2017 was a bit of a quiet year when it comes to amateur experimental rocketry launches, with only USC RPL’s Fathom II launch being a notable exception, reaching 144,000ft on March 4th from Spaceport America. None the less it means all others have been hard at it designing and testing, so it looks like 2018 will be a good year for rocket launches.
Below are some events that stood out for me.
Nowhere to go
Unfortunately, it was De Ju Vu again for Copenhagen Suborbitals who had to cancel the launch of their Nexo II rocket this year. This was the same scenario the team faced in 2015, having to delay their Nexo I rocket to 2016, with only one rocket flight (partially successful) in the last 3 years I can only imagine the frustration faced by the team. Work has though continued on parachute testing and manned capsule design in the interim. Let’s hope for an increased pace and launch in 2018.
My personal highlight of the year, and as stated above was the successful launch and recovery of the University of Southern California Rocket Propulsion Labs Fathom II rocket. Launching from Spaceport America, the rocket reached 144,000ft, thus becoming the highest altitude reached by a student group to date. What makes it all the more noteworthy was the entire rocket including the solid rocket motor was designed and built by the students, coming off a bad run with previous high altitude launches, it was great to see this succeed for the team. Another space shot soon!?
Relive the action!
Off the shelf rocket thrust vectoring
Joe Barnard of Barnard Propulsion Systems released the first version of his in-house designed and built Signal Alpha Avionics package. Designed to allow you to fly a rocket via thrust vector control, gimbaling of the engine, the avionics allow the builder to take the next step in hobby rocketry while learning all about control systems and having fun at the same time! The system is suited to low power hobby rocket motors and expect to see a new and improved version go on sale in 2018. I’ll personally be waiting for sales outside of the USA to go ahead so I can get my hands on the system!
A prize for the students
At the beginning of 2017, Freinds of Amateur Rocketry and the Mars Society combined to announce the FAR MARS competition. A student competition to launch a liquid-fueled rocket to 45,000ft while carrying a small payload. Split into two prize pools of $50,000, the competition offers the prize to the rocket closest to 45,000ft and the closest rocket to this altitude that is fueled by liquid methane and liquid oxygen, therefore possible for one team to take out the entire prize pool. Teams are set to launch from the Mojave desert in May, so keep an eye out as teams get closer to launch!
I created a google docs spreadsheet to track the teams, check it out here!
Peter Madsen of RML Space Lab (now defunct) tested his rocket-powered centrifuge, sitting in the seat the idea was to experience the body to the forces that would be experienced in a suborbital flight of his future manned rocket. Unfortunately, the project has come to an end for reasons I will not go into here, never the less, spinning around under rocket power would be an epic experience!
Of course, 2017 involved a lot more, DARE announced and started building Stratos III, BURPG continued work on their Lotus line of rocket engines, the SDSU Rocket Project got to the launch pad but a tank rupture ruined their day, KURPG tested a vortex cooled combustion chamber, Robert Watzlavick made steady progress on his project, PSAS showed us their electric pump in action, Rocket Project at UCLA and MASA both tested their first liquid engines + many more.
2018 is shaping up to be a year of rocket launches and records being broken, so keep coming back and many thanks to all my readers and followers who have contacted me personally, I love hearing about what you are up to so keep the emails coming!