Thursday, October 1, 2015

My First Club Launch

The FlisKits 13th Anniversary/Bill Spadafora Memorial launch with CMASS in Amesbury, Massachusetts last Saturday was awesome.

Seen above is the CMASS club flag, featuring a minuteman holding a rocket. I think it's beautiful.

A casual rocket launch with friends is a lot of fun, but joining a club, be it a NAR section or Tripoli prefecture, is a great way to enhance your rocketry experience. You get to meet other rocketeers, many of whom may have skills you haven't developed yet, from whom you can learn. You might also find yourself flying from a much bigger field - meaning you can fly high with less worry about not recovering your rockets.

I hadn't launched a rocket in many months, and I really had the itch. Still, I decided to take only five rockets, and ended up launching only four. Mostly, I wanted to check things out and see how a club launch worked. A few of my rockets, including the Quest Big Dog, have micro rail buttons on them, meaning they have to be launched from a pad with a Makerbeam or OpenBeam rail.

The Quest Big Dog on a Makerbeam rail pad
I have such a pad, but I didn't know if it would be OK to show up and just start setting it up. Rather than be presumptuous, I decided to take it slow at first, observe, and just see what a club launch was like.

People were arranged on one side of the range, most of them with those large tent canopies you see at picnics. Many of them had their rockets on display, either lying on blankets, or arranged carefully on racks. There were larger rockets than I'd ever seen in person before, and some really nice craftsmanship.

I was a little too shy at first to go around asking "Can I take pictures of your rockets for my blog?" so I don't have a lot of pictures of those. But a few rockets really impressed me.

There was one guy who had about five or six high power scale models of historic rockets: a Vostok, two Saturn V's, a Saturn B, and one other that I'm forgetting. They were beautiful.

Another guy had this rocket I recognized, but which really surprised me. It was an Estes Air Commander two-stage rocket.

Estes Air Commander, image from AC Supply
What impressed me was the size of this rocket. I actually own this kit, but haven't taken it out of the bag yet, and I thought what I was looking at was some kind of upscale version. But it turns out this rocket is really bigger than I'd thought, and this guy's craftsmanship was simply amazing.

Well, to the launch...

There was a set of 12 low/mid power launch pads arranged in a circle, and further afield were three high power rail launch pads.

First of all, I lost my first ever scratch build, Janus I.

Pad 9, ready to go

Janus I, taking off for the last time
 The flight was beautiful. But the rocket went much higher than I remember it going on its maiden flight. The winds were quite high, and despite the fact that the field was really large, it drifted away. I had my eye on it the entire time, but looked down at the ground for a split second to make sure I wasn't about to step on the booster stage, and when I looked back, I couldn't find it in the sky again. I walked to the edge of a field with enormously tall grass and thorns, and figured it must have been lost. It cost me about 8 bucks to build, so I decided I had to let it go, rather than spend an hour looking for it.

Rather than jump back in, I decided to watch some high power rocket launches, something I'd never before witnessed.

I don't know whose rocket this was, but it was one of the first we witnessed.
Liftoff from high power pad A!
These were so impressive.

My second launch was another scratch build, my three-motor cluster, Trident. I finally got the Q2G2 igniters installed correctly.

Thanks to Chris Michielssen and Rich Holmes for pointing out my previous error!

When installed correctly, the Q2G2 igniter is really solidly in there, and there's little chance of them falling out at the launch pad before ignition. If they weren't so darned expensive, I'd use them for every small rocket, not just cluster rockets.

When installing igniters in a cluster rocket, the igniters must be wired in parallel for reliable ignition. Here, I've twisted one end of each igniter to the others, then did the same for the second end of each igniter. This gives you two leads.
The launch two launch controller clips then go onto one or another of the twisted bundles.

When you go to a club launch, you have to fill out a flight card for each rocket you launch.

