NWIC’s First Public Launch at the Launch Complex

Posted: 7th October 2010 by gbrandt in Uncategorized

October 2, 2010 – Saturday arrived warm, windless, and high clouds, (or so we thought!) for our first NWIC Space Center rocket launch at our new Launch Complex. The Space Center folks setup the ground support equipment that included the high powered rocket launch pad and the electronics to launch the rockets. We also setup a water rocket launch area for any of the younger set that attended.

The United States and Canadian aviation authorities were notified as required and we were set to go. Gordon was first to prepare his rocket. This was to be his attempt at earning a National Association of Rocketry Level 1 Certification. Several of us made certain that all was right with his motor, his parachute, and the rest of his recovery system. Then the final steps began: the long walk to the launch pad, sliding his rocket, a LOC Precision HiTech 45, onto the launch rail, installing the igniter, and the long walk back to the launch control box. 

The range was closed, the sky checked for aircraft, the observers given a heads up, and then the countdown began. 5…4…3…2…1…launch! The igniter did its job and Gordon’s rocket began to rise with a roar. However, things didn’t go as expected. A rubber seal failed (more about this later) and the burning motor exhaust went forward into the rocket setting it on fire. It went about fifteen feet into the air and tumbled to the ground in flames. 

The recovery crew ran over to it with the fire extinguisher and doused anything that was smoldering. The fire training In Service we had several weeks ago paid off! 

Next up was Mariya’s LOC Precision HiTech 45, named Mortimer. Mortimer ignited and threw itself into the sky on a tail of yellow flame. It flew higher that it was supposed to and momentarily went into the clouds. A few seconds later Mortimer was spotted drifting lazily down on its parachute and landed about 20 yards from the launch pad. 

Next was Mike’ D-Region Tomahawk. It also flew beautifully and came down in two pieces because one of the retaining knots in the recovery system let loose. The nose and parachute landed about 100 yards from the rest of the airframe. Both pieces were recovered successfully. 

Dave’s Patriot, High Caliber, had two misfires. Later inspection found that the misfires  were a result of using the damaged motor casing from Gordon’s flaming rocket. It was 12:00 pm and we had to shut down the range and notify the appropriate authorities that operations had ceased. 

So, what happened to Gordon’s and Dave’s rockets? Remember the space shuttle, Challenger and it explosion because of a bad seal? Our rocket motors use the same fuel as the shuttle’s boosters and we had a seal fail too. The failure could have been a defective one, or, it could have been human error on our part by not having it seated properly. Regardless, exhaust gases bypassed the seal and entered the rocket’s airframe and set it afire.

What we didn’t notice after examining the engine is that the 1/16 hole in the aluminum forward closure that allows the black powder ejection charge to ignite, had been enlarged by the back-firing exhaust from Gordon’s flight to about ½ inch. This permitted some of the black powder to seep into the main combustion chamber and ignite before the main motor could ignite and therefore ejected the rocket’s recovery system without igniting the motor.  

This past Thursday, Mariya, Mike, Dave O, Justin, Gary, Gordon, and Joel took a road trip to the University of Washington to attend the Washington State Space Grant Consortium reception. The student’s poster looked great! Dr. Winglee, the Space Grant Director, and his staff paid a great deal of attention to our students and the Space Center was mentioned twice in his speech at the reception. I felt very honored at the recognition our students received. 

And, the proposal for the University Student Launch Initiative competition was submitted on Friday, October 1. We’ll hear on 10/12 whether or not we’ve been accepted as part of the competition.

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