Building Homebrew VTOL Rockets

No one can deny what SpaceX and Blue Origin are doing is a feat of technological wizardry. Building a rocket that takes off vertically, goes into space, and lands back on the pad is an astonishing technical achievement that is literally rocket science. However, both SpaceX and Blue Origin have a few things going for them. They have money, first of all. They’re building big rockets, so there’s a nice mass to thrust cube law efficiency bump. They’re using liquid fueled engines that can be throttled.

[Joe Barnard] isn’t working with the same constraints SpaceX and Blue Origin have. He’s still building a rocket that can take off and land vertically, but he’s doing it the hard way. He’s building VTOL model rockets. Most of the parts are 3D printed. And he’s using solid motors you can buy at a hobby shop. This is the hard way of doing things, and [Joe] is seeing some limited success with his designs.

While the rockets coming out of Barnard Propulsion Systems look like models of SpaceX’s test vehicles, there’s a lot more here than looks. [Joe] is using a thrust vectoring system — basically mounting the Estes motor in a gimbal attached to a pair of servos. This allows the rockets to fly straight up without fins or even the launch rod used to get the rocket up to speed in the first few millseconds of flight. This is active stabilization of a model rocket, with the inevitable comments of ITAR violations following soon afterward.

Taking off vertically is one thing, but [Joe] is also trying to land his rockets vertically. Each rocket he’s built has a second Estes motor used only for landing. During descent, the onboard microcontroller calculates the speed, altitude, and determines if it’s safe to attempt a vertical landing. If the second motor has sufficient impulse to make velocity and altitude equal zero at the same time, the landing legs deploy and the rocket hopefully makes a soft touchdown in the grass.

While [Joe] hasn’t quite managed to pull off a vertical takeoff and landing with black powder motors quite yet, he’s documenting and livestreaming all of his attempts. You can check out the latest one from a week ago below.

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Steering High Altitude Rockets With Cold Gas

Amateur rocketry has been popular for ages, with designs ranging from small toy-scale model rockets to large-scale liquid fuel designs with steerable fins. A team out of Portland State works on some large-scale amateur rockets that can fly to very high altitudes. Since the atmosphere is thin the further the rocket flies, steering fins aren’t incredibly effective once the rockets reach high altitude. A team of students tackled this problem by designing a cold-gas reaction module to steer high-altitude rockets.

The team chose nitrogen as their cold-gas propellant, which is stored in a carbon fiber tank. After passing through a regulator, the gas is routed to several gas solenoids and then to a custom 3d-printed de Laval nozzle. An Intel Edison is used to drive the system, which calculates the rocket’s orientation with a MPU-6050. Control loops use the orientation information and fire gas through any of several nozzle ports to steer the rocket.

The system does have some limits: the solenoids are either on or off, not variable, and they aren’t incredibly fast. Even with these limitations, the team is confident that their module will work great when it embarks on its maiden flight in a brand-new custom rocket next year. The team was also awesome enough to make all of their design files open-source so you can build your own (although they warn that it’s a bit complicated and dangerous). Check out the video after the break to see a test-run of the cold-gas reaction system.

Thanks for the tip, [Nathan]!

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LVL1 has a rocketeers group, is not working on ICBMs.

We’re very familiar with the Louisville Hackerspace LVL1 here at Hackaday. From their GLaDOS-inspired sentient overlord, an evil box to filter the Internet, and a friggin’ moat, LVL1 is the closest we’ve got to a mad scientist heard cackling from a wind-swept castle on a stormy night. It turns out they also have a rocketry program. Now we’re just waiting for confirmation of their subterranean complex of missile silos.

The rocketery-oriented part of LVL1 spawned from a University of Louisville’s group. The goal of the group is to compete in the NASA University Student Launch Initiative, dedicated to competing against other teams to launch a scientific payload to 1 mile AGL. At the competition last May, the team placed 5th out of 42 teams and won the award for best website. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next year.

Even though the team is out of school for the summer, they’re still cooking up a few rocketry hacks. They’ve built a test stand to measure the thrust of off-the-shelf motors, kitbashed a few Estes Baby Berthas (very awesome and very easy if you have a laser cutter), and are starting a pulse jet project.

We’re assuming the LVL1 Rocketeers group is just a front for their yet to be unveiled moon-based “laser” project, but you can check out a few videos from the ULSI competition after the break.

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