the meeting. Several members with projects that have become staples at our recent events planned to join for the launch – including Bill Inman’s Solar Cat, Wolfram Blume’s Gas Guzzler, and “Yoerg Challenge” low-power model rockets from Dimitri Timohovich and Keith Yoerg. In addition, Larry Hoffing expects to have experimental motors ready for testing.
2 additional fights are expected – a rocket from the USC Rocket Propulsion Lab flying on an experimental 6″ diameter motor and BPS.space, flying on a commercial N sized motor. A write-up on these activities will be available within the next few days.
LAUNCH COORDINATION BETWEEN RRS & FAR
Rick Maschek joined for the meeting and began a discussion about coordination of launching activities between the RRS and our neighbors at FAR. With activity picking up at both organizations, it’s becoming more common for us to have event scheduled at both sites for the same weekend. Because of the proximity of our launch sites, rockets have been known to launch from one and land near the other.
Both groups are committed to safety when performing rocket activities, and improving communication about launches between on-site personnel in each organization has been identified as a priority. One option suggested is to alternate weekends between the organizations so that events do not overlap. Since weather and other schedule considerations can sometimes make that difficult to implement, it was agreed that radio communication should be established on days when both organizations are operating so that everyone will be aware of impending launches.
YOUTH OUTREACH CLASS
Frank Miuccio updated the membership on the status of the youth outreach programs that the RRS hosts, which seem likely to happen but are more complicated due to COVID-19 precautions. A classroom space large enough for adequate physical distancing has been found, but travel to the MTA site will likely not be possible until more restrictions are lifted.
Because the demonstration of rocket flights is one of the more engaging aspects of the class, Frank has begun developing a class plan that would allow for more hands-on activities without pyrotechnics. Soda straw rockets propelled by air and film canisters propelled by a baking soda & vinegar mixture are 2 ideas being pursued to give the students an exciting achievement until an MTA visit can be safely arranged.
NEXT MONTHLY MEETING
The next RRS monthly meeting will be held virtually on Friday, May 14th at 7:30 pm pacific time. Current members will receive an invite via e-mail the week of the meeting. Non-members (or members who have not received recent invites) can request an invitation by sending an email to:
In the absence of our secretary, I took a few notes from the meeting. This is what I recorded. Contact the RRS secretary for updates and corrections.
The Reaction Research Society held its monthly meeting by teleconference on August 14, 2020. Our monthly meetings are always held on the 2nd Friday of every month. We’ve had a lot of success with holding our meetings remotely and we will likely continue for the next coming months to continue our commitment to safety in light of the pandemic. Our membership is in regular contact with our community which has allowed us to promote and hold events including our first launch at the Mojave Test Area (MTA) on July 25, 2020. You can read the details in the firing report posted on this website.
Our members are doing well and thus far no one has reported being infected with COVID-19 which we hope continues to be the case. Frank is in regular contact with the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Community Safety Partnership (CSP) but under current circumstances, the next school event may not be until next year. Options are being considered on how to continue our educational programs while maintaining social distancing.
REVIEW OF THE 7/25/2020 LAUNCH EVENT OPERATIONS
The first topic was the recent launch event we held on July 25th at the Mojave Test Area for the first time since the start of the pandemic. We had some difficulties in operating under the summer heat (106 Fahenheit at the peak) but this is nothing unusual for this time of year. Many of us were well prepared for the hot sun with our hats, sunscreen and iced beverages and chilled water. We also did a good job of watching out for each other. Still, the heat was responsible for leaving all but one of the micrograin rockets downrange. It also underscores the importance good planning, coordination and putting safety over all other considerations. We had several mis-fires which we were able to resolve, but maintaining discipline during the event proved to be a larger challenge. The launch protocols will be explained more thoroughly in the next safety briefing. The meeting highlighted that every member and pyro-op attending the event holds a joint responsibilty for the safety of all and it starts with self-discipline and patience by all.
We also discussed proper protocols such as announcing the pyro-op in charge well before the event and the necessity of providing detailed information about the intended operations to the pyro-op in charge in advance. Most of the planned projects were well understood as they were micrograin rockets and the previous hybrid rocket attempted at the last launch event.
