MTA Launch Event, 2021-12-17

by Dave Nordling, RRS.ORG


The Reaction Research Society held its last launch event of the year 2021 at the Mojave Test Area on Friday, December 17th. I was the pyrotechnic operator in charge. This was my first launch event as a Class 1 pyrotechnic operator although none of the activities this day involved a liquid rocket. We had four launches planned for that day. Two from Keith Yoerg, one from Wolfram Blume and one from Dimitri Timohovich. RRS members Wilbur Owens, Xavier Marshall and Bill Inman came to be spectators at this launch event.

Bill Inman at the RRS MTA on 12-17-2021

IMPROVEMENTS TO THE 1515 RAIL LAUNCHER

The first flight of the Hawk in late November revealed a concern about the stability of the 1515 rail launcher with heavier rockets. Although quite heavy in its steel rectangular tube construction, Dimitri and Keith used cinder blocks and sandbags to weigh down the legs of the base. This resulted in damage to several of the sandbags from the exhaust of the M-sized motor from the initial flight.

Flat steel plate with welded bolt
Flat steel plate added to the 1515 launch rail base for greater anchorage

A flat steel plate with a threaded rod welded to the center was connected to the bottom of the 1515 rail launcher to allow for more weight to the base and allow for more cinder blocks to be added for even more stability. New adjustable feet were added to the existing four threaded holes at the far points of the legs. Eyebolts were also bought to screw into the 3/4-10 holes in the pad to strap the base down if necessary.

The 1515 rail launcher with its new anchor plate held down by cinder blocks.

SECOND FLIGHT OF THE HAWK

The December 17th launch event was primarily for the second flight of Keith Yoerg’s massive 14-foot long, 8-inch diameter Jumbo Dark Star rocket made by Wildman Rocketry with a 98mm Cesaroni N2600 Skidmark motor. The launch was held on Friday to coincide with the anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight..

The payload tube of the Hawk being prepared for launch on 12/17/2021.

The payload was something very special to the Yoerg family and to American aviation history. The payload was a few squares of cotton fabric from the right wing of the original Wright Flyer aircraft that made aviation history. This cloth was the actual material that flew in 1903.

An authenticated piece of American aviation history flies on the Hawk from the RRS MTA.

A similar piece of the cotton fabric used in the Wright Flyer was sent with the Mars Ingenuity helicopter aboard the Mars 2020 mission being part of the first aircraft flown on a foreign world.

Mars Ingenuity helicopter at Jezero Crater on the surface of the Red Planet in April 2021

It was amazing to fly a similar piece of history at our humble launch site for our members to enjoy on the anniversary of manned flight.

After securing the payload and verifying the recovery systems were in proper working order, the Hawk was taken to the launch pad and erected for flight.

The Hawk slid into the 1515 extrusion rail by its rail buttons.
Manually erecting the Hawk took several people to carefully raise and push the stopping pin once the rail was near vertical.
Keith checking out the wireless data system.
Dimitri connects the igniter circuit into the society’s new Cobra wireless firing system
Keith Yoerg and Xavier Marshall of the RRS pose with the Hawk before its second flight on the Wright Brothers anniversary.

Before the countdown, Keith gave a very moving speech with his mother, Janette Davis, present in the observation bunker.

118 years ago today, on the sandy windswept dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, my Great-Great Granduncles Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved the first powered, heavier-than-air flight of a manned aircraft. A few small pieces of fabric from that historic airplane are ready to take flight again today, from the sands of the Mojave Desert, aboard ”The Hawk” an 8-inch diameter 14-foot fall rocket Honoring Aviation, the Wrights, and Kinetics. In 1903, this fabric reached a max altitude of 10 feet at a max speed of 10 feet per second. Today, that same fabric is expected to reach an altitude of over 7,000 feet with a max speed of 791 feet per second (or Mach 0.7).

We’re now ready to start the countdown. The sky is clear, the road is clear.

Flight 2 of “The Hawk” is launching in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

Rail-mounted camera caught a few frames before the N-motor destroyed the lens.

The second flight of the Hawk was close to predictions reaching over 7,800 feet in altitude and 742 feet per second. The Hawk with its drogue and main parachutes working properly was fully recovered. Keith got telemetry data and provided screenshots of the results below.

