If you’ve been following [Joe Barnard]’s rocketry projects for the past few years, you’ll know that one of his primary goals has been to propulsively land a model rocket like SpaceX. Now, 7 years into the rollercoaster journey, he has finally achieved that goal with the latest version of his Scout rocket.
Many things need to come together to launch AND land a rocket on standard hobby-grade solid fuel rocket motors. A core component is stabilization of the rocket during the entire flight, which achieved using a thrust-vectoring control (TVC) mount for the rocket motors and a custom flight computer loaded with carefully tuned guidance software. Until recently, the TVC mounts were 3D printed, but [Joe] upgraded it to machined aluminum to eliminate as much flex and play as possible.
Since solid-fuel rockets can’t technically be throttled, [Joe] originally tried to time the ignition time of the descent motor in such a manner that it would burn out as the rocket touches down. The ignition time and exact thrust numbers simply weren’t repeatable enough, so in his 2020 landing attempts, he achieved some throttling effect by oscillating the TVC side to side, reducing the vertical thrust component. This eventually gave way to the final solution, a pair of ceramic pincers which block the thrust of the motors as required.
Another interesting component is the landing legs. Made from light carbon fiber rods, they are released by melting a rubber band with nichrome wire and fold into place under spring tension. They also had to be carefully refined to absorb as much impact as possible without bouncing, which killed a few previous landing attempts.
Scrolling back through [Joe]’s videos and seeing the progress in his engineering is absolutely inspiring, and we look forward to his future plans. These include a functional scale model of the belly-flopping starship, a mysterious “meat rocket”, and the big one, a space shot to exceed 100 km altitude.
[T-Zero Systems] has been working on his model Falcon 9 rocket for a while now. It’s an impressive model, complete with thrust vectoring, a microcontroller which follows a predetermined flight plan, a working launch pad, and even legs to attempt vertical landings. During his first tests of his model, though, there were some issues with the control system software that he wrote so he’s back with a new system that borrows software from the Space Shuttle.
The first problem to solve is gimbal lock, a problem that arises when two axes of rotation line up during flight, causing erratic motion. This is especially difficult because this model has no ability to control roll. Solving this using quaternion instead of Euler angles involves a lot of math, provided by libraries developed for use on the Space Shuttle, but with the extra efficiency improvements the new software runs at a much faster rate than it did previously. Unfortunately, the new software had a bug which prevented the parachute from opening, which wasn’t discovered until after launch.
There’s a lot going on in this build behind-the-scenes, too, like the test rocket motor used for testing the control system, which is actually two counter-rotating propellers that can be used to model the thrust of a motor without actually lighting anything on fire. There’s also a separate video describing a test method which validates new hardware with data from prior launches. And, if you want to take your model rocketry further in a different direction, it’s always possible to make your own fuel as well.
When it comes to hobby rotorcraft, it almost seems like the more rotors, the better. Quadcopters, hexacopters, and octocopters we’ve seen, and there’s probably a dodecacopter buzzing around out there somewhere. But what about going the other way? What about a rotorcraft with the minimum complement of rotors?
And thus we have this unique “flying stick” bicopter. [Paweł Spychalski]’s creation reminds us a little of a miniature version of the “Flying Bedstead” that NASA used to train the Apollo LM pilots to touch down on the Moon, and which [Neil Armstrong] famously ejected from after getting the craft into some of the attitudes this little machine found itself in. The bicopter is unique thanks to its fuselage of carbon fiber tube, about a meter in length, each end of which holds a rotor. The rotors rotate counter to each other for torque control, and each is mounted to a servo-controlled gimbal for thrust vectoring. The control electronics and battery are strategically mounted on the tube to place the center of gravity just about equidistant between the rotors.
But is it flyable? Yes, but just barely. The video below shows that it certainly gets off the ground, but does a lot of bouncing as it tries to find a stable attitude. [Paweł] seems to think that the gimballing servos aren’t fast enough to make the thrust-vectoring adjustments needed to keep a stick flying, and we’d have to agree.
This isn’t [Paweł]’s first foray into bicopters; he earned “Fail of the Week” honors back in 2018 for his coaxial dualcopter. The flying stick seems to do much better in general, and kudos to him for even managing to get it off the ground.
