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World's Largest Amateur Rocket Prepares For Second Attempt 76

Plammox writes "Last year, non-profit, volunteer-based Copenhagen Suborbitals failed at launching what they call the world's largest amateur rocket, because of a frozen LOX-valve. This year, the sea launch platform 'Sputnik' has become self-propelled, eliminating the need for their home-built submarine(!). Sputnik is on its way into the Baltic Sea right now and a launch attempt is expected on Friday. However, one of the founders warns that even if ignition should occur, it might very well look like this."
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World's Largest Amateur Rocket Prepares For Second Attempt

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  • as big as my wallet at this moment.
  • Appropriate name (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @09:41AM (#36296112)

    Sergei Korolev [wikipedia.org], the chief designer of the Sputnik program (and every subsequent Soviet space vehicle until 1965), started out designing amateur gliders in his backyard when he was a teenager. I suspect many a great aerospace engineer started out as an amateur aircraft or rocket designer.

    Today's amateur is the man who takes us to Mars tomorrow.

    • shit, im not ready to go to mars tommorow!.. i havent even packed
  • So there's a self-propelled missile launcher headed toward the USSR?
  • If you ignore the fact it looks like a coffin, this could make a good single-seat escape pod for future space stations or vehicles.
    • Yeah, nothing de-orbits better than a fully powered rocket. Earth, here I come!!!

    • by rednip ( 186217 )

      this could make a good single-seat escape pod for future space stations or vehicles.

      It's cork heat shielding is only good for suborbital flights. Also, I shouldn't need to tell you why a single seated escape pod would be a lousy idea.

      • It's cork heat shielding is only good for suborbital flights. Also, I shouldn't need to tell you why a single seated escape pod would be a lousy idea.

        Why? The henchmen are expendable, and once the good guys have broken into your evil secret lair, it's really only you that needs to escape.

        I mean, it mostly worked for Dr. Evil, didn't it?

      • Also, I shouldn't need to tell you why a single seated escape pod would be a lousy idea.

        No space for your companion cube?

    • Lets just hope they upgrade the heat shield before trying that - 15mm of cork won't cut it from orbit. And I'm really not sure if standing up is how I want to deorbit either...

      That said, this [astronautix.com] looks like a better, safer and more boring alternative for about the same mass.

  • AIS tracking (Score:5, Informative)

    by Plammox ( 717738 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @10:06AM (#36296378)
    If you want to follow them live on the map, go to marinetraffic.com [marinetraffic.com] and type in "sputnik" as vessel. It should appear as "Sputnik" [DK] Cargo.

    PS: The launch is dependent on local weather conditions, but they hope to make an attempt on Friday. In the mean time, they're based in the port of Nexø on the island of Bornholm (dubbed "Spaceport Nexø" or SPN by the crew).
  • Looks to be a wild ride - where can I sign up for a flight?

    On a more serious note, I'm slightly worried about the apparent lack of an escape system in case something goes wrong during the powered stage of the accent. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Vostok, Soyuz and Shenzhou spacecrafts have all used some form of escape system as have pretty much all planned spacecrafts as far as I can tell. The only spacecrafts that have flown without any escape systems was the Voskhod and, ahem, the US Space Shuttle. The former

    • well, lets just say that if it had been equipped with a escape system there would be seven astronauts back in '86 that would not have died.

      Bullshit [nytimes.com]. The Shuttle is a stupid fucking design for a broad variety of reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty of not hitting a wing while ejecting a pod.

      • A properly designed LES would have avoided that problem - for instance by using ejection seats like the Russian Buran Shuttle did. Off course, it would make the Space Shuttle less sexy and unable to carry seven crew, but safety costs. Seven highly trained persons died because of choices made in the early seventies when NASA designed the shuttle and decided to not include a requirement for a LES. If such a requirement had been present, the whole Space Shuttle system might have ended up looking very different

        • Why bother with ejection seats (which as you state would severely limit crew size).

          The shuttle crew cabin is a largely self-contained, structural module (as evidenced by the fact that the cabin from Challenger remained intact until it hit the water). If the entire crew module was attached to the rest of the airframe with explosive bolts, and provided with self-contained emergency power and oxygen, the whole cabin could be blown free of the shuttle during an abort, to splash down under parachute.

    • by GNious ( 953874 )

      Get in line - the people behind it apparently want to take the first trips (standing up if I'm not mistaken).

    • I wouldn't want to ride it.
      For some reason a plexiglass dome at the nose of the rocket give me a bad feeling...
      Perhaps it is because all my model rockets I build never succeeding in launching the shoot, and it landed nose first about 10 cm into the ground.