DATA REVIEW OF THE STANDARD ALPHA FLIGHT OF 7/25/2020
The only micrograin rocket to be recovered from the launch event of 7/25/2020 was the standard alpha with plain steel nozzle. John Krell has been developing progressively better and more powerful avionics payloads designed to fit the narrow confines of the RRS standard alpha payload tube. John was able to spot and recover one of his payloads and process the flight data captured that day. The avionics payload was intact after being extracted from the desert floor including the solid-state data chip. John was able to recover the data and accurately reveal the huge acceleration of the RRS standard alpha with unprecedented accuracy. A peak acceleration of 114 G’s was recorded at roughly 0.3 seconds just before tail-off and burn-out at 0.4 seconds from launch. I was able to screen capture his plot below.
The second plot shows the velocity derived from the accelerometer readings in the half-second which captures burnout at 0.4 seconds. Burnout velocity was measured at 670 feet/second which is consistent with prior data and trajectory predictions. The alpha is subsonic but travels at substantial speed from the swift acceleration. Given the high air temperature that day, 106 Fahrenheit, the speed of sound was 1165 ft/sec. The altitude of burnout was determined to be 130 feet which is consistent with prior flight data and high speed video footage.
The third plot was made for the whole flight of standard alpha from the 7/25/2020 event from launch to impact at 35 seconds. Given the roets were impacting 2000 to 3000 feet downrange, the sound delay matches with the time to impact witnessed in the observation bunker. The maximum altitude was just over 4,400 feet based on the barometric pressure measurements using the 1976 standard atmosphere model. Base atmospheric pressure reading at the start of the flight shows the elevation of alpha launch rail platform is 2,048 feet.
John Krell has really accomplished something with these custom avionics packages. He has been mentoring some of our other RRS members and the society encourages other members to build and fly their own payloads to spread the knowledge.
The society hopes to recover the other two alphas and the beta for further data analysis. Both of the unrecovered alphas from this last launch event had ceramic coated nozzles which should not erode. This should result in a more ideal performance as the throat area will not open up. The actual effect of this design improvement can best be assessed with recorded flight data. Also, we hope to compare the trajectory of the four-foot propellant tube with the standard length. Lastly. if the beta is recovered with recorded flight data, we may be able to assess its performance in unprecedented detail. The society hopes to report this flight data soon.
IMPROVEMENTS TO THE NITROUS OXIDE FILL/DRAIN MANIFOLD
The failure to launch the second build of the hybrid rocket was discussed at the August 2020 meeting. After discussing the launch procedures and corrective actions followed during the attempt to launch the nitrous oxide hybrid at the MTA with Osvaldo (the Level 1 pyro-op in charge) and racing experts at Nitrous Supply Inc., Huntington Beach, California, the cause of the fill valve’s failure to open became clear.
In the racing industry, these normally-closed direct-acting solenoid valves are commonly used to open the flow of stored nitrous oxide bottles against the full supply pressure in the storage bottle. These are called “purge solenoid valves” among racers because it is this solenoid valve that opens the flow of nitrous oxide which displaces or purges out the air in the engine lines during the race. Buying these 12-volt DC high pressure solenoid valves from racing suppliers is much cheaper given they are made in greater numbers for the racing industry. (~$120 each versus $400+ each from reputable solenoid valve manufacturers).
In researching common designs for normally closed (NC) solenoid valves, the excessive heat of that day simply created too much inlet pressure against the internal valve seat for the electromagnetic solenoid coil to overcome and open the flow path. 1000 psig is likely the limit to reliably open these valves according to advice given by Nitrous Supply Inc. who has decades of practical experience at racing tracks around the country using purge solenoid valves for an application nearly identical to the needs of hybrid rocketry fill and drain operations. The ambient temperature at the MTA on launch day was creating a bottle temperature of 1400 psig accordling to the bottle pressure gauge and the separate pressure gauge in the manifold when the bottle was opened. This is well above the 900 psi recommended pressure range seen by marking on the gauge. The bottle, valve body and fittings are rated for these higher pressures, but opening mechanism of the solenoid valve was not.
A color-coded example of direct-acting normally closed solenoid valve is below. Blue shows the high pressure fluid path which is holding the seat down along with some assistance from an internal spring only for low inlet pressure conditions. With current applied to the electromagnetic solenoid (Orange), it pulls up on the moving armature (in red) which then allows the fluid to slip past the seal and through the flow control orifice when commanded open. Only a slight amount of movement is necessary to lift open the valve. However, if the fluid inlet pressure is too great, the solenoid can not provide enough force to lift and open the seal, therefore the valve stays shut.
To understand the relationship between pressure and temperature of the nitrous oxide you must consult the vapor pressure curve for nitrous oxide. This set of data points spans between the triple point and critical point of any pure fluid. NIST provides accurate data to generate such a curve.
