2018 Year in Review

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

This year has probably seen the most space shot/altitude record attempts of any year since I started this website, thus it has made for an exciting year in amateur and student rocketry.

As well as these I’ll highlight my most memorable events of 2018.

Spaceshots and altitude records

2018 saw three (that I am aware of) space shots and two European student and amateur altitude record attempts.
Starting with the Princeton SpaceShot team, whom in May launched their two-stage SpaceShot rocket from Spaceport America hoping to be the first student team to reach space. Unfortunately, the 2nd stage did not ignite and the rocket coasted to 50,000 ft before being successfully recovered. A second space shot is in the works, so look out for this team in 2019!

Princeton Space Shot launch (Credit: Doug Gerrard)

Up next was the launch of Stratos III from DARE in July, aiming to reclaim the European student altitude record. The 15 kN thrust, 8.2 m long hybrid rocket, unfortunately, disintegrated 20 seconds into flight from its launch location in Spain, an official report on the cause has yet to be released. The team never the less are powering forward with Stratos IV in full development which is expected to fly to 100 km before the end of August in 2019.

Stratos III and team (Credit: DARE)

USCRPL once again tried for another space shot, Traveler III was the team’s 3rd attempt and with all their experience to date looked to be the one to break the record for a student launch to space. Unfortunately, a communications protocol error led to the rocket launching without the avionics package turned on, therefore no telemetry or recovery was possible. The rocket was heard to come in ballistic and knowing the time delays along with simulations, Traveler III was predicted to have reached space. The team continues work on Traveler IV for another shot in 2019!

Traveller III launch (Credit: USCRPL)

TU Wien Space Team launched their first attempt to break the European student altitude record and even to reach space. The Hound, the team’s 2-stage rocket lifted off from the Black Rocket desert in Nevada on September 24th, hoping to smash the University of Stuttgart’s current European altitude record and also reach space. Unfortunately (the word of this post) the sustainer failed to ignite due to an incorrectly wired igniter fail safe for when the rocket is on the pad, the unlit sustainer coasted to 42,650 ft before being successfully recovered along with the booster.

The Hound Launch Team (Credit: TU Wien Space Team)

FAR MARS Prize
When this was announced it looked to be the perfect stepping stone for student and university teams’ wanting to progress their liquid rocket development in what seemed like an achievable prize. It did succeed in progressing liquid rocket engine development, especially LOX/Methane but the timeline proved to short with only the UCLA Rocket Project attempting a launch for the competition.

That launch only lasted ~7 seconds before the Odyssey II rocket had a rapid disassembly mid-flight. This was pinned down to torsion on a welded fitting on the fuel tank.

For an added $50k of prize money you could attempt the competition with a LOX/Methane rocket engine, two teams pursued this and had some very successful engine tests. The SDSU Rocket Project successfully tested both a regenerative and ablative engine, Purdue SEDS had great success with their Boomie Zoomie rocket which featured an innovative coaxial tank design and ablative 1125 lbf (5004 N) engine.

Most of the teams’ will be trying again for 2019, with the first launch dates scheduled for early March, hopefully, all teams’ make it to the launch pad, follow here to stay on the pulse!

Flight of the Falcon Heavy…the BPS.space one ūüėČ
Voted on my Twitter poll as the best rocketry event of 2018, Joe of BPS.space does not fail to deliver.

Truly a feat of engineering, the 1/48 scale rocket featured active guidance with 3-DOF at liftoff, booster separation and an actively guided 2nd stage. The rocket demonstrated the advanced capability from the in house designed and built Signal flight computer, of which you can purchase for yourself!. Joe has a whole series of videos covering the build so I suggest you go over and check out his YouTube channel to catch up!
Keep a watch out on BPS.space for 2019, I am sure Joe has a whole bunch more epic projects in the works, for a fact I know he does!

The Rest
Other notable events of 2018 included the launch of Nexo II from Copenhagen Suborbitals and the beginning of the BPM-100 rocket engine campaign that will power their manned Spica rocket to 100 km. Curt von Delius launched his 2-stage PHX4 rocket to over 200,000 ft in June, the video is worth a watch!. The MIT Rocket Team launched their Hermes 1 rocket to 32,400 ft, the entirely in-house built rocket and motor performed flawlessly. SEDS at UCSD completed their Colossus test stand and hot fired their Ignus-II 3D printed bi-propellant rocket engine.

And to round it all out I successfully tested my spark torch igniter culminating in 14 tests, a ton of data and a very happy chap.

2019 promises to be a very exciting year, with more space shot attempts from old and new teams early in the year, will 2019 be the year a student team reaches space?
Keep visiting Mach 5 Lowdown to find out and thanks for all the support for 2018!

The Fathom Development Campaign

A backdated post from USCRPL about the Fathom development campaign, as of right now Fathom II still holds the student altitude rocketry record of 144,000ft.

Read the full post here.

With the eventual goal of flying an 8 inch-diameter space-shot rocket (similar to our previous space shot attempts, Traveler I and Traveler II), Fathom was designed as a 6 inch-diameter subscale test. Designed to reach a maximum speed of Mach 4.5 and experience a maximum dynamic pressure of 11,000 psf, Fathom was intended to anchor and validate our aero and flight dynamics models for an eventual space-shot. The vehicle was also designed to test and qualify many of our other technologies, including our thermal protection systems. Scaling the design down from our future space-shot led to Fathom’s target altitude being set to 180,000 ft.

(As we already know, Traveler III was not recovered from its space shot attempt but work continues on Traveler IV.)

USC RPL 18/19 Trailer

Web: http://www.uscrpl.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/USCRPL
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/uscrpl/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/USCRPL
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCspCCjo0L3dTu1Jq9JI3gKg

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 ‚ÄúAvionics hold‚ÄĚ was misheard over the radios as an ‚ÄúAvionics go‚ÄĚ. 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 K√°rm√°n 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 Update

It sounds like Traveller III may have reached space, but the chances of finding anything useful from a ballistic reentry may be slim if they find the rocket at all.