MTA Launch Event, 2022-04-23

by Jim Gross, Reaction Research Society

Excellent artwork generated by USC RPL for the launch.
Group photo on the night before.

The USC RPL group had a large number of experienced seniors graduating this year.  The pandemic had minimized activity over the past two years, so the group had many new students with little experience in conducting firings.  Many of the experienced students were graduating so the purpose of this project was to teach the lower classmates how to conduct the firing preparations.

The Jawbone 6-inch rocket sits on the launch rail at the RRS MTA

I was the Pyrotechnic Operator (Pyro Op) in charge and arrived at the MTA at 0822-hours and shown the work done so far.  The vehicle was on the launcher but the igniter was not yet installed.  USC RPL had two 3-bag igniters prepared in fueling area.  One was attached to their traditional dowel road but the spare was not.  

Custom built igntier for the solid motor.
Spare charges

The Pyro Op gave the safety briefing covering both rocket and environmental hazards at 0900-hours to the 79 participants.  The predicted time to impact if the recovery system failed was 89-seconds.  Everyone then got under cover in the bunker and final instrumentation checks were conducted.  The igniter was inserted at 0913-hours and the vehicle launched at approximately 0922-hours.  The ignition was prompt and the flight looked normal.  Telemetry was lost during the flight.

High angle view from the north of the launch of Jawbone.

Some interesting facts about Jawbone:  The predicted altitude was about 34,000-feet.  It used their older propellant.  It was reported the motor had about 40-lbs of propellant.  This contrasted with the 100+ pounds that was reported on the Standard Record Form (SRF).  The igniter had a total of 33-grams of igniter composition of which 24-grams was powder and the rest was strips of propellant.  The igniter composition was the same AP/HTPB propellant as the motor.  The free volume of the motor was reported to be 114-cubic inches. The outer diameter was 6-inches.

Jawbone was recovered late in the afternoon.  The data recording system was working and to be downloaded and analyzed when the team returned to USC.

Further details on the event were provided by Jeremy Struhl of USC RPL:

USCRPL successfully launched and recovered Jawbone on Saturday, April 23rd, 2022. The vehicle reached an apogee of 41,300 feet above ground level (AGL), a maximum speed of Mach 1.717, and a peak acceleration of 7.266 G’s.

Infrared camera view of the Jawbone launch from the RRS MTA, 04/23/2022

Jawbone saw multiple new systems in avionics and recovery. First, the avionics unit on Jawbone received a number of upgrades. First flown on CTRL+V, USC RPL’s custom pancake-style PCB stack conforms around the nosecone deployment CO2 canister, allowing more space in the nosecone. The system featured a new custom battery charging and management PCB to prolong pad standby time. Additionally, this was our first flight of the Lightspeed Rangefinder, an in-house designed and built tracking unit that used four ground stations positioned around the launch site to triangulate the position of Jawbone following its flight. This positional data proved valuable during the post-flight recovery of the vehicle.

Fish-eye lens view of deployment at 41,000 feet
Another view of the spent booster stage.
View from within the booster during deploymemt, nosecone in view

The Jawbone recovery system featured a next-generation design with improvements from the prior rocket ”CTRL+V “ dual deployment recovery system used in that flight. Using a connector and extension wire running along the forward shock cord segment, USC RPL’s custom avionics unit attempted to control the active deployment of the main parachute when the vehicle reached a decent altitude of approximately 5,000 feet. Unfortunately, the recovery system experienced a partial failure resulting in the main parachute failing to open. The drogue parachute was still successfully deployed, so the vehicle was recovered intact. The main parachute, which was constrained using a Tender Descender, was never deployed due to unexpected loads during nosecone deployment disconnecting the cable attached to the Tender Descender.

MTA Firing Report, 2022-02-12

by Dave Nordling, President, Reaction Research Society

The University of Southern California (USC) Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RPL) held a static fire test of their third solid motor design in the Earthshaker series. Prior designs resulted in failures and incremental corrections to the design were made for this test. Earthshakiiest was to be the largest impulse motor made by any collegiate team. Osvaldo Tarditti was the pyrotechnic operator in charge.

Earthshakiiest sits ready for static firing at the vertical test stand with sheet metal in place to protect nearby mounting surfaces.

Given the repeated recent failures of USC motor designs, the society required protective barriers installed in the event of another energetic failure. Unfortunately, this would prove to be a wise choice as failure did result right at startup. All personnel were at a safe distance or behind appropriate barriers.

