Saturday, January 31, 2009

Atomic Rocket

Did you know that every second, the sun puts out 92 times as much energy as hits the surface of the Earth during one year?!?! This and so much more can be found at Atomic Rocket. This page is an interesting mix between sci-fi, and real rocketry. Yes real serious rocketry is in there, don't let the appearance of the page fool you. Lots of math also!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pick a Hubble target

Visit the link below to vote on a public Hubble target. Sadly, my 1st and 2nd choices are 5th and 6th right now! I think this is due not to their potential, nor to the popularity of galaxies (my choices are planetary nebulae), but simply to the lousy pictures on the vote site:

For this reason, I wanted to include an image of my personal first choice. This is NGC 40. I hope that this picture helps people realize just how great this would be through Hubble. Better than the rest, I am certain.

You Decide

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Project Farside in Popular Science (1957)

Here are some additional materials that I recently found for Project Farside.

This comes from the October 1957 Popular Science. The details here are great: note the remarkable little payload probe... this is similar to the Vanguard satellites that were first attempted around the same time. The article says 3.5 lbs! That is tiny for 2009, let alone 1957. For 3.5 lbs, we could add a camera and GPS today. Also keep the date in mind, the month of October 1957 saw Sputnik enter orbit. The frenzy of rocketry to follow is interesting to track.

Also, note the very simple launch tower arrangement. This does match the launch tower in the video posted previously. Only 4 large pins hold the rocket at the aerodynamic cone between stages 1 and 2. These pins guide the rocket for the length of stage 1, running along the wells between each of the 4 stage 1 motors. This is a very short period of guidance, and a very simple method. There dont appear to be any rails, which would add weight. However, the very high thrust of these motors is probably the only way to maintain stability with this system. I would be worried about a hobby attempt using the same technique without massively high thrust motors and large fins. Stage 1, the aerodynamic stable stage, launches with almost 150,000 lbs of thrust, for under 2 seconds. These are R 167,000 motors, and small ones at that: more than one O motor short of a full R. This is exceptional thrust, for less than 2 sec. Probably, any hobby design would call for the use of a longer rail. What is the equivalent of 50 feet per second (a good target speed for stability) at 100,000 feet? For this reason, the O-10,000 would be a perfect first time motor for rockoon work. With a 5 foot rail, and generous fins, an O 10,000 should have no problem going stable. A touch of find cant, or better (but more expensive) yet, a rifled launch rail would spin the rocket up as well. Cameras wont like that, but it would give a better trajectory all the same.

Farside is exciting because it could have probably been used to attempt orbits, and then Moon shots if not abandoned. Given the resources on hand during the core of the space race, it is for the best that we invested in very large, expensive, and complex liquid fueled rockets: they have the power and precision to do all of the things we have been doing in space including flight to other planets and the moon. But one cant help admire the potential of such a small system. And while many companies like SpaceX go the high tech liquid fuel road, bringing the private space industry up to date, there is plenty of room for the amateur crowd to stretch the use of solids and hybrids, and other simple cheap systems.

This rocket achieved (or would have if flown perfectly) about 17,000 mph or 25,000 fps. This is just below the level of orbit. If flown at a 45 degree angle, the reduction in gravity losses alone would have probably allowed orbit (with some staggering of stage times to coast to altitude and then circularize the orbit). In addition, a launch from near the equator in the right direction would gain a further 1,000 fps or so.

This ideal performance is only about 10,000 fps short of a solar orbit... that is to say a Moon shot in this case. Those 10,000 fps are just within reach of a large stage 0. Would it come in the form of 4 Aerobee booster motors? Would this kind of complexity (5 stages, 14 motors) be too much? Would this start to cost more than monolithic liquid propelled rockets? A simple pressure fed stage 0 could be the best addition to such a system. The Thor Able upper stage (Ablestar) was a simple bi-propellant motor of impressive performance, it came online during 1958.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Manned Venus Flyby

There have been many planned flyby missions for Mars and-or Venus. Much effort was put into these plans, in part because it was expected that Russia would skip the moon in the 1970s and chose a new target which would give them a chance to be first. A manned mission would be one of the best choices. Here is one of the lightest manned missions I have yet uncovered, and it would have been a fairly simple extension of the Skylab program. I think that this would have been good practice for eventual manned landings. Other proposals vary in size, most are large indeed calling for several Saturn V launches, often in rapid succession. This is the most likely to succeed, then simply because it would cost so little money. A mission like this would be fairly practical in the next decade if it were to use a modified ISS section, an Orion class CEV, and several large engines that could be fired in stages (a few 25,000 lbs storable propellant motors would probably do the job, probably 4 for venus and 7 for mars). Please check out the information below, and the images. These have been essentially pulled directly from the Wiki page, making me your rocketry middle man.