Telemetry data from the second flight of the Hawk on 12-17-2021

Beckie Timohovich was a big help in the recovery efforts and bringing back the hardware to the launch site. She also makes really good Alaskan caribou chili which we all got to enjoy at lunch in the Dosa Building.

The ratcheting extraction tool for removing alphas from the ground.
The Hawk returned safely to the ground with the historical payload intact. Wireless and onboard data was recorded and video footage from the ground and on the vehicle was recorded.

The 1515 rail launcher with its heavier base worked well and did not shift although the straps were singed by the hot exhaust and seemed to be superfluous. The parachute system on the Hawk deployed well and brought the vehicle down in tact. Most importantly, the family heirloom flown as a payload was returned to safekeeping.

The 1515 rail after launching the Hawk. Unfazed and ready for another pounding from Wolfram’s K-sized booster motor

Keith is considering his next flight of the Hawk. One idea is to fly an even larger motor if an O-sized motor will fit in the existing 98mm mount. The goal being to go faster and break the speed of sound and fly even higher. Keith was also pondering adding a second stage to the Hawk. We hope to learn his next plan in the new year as we hope to have another launch event in January 2022.

TWO MICROGRAIN ALPHA ROCKETS

We flew two alpha micrograin rockets. One by Keith Yoerg, one by Dimitri Timohovich. Each had a payload built by John Krell. These were the first zinc-sulfur rockets to be loaded and flown by Keith and Dimitri which although both them have been active members of the society for years, this experience served to initiate them into the RRS.

Dimitri was first to load his blue nose-to-red finned rocket and fire it while Wolfram Blume completed his assembly and preparations for the second flight of the Gas Guzzler two-stage rocket with a water ballasted ramjet upper stage. Keith Yoerg’s alpha with the bright pink nosecone and fins was the second of two alpha flights, Like with the Hawk before it, the RRS used our Cobra wireless firing system with the alpha rockets.

Dimitri Timohovich loads the powdered micrograin into the propellant tube using gentle vibration to release any air pockets.
Keith finished with the loading of powdered propellant, installs the nozzle into his alpha.

https://www.cobrafiringsystems.com

Keith edited the footage of both alpha flights into one compilation on YouTube. See link below:

John Krell’s Adalogger design custom built for the tight confines and high acceleration of Keith’s RRS standard alpha.
Keith prepares to load his alpha into the box rails.
Still capture of Keith’s alpha streaking nearly straight up in nearly calm winds that day.
Keith Yoerg’s first alpha rocket.

A few days after the MTA launch event, John reported a summary of the results from the two different instrumentation payloads. His emails are paraphrased below.


On 12/17/2021, two Alpha rockets were launched. Both were instrumented with high speed flight computers. Dmitri’s Alpha (blue nosecone) carried an original Alpha Datalogger on it’s third flight and Keith’s Alpha (pink nosecone) carried a newer Adalogger design on it’s second flight.

John Krell had two data logger designs. the original data logger design was flown on Dimitri’s alpha.

The bad news first. The Adalogger SD card socket broke during its first launch. I did not catch this issue prior to this launch. The SD card fell out of its socket during the initial acceleration and no flight data was recorded from Keith’s alpha, The next design update will include a nylon post to prevent SD card ejection. Keith’s Alpha also incorporated a semi-soft shock absorption mounting. It didn’t work as well as planned, but it does show potential with two modifications. Damage to the Adalogger system was minimal and repairable. 

9-volt battery mounted in the aluminum nosecone of Dimitri’s RRS alpha.

Dmitri’s Alpha produced significant new data during the burn for a micrograin rocket. The thrust was relatively smooth and constant compared to the previous three Alpha launches that carried flight computers and returned data. Absent were the large acceleration bursts during the burn. (See attached graph)

Acceleration plot of Dimitri’s alpha flight.

Also recorded was the impact. The impact duration was measured at 16 milliseconds. This is the shortest impact duration recorded for an Alpha. A prior impact duration of 18 milliseconds produced a deceleration of 716 G’s. This impact deceleration should exceed that value.

Further analysis of the data is required to determine a value. A picture of Dmitri’s rocket in the ground prior to extraction will be helpful.   (Photo was later provided.)    

