RRS REGEN ENGINE PRIZE

by Dave Nordling, President, Reaction Research Society


RELEASE DATE: December 31, 2023

The Reaction Research Society (RRS) is pleased to announce an annual competition for university project teams to compete for an annual prize for the longest steady-state impulse duration of a regeneratively cooled bi-propellant liquid propellant rocket engine in static fire at the RRS MTA.  

All rules are explained below.  Rules are subject to change solely by the RRS and updates shall be provided on our website, RRS.ORG, whenever they arise.  The newest release date shall replace and void all prior copies.  In event of conflict, federal, state and local laws, the RRS Constitution and by-laws shall take precedence.

  1. Engines shall be designed and operated with liquid propellants.  Only bi-propellant engines are permitted.  Engines shall be safely tested in static fire conditions at the RRS MTA.  Only testing conducted at the RRS MTA after the start of the annual competition period will be considered for the prize.
  2. This will be an annual competition that will begin July 1, 2024.  Each annual competition period will begin on July 1st and close on June 30th of the following calendar year.  The RRS shall determine how long the competition will continue and may terminate this competition at any time.  A prize winner, if any, shall be announced no earlier than July 31st after that competition year closes.  Announcements shall be made on the RRS.ORG website.
  3. The RRS executive council shall appoint a three-person committee with the task of judging this competition and determining which team, if any, will be awarded the prize in accordance with the rules herein.  Committee members shall be technically proficient in liquid rocket engines and be neutral observers.  Committee members shall not have any influence over or be any part of any university team.  University teams are encouraged to ask questions of the committee at any time.  The committee’s decisions are final and not subject to repeal by the RRS.  All data and information regarding the engine testing must be recorded and submitted to the RRS for judging.
  4. Any missing information, deception or lack of clarity in the submitted information provided to the judging committee may result in disqualification of the testing attempt or barring the team from future competitions.
  5. Engines shall be designed and constructed by the student team and not be derived from pre-existing commercial or surplus hardware.  Teams shall provide a full description of all material suppliers and machining service providers used to the RRS judging committee.
  6. All teams shall provide a distinctive name for their team and must provide an accurate listing of all participating members and a single point of contact to serve as the advisor for the project.  The advisor must be a current university faculty member.  All teams must submit their membership list and full point of contact information for their advisor to the RRS.  
  7. Only university-funded projects consisting solely of students shall be allowed to participate. Sponsor-donated funds are acceptable, but for a team to be eligible for this competition they must represent a specific university.  All teams must provide a full description of their budget and all sources of funding to the RRS judging committee. All teams must provide sufficient financial information for the transfer of prize money or for the payment of fees or damages to the RRS.  
  8. Competition is open only to teams comprised entirely of US Persons and all teams must remain in full compliance with US ITAR laws.  US Persons are defined by being a natural person who is a lawful permanent resident as defined in 8 U.S.C 1101(a)(20) or who is a protected individual as defined by 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a)(3).  All teams shall provide a full listing of all participants and the universities shall issue statements to the RRS certifying compliance.  Failure to comply with ITAR laws shall result in disqualification from this competition.  This competition shall also be compliant to all US federal, state of California and local jurisdictional laws.  Additional requirements for eligibility may also apply.
  9. All participants in this competition shall list the RRS and its assignees as listed insured by their university insurance policy.  Consult the RRS executive council on these matters.
  10. All engines in this competition shall use a regenerative cooling scheme. The regenerative cooling flow path of the engine must cover the entire chamber length from injector face to throat line and to the nozzle exit plane.  There is no specific requirement on the direction of the regenerative cooling path in engine designs, but the coolant path geometry and design must be fully described in the submittals to the RRS judging committee.  All engine designs must have a diverging nozzle with a minimum expansion ratio of 4.0.  Local elevation of the RRS MTA is 2,300 feet above sea level.
  11. Ablative liners, graphite inserts or throats or the use of ceramic coatings are not permitted in engine designs in this competition.  
  12. All regenerative cooling paths must be demonstrated not to leak both before and after the valid test attempt.  This shall be confirmed by the RRS pyro-op in charge and the RRS judging committee.
  13. Transpiration cooling schemes from the chamber walls, throat, or nozzle are not permitted in engine designs in this competition.  Only transpiration cooling of the injector face is permitted.
  14. Dump cooling schemes are not permitted in engine designs in this competition.
  15. Boundary layer coolant holes from the injector face are acceptable but must not exceed 5% of the total injector mass flow as determined by analysis submitted and approved by the RRS judging committee.
  16. All participants will conduct their qualifying hot fires exclusively at the Reaction Research Society’s Mojave Test Area (MTA).  All scheduling shall be by the RRS president.  Testing conducted outside of the RRS MTA or conducted before the start of the annual competition period shall not be considered.
  17. All participants shall be subject to society rules on safety and operations and federal, state and local regulations.  A licensed CALFIRE Rockets Class 1 pyrotechnic operator is required to be present for each test attempt. The RRS president shall appoint the licensed pyrotechnic operator in charge for any operation at the MTA including each valid test attempt.
