Traveler III In-depth Recap

As reported earlier Traveler III from USCRPL launched on September 29th, 2018 to become the first student-built rocket to reach space. Unfortunately, the avionics package was not switched on prior to launch so recording and recovery were not possible.

The team has written a full recap of the launch attempt.

With the igniter inserted and the pad cleared, a team waited at the ignition table, while the avionics team worked to activate the unit and resolve any last-minute issues. Due to a miscommunication between these two teams, an “Avionics hold” was misheard over the radios as an “Avionics go”. Thus, Traveler III was launched with no warning to the Avionics team, and the vehicle ascended off the pad without the payload placed into a state that would transmit data or deploy the recovery systems…

…However, the lack of a recovery system meant that this rocket was now ballistic, and the distinct sound of a sonic boom from its reentry was heard across the playa around 5 and a half minutes after launch, as the simulations predicted from a ballistic flight.

USCRPL has been trying for so long to reach space so to have this outcome must have been pretty demoralising. The rocket on the upside was eventually found,

…Some kind souls from around Black Rock messaged RPL that they had potentially found the rocket and, after a long return to the playa, a team scavenged and found the remnants of the vehicle. Traveler III, now in countless pieces, was found in one centralized location, indicating that the vehicle remained intact through descent until it hit the ground…

…no data was recovered from the passive Avionics system or the Go Pro cameras on-board.

As predicted, the rocket would have reached space,

…The location of where the rocket was found, combined with the simulations and observation of a full motor burn, indicates that the vehicle did in fact pass the Kármán line and ascended over 370,000 feet…

Traveler IV is now in full swing and will once again attempt a space shot in Spring of 2019. With the lessons learned from this launch, I am adamant USCRPL will reach space and become the first university team to do so.

Traveler III Heading To Space

Updated 27/9/2018

The team from the University of Southern California Rocket Propulsion lab (USCRPL) plan to launch their Traveler III solid rocket to the Karman line this weekend (29th), this will be the team’s third attempt.
Let us take a look back at the previous launches.

Traveler I was launched in 2013, unfortunately, 3.5 s into flight and at 4000 ft altitude, the rocket had a RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly). The cause was backside burning of the propellant, where the propellant in contact with the case had been improperly inhibited causing a chamber pressure to increase until the case failed.

Traveler II launched in 2014, once again aiming for space, utilising a carbon fibre motor case, the rocket exploded after ignition at approximately 4000 ft. The motor case had shredded at the reinforced bidirectional section, the location of the forward bulkhead.

The team went back to the drawing board and have since carried out successful ground tests of the Graveler II rocket motor (ground test motor for Traveler III) and launched their Fathom II rocket to 144,000 ft and recovered it successfully in 2017. From a component level, it looks like the team has everything aligned and sorted for another space shot. So here is wishing them the best of luck on Saturday, they deserve this win.