Motor burn duration           0.408 seconds

Maximum Acceleration       103.95 G’s at 0.304 seconds

Maximum Velocity               676 ft/sec, Mach 0.6 based on integrated accelerometer readings  

Altitude at Burnout              ~138 ft    

Maximum Altitude                4,307 ft AGL by barometric readings

Terminal Velocity                  463 ft/sec, Mach 0.411  based on barometric readings

My video records of Keith’s Alpha show a shorter burn duration equating to a higher acceleration and velocity. The altitude should also be higher with the shorter down range distance. 

Dimitri’s alpha with its red paint at the aft body coming off from the intense heat of the micrograin burn. Dimitri’s rocket was found significantly further downrange than Keith’s but on the same heading

The still pictures at the end furnished the information necessary to estimate the deceleration at impact. Keith’s alpha’s penetration depth of approximately 3 feet 10 inches correlates to a deceleration rate of 680 to 720 G’s in a span of 18 to 20 milliseconds. Dimitri’s Alpha penetrated approximately 3 ft 8 inches into the ground in 16 milliseconds equating to ~900 G deceleration rate. Wow!!! 


The main objective was to give all of our active members experience with micrograin rocketry. Although rarely practiced outside of the society, it is considered to be something of a rite of passage and also serves as valid experience with the unlimited category of rocketry. This event gave Dimitri and Keith this experience which will help them as they advance as pyrotechnic operators.


SECOND FLIGHT OF THE GAS GUZZLER RAMJET

Wolfram Blume brought his second build of the Gas Guzzler rocket to the MTA for a December test flight. The same booster section with an Aerotech K-motor was flown. The ramjet was rebuilt and was flying a 3/4 load of water in the gasoline tank to have a representative payload weight including any possible sloshing that might occur.

Wilbur Owens discusses the ramjet operation with Wolfram Blume. This forward view is without the forward cowl. In the background is a graduated cylinder for precisely metering the fuel load into the ramjet.
The forward end of the ramjet with its annular cowl and forward spike as it nears final assembly.
The Gas Guzzler booster stage design remained the same for this second flight from the MTA.
Wolfram holds the lower half of his ramjet ready for final assembly and stacking of the two stages.
Wolfram carefully walked the ramjet upper stage to mate with the booster stage already on the launch rail.
Wolfram Blume and John Krell examine the Gas Guzzler on the 1515 launch rail before its second flight.
The Gas Guzzler sits side-saddled in the 1515 rail launcher to allow proper clearance of the fins.
The Gas Guzzler lept straight and clean from the 1515 rails in its booster flight.

From the ground, it was clear that the booster flew straight and stage separation had taken place. The booster parachute ripped loose. The ramjet came down only under its drogue chute and the hard landing damaged the upper stage enough to warrant a complete rebuild.

Clean stage separation was evident, but the booster parachute ripped loose.

Wolfram spent several days after the launch event looking at the remains of Gas Guzzler. A few things are known so far:

The addition of 1.14 kilograms of ballast water did not cause any problems. The two stages – both separately and together – were still stable in flight. Also the stage separation worked.

After separation, the booster came apart at apogee into two pieces. It is an easy fix as a bulkhead blew out and only needs to be better reinforced against the loads. A recent addition of a GPS tracker to the second flight of the booster worked.

The ramjet lost electrical power at apogee. The reason was found and will be repaired.  The power failure meant that the GPS tracking stopped at apogee which is a serious problem. Wolfram is considering adding a backup GPS tracker to the ramjet with a separate power supply.

Based on telemetry, the deceleration seen after stage separation gave the drag coefficient (Cd) on the ramjet at 0.25. The accuracy of this calculation is about 10% based on the acceleration readings which is fairly good all things considered.

drag force = Cd * velocity-squared * air-density

The thrust also scales with the square of velocity and that gives the minimum velocity when thrust minus drag exceeds weight to be about 656 feet per second (200 m/sec).  This is the minimum velocity which the booster must supply at burnout.

For this flight using the K-motor in the booster, with the water ballast, the maximum velocity was 574 feet per second (175 m/sec). The ramjet reached an apogee of 3,800 feet AGL (above ground level). The booster pushing the ramjet reached an apogee of 3,100 feet AGL. Maximum acceleration under boost phase was 6 G’s. The ramjet was flown without fuel, only an equivalent weight of water instead of gasoline.