The critical point of any pure fluid is where the distinction between gas and liquid phases disappears. This is not necessarily hazardous but it does mark a fundamental change in fluid behavior. The critical point of nitrous oxide (N2O) is 1053.3 psia and 97.6 degrees Fahrenheit according to Air Products company literature. This means the nitrous oxide conditions in the bottle at the launch (1400 psig as read on the gauges with an fluid temperature of 106 Fahrenheit or more) was well in the supercritical range, but again, this is only hazardous if the pressure vessels and plumbing connections aren’t able to safely contain the pressure. If the solenoid valve could have been opened, the pressure drop would have returned the supercritical fluid back to normal conitions and would flow dense liquid into the rocket when the fluid naturally chills down from the expansion.
Keeping the bottle pressure below 1000 psia means controlling the external temperature of the bottle to a lower temperature. Below is a tabulation of state points along the vapor pressure curve for nitrous oxide (N2O) for common ambient temperatures. You can see that small shifts in ambient temperature can greatly affect the vapor pressure of the pressurized liquid. Keeping nitrous oxide under pressure is the key to retaining its denser liquid state. As long as the tank pressure is above the vapor pressure at that fluid temperature, you will have a liquid phase in the tank. If the pressure on the fluid drops below the vapor pressure, the liquid will begin to boil away.
30 F, 440.05 psia
40 F, 506.63 psia
50 F, 580.33 psia
60 F, 661.71 psia
70 F, 751.46 psia; liquid density 48.21 lbm/ft3, vapor density 0.1145 lbm/ft3
80 F, 850.46 psia
90 F, 960.09 psia
97.6 F, 1053.3 psia; density 28.22 lbm/ft3, CRITICAL POINT
Molecular weight = 44.01 lbm/lb-mol
At first, it was thought that there wasn’t sufficient current from the lawnmower lead-acid battery we use. The summer heat can cause batteries to fail, but even after switching to a car battery, the failure to open was the same. Having a 12-volt solenoid requires greater current to actuate the solenoid valve, but it is a common standard for automotive grade parts which can be less expensive yet reliable. A current draw of 15 Amps over the long cable runs of a few hundred feet can be taxing to the firing circuit battery. This was not the cause of the problem, but it is a regular concern making sure sufficient voltage and current is available to both ignition and valve control.
To exclude outright failure of the solenoid valve, Osvaldo brought the unit home, allowed it to cool to room temperature then dry-cycled the valve from a battery to see if it still actuated. This simple test was successful and the filling valve in our nitrous oxide manifold continues to operate. At the next launch attempt, we will be prepared to chill the nitrous oxide supply bottle with an ice bath if necessary as was originally suggested at the prior launch event. Keeping the bottle pressure in an appropriate pressure range for fill operations is dependent on controlling the fluid temperature (60 to 90 F) under extreme heat or cold environments.
In researching purge solenoid valves, a second 12 VDC normally-closed valve was found and purchased. Nitrous Supply Inc., was out of purge solenoid valves but offered many alternative suppliers in the Los Angeles area. After some searching, I selected a high flow purge solenoid valve sold by Motorcycle Performance Specialties (MPS) Racing in Casselbury, Florida, for the purge solenoid valve used for venting our nitrous oxide manifold. The control panel is already equipped with the second command channel to open the vent from the blockhouse should it be necessary in launch operations. A schematic illustration is provided in this article.
The previous drain solenoid valve equipped with the nitrous manifold I bought was not deisgned for the full bottle pressure in the manifold so it quickly failed during initial checkouts. A manual valve was used in its place to carefully bleed out the remaining pressure in the line after the main bottle valve was tightly closed. This second solenoid valve will be used for draining the nitrous in the event of a launch scrub. Although the Contrails hybrid motor already has a small orifice and vent tube at the head end of the nitrous tank to provide slow release of pressure buildup, it is better to have a remote option to quickly depressurize the vehicle if the need arises.
With some re-plumbing of the nitrous oxide manifold to include the new vent solenoid, a soap-bubble leak check would be needed to prove the system before use. Given the significant overhanging weight of two solenoid valves, it may be wise to mount both valves on a separate plate structure to avoid excessive bending loads on the bottle connection. Design changes like this will be considered in preparation for the next launch event.
PYROTECHNIC OPERATOR TRAINING SESSION BY FRIENDS OF AMATEUR ROCKETRY
Mark Holthaus of the Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) organization is offering an online training session for those interested in becoming licensed pyrotechnic operators in the state of California. The event requires registration on the FAR website and a fee paid to FAR ($10) to attend this two-hour introduction to the licensing and application process to be held on August 26th.