"The proposed mission would use a Saturn V to send three men to fly past Venus in a flight which would last approximately one year. The S-IVB stage would be a 'wet workshop' similar to Skylab, first using the S-IVB engine to launch the mission on course to Venus, and then vented of any remaining fuel to serve as home for the crew for the duration of the mission. The Apollo SM engine would be used for course corrections on the way to Venus and back to Earth, and for a braking burn before the Command Module re-entered Earth's atmosphere. In order to free up more space in the Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter for the docking tunnel connecting the CSM to the S-IVB, the SPS engine on the Service Module would be replaced by two LEM engines, providing similar thrust with smaller nozzles.

Precursors to the Venus flyby would include an initial orbital test flight with an S-IVB 'wet workshop' and basic docking adapter, and a year-long test flight taking the S-IVB to a near-geostationary orbit around the Earth.

One oddity of the Venus flyby mission is that, unlike trips to the Moon, the CSM would separate and dock with the S-IVB stage before the S-IVB burn, so the astronauts would fly 'eyeballs-out', the thrust of the engine pushing them out of their seats rather than into them. This was required because there was only a short window for an abort burn by the CSM to return to Earth after a failure in the S-IVB, so all spacecraft systems needed to be operational and checked out before leaving the parking orbit around Earth to fly to Venus."

Most interesting to me, again, is the small number of components and booster launches needed for this mission, which would fly downhill towards the sun. The idea that an abort after ignition of the escape stage would be required within hours, adds a real taste of danger and excitement. Flyby missions are, after all, more about adventure and practice than science.

"interplanetary experience comes only from interplanetary missions: less difficult flights, such as that to Eros, could significantly enhance experience acquired in Earth orbital and lunar activities, and could thereby increase the probability of success for the missions to follow."   - Eugene Smith (Via Altair VI)

"Phase A

Phase A of the plan would have launched a 'wet workshop' S-IVB and a standard Block II Apollo CSM into orbit on a Saturn V. The crew would separate the CSM from the S-IVB by blowing off the SLA panels, then perform a Transposition and Docking maneuver similar to that conducted on the lunar flights, in order to dock with the docking module attached to the front of the S-IVB. Optionally they could then use the S-IVB engine to launch them into a high orbit before they vented any remaining fuel into space and entered the S-IVB fuel tanks to conduct experiments for a few weeks. After evaluating the use of the S-IVB as a long-term habitat for astronauts, they would separate the CSM from the S-IVB and return to Earth.

Phase B

Phase B would test the Venus flyby spacecraft in a long duration mission in high orbit. A Saturn V would launch a Block III CSM designed for long-term spaceflight and a modified S-IVB with the Environmental Support Module required for the real Venus flyby, and following the transposition and docking maneuver the S-IVB engine would carry the spacecraft to a circular orbit at an altitude of about 25,000 miles around the Earth. This altitude would be high enough to be clear of Earth's radiation belts while exposing the spacecraft to an environment similar to that of a trip to Venus, yet close enough to Earth that the astronauts could use the CSM to return in a few hours in an emergency.

Power would probably be provided by solar panels similar to those used on Skylab, as fuel cells would require a very large amount of fuel to operate for a year. Similarly the fuel cells in the SM used to provide power on lunar flights would be replaced by batteries which would provide enough power for the duration of launch and re-entry operations.

Phase C

Phase C would be the actual manned flyby, using a Block IV CSM and an updated version of the Venus flyby S-IVB which would carry a large radio antenna for communication with Earth and two or more small probes which would be released shortly before the flyby to enter the atmosphere of Venus. The Block IV CSM has LEM engines replacing the Service Propulsion System engines, batteries to replace the fuel cells, and other modifications to support long-range communication with Earth and the higher re-entry velocities required for the return trajectory compared to a return from lunar orbit.