The next build of the Gas Guzzler will have a larger booster which will hold an L-sized motor.

In the 12-17-2021 flight, the ramjet’s drogue parachute deployed correctly but the main chute did not. This seems to have been caused by the drogue chute being too small. Rockets with dual-deployment parachute recovery systems typically split the rocket in two places with the drogue ejecting forward and the main ejecting backwards. It is a good, reliable system but it cannot be used in the Gas Guzzler design because you cannot split the ramjet in the middle. Both of the parachutes must deploy from the front. The recovery system design requires the drogue to pull the main out of the ramjet at 1,000 feet.  Wolfram developed this system on prior rocket with launches at ROC in Lucerne Valley and it has worked the last three launches. Wolfram is confident that it will work in the next flight of the ramjet, too.

Damaged fragments of the ramjet recovered downrange after the second launch of the Gas Guzzler.

The air flow measured inside the ramjet during the second flight on 12-17-2021 was within the range of an air blower system at Wolfram’s workshop that had considered using to static fire the ramjet with an operational burner. However, he is not comfortable with trying the main burner at his workshop, but testing the flameholder and its igniter is OK. Thus, a static test of a fueled ramjet coupled with an air blower system is being considered.

Going forward, once the ramjet is rebuilt, Wolfram would like to verify the performance of the igniter and flameholder over the full range of the air blower’s speeds in a static fire setup at the MTA. In this testing, he also wants to work on how quickly the flameholder ignites to avoid losing a lot of forward speed after stage separation.

Wolfram will rebuild the ramjet as quickly as possible and could be ready for another launch in February 2022. He would like to do another booster-only flight from the MTA to verify the fixes on that stage. If successful, then the next launch will try a flight with a short ramjet burn using roughly 5 seconds of gasoline fuel.

The society will peer-review the work done so far and find the best way to proceed. Wolfram is still evaluating the data and may have an update to this firing report later.

TESTING OF A GERB AS A LIQUID ROCKET ENGINE IGNITER

Dimitri and I have overseen a few recent liquid rocket engine static fires at the RRS MTA. Although there have not been any ignition problems, we had discussed different approaches to getting a safe and reliable start.

Liquid rocket engines sometimes have problems with achieving reliable ignition. Failure to ignite the cold mixture of propellants due to lack of sufficient energy or outright failure to light can create a serious fire or explosion hazard. One of the simplest approaches is to use a sufficiently energetic pyrotechnic device mounted in the engine throat from the aft side. Visible indication of the igniter firing should be confirmed prior to opening the propellant valves and releasing the stored pressurant gas.

There are a few different pyrotechnic devices that are good for this task such as lances and gerbs. Both require a special license to get. Dimitri, who has such a license and happened to have a couple gerbs that we could try. Lances have been used in prior liquid rocket engine firings and vehicle launches with success.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerb_(pyrotechnic)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrotechnics

At this event, we decided to test a gerb to see if it would be appropriate to try in lighting a liquid rocket engine. We secured one to the top of the alpha box rail and fired it to examine the plume,

A gerb is a pyrotechnic device used in firework displays.
Simple schematic of a liquid bipropellant rocket engine with an external igniter system
The gerb was fired to determine if it would make a suitable igniter for a liquid rocket engine.

Our impression of the gerb operation was favorable in terms of its 20-second firing duration, but it seemed that a smaller gerb size might be sufficient. Smaller gerb sizes are available. There is also the long-term consideration of having these available for liquid rocket testing which would require a storage magazine. Other less complicated means should be explored.

IN CLOSING

Several of the attendees stayed behind to clean up the MTA and relax in the Dosa Building. This was the last launch event for our outgoing president, Osvaldo Tarditti, who has faithfully served the society for many years with his time, skills and leadership. We enjoyed the sunset on a mild and nearly calm winded day. It was a fine end to a great day at the MTA and what was our last event of 2021.


