Would You Look At That Yaw Control

[Jeff Bezos] might be getting all the credit for developing a rocket that can take off and land vertically, but [Joe Barnard] is doing it the hard way. He’s doing it with Estes motors you can pick up in any hobby shop. He’s doing it with a model of a Falcon 9, and he’s on his way to launching and landing a rocket using nothing but solid propellant.

The key to these launches is, of course, the flight controller, This is the Signal flight controller, and it has everything you would expect from a small board meant to mount in the frame of a model rocket. There’s a barometer, an IMU, a buzzer (important!), Bluetooth connectivity, and a microSD card slot for data logging. What makes this flight computer different is the addition of two connectors for standard hobby servos. With the addition of a 3D printed adapter, this flight controller adds thrust vectoring control. That means a rocket will go straight up without the use of fins.

We’ve seen [Joe]’s work before, and things have improved significantly in the last year and a half. The latest update from last weekend was a scale model (1/48) of the Falcon Heavy. In a 45-second video, [Joe]’s model of the Falcon Heavy launches on the two booster rockets, lights the center core, drops the two boosters and continues on until the parachutes unfurl. This would be impressive without active guidance of the motor, and [Joe] is adding servos and launch computers to the mix. It’s awesome, and certainly unable to be exported from the US.

38 thoughts on “Would You Look At That Yaw Control

    1. Blue Origin, LLC is an American privately funded aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company headquartered in Kent, Washington. Founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos.
      Blue Origin is developing a variety of technologies, with a focus on rocket-powered vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL) vehicles for access to suborbital and orbital space.

      However, the VTVL experiments from Space-X (Elon Musk) would have indeed been a more prominent example.

      1. You forgot to add that Bezos beat Elon Musk to the punch with the New Shepard sub-orbital VTVL vehicle, getting the first flight above 100 km and returning it back. Of course Musk immediately poo-pooed it by pointing to their Grasshopper test vehicle which never did go to space.

        Musk initially advertized he can turn a booster around in 24 hours, but actually he’s been taking 2-4 months to refurbish each one, and hasn’t flown a single one more than twice. Blue Origin successfully launched the same booster five times in a year.

        1. Minor point is SpaceX had been landing their Grasshopper test vehicle back in 2012. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grasshopper_(rocket)) The New Shepard is not equivalent to the Falcon 9 because although it went above 100km(notional space/Karman line) it did it with no sideways velocity. It was never close to getting into low earth orbit. Thr trick is to get above enough of the atmosphere to not be slowed down by drag and have enough sideways velocity that you don’t fall back to earth while not having quite so much that you have escape velocity.

        2. Yes, BO launched the same booster 5 times straight up and back down.But the F9’s put things most of the way into orbit, some turned back around, and then came back down to land. There’s a big difference from a suborbital jump up at 3500 km/h to 100 km altitude and accelerating a second stage with payload to 8000 km/h and coming back. Also, before Block 5, Falcon 9’s weren’t advertised to be able to fly more than twice, just that they were working towards that in the future.

      1. Well, ok. But that $30 million budget included developing microcomputer technology which can now be bought off the shelf for $0.35 (soon to be $0.44), including a freely downloadable compiler, an IDE and a tutorial on how to start programming. :)

          1. whoosh, it doesn’t need to be the same processor or architecture for that matter, it’s often trickle-down research in military/aerospace applications that leads to miniaturization of consumer-goods in the long-term.

    1. Most of the VTOL rockets are based on work done on the DC-X and in fact Blue Origin hired some of the engineers who worked on the the project.
      I suspect Spacex probably managed to get some of them as well.

    2. I don’t think the fact that this can now be done by a hobbyist in a garage with cheap solid fuel is trivial. Old hacks are still fine. There’s nothing new under the sun, and engineers who truly tread new ground are rare as hen’s teeth. I’m not one of them and I doubt any of you are either.

          1. AUstralia. – I was once interested in a career in defence science, and nearly completed an infra-red heat seeking rocket to impress university course selectors. After finding out I was already too old for the course I had been considering, I quite innocently posted a photo of the build on my homepage. I received a couple of suspicious emails asking for plans and technical details, before guberment G-Men landed on my doorstep with a search warrant. My only saving grace was that I had neither completed building, nor attempted to fly said ‘guided’ missile.

  1. This kind of active stabilization appears to be effective only as long as the motor is producing thrust. Most model rocket and high-power rocket motors have a relatively short thrust time and a long coast time to apogee. A finless rocket would go straight up until propellant burnout, after which anything goes. A long-burn, lower thrust composite motor such as the M750 (12.7 sec thrust time) would be a lot of fun to watch, and careful design of the rocket might give a flight profile where the speed at burnout would be low enough for deployment of the chute w/o ripping it to shreds..

  2. My understanding of the laws here in the US is that rocketry is all good(to a point with regards to scale) until there is a “guidance” system installed, at which point it is considered a “missile” and falls under much stricter regulation… seems like a controlled flight mode such as vectored thrust would require some form of guidance.

    Just sayin’…

    1. Last time I went hunting for information on this, it appeared that there was a clear distinction between “active stabilization” which tries to maintain a certain attitude, and “guidance” which tries to achieve a specific position. A position-seeking guidance system at least falls under ITAR, and building or flying one may cross some other legal lines. Attitude-only stabilization looked like it was legal to build and fly. The notes at the bottom of the product page seem consistent with that distinction.

      This was long enough ago that I don’t remember where I read any of it, so I can’t be bothered to find references now. Given the rapidly increasing ease with which such systems can be built, I would think there are plenty of people dealing with these issues who could discuss the boundaries in more detail.

      1. Yes, they’re called ITAR, but good thing this rocket isn’t guided, just stabilized. Still he’s probably on a watch list or being watched now as a result, since it’s a close boundary.

    2. “My understanding of the laws here in the US is that rocketry is all good(to a point with regards to scale) until there is a “guidance” system installed, at which point it is considered a “missile” and falls under much stricter regulation”

      That’s a common myth. Hobbyists have been safely and legally flying model aircraft (including rocket powered ones) using guidance systems for years. There are no laws against active guidance.

  3. I think the important distinction here, as others are pointing out, is that it isn’t ‘guiding’ itself with an endpoint destination in-mind, but rather moment by moment it is simply stabilizing itself in reference to ‘up’ for as long as the motor can propel it.

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