Steely-Eyed Missile Men

Just a quick hit, then back to work…I’m finishing a short story for Baen’s website in advance of Frozen Orbit’s release, the deadline for which coincides with an audit trip I have to take right after Thanksgiving. So yeah, lots going on at Chiles Manor South…

Aerotech Arreaux, the first large-ish rocket I built after getting back into the hobby 15 years ago.
My high-power fleet and mission control.
The Arreaux on an Estes F-15 motor, after the engine nozzle clogged and blew out the forward end. Black-powder motors are susceptible to this problem as they don’t easily scale up in size.
Public Missiles Mini Black Brant X, on an H182 redline motor.
Estes Mega Der Red Max on an Aerotech G64 White Lightning motor. Composite propellant works a lot better in these sizes than black powder.

Last weekend I went to my first high-power rocket launch since moving to Tennessee and had a blast with the Music City Missile Club (pun intended). It was a bit chilly with clear blue skies, not like the teeth-rattling cold and gray overcast that too often defined our launch days with Tripoli Mid-Ohio.

Out of four attempts, I had two successful flights and two which were less-than-successful but no less spectacular (i.e. they blew up).

Rocket science ain’t supposed to be easy.

DIY Space Program

When deciding to become a novelist while keeping the day job – sadly necessary if you also choose to live in a house and eat food – you have to be willing to give up most of your hobbies, or at least the most time-consuming ones. In my case, that was modeling and high-power rocketry (HPR, for the uninitiated).

HPR is the grown-up version of the ubiquitous Estes model rockets some of you might have toyed with as kids. Typically the rockets are big enough, and engines powerful enough, to require FAA waivers which close the airspace to conflicting traffic. You also have to go through a certification process with one of the national hobby organizations.

“Red Death”, headed for 6,000′ AGL and Mach .90, never to be seen again.

If you’ve been hanging out at this blog for a while, you know I’ve been a rocket and space geek since I was a little kid watching Apollo missions on the old black-and-white TV. When I discovered high-power about ten years ago, it hooked me completely. Better Half was less excited but she at least tolerated it. And to be fair, it’s not cheap: the cheapest motors are around twenty bucks each, and that’s if you’re using a reloadable system which means you’ve already forked over a hundred for motor casings. Throw in medium- to high-tech materials (fiberglass, composites, etc) and electronics (those parachutes don’t deploy themselves at 10,000′) and stuff gets spendy in a hurry. I built a couple of fiberglass rockets and one partially with composites, and that’s about as techy as it got. Perhaps if I’d invested in an altimeter-controlled recovery system, I’d still have Red Death instead of it being carted off by winds aloft somewhere into the next county.

This project, on the other hand, looks to be a bit more complicated.

It’s essentially an open-source Mercury/Redstone vehicle, taking advantage of modern building materials and 50-odd years of acquired knowledge. If you’re looking for a challenging build, this might be it.