  18. Prize for the winning team will be $1.20 USD for every 1.0 lbf-seconds of verified steady state impulse operation meeting all requirements as determined by the RRS judging committee.  Longest steady-state duration shall be verified through submitted test data and information submitted by a competition team.  Team demonstrating the longest steady-state duration of a valid engine design shall be the winner in each annual period of competition only if it exceeds the prior record by the minimum impulse amount.   Prize will be awarded based on fully demonstrated and confirmed compliance with each of the following: (A) Minimum impulse to qualify for the prize at the start of the competition shall be 3,000 lbf-seconds in the steady-state condition.  (B) Prize money is based on the adjusted impulse value generated in test subtracting away this minimum qualifying impulse value. Example: a 1000 lbf engine fired for a steady-state duration of 25 seconds that meets all requirements has a total impulse of 25,000 lbf-sec, but will have an adjusted impulse of only 22,000 lbf-sec when subtracting the minimum impulse value.  The prize awarded, if this is the winning team, would be $26,400 USD in that annual competition period. Bonuses are considered separately. (C) Minimum chamber pressure throughout the entire steady-state period shall be 300 psig.  Chamber pressure values shall be rounded down to the nearest whole number value. (D) Minimum thrust throughout the entire steady state period shall be 300 lbf.  Thrust values shall be rounded down to the nearest whole number value. (E) Steady state conditions are defined as reaching and holding the declared nominal chamber pressure (psig) within +/~10% for the steady-state period. (F) Minimum steady-state period shall be for a minimum of 5.0 seconds.  Hot-fire durations shall be rounded down to the nearest tenth of a second. (G) Each annual competition winner must exceed the prior record by a minimum steady-state impulse of 300 lbf-seconds.  Otherwise, the prior record stands and no winner is awarded in that annual period of competition. (H)  If no team is successful in surpassing the initial minimum impulse (in part a) or surpasses previous record from the past annual competition periods by the minimum amount (in part g), no award will be given.  (I) No more than one team will be awarded the prize in any annual competition period. (J) Maximum prize is capped at $50,000 USD.  Any bonuses may be awarded on top of the prize money if the RRS judging committee can confirm full compliance to the requirements for the bonuses.  Bonuses are awarded only to the annual competition winner if there is one.
  19. A $1,500 fixed bonus shall be awarded only to the annual competition winner if their engine design entirely avoids the use of 3-D printing or any additively manufactured parts as confirmed by the RRS judging committee.  This bonus is to reward those teams demonstrating more desirable skills in traditional manufacturing.
  20. Each winning team shall be required to fully describe their engine design with their hot-fire results in a 20-minute presentation to be given at the next annual RRS symposium.  The purpose of this competition is to aid the development of the technology by sharing best practices.
  21. All qualifying test attempts for the annual competition prize shall measure thrust, chamber pressure and all propellant flow rates by data files submitted to and by techniques validated by the judging committee.  All valid attempts to claim the prize will include the minimum amount of functioning instrumentation during the entire hot-fire period being evaluated.  All teams shall declare their targeted performance parameters in advance of their testing attempt for valid comparison and qualification for the prize.  Failure to meet any of these requirements shall invalidate the testing attempt.
  22. Instrumentation shall include a direct measurement of chamber pressure, engine thrust, and the propellant mass flow rates of all fuels and oxidizers. Measurements of fuel and oxidizer supply manifold pressures may be included but neither shall be a valid substitute for direct chamber pressure measurement. Microsoft Excel CSV files are the only allowed file format.  
  23. Minimum data sampling resolution for all instrumentation shall be 0.1 seconds (10 Hz) with the exception of temperature measurements which shall be (0.25 Hz) if temperature measurements are used.
  24. Minimum accuracy of all pressure, thrust and mass flow rate measurements shall be no more than 5% of declared nominal values as stated by the team prior to the test attempt.  Error analysis and instrumentation accuracy information shall be supplied to and confirmed by the RRS judging committee with the test data.
  25. All participants including visitors and spectators shall have signed and submitted the indemnification waivers in advance of their arrival to the MTA on any day of operation. All participants including visitors and spectators shall fully comply with the instructions of the pyrotechnic operator in charge.  The pyrotechnic operator in charge or the RRS reserves the right to limit the number of people in attendance at any particular MTA event.
  26. RRS shall approve all test plans, hardware, engine designs and operations well in advance of testing before allowing the test to be scheduled.  A minimum of 4 weeks advance notice with all final materials submitted is recommended.  Review of all testing equipment, test plans, procedures, safety features and equipment must be conducted by a Class 1 licensed pyro-op or an expert appointed by the RRS president.
  27. The pyrotechnic operator in charge has full authority to stop any operation or disqualify any team for any reason.  All participants, attendees, visitors and spectators shall fully and immediately comply with all RRS appointed pyrotechnic operator instructions at all times.
  28. All resources used in this competition shall be coordinated and approved by the RRS president.  The RRS is not obligated to provide any financial or material support to any team in this competition.
  29. All hot-fire attempts for this competition shall be subject to a minimum daily fee of $500 USD paid to the RRS within 30 calendar days of the test attempt. Universities may have multiple teams in the competition but each team shall be required to pay their own $500 USD minimum daily fee for that specific team.  The RRS standard fee policy shall apply to any operations outside of this competition.  Failure to pay fees can result in disqualification or exclusion from future competition of the university. Fees are not refundable, but attempts may be rescheduled with sufficient advance notice.
  30. All teams shall be responsible for providing adequate and suitable fire suppression measures and the protection of RRS assets.  
  31. All teams shall be responsible for the repair of damage to RRS assets sustained in events related to testing or paying for the costs of repairs as determined by the RRS.
  32. All teams shall make safety their highest priority.  All teams shall be responsible for designing safe and reliable pressure relief and venting systems, propellant filling and draining operations, prevention of cryogenic hazards including exposure, fire and trapped fluid volumes, and incorporate adequate spill and contamination prevention and mitigation measures.  All systems including but not limited to instrumentation, remote actuation, ignition, propellant and pressurization management shall be fully described for a full review by the RRS and the pyrotechnic operator in charge prior well in advance of any testing day.  Changes to the designs after review are not permitted without subsequent review and approval by the RRS and pyrotechnic operator in charge. Teams are strongly encouraged to consult with the RRS in all phases of their design and development processes including the early conceptual periods.
  33. All teams shall abide by the stored energy limitations (10,000 Joules) for all attended operations at the RRS MTA.  Otherwise, only remotely controlled operations are permitted.  All teams shall fully and immediately comply with the instructions given by the pyrotechnic operator in charge as appointed by the RRS president.
  34. All teams shall abide by the flaring stack rules on the venting of volatile fuels as imposed by the RRS.
  35. The wearing and proper use of suitable personnel protective equipment in all operations at the RRS MTA is mandatory and shall be the sole responsibility of every individual.
  36. All teams participating in this competition are required to specifically mention the “Reaction Research Society” in their related public announcements or social media postings.  Contact the RRS secretary and vice-president for details.