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Gaseous Oxygen and Propane Rocket Engine Machining and Test

by Richard Garcia, Director of Research, Reaction Research Society

published on RRS.ORG, January 20, 2019

(*) The following report was originally written in early 2014 and a December 2013 static test of the rocket discussed herein.  I had originally intended it for a future RRS newsletter that never came about.  So, I’m just putting it up here (on the RRS.ORG website).  Better late than never. (*)

Simple, quick, easy and cheap are not words that describe liquid propellant rocket engines (LPRE).  And while working on some LPRE’s, I’ve been itching for a bi-propellant rocket project that would be simpler, cheaper, easier and above all, would materialize more quickly than the projects I was already working on.  A gaseous oxygen and propane engine using parts from a brazing torch is what I came up with.  (More of an igniter than an engine itself, really.)

I had one of those small brazing torches you see at hardware stores that use the handheld propane and oxygen bottles.  I had been thinking of using it for the basis of a rocket for a long time but I was hesitant for two reasons: I didn’t want to cut up and lose my torch, and secondly, I couldn’t find an adapter for the oxygen cylinder that wouldn’t (excessively) restrict the flow.  Making one didn’t sound like it would fit my criteria.  The  need for a pin to depress the release valve on the tank in the adapter is what pushed it past what I think I could easily machine, also my lathe can’t make the required reverse threads.

Bernzomatic brazing torch, WK5500 model, from Home Depot
Example of a brazing torch, the Bernzomatic WK5500 available at Home Depot. Comes with a propane bottle and an oxygen bottle with a torch device to mix the fuel and oxidizer gases and discharge them through the tip. Torch is lit by the welding sparker device shown at the bottom right.

After further delays with another one of my rocket projects, I was thinking about basing an engine on the torch again. I realized that if I could live with the flow restrictions I could use the valves already on the torch.  I could cut the feed line tubes and put fittings on both sides.  That way, I could use the tanks and valves for a rocket and still be able to put the torch back together.  So, I went to work.

DESIGN OF THE ROCKET

Beginning the design, I was immediately faced with the complication that I no way to measure the flow rates of the gases. So I decided to work the math backwards from the usual way.  (And will therefore omit the details so as not to give anyone else any bad ideas.)  Instead of selecting the thrust and using that to determine the needed flow rate and appropriate nozzle dimensions, I started with the throat size.  I had recently discovered a site that sells the same nozzles that are used in the high-powered rocket motors like AeroTech.

www.rocketmotorparts.com (site no longer available)

www.aerotech-rocketry.com

These nozzles are made of a molded phenolic resin fiberglass composite.  I picked a type that looked like it would be simpler to machine a retaining ring for, and a size that would be good for the Chromoly tubing that I had on hand that I wanted to use for the chamber.  After those criteria, I was left with about three nozzle throat sizes.  The nozzles were only a few dollars each so I picked a size that seemed about right knowing that it would be easy to switch it out and try different nozzle sizes if I didn’t like the results.  For sizing the chamber, I used an L-star (L*) value of 75 inches.

During the whole thing, I was never concerned much about performance parameters, like thrust or specific impulse.  I was working with low flow rates and low pressures. The propane bottle delivered around 100 psi, but the oxygen bottle delivered only 10 psi. So I used, a regulator to reduce the propane pressure to the oxygen pressure and went with a 10 psi chamber pressure.

I wanted a straight-forward ignition method.  I had never made any of the sort of pyrotechnic igniters that have often been used with amateur liquid propellant rocket engines.  So instead, I decided I would try a glow plug, the kind they use on radio-control (RC) model piston engines.  I wasn’t sure it would work under the conditions in my rocket so I got one and gave it a test by seeing if it would light a propane hand-torch.  It did.  So  I went forward with the glow plug.  I wasn’t worried much about hard starts.  Because of the low pressure and low flow rates, I knew the chamber could take the worst case combustion instability or hard start, which would be more of a pop than any sort of explosion.  (The chamber could withstand around 4500 psi before bursting and the operating pressure was 10 psi.)

RC model engine sized glow plug igniter with seal
An example of a radio-controlled (RC) model engine sized glow plug igniter shown with sealing ring. In essence, a very small version of an automobile, lawnmower or motorcycle spark plug. Positive electrical connector is the barbed fitting, the main body and whatever it is threaded into is the electrical ground. When supplied with electrical power, the thin platinum wire heats up.

I wanted some sort of ablative liner for the combustion chamber.  A phenolic resin and fiberglass composite chamber.  A phenolic resin and fiberglass composite would have been my first choice.  I figured that it would be a bit of overkill for this engine.  I also wanted something I could get produced quickly.  After taking note that PVC has been used as a fuel in some hybrid rocket engines, I thought that it would make a suitable combustion chamber liner for a rocket like this and potentially for other small rockets.

