Model rocket pioneer, Vern Estes, celebrates his 90th birthday

When I was a juvie nerd, I lived for Estes (and Centuri) model rockets. I slept with my Estes catalog (sometimes literally). I would mow lawns, rake leaves, and save up my allowance to order from the catalog. I would have maybe ten dollars to spend and would agonize over each order, trying to squeeze out as many products as possible from my measly earnings.

I would finally place the order and wait with agonized impatience for it to arrive. I would always imagine a sizable box showing up in the mail. Every time, the box was disappointingly tiny. But I built what I received with whatever tools and supplies we had in the house, mainly Elmer's glue, scissors, Scotch tape, and (at least for my first rocket) house paint. I cut the balsa wood fins out with a razor blade. By the time I left my rocketry youth behind, I had built around 18 rockets and was Vice President of the Chester Virginia Rocketry Club (we had three members).

Several years ago, I unearthed my first rocket (the house-painted one) from the bowels of my basement. It is the only rocket from my childhood that survives. Here it is, in all of its fragile and funky glory:

The first time we launched it -- the launch controller connected to the battery in my dad's El Camino -- I had glued the launch lug (the small paper tube that holds the rocket to the launch rod) on crooked, so much so that the friction would not allow the rocket to freely travel up the rod. Read the rest

Guy nearly maims his ladyfriend with rocket-powered fidget spinner

As we descend from Peak Fidget Spinner into its decadent phase, expect to see more of this. The Backyard Scientist discovered that hiding behind a flimsy plastic folding table is no match for rocket-propelled debris from a fidget spinner experiment gone wrong. Read the rest

Small space robot launches like a model rocket

This handheld, rocket-powered robot can leap about 30 meters and make a targeted landing. Once it's on the ground, it can then spin up and then abruptly brake its flywheel to jump forward or backward for a bit more mobility. Developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the rocketeer robot could someday liftoff from a planetary or lunar lander or rover. The 450-gram prototype uses an Estes C11 rocket engine like those used in model rocketry! From IEEE Spectrum:

The robot is mounted on an angled rail and when it’s time to fly, it spins up its reaction wheel and sets off the primary rocket. The rocket launches the robot on a parabolic trajectory with a maximum range, in Earth gravity, of up to about 30 meters, which would increase to about 200 meters under lunar gravity. The reaction wheel minimizes the effect of the robot body tumbling during flight, keeping the robot going on a straight line: We held this little thing with the gyro wheel turned on during an interactive session at (the International Conference on Robotics and Automation), and it was impressively powerful: There was a significant amount of resistance to any kind of sideways rotation. Since solid-fuel rocket engines can’t be throttled, the opposing thrust motors are fired when necessary to alter the robot’s trajectory for a targeted landing. It’s a fairly effective technique, and in their tests the standard deviation of a series of launches decreased from 1.2 to 0.29 meters, or four times more precise than without the opposing rockets.

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Spectacular photos of the nutty high-powered model rocket launch scene

For the last four years, the Rocketry Organization of California (ROC), a club for hardcore model rocket geeks, has hosted the Tripoli Rocketry Association's LDRS (Large, Dangerous Rocket Ships) launch at the Lucerne Dry Lake Bed. These aren't the small Estes rockets you can launch on your local baseball field but rather large High Powered Rockets propelled by engines rated "G" or higher. Photographer Sean Lemoine documented the spectacular scene in a series of photos that made me wish even more that I was there for lift off.

More at Sean Lemoine's LRDS project page.

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