Earthshakiiest motor ruptured at start and burned itself out.
Damage to USC’s test stand was total, The mounting points in the concrete were damaged such that further use is not possible..

The extreme heat from the explosion and fire destroyed the static fire stand, melted portions of the shielding and severely damaged the mounting points such that further use is not possible. USC is working with the RRS to clear and clean up the pad. Many of these tests are very dangerous and can damage our facilities. The society expects all groups to repair, restore or replace any of our assets damaged. A new method of holding future large solid motors is being discussed.

The society thanks our former president, Osvaldo Tarditti, for supporting this event as the pyrotechnic operator in charge and to Bill Inman for also supporting the event on behalf of the society. The operation was conducted safely and much was learned despite the poor outcome. USC will provide details from the testing soon and a path forward,

MTA Launch Event, 2021-10-16, First Update

by Bill Claybaugh, RRS.ORG

In a remarkable demonstration of persistence and luck, RRS President Osvaldo Tarditti was able to find the spent booster rocket. A few photos were captured of the recovered rocket.

Bill Claybaugh’s recovered spent booster casing brought back to the Mojave Test Area (MTA)
Closeup on the bulkhead shoved into the aluminum case of the booster from the impact.
The fins look great and the nozzle was recovered.

Based on the impact location, it was possible to reconstruct a possible flight trajectory by assuming the motor performed as designed and further assuming the front of the vehicle was a flat plate and that the mass did not include the mass of the payload.  We know from video, telemetry, and recovery of the payload that the payload separated from the booster about one second into the flight.

The recovery location on the map shows a northeast trajectory as confirmed by launch footage.

This analysis suggests a burnout velocity of about 1550 feet/second with a peak altitude of about 21,200 feet given the known range of about 14,300 feet. This analysis gives a flight time of about 74.5 seconds and an impact velocity of about 820 feet/second.

Given the observation that the vehicle stopped in about 2 inches (based on the depth of the depression in the hardpan) before falling on its side; we can estimate the impact deceleration.  Given an average velocity during impact of about 410 feet/second because the final velocity is zero and it took only 0.167 feet to come to rest, it follows that the impact occurred over 0.000407 seconds.  This, in turn, indicates an average deceleration of about 31,250 g’s.

The reason for the vehicle turning to the Northeast starting at about 0.20 seconds into the flight remains unclear. There is no evidence either in video or in images of the recovered hardware of any hot gas leak nor of any transient thrust vector anomaly.  The wind was less than 5 miles per hour and from the Northwest; if it had caused a turn, we would expect it to be toward the Northwest, not the Northeast as observed.  The only plausible theory at this time is that part of the belly-band became embedded between the nose of a fin and the rocket body causing the turn via differential drag and then fell away from the vehicle, causing the resumption of normal flight.  Once the recovered hardware is available for inspection, we will test each fin nose to see if a gap exists that might have caught the 0.020-inch thick belly-band.

The recovered payload segment was examined after it was found just north of the launch site.

It also remains unclear as to why the payload separated about 1 second after launch.  The recovered payload showed that both initiators had fired (by design, if one fires the other is ignited; thus, only one signal is required to fire both) but did not show any evidence of having been “swaged” or otherwise subject to being forced off the rocket by aerodynamic or other forces. Neither does the matching front end of the rocket show any evidence for the payload having been forced off. We thus conclude that one of the flight computers ordered the firing of the initiators.

The bellybands being fit checked in the launch rail.
Recovered bellybands have evidence of tearing from what is likely fin impact.

However, the main flight computer stopped working just after 0.80 seconds into the flight for an unknown reason after recovery it was still connected to its battery, which showed the expected 3.87 volts. Further, the limited data recovered from that computer shows that it did not initiate separation of the payload: the firing circuit shows continuity throughout the period that the computer was operating and separately records that no signal was sent by that computer.

Still image of the rocket just after launch making the unexpected hard turn.

This points to the backup flight computer.  That hardware is currently at the manufacture for repair, after which we hope to extract continuity data with regard to its firing status.  Hopefully, once that and other data is available from the backup computer we will be able to establish when it ordered the separation of the payload, and why.

Recovered payload with the main and backup computer.

A second update to this firing report is expected. The booster has been packaged up for a more detailed inspection.