After my design was finished and I was putting the finishing touches on building the rocket, I was sending information about the rocket to the RRS pyro-op in charge of the upcoming test, Jim Gross.  Naturally, he wanted to know the expected thrust.  Somewhat embarrassed, I hadn’t bothered to calculate it.  I hadn’t given it much thought for this project since thrust and performance was beside the point.  I knew that at most it would be getting a few pounds of thrust and I didn’t worry about it.  So, I sat down and did the calculations.  I knew it would be small but it came out to be only a gram of thrust.  Well, this motor won’t be getting anything off the ground any time soon, but at least it could form the foundation of an on-board restartable ignition system for a larger rocket engine.  It was also a fun practice project for a small thrust chamber design and construction.

Figure 1: Exploded view of the GOX-propane rocket.  The glow plug is not shown in the assembly.
Figure 2: GOX-propane rocket cross-sectional view.

Figure 1 shows an exploded view of the whole assembly except for the glow plug igniter.  Figure 2 shows the nozzle retainer bolts setting into the nozzle. This feature would require modifying the nozzle and I omitted it from the final design. I had been concerned about pushing the nozzle into the chamber but this turned out to be only a minor inconvenience during handling.

BUILDING THE ROCKET

I used a solenoid valve and a check valve that I already had on hand and ordered a matching pair online.  I used 1/4″ sized aluminum tubing I had and 45-degree flared fittings from the valves to the injector. I machined the injector from a piece of scrap brass I picked up back when I was in college. This was, incidentally, my first time machining brass and I was impressed with how easy it was to machine, I should have tried brass a lot sooner.

Finishing the injector and making the chamber is where this project got interesting. Normally, to make the injector holes at the required angles you would have to either do some fancy work in holding your injector work-piece, like a sine vise (which I didn’t have) and rotary table or use a mill, like a bridge-port type, with a tilting head (which my mill didn’t have) and a rotary table. I didn’t have any of the right tools and I wanted something easier, something that could be done using a simple drill press.

What I came up with is a fixturing system that takes advantage of the versatility of 3D printing. I had recently acquired an Ultimaker 3D plastic printer, so printing fixture parts was quicker, easier and cheaper. The basic idea is to create a slanted fixture that holds the injector at such an angle from the horizontal plane such that the injector hole being drilled is vertical. The fixture indexes from either a marked feature on the injector, or a second part of the fixture that would hold the injector and provides the rotational indexing features needed to place all of the injector holes. Such a fixture is able be able to hold the injector at several rotated positions. This removes the need other set up tooling. For multiple angles of holes in the injector multiple bases can be made. This allows the proses to be scaled up to more complicated injector designs without much additional effort.

This fixturing technique is only advantageous if you can use 3D-printing. If you had to machine the fixtures it would probably be harder than using the normal methods. Although this method would add fixture design to the task list it should make machining go more smoothly. Making the parts with a 3D printer is easy. The real advantage however is reducing the needed machine tools. All you need in a lathe and a drill press, although it never hurts to have more tools. Potential disadvantages include reduced rigidity (unless you go through the extra expense of having them printed in metal) and reducing the obtainable accuracy, although I think the accuracy you would get would be fine for amateur projects.

Slanted fixture assembly for drilling injector holes
Figure 3: Slanted fixture with clamping feature for angled drilling (45 degree) of injector holes

Figure 3 shows the 3-D printed angled fixture I made for drilling my injector.

Figure 4 is a figure of a generic design for such a fixture with a generic injector taken from Scott Claflin’s larger 1670 lbf LOX/ethanol rocket engine.

Figure 4: Scott Claflin’s injector hole drilling fixture (30-degree angle)
Figure 5: Flat fixture for drilling the oxidizer holes

A possible improvement over the shown designs is to incorporate drill bushings over the top of the injector to help locate the drill and reduce wandering, which can be a big problem when drilling on slanted surfaces. Additionally, the bushings could be cut to an angle to match the angle of the injector face to eliminate the gap between the bushing and injector face.