For any questions regarding this competition or its rules, contact the RRS president or the RRS director of research.  Questions shall be relayed from the executive council to the judging committee for their consideration.  Please use the official RRS emails as individual officers are elected to annual terms and offices may change ownership in each calendar year.

president@rrs.org

research@rrs.org

Other important points of contact include:

secretary@rrs.org

treasurer@rrs.org

facilities@rrs.org

vicepresident@rrs.org

Updates and new releases on this competition will be announced by postings on the Reaction Research Society website,

RRS.ORG

For US Mail correspondence, write to:

Reaction Research Society

8821 Aviation Blvd.

P.O. Box 90933

Los Angeles, CA, 90009-0933


Solar Cat Steam Rocket Development: Part 1 (2020-2022)

by Bill inman, Reaction Research Society


INTRODUCTION:

During, and even before my first steam rocket, the “Scalded Cat”, first launched in 2000, I had contemplated the idea of heating the water with concentrated sunlight.  Also, in the years after the Scalded Cat, I became convinced that, as impressive as it was, it’s highest flight of 4660 feet still left room for improvement.  My late wife Carmela and I had discussed trying to combine an improved performance rocket and a solar heated rocket into one project and launching it on the 20 year anniversary of Scalded Cat’s first flight in December, 2000.  She was enthusiastic about the idea, but in 2019, died before it could happen, and I regretted her not living to see it.  As a new widower considering my options, I decided on this project for my next chapter in life.