The Phase C mission was planned to launch in late October or early November 1973, when the velocity requirements required to reach Venus and the duration of the resulting mission would be at their lowest. After a brief stay in Earth parking orbit to check out the spacecraft the crew would head for Venus: in the event of a major problem during the Trans-Venus Injection burn, they would have roughly an hour to separate the CSM from the S-IVB and use the SM engine to cancel out most of the velocity they gained from the burn. This would put them into a highly elliptical orbit which would typically bring them back to Earth for a re-entry two to three days later. Beyond that time the SM engine would not have enough fuel to bring the CSM back to Earth before the SM batteries ran out of power: it would literally be 'Venus or Bust'.

After a successful S-IVB burn, the spacecraft would pass approximately 3000 miles from the surface of Venus about four months later. The flyby velocity would be so high that the crew would only have a few hours for detailed study of the planet. At this point, one or more unmanned probe landers would separate from the main craft and land on Venus.

During the rest of the mission the crew would perform astronomical studies of the sun, the sky and Mercury, which they would approach within 0.3 Astronomical Units."

Many mars flyby missions carry a sample return probe that would either go directly to the earth (then using the manned craft only to carry the heavy mass at the same time, which is of dubious value), or better yet launch the sample back up to the flyby spacecraft where it could be stored or even studied during the boring flight home! Major concerns for any deep space mission, particularly a Venus mission (or a long mars landing) is radiation. The crew should have a safe house at the center of the craft, probably surrounded by propellants and-or water. Maybe food stores also? Radiation does not appear to be, however, severe enough to prevent these missions provided they are designed with some care.

Here is the source for this particular story, including lots of links at the bottom. Many of these have far more information. This is often the best part of a
Wiki entry. Also check out the Altair VI blog archives, there are several flyby missions in there.

Manned Venus Flyby

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Project Farside

These are four stage rockoons that were designed to explore space at high altitudes approaching 4,000 miles. A rockoon is a rocket launched at altitude from a balloon, resulting in a very high apogee.

The goal of this project was to attempt the highest performance possible using state of the art solid rocket motors and multiple stages. This project was initiated in 1957, soon after the launch of the first soviet satellite. It is strange that this rocket was not used to attempt orbit, it probably had the performance to make a few orbits. Burnout was around 18,000 mph. An "over the hill" launch at 45 degrees over the bubble would have probably made elliptical orbits. But the payload and quality of orbit attained would have been poor, even embarrassing compared to Sputniks 1 and 2.

"Project Far Side was a series of six low-cost, all-solid-fuel, four-stage, balloon-launched sounding rockets, each launched from a carrier 200 foot (62 m) diameter balloon, and built and used in 1957. When each balloon reached its maximum altitude of about 100,000 feet (30,480 m), the rockets fired through the balloon.

Each Far Side rocket carried a scientific payload of three to five pounds (1.4-2.3 kg) of instruments for measuring cosmic rays, electromagnetic radiations, interplanetary gases, and other phenomena. The maximum altitude reached by the Far Side rockets may have been 4,000 miles (6,440 km). This object was donated to the Smithsonian in 1965 by the Aeronutronics Division of the Ford Motor Co."

"A total of six Farside rockets were fired from Eniwetok in late 1957. The first launch was attempted on 25 September 1957, but failed due to a balloon malfunction. The next three launches in early October were also unsuccessful, because one or more rocket stages failed to ignite. The 5th and 6th Farside rockets on 20 and 22 October were the only ones to come close to the design altitude, but because of transmitter failures no scientfic data was obtained. These telemetry failures also prevented accurate tracking, and therefore no exact data on the peak altitude is available. Sources quote values between 3200 and 5000 km (2000 - 3100 miles).

A secondary goal of Farside was to test concepts for a larger five-stage follow-on vehicle, which was to reach the vicinity of the moon. However, this project never materialized."


