Mary Sherman Morgan, Rocket Fuel Mixologist

In the fall of 1957, it seemed as though the United States’ space program would never get off the ground. The USSR had launched Sputnik in October, and this cemented their place in history as the first nation in space. If that weren’t bad enough, they put Sputnik 2 into orbit a month later.

By Christmas, things looked even worse. The US had twice tried to launch Navy-designed Vanguard rockets, and both were spectacular failures. It was time to use their ace in the hole: the Redstone rocket, a direct descendant of the V-2s designed during WWII. The only problem was the propellant. It would never get the payload into orbit as-is.

The US Army awarded a contract to North American Aviation (NAA) to find a propellant that would do the job. But there was a catch: it was too late to make any changes to the engine’s design, so they had to work with big limitations. Oh, and the Army needed it two days before yesterday.

The Army sent a Colonel to NAA to deliver the contract, and to personally insist that they put their very best man on the job. And they did. What the Army didn’t count on was that NAA’s best man was actually a woman with no college degree.

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Storm Chasers Score Bullseye On Tornado With Instrument-Packed Rocket

Model rockets are a heck of a lot of fun, and not a few careers in science and engineering were jump-started by the thrilling woosh and rotten-egg stench of an Estes rocket launch. Adding simple instrumentation to the rocket doubles the fun by allowing telemetry to be sent back, or perhaps aiding in recovery of a lost rocket. Sending an instrument-laden rocket into a tornado is quite a few notches past either of those scenarios, and makes them look downright boring by comparison.

A first and hopefully obvious point: just don’t do this. [ChasinSpin] and [ReedTimmer] are experienced storm chasers, and have a small fleet of purpose-built armored vehicles at their disposal. One such vehicle, the Dominator, served as a mobile launch pad for their rocket as they along with [Sean Schofer] and [Aaron Jayjack] chased what developed into an EF4 monster tornado near Lawrence, Kansas on May 28. They managed to score a direct hit on the developing tornado, only 100 feet (30 meters) away at the time, and which took the rocket to 35,000 ft (10.6 km) and dragged it almost 30 miles (42 km) downrange. They lost touch with it but miraculously recovered it from a church parking lot.

They don’t offer a lot of detail on the rocket itself, but honestly it looks pretty much off-the-shelf, albeit launched from an aimable launchpad. [ChasinSpin] does offer a few details on the instrument package, though – a custom PCB with GPS, IMU, a temperature/humidity/barometric pressure sensor, and a LoRa link to send a data packet back every second. The card also supported an SD card for high-resolution measurements at 10 times per second. Check out the launch in the video below, and be sure to mouse around to get a look at the chaotic environment they were working in.

Even if this isn’t as cool as sending a sounding rocket into an aurora, it’s still really cool. We’re looking forward to seeing what kind of data this experiment collected, and what it reveals about the inner workings of these powerful storms.

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Student Rocket Makes It To Space

Where does the Earth’s atmosphere stop and space begin? It is tempting to take the approach Justice Potter Stewart did for pornography when judging a 1964 obscenity case and say “I know it when I see it.” That’s not good enough for scientists, though. The Kármán line is what the World Air Sports Federation (FAI) defines as space. That line is 100 km (62 miles or about 330,000 feet) above sea level. A recent student-built rocket — Traveler IV — claims to be the first entirely student-designed vehicle to pass that line.

The students from the University of Southern California launched the rocket from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The new record is over twice as high as the old record, set by the same team. The rocket reached approximately 340,000, although the margin of error on the measurement is +/- 16,800 feet, so there’s a slight chance they didn’t quite cross the line.

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Supercapacitors Propel Rocket To The Skies

OK, so this isn’t really a rocket. In the strictest definition, rockets are vehicles or projectiles that propel themselves through jettisoning mass, usually through the combustion of fuel. But with electric motors getting stronger and stronger, folks are building craft that look a lot more like rockets than airplanes. [Tom Stanton] is one such person (Youtube link, embedded below).

We’ve seen “electric rocket” builds before, but where others have used lithium batteries, [Tom] has used supercapacitors instead. Six supercaps are installed in a 3D printed mount, and supply power to a 500 W brushless outrunner motor which gives the rocket the thrust to climb into the sky.

In testing, [Tom] estimates the rocket was able to reach an altitude of approximately 60 m, or 200 ft. That’s not particularly astounding, but it does prove that supercaps can run a high current load in a real world situation. Additionally, their fast recharge rate allows [Tom] to make a repeat flights in just about the time it takes to repack the parachute. Video after the break.

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Air-Breathing Rocket Engine Promises Future Space Planes

If you are a certain age, you probably remember the promise of supersonic transports. The Concorde took less than 4 hours to go across the Atlantic, but it stopped flying in 2003 and ended commercial supersonic passenger flights  But back in the 1970s, we thought the Concorde would give way not to older technology, but to newer. After all, man had just walked on the moon and suborbital transports could make the same trip in 30 minutes and — according to Elon Musk — go between any two points on the Earth in an hour or less. A key component to making suborbital flights as common as normal jet travel is a reasonable engine that can carry a plane to the edge of space. That’s where the UK’s Sabre engine comes into play. Part jet and part rocket, the engine uses novel new technology and two different operating modes to power the next generation of spaceplane. The BBC reports that parts of the new engine will undergo a new phase of testing next month.

The company behind the technology, Reaction Engines, Ltd, uses the engine in an air-breathing jet mode until it hits 5.5 times the speed of sound. Then the same engine becomes a rocket and can propel the vehicle at up to 25 times the speed of sound.

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Engineering For The Long Haul, The NASA Way

The popular press was recently abuzz with sad news from the planet Mars: Opportunity, the little rover that could, could do no more. It took an astonishing 15 years for it to give up the ghost, and it took a planet-wide dust storm that blotted out the sun and plunged the rover into apocalyptically dark and cold conditions to finally kill the machine. It lived 37 times longer than its 90-sol design life, producing mountains of data that will take another 15 years or more to fully digest.

Entire careers were unexpectedly built around Opportunity – officially but bloodlessly dubbed “Mars Exploration Rover-B”, or MER-B – as it stubbornly extended its mission and overcame obstacles both figurative and literal. But “Oppy” is far from the only long-duration success that NASA can boast about. Now that Opportunity has sent its last data, it seems only fitting to celebrate the achievement with a look at exactly how machines and missions can survive and thrive so long in the harshest possible conditions.

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Hydrogen Desk Cannon Is Fun With Electricity And Water

Water is a stable chemical, but with the addition of a little electricity, it can be split into its component parts. The result is just the right mix of H2 and O2 to convert back into water with a bang. [Peter Sripol] has built a charming desktop cannon in just such a way.

The build consists of a contact lens canister filled with a solution of water and potassium hydroxide. By running a DC current through this solution, oxyhydrogen is produced, which then passes through a flash arrestor and into a combustion chamber. Upon the chamber is affixed a rocket, which is propelled when the charge is lit by a piezoelectric ignitor.

The chemical side of the build was easy, but it took significant experimentation to get the rocket side of things working well. Eventually success was found by creating a blast cap out of paper and hot glue which allowed the energy of the blast to be more effectively transferred to the rocket body. With this in place, the cannon is capable of firing small paper rockets in excess of 20 feet.

With the brass and copper components mounted upon stained wood, this contraption would look beautiful on any desk and would be great for assailing one’s fellow coworkers. If your office doesn’t have an explosives policy yet, once you bring this in to work, it will soon. [Peter] uses similar technology in his Nerf blasters, too. Video after the break.

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