Part 1 of the report on this continuing project covers the early development of a parabolic trough concentrating solar furnace to heat the water in a future steam rocket, and the results of the first “Solar Cat” rocket.

PURPOSE:

 Develop the knowledge and experience through hands-on design, fabricating and testing to eventually build and launch a 100% solar powered steam rocket with dramatically higher performance than the original propane heated “Scalded Cat” flown at the Reaction Research Society’s Mojave Test Area (MTA) in the years 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Some of my good friends have been a tremendous help along the way.  In addition to myself, “Team Steam” primarily includes (in alphabetical order):  Kime King-PatrawDave McKinnonKeith & Nadara SoulesDale Talcott, and Jon Wells

Launch of the Scalded Cat on it’s first flight, December 2, 2000.

Some of my friends and I have had an interest in solar energy since high school back in the 1970s, particularly in the heat potential of concentrating solar furnaces.  As such, we built several “science project” type models over the years – one reaching 600o F. – more than enough for a steam rocket.   Combining steam rockets with concentrated solar heat seemed like a good way to pursue both these interests simultaneously.

Receiver design with an upper window and two diagonal mirrors:

Before building the parabolic reflectors, I wanted to test an idea for the receiver since it will double as the launch pad and radiant heat collector. The receiver must be wide enough for the rocket fins to pass through for launch, it will cast a larger shadow than otherwise.  I hated losing that area of potential solar heat, and got the idea of trying to capture that otherwise lost sunlight from the top, with a window and  2 diagonally opposing mirrors inside, reflecting it onto the receiver tube.  The first device tested on October 3rd and 4th of 2020 was just a particle board box of this design.  (see cross sectional drawing below)

By itself, this receiver box was underwhelming, unable to even boil water in four hours of full sun.  Undoubtedly, there was significant heat loss on both ends of the receiver tube where metal fittings, valves & instruments protruded outside the box.  Wrapping those areas with makeshift insulation on the 2nd day’s test helped retain some of the otherwise lost heat, but it still fell short of expectations.

Testing the receiver box alone this way couldn’t tell us much though, since in this form, it was really just a small batch type solar water heater.  The real test would be comparing this design against one with the upper part just insulated instead,  and heated only by a parabolic reflector through the bottom window.

First of four pictures shows the 2” galvanized pipe receiver tube freshly painted with Thurmalox solar collector selective coating

Second photo of four shows the receiver box with the receiver tube and the two diagonal glass mirrors installed.

The third photo of four shows the reciever with an upper glass window, mounting yoke, instruments and a drain valve.  The receiver tube ends double as pivoting points for manually turning it to follow the sun

The fouth and final photo of the series shows the reciever assembly as it was set up at the RRS MTA on October 3, 2020 initially facing away from the sun before starting it’s first test.

The following graph shows the heating rate starting slower on the second day (blue line), but then picking up and passing the rate of the first day.  This was probably due to the start times.  The sun was lower in the east at the start on the second day and heating picked-up at mid-day.  

On the first day however, the sun was high at the start, but soon sinking into the west resulting in the heating rate dropping off after a period of two and a half hours.

The plot of temperature rise during the two tests on October 3rd and 4th of 2020.  The ambient air temperature was around 95 Fahrenheit.

Adding a four-foot span parabolic reflector focusing through the lower window:

This configuration was needed to actually test the difference in temperature achieved with and without using the top window and diagonal mirrors.  Not surprisingly, this version was able to produce higher temperatures than the receiver box alone, hitting the boiling point with ease.  However, when the use of the internal diagonal reflectors was compared with blocking the sunlight to them with fiberglass insulation, no discernible difference in heating was apparent.  And with larger parabolic reflectors planned, it seemed likely that the higher temperatures would result in larger radiant heat losses through the top window, exceeding any potential gain.  Therefore, this idea was abandoned.

