Congo’s Space Program

Deep in the hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo, you’ll find men and women hard at work providing a living for their family. You might find some working in one of the nation’s mines which are rich in natural resources.  Others will be working the farms or participating in one of many diverse cultural customs. If you head two hours via dirt road from the capital city of Kinshasa, however, you’ll find something a bit out of place for the area – an active space program.

On a vast yam farm, [Jean-Patrice Keka] has single-handedly developed several rockets that have flirted with the space_01elusive zero gravity environment. [Mr. Keka’s] ‘Mission Control’ is a corrugated metal shed lined with CRT monitors and dated computers, but don’t let this fool you. His vision and drive are just as great as any space faring nation.

His intellect has made him a small fortune in commodities trading, and allows him the luxury to finance his operation without the need of government help. From time to time, he employs the help of local engineering students to get his rockets off the ground. Their payload has included rats and insects, with one launch reaching 10 miles of altitude and the current project aiming for 120 miles. [Mr. Keka] has become a national hero via the televised broadcasts of the launches, and has gotten the attention of national government officials. They even flew him to the US once to petition funding for his work.

[Mr. Keka] and his story should serve as an inspiration to all inspiring hackers and makers to pursue their dreams.

Thanks to [Cmh62] for the tip.

Tiny Radio Tracks Your Balloons

The name of the game in rocketry or ballooning is weight. The amount of mass that can be removed from one of these high-altitude devices directly impacts how high and how far it can go. Even NASA, which estimates about $10,000 per pound for low-earth orbit, has huge incentives to make lightweight components. And, while the Santa Barbara Hackerspace won’t be getting quite that much altitude, their APRS-enabled balloon/rocket tracker certainly helps cut down on weight.

Tracksoar is a 2″ x .75″ x .5″ board which weighs in at 45 grams with a pair of AA batteries and boasts an ATmega 328P microcontroller with plenty of processing power for its array of on-board sensors. Not to mention everything else you would need like digital I/O, a GPS module, and, of course, the APRS radio which allows it to send data over amateur radio frequencies. The key to all of this is that the APRS module is integrated with the board itself, which saves weight over the conventional method of having a separate APRS module in addition to the microcontroller and sensors.

As far as we can see, this is one of the smallest APRS modules we’ve ever seen. It could certainly be useful for anyone trying to save weight in any high-altitude project. There are a few other APRS projects out there as well but remember: an amateur radio license will almost certainly be required to use any of these.

You’re Never Too Young to Be a Rocket Scientist

We’ve been keeping tabs on the progress SpaceX has made toward landing a rocket so that it can be reused for future orbital launches. As you would imagine, this is incredibly difficult despite having some of the world’s greatest minds working on the task. To become one of those minds you have to start somewhere. It turns out, high school students can also build guided rockets, as [ArsenioDev] demonstrates in his project on

arseniodev-3d-printed-fin[Arsenio]’s design targets amateur rockets with a fuselage diameter of four inches or so. The main control module is just a cylinder with four servos mounted along the perimeter and some fancy 3D printed fins bolted onto the servo. These are controlled by an Arduino and a 6DOF IMU that’s able to keep the rocket pointing straight up. Staaaay on target.

We saw this project back at the Hackaday DC meetup a month ago, and [Arsenio] was kind enough to give a short lightning talk to the hundred or so people who turned up. You can catch a video of that below, along with one of the videos of his build.

Continue reading “You’re Never Too Young to Be a Rocket Scientist”

Coke-Propane Rocket Blasts Off Without Ignition

Everyone’s seen the Diet Coke and Mentos “experiment” that ends in a brown eruption. But have you seen the Coke and Propane experiment insanity that results in a rocket launch? As [Itay] pointed out when he sent us the tip, this doesn’t need to be lit. The simple act of turning the bottle upside down starts a powerful reaction without any ignition.

coke-propane-rocket-thumbOf course it’s the how of this that tickles our brains, but let’s finish the setup. This starts with a bottle of Coke which is about 3/4 full. The head space is displaced by spraying propane into the bottle; propane is heavier than air. All that’s left is to turn the bottle upside down and pray it doesn’t smack anyone in the noggin as it takes off.

