The Dangerously Delightful Homemade Rockets Of Thailand

Every once in a while, we here at Hackaday stumble across something that doesn’t quite fit in with all the other amazing hacks we feature, but still seems like something that our dear readers need to see as soon as possible. This video of homemade rockets in Thailand is one of those things.

It comes to us from our friend [Leo Fernekes], who documents a form of amateur rocketry that makes the Estes rockets of our youth look pretty tame. It’s far easier to watch than it is to describe, but for a quick summary, the rockets are bamboo rings with a steel pipe across the diameter. The pipe is packed with homemade gunpowder and provided with nozzles that create both thrust and rotation. When ignited by torches touched to seriously sketchy primers, the rocket starts to spin up, eventually rising off the launch pad and screwing itself into the sky on a twisting column of gray smoke.

At three or four meters across, these are not small vehicles. Rather than letting a steel pipe plummet back to Earth from what looks like several hundred meters altitude, the rocketeers have devised a clever recovery system that deploys a parachute when the rocket motor finally melts through some plastic straps. The use of banana tree bark as a heat shield to protect the parachute is simple but effective; which is really the way you can describe the whole enterprise. [Leo] has another way to describe it: “Dangerously negligent madness,” with all due respect and affection, of course. It looks like a big deal, too — the air is obviously filled with the spirit of competition, not to mention the rotten-egg stench of gunpowder.

Should you try this at home? Probably not — we can think of dozens of reasons why this is a bad idea. Still, it’s amazing to watch, and seeing how much altitude these cobbled-up rockets manage to gain is truly amazing. Hats off to [Leo] for finding this for us.

25 thoughts on “The Dangerously Delightful Homemade Rockets Of Thailand

  1. This is great :) nice video also, but why tha ‘nasa launch sequence’ voice over in the intro, wouldve prefered to hear the thai announcer (as briefly heard at the last launch)

  2. That was fantastic, I’ve seen a few of these things on youtube over the years, but never found a good explanation (in my language) of their construction.

    I’d love to see one of these at a fireworks display in the US, and many of ours are launched from barges over lakes and rivers, so the risk tolerance might almost be there!

  3. I did cringe a bit at the sight of a guy hammering nails into the end of what is essentially a giant pipe bomb.
    Gotta say, I’m a bit disappointed in Leo for stressing NASA’s and the Soviet space program’s darkest hours with only passing mention of all the things that SpaceX has blown up. SpaceX WILL have a bad day and kill a crew. It just hasn’t happened yet.

    1. You so horribly and catastrophically misunderstand why SX and others blows up things that it makes me want to cry.
      They very very explicitly push things to a breaking point to root out weak points and find out where simulations is not in sync with reality. So that they won’t loose crew or cargo during mission.

      For example after the first real crewed flight, they took the capsule refreshed/refueled it and put it on a vibration stand and wanted to test parts of the LES because they might have been some overlooked salt water damage etc..
      The capsule blew up discovering completely unforeseen failure mode.. Neither engineers in SX nor NASA *even theorized* that failure mode and no simulation could have discovered it unless done in chemical/molecular level fidelity and we struggle even with comparatively simple computational fluid dynamics.

      It was N2O4 + Ti reaction initiated by very specific mechanical shock in a very specific pipe bend by a few leaked droplets were pushed by initial helium pressurization of the LES.

    1. Disagree. With less regulation more people are able to have a greater variety of experiences. Just because some people get hurt that doesn’t mean people overall are worse off with less regulation. I would argue that with less regulations people are better off even if some people get hurt.

      1. I have to agree, with access you get exposure and then it is up to the individual how far they want to go. everyone self regulates. Official regulation for the lowest common denominator is terrible, stifling creativity and causing other problems.
        Look at speed limits on open roads, some jurisdictions set it to a painfully slow speed because of the “speed kills” mentality, well unfortunately the journey is so slow drivers fall asleep and hit something.
        if a sensible speed was allowed, the slow get overtaken, and the faster stay alert because less boredom, = safer for everyone.

          1. There are studies and experiments that show that reducing signage, removing road markings reduces accidents – it’s believed it’s because it forces drivers to think about the road and safety, rather than blindly follow markings and be distracted by the signs.

            That’s quite a specific situation though.

    2. Sadly people can die from factory made fireworks too, play with fire sooner or later you’ll get burned, but that’s no reason to ban fire, just respect it.

  4. I did not know about the steel pipe innovation, and falling hazard! I recall seeing someone make the rockets that were tied onto the frame at an angle. And I thought the cross pieces were more like fan/propeller blades. Those older ones spun up on the ground for a long time before lifting off. Anyone know the recent history?

  5. Thanks for this! I saw a video of one of these years ago, with no context, and now it all makes sense.

    Apparently there’s a rule that if a rocket fails to launch, the team that built it goes into the mud pit. The video in the article hints at this, but there’s another video on YouTube that spells it out, and shows the Isaan implementation of “drag and drop” technology.


    It also shows a wider variety of rocket design. Some of the spinning rockets are small enough to be launched by a single person, like a frisbee. Some of the rockets have a much more conventional design, and these come in a wide range of sizes as well.

    I’m pretty sure that video shows somebody’s hand / arm getting burned in a launch that goes wrong though. :(

  6. I wonder if something like this could be used as a first stage in a “real” rocket launch, use helicopter type blades spun up by the rockets like this to give more thrust in the low atmosphere (would it?) and then discard it and light the second stage at high(er) altitude. Could be a reusable stage to.

    1. Do a search for rotary rocket. It started around the time the DC-X demonstrator was built and flown several times, yet lost to the pretty words and pictures of the X-33 – that delivered nothing but absorbing a lot of money and a demo of part of a linear aerospike engine.

      The initial concept for rotary rocket was to have a spinning base part of the SSTO with multiple small nozzles around the edge. When that didn’t pan out (I don’t think it even got as far as a working scale model) the company switched to having a helicopter rotor with folding blades on top. The intent with that was to lift the vehicle to a high altitude before starting a normal rocket engine. The same rotor would be used for landing. Deploy and auto rotate to slow down then start the rotor engine for the last bit of descent to touchdown.

      That got as far as building and test flying a sub-scale vehicle with the rotor on top, but no rocket engine.

  7. Love the video!

    About the remark in the video that NASA would never think to use Banana Tree skin as insulation. The space shuttles used cork (this is Oak tree bark) for insulating the space shuttles much larger pipe bombs. I believe cork has been used in other NASA vehicles as well, also by Copenhagen Suborbitals. I do get the point that often lower tech solutions can be more effective. I’ve always felt that space flight could have happened before the 20th century, it just need the right combination of tech, motivation, and that “not knowing that it’s impossible” thing.

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