Building a rocket to launch your project into space

At Hackaday, we’re familiar with projects that say they’re exploring space. Most of the time, these are high altitude balloons that ascend up to 100,000 feet. Sure, this is very, very high, but it’s only about 1/3rd of the way to lower limit of what can be called space at 100 km or 62 miles. Now, we’re seeing the first steps towards embedding Arduinos, cameras, and other goodies into the celestial spheres with the NE-1 Rocket, a project by [Jonathan McCabe] in Madison, Wisconsin.

The goal of the NE-1 rocket is to launch a 5kg payload into a suborbital trajectory to a height of 120 kilometers. From there, the payload – be it an electronic, biological, or simple imaging experiment – will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before falling back to Earth under a parachute.

Getting into space without the help of a government space agency has been done a few times before, mostly with solid-fuel rockets. [Jonathan]’s system uses a liquid-fueled engine, fed with nitrous oxide as the oxidizer and a secret self-pressurizing liquid fuel. These are fed into an engine that uses a ‘cold wall vortex’ to cool the engine instead circulating fuel around the combustion chamber as in traditional engines.

[Jonathan] has already done a few static tests with a half-scale engine, and he already has a lot of the very hard-to-source components in his lab. It’s a promising project. It falls right in line with the ‘Hackaday Space Program’ idea we’ve been kicking around, and we’d be more than happy to see this project get off the ground

47 thoughts on “Building a rocket to launch your project into space

  1. I’ve always wondered if anyone has launched such a project with a weather balloon as the first stage. I had a friend who wanted to try flying a coilgun on a weather balloon and fire a payload upward once it reached its height. I didn’t think it would do much, but it might have been interesting.

    1. I was gonna do that with my rockets and try to get above the stratosphere as the ballon cant go any higher than that. once there i would launch the rocket, the rocket would have about 3 stages, i wont give away my rocket make because a) its not done and b) secret fuel so no one takes it. Any how i think it is possible with hydrogen gas, im gonna go do the math so ill get back on how to make it work.

    1. If you can keep it class G or D spec(I forget what is the biggest amateur rocket class) and have a license it’s no problem. Else the FBI or secret service visits.. Or whatever agency is in your country, maybe still American world police though..

      1. What… Just what the hell? Are you referring to the engine size? Because that’s just about the only thing in rocketry that has an alphabetic size system.

        Before I further berate you. here’s everything you need to know about rocket motor classification. You can see the list begins with tiny little hobby motors such as A, B, and C, and continues up to double letter classifications that are equivalent to space shuttle SRBs.

        Alright, let’s go through what’s wrong with your comment. You claim that ‘class G or D’ is the biggest rocket class. This is patently untrue, because even a cursory googling will show that rockets up to Q-motor size (and most likely larger, although I can’t be bothered to look right now) have been launched. Also, these engine sizes really only apply to high-powered rockets that are certified by NGOs such as Tripoli or NAR.

        This build is not a high-powered rocket, but an amateur rocket. Amateur rockets are the stuff Copenhagen Suborbitals are flying. High power rocketry is greatly limited as compared to amateur rocketry, and goverened by a completely different set of rules and regulations. Basically, it’s the difference between building a remote controlled airplane and building an airplane.

        IN THE SAME SENTENCE you claim that a license is required to launch rockets this large. Now… I might be able to give you a pass for the license statement if you’re someplace where a license *is* actually required, but this is the US we’re talking about here. Only certifications through either Tripoli or the NAR are required to launch rockets with G or larger motors. These organizations are non-governmental bodies that certify members, not a license. In no language can this be considered a license. And again, this only applies to high-power rocketry, not amateur rocketry.

        You have made three factual errors in one sentence. That’s damn impressive, even by Hackaday standards.

        Now, getting to the reality of what this Kickstarter entails, the legal issues aren’t that bad. He’s not doing it with anything that could be certified with Tripoli or NAR, and instead flying this as an amateur rocket. Hell, John Carmack built one of these things for Armadillo Aerospace and launched it. Just file a few things with the FAA and it’s not too bad.

        Alright, now that you have been corrected, I feel I must point something out to you. Just because you say something doesn’t mean people will listen. To have people listen to what you say, it’s generally worth the audience’s time to vet the speaker in some way. If only to verify their credibility.

        When you continue to say things that are factually incorrect, people will stop listening to you. I mean really, how long do you listen to the guy at the bar talking about reptilian overlords running area 51 from the moon? Not long, I bet, and even then only to laugh at him.

        What you need to do is shut the hell up if you don’t know what you’re talking about. I mean it’s not hard. All you have to do is not seek the recognition of other basement dwellers on the Internet who you will never meet.

          1. I disagree. The post gave me the correct information (I think, at least he sounded like he knew more than the first guy) and probably helped him get a little steam off his chest. A win-win from my perspective.

            I mean, what the hell is the Internet for? =D

        1. Jesus Christ dude, did some random dudes comment in which he clearly stated that he didn’t remember the specifics really warrant that rediculous rant? Holy fuck, I think you need a beer or a J or something. Chill out man! While I’m sure everyone here appreciates the information provided in your post, the flame raping was entirely uncalled for.

        2. @your and idiot: Lot of berating paragraphs, but in the end you don’t know how rocket license classes work.. sorry I’m not as smart as you..

          don’t expect a response from the next mouth breather comment you make..

          1. I see these guys are mean to you but don’t worry i see what you mean there is rules as the rockets get bigger such as the aircrafts in the sky need to know etc..
            don’t take this harsh i know what you mean ( i think)

            now is anyone gonna mess with me over my spelling and grammar??? Hope not, i’m prob the only one here shooting rockets in the air (except the few who do this as a job hobby etc…) and by that i mean i do everything for my rockets, from fuel to launch to recovery and science.