There are other ways to reduce the difficulty in drilling into the injector face. You could machine an angled face into the injector while it was being turned on the lathe so it would provide a surface perpendicular to the drill. That feature could either be left in or machined off after drilling the orifices. Also, the injector could be left with an extra thick face, and a flat area could be made with an end mill, again the feature could be left in or the face could be machined flat. Although both methods might complicate locating the orifices in the right location.

Compared to the figures shown, the fixture I actually used was more crude and needed some improvements. I also used similar fixturing to drill the bolt holes on the combustion chamber, nozzle retainer and injector. This 3D-printed fixturing concept will not work for everything but it has the potential to either reduce the difficulty of complex machining operations or to expand what you can do with simpler machine tools. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of the actual machining process.

TEST RESULTS

I did the static testing on December 7, 2013 at the Reaction Research Society (RRS) Mojave Test Area (MTA).  Firing day was an exciting experience.  It was the first time I fired a rocket engine that I had designed.  Things went pretty smoothly considering all the things that could possibly go wrong during a test firing.  The firing itself also went well save for a few issues.

Figure 6: Static hot fire of the GOX/propane rocket engine from the iconic I-beam at the RRS MTA

Video footage of the December 7, 2013, hot fire tests at the RRS MTA on YouTube.  My test is the last one in the series.

The buzzing sound that can be heard in the video was being caused by the check valves. They didn’t quite have enough flow to keep them fully open. This can also be seen effecting the exhaust flow in the video. I knew about this problem ahead of time from cold flow testing I did.  On a larger rocket, this issue could be a major problem by contributing to combustion instability and all the problems that can go along with that. With such small flow rates and low chamber pressure, I knew it wouldn’t be an issue for this engine. I was more worried about any propane getting into the oxygen system because of the large pressure difference between the tanks. With the launch date approaching, I didn’t have time to seek out better check valves for such low flow, so I went forward with the valves despite the flaw.

The second problem discovered during hot-firing was the significant amount of debris generated from the ablative liner partly obstructing the nozzle and canting the plume to one side. This is clearly seen in the video and progressively worsens throughout the burn.  So, it turns out that the PVC material doesn’t work well under these conditions, creating too many solid particles.  It was also evident that the PVC liner was emitting a noticeable odor.  The closest thing I would compare it to is burnt electronics.  The nozzle, itself, had very low ablation and looks fit to be fired a few more times once the debris was cleaned off.  If I ever fire this rocket again, I will try it without the ablative liner.  I don’t think it will cause a burn through so long as burn times aren’t excessively long.

Figure 7: Converging side of the nozzle showing the asymmetric, partial blockage from solid debris from the ablative liner being re-deposited
Figure 8: Looking inside the chamber, melted ablative liner generated a lot of debris in this small engine

I also noticed that the flame color was off from typical oxygen/propane engines I’ve seen. This is likely from an atypical propellant mixture ratio probably because of actual flow rates differing from what was expected from doing the math backwards and not being able to measure the actual flow rates.  The mixture ratio could be improved by either changing the injector orifice sizes or by adjusting the valves from the torch on the tanks. For this hot-fire test, I had both valves fully open.  From looking at the test footage, the amount of nozzle plume expansion looks okay, but if I were to try running the engine again, I would like to try some of the other available nozzle throat sizes and see if they do any better.

After running the engine, a noticeable film was left on the outside of the retainer. It has a copper and brass color. At first, I thought it was deposited from erosion of the injector. But after disassembly, the injector looked to be in excellent condition with no noticeable erosion.

Figure 9: Nozzle retaining feature, note how large the 6-32 screw heads are in this view

Visible in this picture is the brass coloration left on the nozzle retainer and the small but asymmetric amount of ablation of the glass-phenolic nozzle.

Figure 10: Post hot-fire GOX-propane injector with manifold seals and attached feedlines

CONCLUSIONS

Fire came out the right end, so it meets my criteria for a successful amateur rocket engine.  If I fire the engine again, I will do so with more appropriate check valves, a different nozzle size and run it without the PVC ablative liner.  The design has some potential as the baseline for an on-board, restartable ignition system for a larger LPRE, but would need to be redesigned, probably beyond recognition.  But the real takeaway for the project, besides being a fun learning experience, is the fixturing method that may make building impinging injectors easier to do.  I intend to try this fixturing system in future designs.

For questions, contact Richard:  research@rrs.org