1st stage: 4x Thiokol Recruit solid-fueled rocket; 167 kN (37600 lb) each for 1.56 s
2nd stage: Thiokol Recruit solid-fueled rocket; 167 kN (37600 lb) for 1.56 s
3rd stage: 4x Grand Central Arrow II solid-fueled rocket; 10.1 kN (2270 lb) each for 1.78 s
4th stage: Grand Central Arrow II solid-fueled rocket; 10.1 kN (2270 lb) for 1.78 s


Some reasons why this is an exceptional rocket, and why it is may favorite rocket of all: The stage ratios are nearly perfect, near to the ideal ratio of 4:1 (or in this case 16 - 4 - 1 - .25). The design of the rocket is simple, compact and really robust. The shroud that makes stage 1 more aerodynamic (but only so much is needed at launch altitudes in rarefied air) becomes the aerodynamic stabilizing surface for stage 2. Stage 4 appears to nest inside stage 3, reducing length overall. When stage 4 burns, it simply flies out of the lower four stage 3 motors. These are all fast motors, in the video one can see the rocket rapidly fly out of frame counting off new mach numbers by the second.

Above and beyond the typical rocket envy, in this I see the perfect model for an amateur program that we could build today. JP aerospace, HARC, CU aerospace, and others have planned to use rockoons for space flight. By lifting rockets to 40,000 feet or more, one can avoid much of the atmosphere and the associated aerodynamic drag. Performance improves greatly. Results to date have been mixed, and much work remains. A motor such as the simple O-10,000 would almost certainly make space from 70,000 feet. We now have newer motors including the CTI N10,000, N 5,800, and O 8,000 (in order of increasing total impulse.)

A modern day, amateur or hobby built project farside would consist of: A large balloon with a light weight tower, and a rocket made from: 4 R motors staged to 1 R motor staged to 4 M motors to finally a single M. Too complex? One might consider a single T motor, staged to an R, staged finally to a P motor, and an M. Similar performance might be found, and orbit is just within reach. Could ballistic (unguided, spin stable) rockets be launched to orbit? I suspect this would be among the simplest ways to get the first amateur (or hobby related) flight to orbit. Certainly deep space could be made. A larger rocket could be sent to or past the moon, also a very interesting challenge that the hobby crowd should consider in the coming decade. Lunar launches are an order of magnitude harder than simple orbits if they are not ballistic arcs up and back. The guidance needed would be limited in this single instance. Can they be done with a purely ballistic rocket? I suspect they can, with some very creative mission planning. But the appeal of rockoons ends with hobby attempts. When it comes to complex missions, large payloads, and reliable results, there is simply no replacement for large and expensive bi-propellant rockets.

Project Farside video (note the propaganda message against the soviet progress in space.)

An amateur flight launched from a rockoon, with impressive but somewhat limited results: the rocket did not make space, but almost... This team chose a large hybrid rocket with giant fins. The rocket was very cool, but fragile and complex. As above, I strongly suggest the use of a simple hobby motor. Back when the CATS prize was active, teams had to loft 10 kg to space in the form of a metal slug. With that extra load, I think CATS teams should have gone with a P motor, or at the very least a good O motor. Notice that the rocket failed to even burst the balloon, and was never quite stable. This means that higher thrust is needed. Any of the above motors (N 10K, 5.8K and O8K) would, if placed in a very light CF airframe, achieve massive accelerations like 25Gs or more. Also launching a bit lower, say 70,000 feet, would reduce the complexity and risk of the mission, and allow for better aerodynamic guidance. The gains from launching at 70,000 feet (already nearly .25 of space) are still significant. An O motor launched at sea level would maybe get 30,000 feet agl. The same O motor at 70,000 feet should be expected to gain more than 200,000 feet! Clearly drag is the largest enemy of small and medium-sized rockets.


A great source for many rockets
A paper that you probably cant get
The model I hope to visit some day soon

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Falcon 9 - Space X

Looking forward to the first test flight of this large rocket. If the quoted costs per launch are true, this will help make space cheaper for all. But we must not have too many expectations for this first launch, it is likely to fail. But if this one hard starts or shreds, or fails to make orbit... there will always be the next Falcon 9. Or falcon 20?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Two views of the moon

These are two images of Copernicus crater on the Moon. The first, taken with a space probe, and the other taken with a large amateur telescope. Probably the most impressive thing to see is that the earth based images are quite good. Looking at similar features on the Earth, from the moon, would be very difficult indeed due to weather conditions on earth. But going in either direction, having to pass through an atmosphere is a significant limitation. Seeing is what limits most telescopes on earth, while most space telescopes are technically limited, or diffraction limited like the Hubble Space Telescope which is to say, they work at the limit of what is possible for the given optical gathering surface.

Note the red lines; these are a rough guess at the scope of the first, higher detail image. Not bad for government work.