In trying to find an explanation for this phenomenon we came across a plausible answer on the Chemistry StackExchange. It points to the Mentos phenomenon combined with the temperature differential caused by the very cold propane. The answering user theorizes that tiny ice crystals form and when the bottle is turned upside down the cold propane and micro crystals rise through the warmer soda acting as a much more rapid catalyst than Mentos alone. Of course this is just a theory so please share your own ideas below.

We thought the folks who microwave stuff outside of a microwave enclosure had their fill of danger but this videos is also one of theirs. It should be no surprise that they also tried the experiment with an ignition source. That video is found after the break and should immediately convince you to never try any of this yourself.

Continue reading “Coke-Propane Rocket Blasts Off Without Ignition”

DARE To Fly: Live Coverage Of A 50KM Rocket Launch

We wrote about the Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering (DARE) project recently: a group of students at Delft Technical University who are trying to launch a rocket to 50kM, breaking the European amateur rocketry record. Now, the group is close to their latest launch attempt, which is scheduled to take place from their launch base in Spain between the 14th and the 20th of October.

Launch preparations are underway, with the team working through a 10,000 point pre-launch checklist. Last year, their launch failed because of a leaking valve, but the amateur engineers have just successfully completed a pressure test using inert gas, so they are confident that this problem won’t happen again. They are offering a live video feed of the launch (embedded below), and will be regularly updating their twitter feed as they prepare. We wish them the best of luck.

Continue reading “DARE To Fly: Live Coverage Of A 50KM Rocket Launch”

Wireless Rocket Motor Analyzer Tests Rockets, Saves Fingers

Testing rocket motors is a dangerous business, as they have an annoying habit of releasing all of that energy a little quicker than you might like. [Jeff Hopkins] knows this, so he made his own wireless rocket motor analyzer that allows him to trigger, test and monitor rocket motors from a safe distance. This involves more than just pushing a button and watching them go whoosh: his platform measures the thrust of the prototype over 90 times a second and transmits this data to him remotely for logging and later analysis. His current prototype can measure engines with up to 400 lbs of thrust. That is a lot, so it is a good thing that his rig can also remotely arm, fire or safe the motors, all over a 70cm wireless radio link that keeps him safely out of the way. It is also built of cheap parts, so if a RUD (Rapid Unplanned Disassembly) does occur, it won’t cost him much to rebuild and start again.

This project is part of a bigger plan: [Jeff] is looking to build a high-power launch platform that can launch an electronics platform high above the earth. Could this be the beginning of the race to be the first hacker in space? We shall see…

Dutch Student Team Aims To Launch Rocket to 50KM

Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of DARE, the [Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering] team, who are looking to launch a rocket to 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) to break the European amateur rocketry record later this year.

This brave crew of students from the Delft Technical University is boldly going where no European amateur has gone before with a rocket of their own design called Stratos II, a single stage hybrid rocket which is driven by a DHX-200 Aurora engine. This self-built engine uses a combination of solid Sorbitol and candlewax fuel, with liquid Nitrous Oxide as the oxidizer. The rather unlikely sounding combination should produce an impressive 12,000 Newtons of maximum thrust, and a total of 180,000 Ns of impulse. It’s difficult to make a proper comparison, but the largest model rocket motor sold in the US without a special license (a class G) has up to 160 Ns of impulse and the largest engine ever built by amateurs had 411,145 Ns of impulse.

The team did try a launch last year, but the launch failed due to a frozen fuel valve. Like any good engineering team, they haven’t let failure get them down, and have been busy redesigning their rocket for another launch attempt in the middle of October, Their launch window begins on October 13th at a military base in southern Spain, and we will be watching their attempt closely. Godspeed, DARE!

In commercial space news, yesterday NASA tested the RS-25 engine that will be used in the Space Launch System — the rocket it’s developing to take astronauts to the moon and mars. Also, the NTSB report on the tragic crash of SpaceShipTwo was released a few weeks ago. The report found that the feather mechanism was unlocked by the copilot at the wrong time, leading to the crash. Future system improvements will be put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Update – The Stratos II is a single-stage rocket, not a two-stage, as an earlier version of this article described. 8/16/15

Continue reading “Dutch Student Team Aims To Launch Rocket to 50KM”