​Adding the 4 feet of parabolic reflector involved enlarging the “U” shaped yoke to accommodate the corresponding increase in width and depth.  Trying to save the materials and work that went into the receiver box while continuing to use mostly surplus lumber for the project, still mostly particle board, yielded less than ideal results.

​However, we were now on to testing the outputs of the parabolic trough solar furnace, the actual objective.  The first test was attempted on November 7, 2020 at the RRS MTA, but clouds rolled in, blocking the sun until it was too low in the west to aim at.  So our first actual readings were taken with the 4 foot reflector back home in Carson City two days later.  

This version exceeded 300o F. twice, with a best of 371o F in 4 hours.  In both those tests, it reached 300o F within 2.5 hours with full sun.  In the other tests, clouds interfered, yet it still reached 267o F in one of them.  In all, 8 tests were conducted in this configuration, ending on November 23rd.

We also learned that heating was still possible in thin overcast conditions as long as the clouds were thin enough to allow the sun to create shadows with crisp edges.  But the heating rate was reduced, as was the stagnation temperature.

First of four photos shows the cutting out the parabolic curve in particle board.

The second of four photos shows the checking the focal spot on the ground with the reflector attached as seen by the intersection of the two bright lines.

Third photo of four shows the solar furnace set up but sitting idle at the RRS MTA on a cloudy day – November 7, 2020

Fourth of four photos shows another view of the assembly sitting idle at the RRS MTA.  Notice the absence of dark, crisp shadows due to clouds.

Same setup but with a larger reflector with two 3-foot spans:

​A primary goal of these steps of the project was to determine how hot the water in the receiver tube will get – and how fast it will get there vs. the size of the reflector, in both square footage and span (concentration ratio).  A number was derived from the tests with the receiver box alone, and now also from the 4 foot span reflector.  Of course, a foot wide swath right down the middle was shaded by the receiver box, so that area had to be subtracted from the total square footage.  By replacing the single 4 foot wide reflector with two reflectors, each 3 feet wide, a comparison was possible.  Also, the two reflectors were moved out from the center a few inches, reducing the amount shaded by the receiver box.

​Again, this particle board contraption was enlarged by adding about a foot to each end of the parabolic end boards to support the wider reflector.  Reinforcements were added to the yoke as well, because unlike the previous version which was hauled to the MTA disassembled in the back of my 2000 model year GMC Jimmy and re-assembled on site, the new 6 foot span and yoke would not quite fit.  Instead, it was rebuilt to sit on a platform on a utility trailer towed behind the Jimmy, but still transported disassembled.  Both the yoke and the reflector assemblies had also become so heavy and ungainly that it was getting difficult to assemble and disassemble without assistance.  Dimitri Timohovich offered to assist several times, and was a big help on those occasions.

New idea to add nozzle and fins to launch a demonstration rocket with the receiver:

Now, my late wife Carmela and I had had the idea to launch the new solar powered steam rocket on the 20th anniversary of the first successful Scalded Cat launch – the RRS December 2000 event.  It was looking like a lost cause until the best temperature and pressure achieved with the 4 foot reflector almost touched what we had considered the minimum needed for a steam rocket.  With the new, larger reflector, it should only do better.  By then, we were fast approaching the end of November, but what if?  … Could there be any possible way to do it that quickly?

Well, I had built and launched a couple of “Simple Cat” steam rockets starting in 2006, proving that a very simple rocket based on 2-inch nominal galvanized pipe with “hardware store” fittings and accessories, and released by a manual “pull cable” could actually fly.    One even reached approximately 1000 feet of altitude according to MaryAnne Butterfield’s calculations from it’s flight time.   And the receiver tube in this solar furnace experiment was already none other than 2” galvanized pipe!  Could the receiver box be made into a launch pad, and the receiver tube made into an actual flight vehicle?  – a solar heated “Simple Cat”?  That might just be the one chance we have to do this in under a month, making a December, 2020 launch possible!

​The first of two photos by David Allday shows the author by the “Simple Cat” in the tower on December 2, 2006, at the RRS MTA.

The second of two photos by David Allday shows the launch of the Simple Cat from the Large Vertical Test Stand at the RRS MTA on December 2, 2006.

