Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009


For the longest time, I had thought about large schmidtt cameras with huge CCD surface areas at the primary mirror. Probably, I was not the first to think of it.

"Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- NASA's Kepler spacecraft is ready to be moved to the launch pad today and will soon begin a journey to search for worlds that could potentially host life. Kepler is scheduled to blast into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a Delta II rocket on March 5 at 10:48 p.m. EST. ..."Kepler is a critical component in NASA's broader efforts to ultimately find and study planets where Earth-like conditions may be present," said Jon Morse, the Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The planetary census Kepler takes will be very important for understanding the frequency of Earth-size planets in our galaxy and planning future missions that directly detect and characterize such worlds around nearby stars." ...In the end, the mission will be our first step toward answering a question posed by the ancient Greeks: are there other worlds like ours or are we alone? "Finding that most stars have Earths implies that the conditions that support the development of life could be common throughout our galaxy," said William Borucki, Kepler's science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "Finding few or no Earths indicates that we might be alone."
..."If Kepler were to look down at a small town on Earth at night from space, it would be able to detect the dimming of a porch light as somebody passed in front," said James Fanson, Kepler project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. By staring at one large patch of sky for the duration of its lifetime, Kepler will be able to watch planets periodically transit their stars over multiple cycles."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Nice space posters

My apartment is hardly large enough to hold one of these, but some day in a new place...


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Constellation construction images

The Boston Globe has a great series called "The Big Picture" in which they post high quality images of some subject. A previous post from the cosmodrome was taken from there. Below, are a few of the images showing construction and preparation for the Constellation flight systems. Much of this work is to get ready for the Ares 1-X test flight. Now this flight has few fans, since it is so basic and contains so many simulated parts as to be of dubious value (other than being really cool), and may not offer all that much in the way of new information. But rocket practice is a good thing, and it will certainly be cool (even if it blows up, which it might). The 1-X flight is scheduled for a Summer launch (no not a flight by Sumerians).

The Big Picture Constellation Images

Sunday, February 15, 2009

40% off all Quest online sales: 14th, 15th, 16th

Hurry up tomorrow is the last day, 40% all items in stock. Think about the D5 - P motors... they are now marked at $5.00 each. But this discount would take them down to $3.00 each! Not bad at all.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Disney - "Man in Space"

"Rare Walt Disney Space series from 1955, speculating about going into Space. Remember, more than 50 years ago, Sputnik hadn't even gone up yet!

This intro to the video is done by Disney afficionado, film critic Leonard Maltin!"

These are the first three of 8 youtube video clips from this show. Watch the whole playlist if you have time, it is great fun. There are some obvious mistakes, but overall this shows that years before the first flights to orbit, the basics were already in place. There was a substantial lull in activity after WWII and before 1957. Yes rocketry had ramped up in this time, but given the capability and the theoretical knowledge, few were really trying all that hard to attempt orbit. The simple satellite proposed in one of these clips is a great design, and one that could have been flown even sooner than Explorer in early 1958.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pioneers 0,1,2

One of the most daring series of flights, from any space exploration project has to be the early Pioneer launches. Between August 17th, October 11th, and November 8th, three very small probes were launched into deep space in an attempt to orbit the Moon and return images of the farside.

The initial probe names "Able", refer to the launcher which consisted of a Thor booster, and an Ablestar sustainer. "The original plan was for the spacecraft to travel for 2.6 days to the Moon at which time a TX-8-6 solid propellant motor would fire to put it into a 29,000 km lunar orbit which was to nominally last for about two weeks."

The historical context of these launches is very important: this project started launching less than 1 year from the first artificial satellite, placed in orbit on October 4th, 1957 ("October sky"), and only about 6 months after the first US satellite launch. This was a daring project because at a time when launching small payloads to orbit was a serious challenge, the goal was to launch a payload into solar orbit, then fire a small retro motor to catch lunar orbit. The complexity, the accuracy, and the risks involved in such a project are really appealing. This small team literally shot for the moon. The first launch was under the USAF, the next two were moved to NASA.

No launch was able to make lunar orbit, collide with the moon, or even enter solar orbit. However, the results were still impressive at times:

Pioneer 0 - Able 0 was destroyed during a rocket failure at 77 sec.
Pioneer 1 hit a peak altitude of 113,800 km, but returned to earth after almost two days.
Pioneer 2 hit a peak altitude of 1550 km due to an upper stage failure.

Comprehensive PDF documents

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Narcon 2009

This year, Narcon (the Annual National Association of Rocketry Conference) will take place in Connecticut, well within striking distance for NYC rocketry people.  I plan on attending, if at all possible.  There are several really interesting talks planned for Saturday.  The host club appears to be CATO 581: I often fly with this group, in addition to a New York rocketry club.

The highlight of the conference for me has to be the talk on Saturday about the Sugar Shot to Space project.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

P to N flight

You may recall that I recently posted about an O to N flight to about 50,000 feet. Here is the previous post.