"Lunar Orbiter II recorded this image at 7:05 p.m. EST on November 24, 1966, from 28.4 miles above the Moon's surface, and about 150 miles due south of Copernicus. The clarity of the view is attributable to the absence of atmosphere. A photograph from similar altitudes of distant features on Earth would never be as sharp, because of haze.

Copernicus is about 60 miles across and 2 miles deep: 3000-foot cliffs, apparently landslide scarps, can be seen. Peaks near the center of the crater form a small mountain range, about 1500-2000 feet high and 10 miles long."

Monday, January 5, 2009

JP Aerospace Balloon

This is a really nice, but short video from JP aerospace. The apogee is reported at 107,000 feet. The balloon bursts here (most say that UV light exposure is what causes this, the rubber material degrades and becomes brittle in the cold rarefied air in near space, as cold as -90 below), and begins to fall.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

To 100K

At all times, there are a baker's dozen rocketry projects from teams and individuals on the edge between level 3 high power, and amateur rocketry. Many of them are attempting flights to near space or space. Some of these can be found in the links list, below and to the right. This is a particularly nice project: To100K.

These rockets are twins; built as exceptionally light (on the order of 20 lbs empty) two stage rockets that will fly on a CES O motor staged to what appears to be a 75mm M motor.  From the name it is probably clear that these rockets are supposed to hit 100,000 feet.  This is what we call near space, and has only been hit by a few amateur hobby rockets to date.  Obviously they need to get a camera payload in there for the first flight...

"In late 2004, AeroPac, decided to do another group project. (Our previous group project was the Moon Race for LDRS XX.) Eventually, we decided to do a rocket that would use all of the waiver we have for the launches at Black Rock desert."

A closer view of the upper stage.  This rocket design (fin size, shape, rocket lenght and weight) is near optimal for rockets in the atmosphere.  This is what a high altitude rocket looks like.

And closer again, one can see the M motor and the wire for the igniter.

This project is obviously close to flight ready; we have the motors and the rockets ready to go.  But for some reason, there have not been any updates on the project in a while.  The rockets were scheduled to fly in September.  But still no updates.  Hopefully good news is pending.

To 100K

Update (3/2009):

Here is an image and more info about a test flight.  Still no information about full scale flights, but this is all from a while ago now.  Will keep looking.

"Much of the excitement this weekend was around the 100K team. This is the only place in the country with an FAA waiver to shoot up 100,000 feet. The atmosphere ends at 55K feet at this latitude, and you can see the thin blue line clearly up there (see photo below).

This rocket is a sleek 2-stage custom build with redundant electronics bays (altimeters, GPS, telemetry, motor controllers, parachute deployment systems for drogue and main chutes). It is designed for an O motor booster stage (with an engine repurposed from a cruise missile launcher), and an upper sustainer L-motor stage that will go for the prize.

Well, this particular 100K test launch performed beautifully with the booster stage, with the rocket roaring out of sight, but the sustainer had an electronics malfunction. (current hypothesis is a software bug in the sustainer’s motor controller)

The sustainer did not light, or pop its chute. We heard a sonic boom as the top stage went to ground.... and drilled into the solid clay 14 feet down.... When dug out, they found a cave… created by the shock wave of the impact. It was effectively a "bunker buster." The unlit and heavy motor from that stage drilled a further 5 feet down.

This was not the first spectacular “lawn dart” for this rocket. Here's commentary from the designer:

"This is an experimental motor we built, about a half M in the booster, with an L in the sustainer. Flew to about 30K which was the target altitude to shake down CO2 deployment system and airframe. Too much rollrate, though. Onboard video will make you puke. Recovery system never deployed drogue, so it came in post Mach 2. I think about 2.8. You can hear the sonic boom as the shock wave passes us just before the video cuts out. It came in ballistic at about Mach 2.8, blew its main chutes as designed at about 800 ft., which shred, and then lawn darted into the playa. Spent the last 3 weeks in a rebuild project.

This is a two stage rocket that air started the sustainer at about 20K AGL. The sustainer motor was soft, to keep the altitude below the jet stream."

Obviously the test produced mixed results. Not a big deal, as long as they keep trying. Note the claim that it came in ballistic at over mach 2 (up to 2.8). This is massively highly unlikely. Anything short of a solid steel dart is not going to get this fast. Probably it was just around mach 1.