The team’s decision was, “go for it!”  There was already a launch set for December 12th at the MTA, so that would be the target date – the official RRS December launch 20 years after our first steam rocket flight!  The fins and nozzle off the old Simple Cat were installed, and thanks to Dale Talcott’screativeness and fabrication skills, fin slots cut into the upper (north) end of the receiver box, and a launch tower added during a marathon session the weekend before the launch!  Provisions were also made to tilt the assembly far enough “south” to raise the tower & rocket vertical for launch.  Racing the clock, a lot was hurriedly done and not fully tested in the final form, if at all!   At the MTA on the 12th, we discovered that the newly reinforced reflector assembly was then too wide to fit into the newly reinforced yoke!  – OOPS!!!   With the quick thinking of Dave McKinnon and Dave Nordling, the yoke was hastily widened thanks to Dave McKinnon’s skills and cordless tools he had brought with him to the MTA.  But by the time we got it ready to start heating, the sun had moved behind clouds in the western sky.  – No 20th anniversary launch.

Or might there be…?   Back home in Carson City, Nevada, Kime King-Patraw pointed out that we still had nearly 3 more weeks left in December, and that launching it at ANY time in December of 2020 was still pretty close to the 20 year mark!  It wouldn’t be at an official RRS event at the MTA, but you can’t always get everything you want!  Some additional work was done, and heating tests were conducted on the 18th, 19th, and 20th, with the highest temperature reached being only 300o F.  All three were done in my backyard though, where shading from the bare trees and/or clouds still hampered the effort.

On December 21st, full of optimism, Kime and I drove to Tonopah, NV near where an undisclosed launch site had been chosen.  This area seemed fitting, as the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes concentrating solar-thermal molten salt powerplant was also in the “rough vicinity of Tonopah”.   Jon Wells drove up from Las Vegas to complete our trio.  

The morning of December 22nd dawned completely cloudless in the high desert sky.  We drove out to the launch site early and set up.  Heating went quickly, but as pressure built, a drip started in the nozzle plug assembly.  We aborted heating, inspected, then cleaned & re-tightened the fittings involved, then re-filled and started the heating again.  Again, it started to drip once it started building pressure.

​By then, we didn’t have time to go back to town & look for a new fitting, but since the temperature and pressure continued to climb, even with the leak, we decided to just keep heating and see what happened.  As usual, the drip got worse as the pressure increased, and as it approached launch pressure, we started fearing it was almost out of water, too.  – So, knowing we’d need to release pressure and drain it anyway, and with nothing really to lose, we attempted a launch.  After a few tries, the stubborn plug/clamp finally released and it took off, becoming what just might be the world’s first ground launched, completely solar powered rocket!  – Nevermind that it was only at 175 psi and only went about 20 feet high on it’s half a pint of remaining water – it still cleared the tower!  – Hey, Dr. Robert Goddard’s first liquid rocket flight only went 41 feet high!

First of three photos shows the trailer mounted solar receiver at the RRS MTA on December 12, 2020. The only problem was no sunlight.

Second of three photos shows Kime King-Patraw and Jon Wells comparing notes during the heating experiment on December 22, 2020 conducted in the general area of Tonopah, Nevada.

Third of three photos shows the author conducting the first launch of a completely solar-powered, ground launched steam rocket just as it clears the launch rails.

Developing a motorized tracking system:

By manually adjusting the solar furnace to keep it targeted on the sun, it was necessary to move it and re-clamp it every 3 to 4 minutes.  This required someone physically being there to make repeated adjustments at that frequency.  The RRS pyrotechnic operators in charge took a dim view of this, and strongly advised us to come up with a remotely operated sun tracking method.  We had also been foiled in our tracking efforts at least a couple of times by other peoples’ projects needing us to take cover in the bunkers during their fueling, firing and/or troubleshooting.  This sometimes caused sun tracking to stop for an hour or more.

​I had once built a drive gear for a telescope mount with a clock-rated a/c gearmotor, so built one for this solar furnace using the same motor and concept.   Of course, this resulted in more pieces scabbed onto the monstrosity that was never originally designed for it, adding complexity, weight, and more potential problems.  In the end, this tracking gear worked … sort of…  We intentionally designed it to run “fast”, thinking it would be better for it to “outrun the sun”, allowing us to just momentarily stop it (with an “on-off” switch in the blockhouse) long enough for the sun to catch up, than risk it “running slow”, requiring approaching it to re-set it ahead by hand.  Again, that worked too … sort of…  It ran so fast that it had to be stopped for the sun to “catch up” about every 20 minutes.