[Joe] is well known for his thrust-vectoring rockets, some of which have came within a hair’s breadth of making a perfect powered landing. Previous rockets have used larger, more complex flight computers, but for this round, he wanted to go as small and minimalist as possible. Each stage of the rocket has its own tiny 16 x 17 mm flight computer and battery. The main components are a SAM21 microcontroller running Arduino firmware, an IMU for altitude and orientation sensing, and a FET to trigger the rocket motor igniter. It also has servo outputs for thrust vector control (TVC), and motor control output for the reaction wheel on the third stage for roll control. To keep it simple he omitted a way to log flight data, a decision he later regretted. Shreeek did not have a dedicated recovery system on any of the stages, instead relying on its light weight and high drag to land intact
None of the four launch attempts went as planned, with only the first two stages functioning correctly in the test with the best results. Thanks to the lack of recorded flight data, [Joe] had to rely on video footage alone to diagnose the problems after each launch. Even so, his experience diagnosing problems certainly proved its worth, with definitive improvements. However, we suspect that all his future flight computers will have data logging features included.
There’s a good chance you already saw SpaceX’s towering Starship prototype make its impressive twelve kilometer test flight. While the attempt ended with a spectacular fireball, it was still a phenomenal success as it demonstrated a number of concepts that to this point had never been attempted in the real world. Most importantly, the “Belly Flop” maneuver which sees the 50 meter (160 foot) long rocket transition from vertical flight to a horizontal semi-glide using electrically actuated flight surfaces.
Finding himself inspired by this futuristic spacecraft, [Nicholas Rehm] has designed his own radio controlled Starship that’s capable of all the same aerobatic tricks as the real-thing. It swaps the rocket engines for a pair of electric brushless motors, but otherwise, it’s a fairly accurate recreation of SpaceX’s current test program vehicle. As you can see in the video after the break, it’s even able to stick the landing. Well, sometimes anyway.
Just like the real Starship, vectored thrust is used to both stabilize the vehicle during vertical ascent and help transition it into and out of horizontal flight. Of course, there are no rocket nozzles to slew around, so [Nicholas] is using servo-controlled vanes in the bottom of the rocket to divert the airflow from the motors. Servos are also used to control the external control surfaces, which provide stability and a bit of control authority as the vehicle is falling.
As an interesting aside, Internet sleuths looking through pictures of the Starship’s wreckage have noted that SpaceX appears to be actuating the flaps with gearboxes driven by Tesla motors. The vehicle is reportedly using Tesla battery packs as well. So while moving the control surfaces on model aircraft with battery-powered servos might historically have been a compromise to minimize internal complexity, here it’s actually quite close to the real thing.
Unfortunately, the RC Starship made a hard landing of its own on a recent test flight, so [Nicholas] currently has to rebuild the craft before he can continue with further development. We’re confident he’ll get it back in the air, though it will be interesting to see whether or not he’s flying before SpaceX fires off their next prototype.
After attending a lecture on compliant mechanisms and their potential use in space vehicles for thrust vectoring control, [RCLifeOn] decided to try applying the concept himself. His test mechanism is a fixed-wing with a single-piece motor mount that has enough flex in the right places to allow the motor (and propeller) to be moved in two axes, achieving thrust vectoring control.
After printing a compliant motor mount in a variety of materials, one was selected for having the right balance of strength and flexibility. The vectoring mechanism was fitted to a basic flying wing RC aircraft, and taken to the field for testing. Unfortunately, success was not the order of the day. While the mechanism was able to flex successfully and vector the motor in bench testing, it was unable to hold up to the stresses of powered flight. The compliant mechanism failed and the plane nosedived to the ground.
When you say that something’s not rocket science you mean that it’s not as hard to understand or do as it may seem. The implication is that rocket science is something which is hard and best left to the likes of SpaceX or NASA. But that’s not the hacker spirit.
And no, you didn’t miss a big happening with SpaceX. His Falcon Heavy is a homebrew one using model rocket solid boosters. Mind you, it is a little more advanced than that as he’s implemented thrust vectoring by controlling the engine’s direction using servo motors.
And therein lies the problem. The second stage’s inertia is so small and the moment arm so short that even a small misalignment in the thrust vectoring results in a big effect on the moment arm causing the vehicle to deviate from the desired path. You can see this in the first video below. Another issue he discusses is the high drag, but we’ll leave that to the second video below which contains his explanation and some chart analysis.
So yeah, maybe rocket science is rocket science. But there’s no better way to get your feet wet then to get out there and get building.