You fill in your name, the name of your rocket, type of recovery, and other pertinent information. Then you take your rocket to the Range Safety Officer, or RSO, who checks out the rocket to make sure it's flightworthy, then assigns you to a launch pad. You take your rocket to the pad, put it on the rod, hook up the launch controller leads to the igniter wires, and wait your turn to launch.

"Here goes nothing!"

Walking to the RSO station

Nervously showing my rocket to new people - more experienced rocketeers than I.

Waiting on the pad for launch
 Unlike at a casual launch, at a club launch, you generally don't press the launch controller button yourself. The person who does that is the Launch Control Officer, or LSO. Over a PA system, he or she announces the rocket to be launched, the name of the rocketeer, and other interesting information, such as "This is his first club launch ever," or "This is a Level 1 Certification flight" (for those getting into high power rocketry). Then he or she does a countdown from 5 and launches the rocket.

Trident also flew really well - much higher than I thought it would. Then the shock cord broke. The parachute and nose cone drifted far away. I never did see it. The airframe fell back to earth and had a hard landing. A bit of damage, but I've actually fixed this rocket before. It's sturdy, and can take hard landings (including on asphalt. It flew three times at my rocket camp. The kids loved it, but it did have at least one hard landing!).

Still, I felt I wasn't having much luck. I decided to just observe for a bit, and had one of those famous CMASS hot dogs I'd heard so much about.

This post could be another really long one. I was there from 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m, then helped break things down, and joined some of the club members for dinner. It was awesome. I'll just give you a few highlights.

I did decide to fly again, after a couple hours. I put a smaller motor in the Cosmic Explorer, and it flew well, but arced over the crowd. Not far over, and lot of rockets did this, but I was disappointed in myself that during my launch the LCO had to remind everyone to point their rockets away from the crowd. I did do this, but the Cosmic Explorer is what we'd call overstable, meaning it tends to weathercock, or arc into the wind, rather badly, so I should have angled it a little further downrange.

But it was a good flight. The chute opened perfectly, the rocket drifted back over the launch area, and I got the rocket back in one piece.

I didn't get this guy's name, but he had some beautifully-crafted scale models.
This is the Saturn IB, part of the Apollo program.

Also at the launch were some TARC students, members of the NASA Student Launch Initiative, and some of the MIT Rocketry Team. I got this cool video:

Here are some more pictures. Sorry I can't credit the rocketeers pictured - there were nearly 300 flights that day, and I didn't keep track of whose rocket was whose!

The Tin Man

This one moved fast! I was lucky to catch it.

This one too!

 Joining or starting a rocketry club will greatly enhance your experience and knowledge as a rocketeer. I encourage you to do it.

Starting with the next post, I'm re-booting The Rocket N00b blog. Getting back to basics - rocketry for beginners, by a beginner. I realized recently I've gotten away from the basics, and skipped a lot of information for newbies. Partly this is because some of the more informative posts I've written (like the series on stability) take a while to research, write, and illustrate, in an attempt to get the information correct and make it understandable to a n00b.

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  1. Hi Danile,
    Sorry you lost the two stager. I hate losing rockets, but I still have pictures and experience.
    But, glad to hear you had a great experience at a club launch.
    I carry a small pad and pen with me so I can write down names, rockets and engines
    for the blog report. I'm not good with remembering names.
    I launch with two different clubs. Both days are highlights of each month.

  2. Hi Danile,
    Sorry you lost the two stager. I hate losing rockets, but I still have pictures and experience.
    But, glad to hear you had a great experience at a club launch.
    I carry a small pad and pen with me so I can write down names, rockets and engines
    for the blog report. I'm not good with remembering names.
    I launch with two different clubs. Both days are highlights of each month.

    1. That's a good tip. I'm going to have to be more prepared next time. Maybe take a folding chair. This first time around, I decided to travel light and just check out the scene.

  3. I'm going to my first club launch on Saturday. Thanks for such a wonderful blog. I'm learning lots as I re-enter the hobby!!

    1. That's great! Have fun. I'm glad you're getting something useful from the blog!