            Thank you.

    2. In addition to the issues Xorpunk mentions, High altitude projects require clearance/notification of the FAA(in the states anyways) so you don’t accidentally(purposfully?) interfere with airtraffic.

    3. I hope the NE-1 Rocket project gets everyone thinking about what it would take for you personally to make a rocket and launch it. If this means starting with the classic hobby motor sizes and scaling up that is great. It is about getting excited and realizing that reaching space is easier than we think.
      From a legal perspective, what matters is the total impulse (thrust * duration). In the Amateur category if the mass of the rocket is less than 1.5kg it is Class 1 (Model Rocket), above that if the rocket has a total impulse of less than 40,960Ns it is Class 2 (High-Power Rocket), and anything less than 889,600Ns is Class 3 (Advanced High-Power Rocket). More than that and the rocket is no longer amateur. With around 270,000Ns, the NE-1 Rocket falls into the Class 3 category. I will need to file for a FAA Class 3 Waiver at least 45 days before launch. Filing for the waiver is not that difficult. It is made even easier when launch sites like the Mojave Air and Space Port help it along.

      1. Out of curiosity, what are the regs on staging and clustering? Is it classed by the total impulse delivered by the system(all the engines combined), or by each individual motor?

  2. I’m kinda disappointed by the options on Kickstarter. You can get your payload into space, but it stays inside the rocket. If one could have something launched into space, I would buy/support it.

    1. Hi, I am in charge of the NE-1 Rocket project. The only reason I have decided to keep the Kickstarter reward payloads inside the rocket is so that they can be recovered after the launch. Most items that do not have the benefit of parachute recovery would not survive re-entry, and would be hard to find.

      With that said, the rocket is in no way pressurized or shielded from the space environment. What it currently lacks is a good view. I can easily put in a window or a transparent section of airframe if that would make it more appealing. What do you think?

      1. Jonathan, absolutely no disrespect. It’s a great project. I wish you all the best with this project, from the bottom of my heart. I hope that the success of this project will result in ever bigger projects.

        I’m having trouble with the $300 price tag for getting a small payload of 10 grams into space without any form of “proof” or memory. For that kind of money, I’m pretty sure you can get a slightly bigger payload into “space” by a balloon. Sure, your rocket goes a bit higher and has a few seconds of weightlessness, but still. What’s weightlessness if you can not perceive it?

        Also, but a photo says more than 1000 words. The Pocket Spacecraft project ( promised to have your personal message being transmitted from space by your “film scout”, and the release of the “scouts” to be photographed, for only £99. That’s like paying for a memory. I could see myself doing a family project with the wife and kids: Creating a diary, setting the message, trying to receive the message from space.. And creating a memory that would last forever.
        Your project gives too little in return: Just knowing that something has been in space isn’t enough I think. Maybe it’s just me.

        And which object weighs less than 10 grams? I would love to send a small Lego minifig into space.. But that’s waaaaaay over 10 grams.

        Just my thoughts, don’t want to flame or disrespect.

        Dave (Belgium)

      2. Jonathan, I don’t need to send anything into space, but in your experiments you may know the answer to my question. I would like to launch a soaring airplane into the air high enough to catch thermals. I don’t want to have to have another airplane pull me up. its intriguing to know if a solid fuel engine would be able to get a soaring airplane in the air. I think the payload would be about 1,000 lbs & the speed would need to get to 40 MPH. What big of solid fuel would be needed 7 would it still be in the amature class? Wayne

    2. it’s suborbital. Really, in this case your options are:

      Launching it into space and having to roll your own recovery equipment for it’s very quick decent to Earth


      Use the rocket’s recovery system.

  3. Why the hell would you send an ARDUINO into space? First of all, as I’ve said in other threads, it’s a prototyping/development board for the AVR, not something to be used as a finished product. Secondly, it’s not rad hard. I guarantee it wouldn’t last 3 seconds in space. Are these people retarded?

    1. If you want to put an arduino in space, you could always try an ardusat from freetronics. 17 AVRs on one board sounds interesting.

      When we’re talking about hobbyist projects, who cares what processor you use. With watchdog timers, some common sense, and a whole lot of testing, there’s no reason not to have a go. Besides, the price for anything specifically made for satellite use would be orders of magnitude more expensive.

    2. Don’t worry that much about it. The radiation levels in low earth orbit (this rocket doesn’t even go that far) are not very high. Sure, you can have bad luck and it could crash the first second but I would expect at least several months of lifetime (far more than the rocket). The AVR is old 350um technology, that are huge transistors by todays norms so they are inherently a bit rad-hard (though of course much less so than dedicated rad-hard parts).

      Cubesats often use off the shelf electronics with little problems.

      You could use a Cortex-R4 processor as it has ECC on all the memories and two cores to detect incorrect operation of the CPU. For example:
      Still not officialy rad-hard, so it could latch-up when hit really hard. Externally limiting the current the CPU can draw to say 120% of the expected current, and powercycling when it goes above that will likely prevent the CPU from sustaining damage due to overcurrent.

    3. If there’s anyone you can trust about how bad an idea is, it’s someone with nothing better to say than personal insults. Like, say, a better idea. Or something crazy like that.

  4. Nice idea, but they have a long way to go. A friend of mine and a group of about 40 buddies spent the better part of 5 years creating the ultimate hack — the first all-civilian-made rocket launched into space. They blew up two rockets trying, successful with the third. They had amazing talent on board to make it happen. To me, they did the ultimate hack! He’s now working on a Mars mission.

    This is not an author making a veiled plug, but a friend who saw him do this and am still impressed. He chronicled it in a book, ( that is a very fun read.

    My favorite part is where he’s talking about building the avionics unit in his driveway on a Spring day post 9/11, and the cops show up….

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