Well the same rocket (or slightly modified perhaps) flew on a P motor staged to an N motor, or an RDH8 P6000BB to an AMW N4000BB to quote the page. This is your optimum stage ratio of 4:1. It was estimated that the peak altitude passed 80,000 feet and the top speed was more than mach 3. But yet again, there was severe burning, blistering, and fraying on the fins. Note that recovery was only partial, the upper stage (sustainer) did a lawn dart. Probably, that was the only way it could have been recovered on the Playa because from 80,000 feet such a small rocket with recovery could have drifted 10 miles. The upper stage crashed within 1.5 miles of the launch, exceptionally close for a flight to 80,000 feet. (Thanks again to the lawn dart recovery.)

This project helps put one of the older CSXT space attempts, also a P to N rocket, into perspective. The CSXT flight failed to stage, and the sustainer hit nearly 80,000 feet as a boosted dart! Obviously CSXT was going to break 100,000 feet, but by how much? 80,000 feet is far from space; why did this flight get such limited altitude? (Yes it feels strange to say that about 80,000 feet.) Firstly, the use of high thrust motors (N4000 for example) is not ideal for altitude. The upper stage was probably scraping the bottom of the hypersonic range, and that is part of the reason for the horrendous fin and airframe damage. There are so few details about the CSXT project, it is hard to really figure out how much this launch can tell us about what it takes to hit space. Professional rockets have made space on less power. But the question is what will it take for an amateur rocket to do the same? Better documentation of all high altitude attempts would be nice, even the failures. The internet makes this into a pretty simple task. The following represents more information by far than I have ever seen about the CSXT attempt. I do know that the CSXT attempt used a much faster P motor, possibly a P 13,500 as I remember. That would not have helped. But either way, a P to N should make space. The key is in timing, as I will discuss at the end of this post.

Recovery was:

3 x #4 shear pins
Drogue=CD3 CO2 deployment & backup 4g BP


And obviously the sustainer system failed for some reason. Here is what the author thinks:

"Looking into altitude temperature data the Troposphere ends around 45,000 feet. Above that point the temperature is -70degF.
So the rocket was exposed to -70degF for over 45seconds.
The electronics in the fiberglass nosecone didn't stand a chance without any insulation."

I wonder if electronics could really cool down so quickly under these conditions. They are fairly well insulated by the airframe (well for a 1 minute exposure that is), and the rocket airframe was also heated to several hundred degrees during flight.  It is very hard to really figure out what happened, though the author does not say if the ejection charge even ignited or not.

The dynamics of this kind of flight really make it hard to ever know what went wrong. But I personally wonder at the power of ejection charges used. Dynamic pressures at high mach speeds, even at 80,000 feet, can combine with cold temperatures and with the shear pins to really lock or even cement (via melting paint) a nose cone into the airframe. CO2 ejection + 4 grams of black powder seems like a lot. But maybe, just maybe, it still was not enough? The fact is, most high altitude flights fail to recover properly. The OuR project, now almost totally lost to the world due to limited records (again the documentation issue), failed to recover after a flight to near space.

Under these flight conditions, my advice would be make sure that either the recovery system ejects properly, or the rocket blows up.

This rocket scientist's name is Robert DeHate. Check out his web page, loaded with tons of great rocket projects and lots of electronics as well. The best has to be his 13mm two stage carbon fiber rocket that can carry what appears to be a sonic beacon or even GPS! I love the look of this little guy.

Robert DeHate

*Update - 2/6/2010

This video below is from Balls 18, it looks like the next attempt at flying this rocket. Mr. DeHate expects it to break 100,000 feet. I understand that he continues to work on ways to protect the airframe from these high mach flights.

It is worth noting that a two stage P to N flight is capable of hitting space (100 km) but only under the right conditions. The best possible mass fractions are needed, and equally important is timing. In the video above, DeHate attempted a 10 second delay in staging. This is a great way to protect the airframe from burning up so much, as well as increase final altitude. The goal of 100,000 feet requires both after the results of 80,000 feet on the first P to N flight. Space would call for the following: Optimizing mass fractions by either lightening the airframe (particularly the upper stage) and/or making the motor casing on the lower stage the airframe. Next, the N could be replaced with the reliable, efficient, and extremely powerful N 5800 motor. Finally, the timing is crucial. The delay must be long enough to let the upper stage ignite as high as possible, but in no case lower than 40,000 feet. If you get the upper stage doing mach 5 at 50,000 feet, space is in the bag. Ideally the P can get the upper stage to 50,000 feet and about mach .8 for the motor burn. That will take more than 10 seconds delay, however. It requires a reliable timer, probably a burst disk in the nozzle, and possibly head-end ignition on the motor. Doing this is harder than it sounds.

Read this post about the possibility of space on two N motors.