Amateur rocketry in California is controlled by the same laws governing fireworks which require licensing by a state exam. The application forms and guidelines are available through the Office of the State Fire Marshal in the state of California (CALFIRE).
This training course for pyro-op applicants is another example of FAR and the RRS partnering to help the cause of amateur rocketry. The RRS, FAR and Rocketry Organization of California (ROC) last year met to create a joint set of recommendations to help CALFIRE improve the definitions used to govern amateur rocketry when CALFIRE they were seeking input from rocketry organizations. It is to the mutual benefit of the whole rocketry community and the public that there be more licensed pyro-op’s in amateur rocketry to both increase awareness of state laws and improve the culture of safety in our hobby and professions.
This FAR training course only serves to provide applicants with basic guidance on how to begin the application process and prepare to take the examination. Members of FAR, the RRS, ROC and any other amateur or model rocketry organization are welcome to apply. Several members of the RRS have already applied as the society continues its campaign to grow our ranks of licensed pyro-op’s at all three levels.
Completion of this training course does not substitute for any part of the pyro-op application process set by CALFIRE. As each applicant is required to pay their own fees including fingerprinting, they must also provide five letters of recommendation from licensed pyro-ops at or above the level of license being sought. After this class, each applicant must formally request these letters from state licensed pyro-ops in writing. For a licensed pyro-op to offer a letter of recommendation to an applicant, they must be willing to endorse their skills, knowledge and character to the state of California based on their personal experience with that individual. This is done through active participation at launch events through rocketry organizations having licensed pyro-ops leading their operations. Apprenticing, studying and attentiveness are all ways that a pyro-op can get to know an applicant personally and thus build confidence that the applicant is ready to have the responsibility of being licensed in rocketry. A letter of recommendation is given solely at the discretion of the licensed pyro-op which means their standards and expectations may vary significantly from others. It is important to establish a working relationship with both the society and the specific pyrotechnic operator over several projects to demonstrate skills and learn best practices through active participation.
As the RRS has more licensed pyro-ops than FAR at this time, this training course will be successful if both organizations support it. Some of the RRS pyro-ops have already offered their support as this means more people will need to become active with the RRS and conduct their projects at the MTA.
ROCKET LABORATORY AT THE COMPTON AIRPORT
Keith Yoerg announced that there is a tentative plan to create a rocket laboratory in a hangar at the Compton Airport, Although, the hangar will be used from time to time to store or service light aircraft, there is a great deal of working space which will help the RRS continue their liquid rocket project already underway. Several members of the RRS are also active with civil aviation and are members of Chapter 96 of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA 96). The EAA has generously supported the RRS over the last two years and we hope to continue and expand this partnership.
NEXT EVENT AT THE MOJAVE TEST AREA
The RRS has been planning the next event at the Mojave Test Area which will be dedicated to repairing some of our facilities including the adjustable rail launcher damaged in solid rocket launch explosion in August 2019. The consensus at the meeting was that we should not to return to the MTA for a formal launch event until the seasonal temperatures decrease from the excruciating desert summer. October 3rd was selected for this work event, Our hope is the weather will be cooler and we can accomplish more on that day. We may also take some time to search for more rockets planted downrange from past launch events.
The RRS may also conduct a few static firings or even a launch if member projects are ready. All such proposed hot-fire and launch activities must be proposed to the RRS president and the selected pyro-op in charge for that day. Some of our member projects such as Wolfram Blume’s Gas Guzzler two-stage ramjet and my second-build of the high-powered hybrid rocket are both still works in progress and may be ready for the early October launch date. Larry Hoffing has been working on an improved solid motor chemistry which he may want to test at the MTA.
The RRS is available for private events before that time, but one must make their request to the RRS president as usual. Some have indicated interest in returning to the site for just a few hours to recover more rockets downrange. Its our policy that at least two members be present for any excursions to the MTA and the RRS president must be notified in advance.
Some topics were not able to be covered including the overview of the new RRS Constitution as it gets ready for administrative membership review. Also, facility improvement plans at the RRS MTA including new restroom facilities and blockhouse should be discussed.
The next RRS meeting will be held by teleconference on September 11, 2020 as it is unlikely we will be permitted to return to the Ken Nakaoka Community Center by then. We hope everyone continues to stay safe during these days of the pandemic and try to stay in touch as we are planning another event at the MTA for October 3, 2020.
If there are any questions, please contact the RRS secretary.