Rocket Science

If you’ve browsed the rest of this website a bit it will come as no surprise that I like spaceflight and rocketry. It’s always been my dream to build and launch (and pilot) rockets. Alas, growing up those dreams were fairly thoroughly shattered as I learned that it’s really not practical to design and build a man rated moon rocket all by myself from a shed. Time for plan B! I was going to found lots of companies, become hugely rich and then in a surprise twist spend all my fortune on building (and flying) rockets.

Turns out somebody did that already (Elon Musk) and well, it’s apparently not much easier than building a Saturn V in a shed. I haven’t given up on this dream yet (not quite anyhow) but realistically it’s going to take at least a few more decades before my personal rocket company will take off (haha). So here I am, an adult man-child with all the trappings of being a grown up (stable relationship? Check. Mortgage? Check. Kids? Sort-of-check. Demanding job? Check.) that’s still secretly yearning for the stars. What to do? Time for a plan C: A Hobby!

I went online and started shopping for model rockets. Turns out there’s lots of kits with varying amounts of assembly required. Plenty to choose from, but one thing grated: this really didn’t resemble rocket science. There’s none of the challenges of designing engines, fuel tanks, aerodynamics or avionics and flight control. It’s basically glue, cardboard and pre-fab blackpowder engines. Jumping immediately into full size liquid bi-propellant engines runs into pretty much the same problems as plan B and adds the very real possibility of personal incineration. Instead I decided to go with the pre-fab glue stuff but add some spice via an on-board arduino powered sensor & flight control kit.

My initial shopping list looked like this:

1x Estes rocket ignition system
1x [small cardboard rocket]
1x ‘Penetrator Payload’ DIY rocket kit (large cardboard rocket with payload compartment)
9x black powder rocket engine (A through C power ratings)

and for the electronics

1x Arduino Nano
1x ‘Keyestudio ADXL345’ 3-axis accelerometer
1x ‘BPM180’ barometric pressure sensor
1x 9 part soldering kit
1x breadboard + prototyping jumper wires

With these components I set off into my rocket launching adventure, the plan being to first engineer a passive datalogger to put onboard rockets, when that works expand it with more sensors. Then add second stage ignition logic, in-flight communication and ultimately some form of active stabilization/guidance. Read on about the progress of this journey in the further pages.