I Love the Smell of Rocket Candy in the Morning

[Grant Thompson aka “The King of Random”] has created a great tutorial on making sugar rocket motors. [Grant] is using a fuel based on potassium nitrate and sugar. Known as Rocket Candy or R-Candy in the amateur rocket community, various forms of this mixture have been used for decades. In fact, this is similar to one of the mixtures [Homer Hickam] and friends used to build rockets in his novel Rocket Boys.

[Grant] bought a cheap blender from the thrift store, which he used to grind his ingredients. You probably won’t want to use this blender for food after it’s been full of KNO3-based stump remover. The blender made quick work of grinding down the KNO3 to a fine powder. [Grant] then added in powdered sugar and carefully mixed the two by shaking, not by running the blender.

A 5″ length of schedule 40 PVC pipe made the rocket motor casing. The rocket motor’s end caps are made from ground clay cat litter. [Grant] rams the layers with a wooden dowel and hammer. First a top cap of clay, then the rocket fuel, then a bottom cap also of clay. With all the layers in place, he hand drilled a hole through the bottom cap and the entire fuel layer. Drilling all the way through turns the motor into a core burning rocket. The entire fuel cylinder burns away from the inside out, with more surface area than burning the end alone.

[Grant] tested his rocket motor at a remote location. We probably would have gone with an electric igniter rather than a fireworks style fuse, but the end result is the same. The rocket motor performed admirably, blasting up to over 2000 feet in altitude.

It goes without saying that working with solid rocket fuel isn’t something to be taken lightly. Something as simple as an air gap in the fuel could lead to a CATO, turning this rocket motor into a pipe bomb. We echo [Grant’s] suggestion to search for local amateur rocket clubs before trying this one at home.

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Two-stage rocket climbs to 15 km, promptly gets lost

Last month, the Cambridge University Spaceflight society launched two stages of their Martlet 1 three-stage rocket. After seeing our call for rocket builds, they sent in a launch report. We’re glad they did; it’s an amazing piece of work that screams into the atmosphere faster than the speed of sound.

The society is designed the three-stage Martlet 1 with the goal of reaching 15km (50,000 feet) over a launch range at Ben Armine in Scotland. This launch was a test of stage separation, intended to work out any bugs in the system before going to the full-sized rocket.

When Martlet 1 takes off, it’s 1st stage engine fires for 5 seconds and coasts for another 9 seconds. In the video after the break, the guys expected to hear the pop of the second stage igniting after 14 seconds. The team forgot to account for the fact the rocket would be 3km in the air at that time, and thanks to the slowness of sound the second stage was heard though the clouds at 25 seconds after launch.

With rockets, hardly anything goes exactly as planned, so unfortunately the team only recovered the bottom half of their rocket. After searching over 60 square km for the second stage, the guys realized it might be lost to the moors of Scotland. Hopefully the second stage will turn up soon so the full 3 stage stack can be realized.

Check out the launch videos after the break.

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