Rocket Construction

Below you will find pictures highlighting my deep dive into model rocketry…they will be somewhat in chronological order to show techniques and products I learned about along the way, and some of the results!

This is Hermes 1 – my initial rocket that I used to qualify for my NRA Level 1 certificate.
My first fin can…
Hermes 2 was used to gain NRA Level 2 certification…it used Hermes 1 components with the addition of a larger payload section so I could use dual-deploy for recovery…also note this is the first use of CO2 rather than black powder for separation of the sections at apogee and low altitude for the drogue and main chutes, respectively…also added a tracker in the nosecone…
Getting ready…used my AWD drive Buick Enclave for recovery – worked really well in the sandy desert out by Plaster City, CA, which is where the local San Diego club had its launch site…
River didn’t think much of the drive out and back from the desert, but loved being there – he was always welcomed by the rocketeers and their friends and family…all the noise and commotion never bothered him – he is a bird dog after all!
Early single-stage launch…
Electronics bays hold gizmos needed to track flight data and also figure out when to deploy recovery chutes…
Computers are used to configure the electronics for each specific flight profile…
Somewhere early on, though I initially swore I would not build rockets to go high, I decided the complexity of 2-stage rockets would be interesting, which in turn eventually lead to the development of the RockeTiltometer…I built lots of test rigs for that project and flew them for verification…
As things progressed and I moved on to bigger-and-better, more powerful rockets, I did not like the fragility of cardboard tubes for rocket bodies, so decided to build a fiberglass kit – Tammy is showing off my first one – intended for my TRA Level 3 qualification project…
Hawk Mountain Enterprises Bad Attitude kit…
Toughest part of the fiberglass builds, and most high power rockets, is doing the thru-wall fins and their respective fillets where they met the body…
Ahhh – mission accomplished!
Got my TRA Level 3 out at the Lucerne Valley site (Plaster City kept high-winding out)…
Per my original plans for the fiberglass rocket, I soon added some sections and converted it to a 2-stage…I had designed and built the RockeTiltometer by this time so it was along for the ride and worked well to air-start the second stage, as well as act as an adverse flight-angle abort mechanism…
Some of the rocket staging and recovery configurations can get a bit complicated!
Fortunately, there is software available, RockSim in this case, to simulate flight and recovery – an invaluable tool when you get into high-powered, high-altitude, staged rocketry…
Since many of my flights were pretty complicated, I created checklists to be sure I did all the required steps to engineer, configure, prepare, and launch the rockets safely – most of the time, things worked – sometimes, not…
Uh, oh…
Even with lots of planning, high-power rockets can bite you in the ass…it can get to be a pretty expensive hobby!
After a few mishaps, I thought it might be easier to build my rockets using aluminum fin cans that bolt on, rather than doing the thru-wall, filleted fiberglass fins…
Getting ready to head out to a launch…
2-stage electronics with GPS recovery for both stages…
With GPS transmitters installed in the electronics bays, you can track the flight of the rocket (interesting to see the post-flight profile data overlaid on Google Earth) to aid in recovery…the transmitters in the rocket continue to send out their position during and after flight, allowing hand-held receivers to track and lead you toward the downed rocket…one year, at the annual San Diego TRA Club Plaster Blaster event out near El Centro, CA, twice on successive days, I recovered my rocket almost 8 miles away from the launch site – each time, the big main parachute, designed to open when the rocket gets about 1,000 feet above the desert floor, opened near apogee about 25,000′ up…the winds aloft blew the rockets quite a ways down range…without GPS on board, I could never have found those rockets…got’em both back – fully intact!!
Nice to have a buggy available for those long recovery trips…this is Don, my former business partner, who came up to Black Rock desert with his wife Joyce a few times to help out at the BALLS events…
Cramming as much motor as you can into the rocket body can get pretty tricky at times – here I used doll-house electrical tape along the side of the motor to get the ignition wires down to the rear of the motor from the electronics bay…
Mark is the guy that got me started in all this rocket stuff…when I went out to my first visit to the local San Diego site at Plaster City, I witnessed a great Level 3 attempt flight by Mark – I had no idea you could built such great projects – I was hooked…Mark remained my most trusted confidant with regards to high-power model rocket science and he helped me with many of the aspects incorporated in my projects – it was always great to have Mark available to advise and help me think through things – many thanks Mark!
Greg was another trusted fellow model rocket guy…very thoughtful with lots of experience and a very willing hand along the way…Greg is also an outstanding, well-respected photographer who records many of the events…
Higher and higher…with ceilings limited to 25,000′ locally in the San Diego and Los Angeles area, when you want to go really high, you head to the Black Rock (same place where Burning Man is held) desert north of Reno/Tahoe – there, the ceilings are virtually unlimited as long as you get permission from the FAA…
The crew up at Black Rock…
The delicate part of connecting the motor igniters to the launch controller…
After two attempts to harness the power of the N-5800 motor in the booster, I decided to try using a carbon-fiber body tube – in each of the prior attempts, the force of the motor was so great that the fiberglass booster motor tubes broke in half…
Finally got a successful launch, and the rocket staged after an 11-second staging interval (time between when the booster motor burns out and the second stage motor ignites) – the flight simulation software was predicting apogee close to 70,000’…
Unfortunately, as the rocket was approaching 30,000′ and traveling almost 2,000 MPH (nearing Mach 3) – the forces on the nosecone caused it to collapse, making the rocket aerodynamically unstable and turning it into a skywriting machine…
After chasing adventure up in the desert at Black Rock, I decided to bring things back to San Diego…I wanted a rocket that would provide a lot of interest, primarily for the big annual meet of the local San Diego club…I built a custom 2-stage rocket with the capability of putting 4 motors in the booster section and 4 in the payload section – I called it River’s Johnnie Walker 4X4 in honor of my dog, and my favorite beverage…
Tool to inject epoxy for the interior fin fillets…
Tammy showing off the finished 6″ diameter rocket prior to painting…
Having a total of 8 motors gives lots of options for propellant type – you can change thrust curves, color, etc…here, the main booster had 2 smokey motors and 2 white…the smokeys quit before the whites which are nearing the end of their burn…
Staging has occurred due to gravity (no shear pins in the coupler…the main booster motors have almost finished burning and the main booster is dropping away…there is a programmed delay before the payload booster motors will ignite…4 RockeTiltometers are monitoring the payload section to be sure the rocket is flying basically up, else they will inhibit ignition of the payload booster motors…
The RockeTiltometers sensed that things were OK, so they allowed all 4 of the payload smokey booster motors to ignite…
River’s Johnnie Walker 4X4 soaring away…
Another great, stylized photo by Greg – thanks for all your help over the years, buddy!!

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