​There were several other problems with it binding, hanging-up, and engaging/disengaging the gear teeth.  The rough road to the MTA broke the actual motor mounts one time, requiring a hasty field repair by Jon Wells and Dave McKinnon.  It had also become painfully obvious that the mount’s range of east-west motion was another limiting factor.  We never got set up too early to aim at the morning sun in the east, but there were several times we reached our western limit before the heat and pressure were sufficient, and the sun was still high enough that we could have kept going if only it was able to rotate farther west.  This wasn’t a fault in the tracking gear, but in the design of the mount itself.

​Along with a couple more unsuccessful launch attempts, mostly due to clouds, we still managed to make three more flights while also recording additional heating data.   It’s second flight was on March 20th at the MTA, again only reaching about 25 feet after more problems, including the broken tracking motor mount.  Dave McKinnon and Jon Wells both came again to assist on that attempt, Dave recording the heating rate notes, this time.  The 3rd flight was also it’s best, reaching an estimated 400 feet on April 1stat another undisclosed site, this time in “the rough vicinity of Lovelock, NV” where Dale Talcott and his brother Dave were able to attend.  Everything went right that time, other than a breeze and some high, thin clouds building, eventually slowing the heating rate.  My estimated potential of this fat slug of a rocket was it reaching 500 feet of altitude based on it being half the capacity of the earlier 6 foot long “Simple Cat-2” that may have reached 1000 feet of altitude.   An altitude of 400 feet wasn’t too far short of that estimate!!

Then it was back to the MTA for the fourth and what would be the final flight to another disappointing altitude of only 65 feet (again, derived  from timing it’s recorded flight duration).  – Clouds again…  Along with the ever faithful Jon Wells, Keith and Nadara Soules were present for this flight and kept a constant supply of energy bars and cold water bottles on hand.  They also helped clean the reflector, fill the rocket, and take care of trash.

First of four photos shows the Solar Cat reaching a height of 25-feet at the RRS MTA on March 25, 2021.

Second of four photos shows RRS member, Jon Wells, fielding questions at the RRS MTA. Note the new paint job on the receiver and tracking drive system.

Third of four photos shows the launch with the highest altitude on record of 400 feet on April 1, 2021 from just outside of Lovelock, Nevada. RRS member Dale Talcott can be seen to the left taking video of the launch.

The fourth of four photos shows the highest flight of the Solar Cat from the RRS MTA on April 10, 2021, reaching a height of 65 feet.

The device was being stored on my trailer in my back yard, oftentimes uncovered.  As the winter progressed, we had some rain and snow.  For protection – as well as aesthetics – we decided to paint it.  But what color?  Since the ultimate “improved performance rocket” would also be a tribute to my late wife Carmela, I asked her good friends Kime and Nadara what they thought Carmela’s favorite color was.  The answer was a certain shade of green. I had not known that, but they were both sure of it.  So Kime met me at Home Depot, and we picked out a color that was an ever so slightly lighter shade of what they both swore was Carmela’s favorite.  That’s how the color choice came about.

Developing data on heating rates versus reflector area:

Although we got a bit caught-up in trying to launch, certainly good experience to have before progressing to the ultimate “higher performance rocket”, the original purpose of collecting test data was never forgotten.  And while we collected heating data during these launches, most of it came from non flight heatings done strictly for the data.  We got in a total of 13 tests with the 6-foot span version between December 18, 2020 and April 18, 2021.

​We wanted to get the average of at least three “good” heating sessions for each of the three configurations to increase the confidence level of the averaged results.  With the constant problems being presented by tree branches, clouds coming out or the sun getting too low in the west to continue tracking, some of the results were settled on with less than 3 tests (marked by the dotted lines on the following graph).  Only two tests were conducted with the receiver box alone, because after the dismal performance, continuing seemed pointless.

​Also, while I’ve been referring to the 12-inch wide receiver box, the first 4 foot reflector, and then finally the two 3-foot reflectors (making a 6-foot total span), it’s important to account for that not being the actual “perpendicular intercept” of the sun’s rays.  For that, we need to subtract the width of the receiver box’s shadow, and the amount the reflectors are effectively shortened by their curvature.  The actual intercepted span of the receiver box is therefore, 8 inches, the “4 ft. mirror” is 34 inches, and the “6 ft. mirror” is 50 inches.  See the prior cross sectional drawing for illustration.

