Rocketduino, for high-G, high altitude logging


Although the thrill of launching rockets is usually found in their safe decent back to Earth, eventually you’re going to want some data from your flight. Everything from barometric pressure, GPS logging, and acceleration data is a useful thing to have, especially if you’re trying to perfect your craft. [zortness] over on reddit created a data logging board created especially for amateur rocketry, a fabulous piece of work that stands up to the rigors of going very fast and very high.

The design of the board is a shield for the Arduino Mega and Due, and comes with enough sensors for over-analyzing any rocket flight. The GPS logs location and altitude at 66Hz, two accelerometers measure up to 55 G. Barometric, temperature, and compass sensors tell the ground station all the data they would need to know over a ZigBee 900MHz radio link.

Because this is an Arduino, setting up flight events such as deploying the main and drogue chutes are as easy as uploading a bit of code. [zortness] built this for a 4″ diameter rocket, but he says it might fit in a 3″ rocket. We just can’t wait to see some videos of it in action.

High powered rocket engines made from PVC pipe


For as much as we enjoy rockets, explosives, and other dangerous things, we haven’t said a word about the works of [Richard Nakka]. He’s the original hacker rocketeer with thousands of words dedicated to the craft of making things move straight up really fast. One of his more interesting builds is his series on building rocket engines out of PVC pipe written in conjunction with [Chuck Knight].

For the propellent grains, the PVC rocket didn’t use the usual potassium nitrate and sugar mixture of so many homebrew solid rockets. Instead, it uses Sorbitol, an artificial sweetener. While melting and casting the Sorbitol-based propellant grains is much easier than a sugar-based concoction,  the Sorbitol had much less thrust than a typical sugar rocket, making it the perfect candidate for a PVC engine.

For those of you wondering about the strength of a PVC engine casing, [Richard] does say making larger rocket engines out of 2 or 3-inch PVC may not make much sense due to the increased chamber pressures. There is a fairly clever reinforcement method for these PVC rockets (PDF warning) that involves using PVC couplers, but the experiments into the strength of these casings have yet to undertaken.

Thanks [Caley] for sending this one in.

In-depth look at an LVCD board from a Saturn V rocket


Join [Fran] as she dons the hat of an electronics archaeologist when looking at this vintage circuit board from the space race. As part of her personal collection she somehow acquired a Launch Vehicle Digital Computer board for a Saturn V rocket. This particular unit was never used. But it would have been had the Apollo program continued.

[Fran] is enamored with this particular board because she believes it is the forerunner of modern digital circuit design and layout. Since routing circuit boards is part of what she does for a living you can see why this is important to her. Also, who isn’t excited by actual hardware from the space program? We’ve embedded two of her videos after the break. In the first she shows off the component to the camera and speaks briefly about it. But the second video has her heading to the dentist’s office for X-rays. The image above is a rotating X-ray machine, but it looks like the best imagery comes when a handheld gun is used. They get some great images of the traces, as well as the TTL components on the board itself.

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FUBAR Labs builds a rocket engine


[Graham] over at FUBAR labs took it upon himself to build a rocket engine. This isn’t a simple solid-fuel motor, though: [Graham] went all out and built a liquid-fueled engine that is ignited with a spark plug.

The build started off with a very small ‘igniter’ engine meant to shoot sparks into a larger engine. This engine is fueled with ethanol and air – not the best fuel for a rocket engine by a long shot but save and cheap enough to do a few serious experiments with.

To test out this small engine, [Graham] made a test platform out of aluminum extrusion to remotely control the fuel and oxidizer valves. The valves are controlled by an Arduino and XBee for remote operation and a telemetry downlink for measuring the fluid flow into the engine.

After he had some experience with pressure, plumbing, valves, and engines, [Graham] upgraded his fuel and oxidizer to gaseous oxygen and ethanol. With proper safety protocol in place, [Graham] was able to a series of three 3-second burns less than a minute apart as well as a single burn lasting nearly 5 seconds.

Even though [Graham] eschewed the usual stainless steel construction of rocket engines (his engine is milled out of aluminum), he demonstrated it is possible to build a real liquid-fueled rocket engine at home.

3D printing a rocket engine

Most any rocket engine you’d find on a spacecraft – save for solid or hybrid rockets – use an engine system that’s fairly complex. Because of the intense heat, the fuel is circulated around the chamber before ignition giving a motor its regeneratively cooled nomenclature. This arrangement leads to a few complicated welding and machining processes, but surprisingly these obstacles can be overcome by simply printing a rocket engine on a 3D printer.

The current engine is quite small, but still fueled just like any other proper rocket engine that makes it into Earth orbit. The fuel is propane, the oxidizer is NO2, and the entire device is ignited with an automotive spark plug. Of course this was an expensive proposition; a motor with 12 pounds of thrust cost somewhere in the range of four figures.

Printing a rocket engine has a few advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques. [Rocket Moonlighting] explains that traditional techniques (mills, lathes and other heavy equipment) are bound by labor, material, and time. The costs of printing a rocket engine are only bound by the volume of the finished piece, meaning the most expensive engine per unit of thrust is the one that will fit in your pocket; scaling up means more efficiency for less cost.

There are a few videos up after the break showing the engine in action at full throttle, a few start and restart tests, and a test that involved throttling the engine. It’s an extremely impressive piece of kit, and hopefully [Rocket Moonlighting] will release the CAD source so we can make our own.

EDIT: [RM] tells me his engine cost less than $2000 to make. If just 10 people wanted their own engine from a ‘group buy,’ the price would drop by more than half. If you’d like your own 3D printed rocket engine, you might do well to drop [Rocket Moonlighting] a line.

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Hybrid rocket engine uses acrylic as fuel

We are fascinated by the hybrid rocket engine which [Ben Krasnow] built and tested in his shop. It is actually using a hollow cylinder of acrylic as the fuel, with gaseous oxygen as an oxidizer. We’re already quite familiar with solid rocket propellant, but this hybrid approach is much different.

When a rocket motor using solid propellant is lit it continues to burn until all of the fuel is consumed. That is not the case with this design. The acrylic is actually burning, but if the flow of oxygen is cut off it will go out and can be ignited later. This also opens up the possibility of adjusting thrust by regulating the pressure of the oxygen feed.

[Ben] milled the test rig in his shop. It’s a fat acrylic rod through which he bored a hole. There are two aluminum plates which complete either end of the chamber. The intake has a fitting for a valve which connects to the oxygen tank. There is a nozzle on the outflow end. Check out the video after the break to see a full description. You’ll also get a look at the toll the combustion heat takes on the rig.

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Rocket propellant manufactured from old newspaper

It turns out that old newsprint can be a bit explosive; at least when it’s combined with the proper ingredients. [Markus Bindhammer] worked out a way to make solid rocket propellant from newspaper. Judging from the test footage after the break the home made engines work great!

There isn’t a long list of ingredients. In addition to newspaper you’ll need some potassium chlorate (KClO3) which serves as an oxidizer, white wood glue, and PVC pipe. The KClO3 is ground with a mortar and pestle, then run through a sieve before being combined with the wood glue. This combination is painted on the newspaper which is then rolled up with a glass rod at the center. This is allowed to harden before going into the PVC. The excess is trimmed and the whole thing is baked in a convection oven at 105 C for two hours.

If this process doesn’t suit you maybe cooking up a batch of sugar-based propellant is worth a try?

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