​And while we managed to get the “rocket” – actually a very heavy piece of 2 inch galvanized pipe with end fittings – off the pad and into the air 4 times, it’s clear that even with the 6 feet (actually 50 inches) of total reflector span, it was still pretty under-powered, requiring really good conditions to achieve launch.  The new “2nd generation” rocket and solar furnace with ten feet of total reflector span, should be a different story!

The results of the entire heating experiments over different spans of heater with projected curves.

Testing the commercial “Sun-Tura” 2-axis sun tracking system:

At some point, a novel idea occurred: “with all the solar activity going on these days, what if a commercial tracking system existed that we could just buy?”  A few Google searches eventually revealed the SunTura unit, and one was ordered.  

More headaches accompanied mounting it to the existing solar furnace, but it was eventually installed and operational … sort of …  The sun sensor when mounted as instructed, pointed the unit far to the east of the sun – about 25 DEGREES east of it!!!  The instructions said it could be adjusted by bending the stalks holding the little LED’s under the dome.  That idea made us pretty nervous though, as it seemed that getting it “right” on the first couple tries was unlikely, and too much bending could easily result in breaking something!

So several cardboard wedges to just sit the sun sensor on were made and tried until we found the angles that caused it to aim much better.  From this, the plan became making a more permanent version of this “mounting wedge” adding fine adjustment screws, in a manner borrowed from survey instruments Jon and I used a lot in the past.  Thus the last duty of the 1st generation solar furnace became to test the new sun sensor mount for the 2nd generation solar furnace.

This new mounting platform with adjusting screws was finally made, temporarily installed and tested, in August of 2022.  As hoped, it showed that it could be “dialed-in” to finally allow the SunTura sun tracking system to keep the assembly aimed at the sun accurately enough for our purposes.

The extreme angle of the cardboard wedge needed to correct the sun sensor’s output to have proper aim.

The new adjustable sun tracker mounting.

Now, with it’s last “assignment” finally completed, the battle weary Gen-1 solar furnace was mostly dismantled and removed from the trailer, clearing the way for construction of the new “Gen-2“ to begin.  Many of the screws and boards, many of them already “recycled” for this structure, were saved to possibly be used yet again in the future.

Jon Wells had come and stayed with me a few days, and was a huge help in this effort, including helping guide the decision that we’d leave a couple parts more-or-less intact to preserve some tangible evidence of this device: the two ends of the mount/yoke & the splice Dave McKinnon put in to adjust for a mistake of mine, and the launch tower that Dale had integrated into the receiver box so well that something would need to be cut to ever remove it.  Jon and I decided NOT to cut and remove it, but leave those last couple parts attached as testament to Dave’s and Dale’s creative solutions to make a solar powered launch on the 20 year anniversary of the original Scalded Cat’s first flight a reality.

Photo taken of the remaining pieces from the 1st generation Solar Cat receiver now sitting in storage.


This is a work in progress. Further updates will be reported as the Solar Cat project continues.

MTA Launch Event, 2023-09-14

by Dave Nordling, President, RRS.ORG


The Reaction Research Society held a private launch event for the Aerospace Corporation at the Mojave Test Area on Thursday, September 14, 2023. RRS member, Jerry Fuller brought his team and experimental two-stage rocket for a proprietary technology demonstration. Osvaldo Tarditti was the pyrotechnic operator in charge for that event. No details of the launch were to be published by the customer’s request. We thank Aerospace Corporation for their continued business.

On that same day, the RRS received two pre-fabricated, air-conditioned office containers to the Mojave Test Area as part of our ever-growing facility upgrade plans. The society will have a 20-foot office container and a 40-foot crew cabin which will allow the Dosa Building to serve as a workspace for projects.

RRS member, Dimitri Timohovich, oversaw the inspections, unloading and placement operations.

The society is grateful to our suppliers, Falcon Structures and Get Hooked Crane Service, for their coordination and professionalism. The society is next planning the electrical power routing necessary to bring these assets into full service.

The society will hold a work event on Sunday, October 1, 2023, to continue facility improvements already underway including the modest photovoltaic array on the Dosa Building.

The next RRS monthly meeting is Friday, October 13, 7:30pm at the front office of the Compton/Woodley Airport.