      • Really? I have to intentionally put a 5 second delay in the first stage to get the second stage to fire straight back down into the ground

        A three stage rocket with 1-2 second delays in stages one and two makes for a pretty awesome zig-zag flight (not to mention some nervous observers)

    • You sir/ma'am are full of shit.

      As a former USAF Fire Protection Specialist, I can assure you, there are several redundant systems on the Shuttle for egress. That being said, you have have a thousand systems to let you get out of the aircraft, but if shit happens before you can implement any of them, well, life sucks.

      • And pary tell which of those redundant systems lets you escape if there is a catastrophic failure with the launch vehicle - especially while the solid fuel boosters are burning? Right, none.

        There may be several ways to egress the shuttle - but there is NO Launch Escape System as the term is commonly defined. End of story.

        • Right... they can't just open the goddamn door that is in the side of the cockpit... or wait, they CAN. OR, they can just hit the ejection seats (yes they have them... don't recall if that was released or not, but I've seen the T.O. on the Shuttle, and it clearly shows them).

          By the way, were you shooting for "pray tell" with your "pary tell"? If you were... you missed.

          • Cheap shots, eh? Well, you're lacking any real arguments, so I guess you have to aim low...

            As anyone who have been paying attention to the Shuttle knows, the first shuttle to fly in space (Colombia) was equipped with ejection seats for the first test flights (STS1 to STS4) and then removed. Any current way to egress the Shuttle during launch is time consuming and requires that the Shuttle is under controlled flight - which will not be the cause if something goes wrong with the launch system. Do you even kno

  • Why would you want to launch from a sea platform that's rocking around in the waves? Why not launch from land somewhere? If he has enough money to build a sea platform, a submarine, and a rocket, then he has enough money to buy land on an island somewhere that has no FAA and no rules about what you can and can't launch out of your back yard. Anyone have insight?

    • by Plammox ( 717738 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @10:57AM (#36296978)
      They are doing this based on donations and voluntary work. Building a sea launch catamaran and putting two marine diesels in it is cheaper than you think....provided you can weld, bend and paint it yourself...and you know a guy with a mobile crane. Also, according to the tests they conducted, the yaw, pitch and roll experienced under favourable weather conditions is acceptable for a launch. This area of Europe is so densely populated that it would be a logistical and safety nightmare to launch it on land, let alone getting the whole thing authorized. 12 naval miles off the coast, you don't have these restrictions (other than having the army/ministry of defense approve a sea launch, which seems to be significantly easier.... military personnel seems to be significantly less scared of rockets. They are probably rooting for them right now. :-)

      So the team had to make a trade-off, and sea launch is what they decided on. I understand them, building a floating launchpad is more fun than red-tape battling the bureaucrats :-)
      • "building a floating launchpad is more fun than red-tape battling the bureaucrats :-)"

        1 You: Yes I would like to make a large rocket, put myself in it, with a lot of explosives near my butt, and launch myself into orbit... Can I have a permit for that?

        2 Them: This department cannot approve such a thing. Try this department instead.

        3. goto 1

    • by Colde ( 307840 )

      Not exactly. They are running on a rather low budget almost exclusively from what people donate. A lot of the stuff they have gotten has been donated by the manufacturing them. This isn't a a rich kid having fun, this is two nerdy danish engineers trying something crazy.

      They are launching from sea to also escape a lot regulation in Denmark which would have to be followed with a launch on land.

    • by Plunky ( 929104 )

      I think you would be hard pressed to find some land that did not have any kind of government claiming jurisdiction over rocket launches or anything else you might conceivably want to do..

      On the other hand, international waters is only 12 miles offshore, and the picture didn't show many waves. Sheltered waters actually flatten down pretty quickly once the wind stops as there is no swell from other weather systems (hundreds of miles away) feeding the waves which batter against the shores. Also, I understand p

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        international waters is only 12 miles offshore

        That depends on the waters. It can also be 24 nm, or for the purpose of economical interests, even 200 nm.

        If there's a high risk of the rocket failing and polluting the sea, I would think that the 24 nm zone would come into play in most places.

    • Why would you want to launch from a sea platform that's rocking around in the waves? Why not launch from land somewhere?

      Not that big of a deal. Sea Launch [sea-launch.com] does this all the time. Though their launch platform is probably quite a bit more stable considering most of it is under water.

      • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday May 31, 2011 @02:23PM (#36299908) Homepage Journal

        I was going to point out Scripps' awesome FLIP [ucsd.edu] platform, which works on the same principle. You start what amounts to a long section of pipe, flood one end of the pipe. When it flips into the vertical position you have a floating stanchion whose buoyancy is dominated by the part that's well below the level of wave action. Of course the submersible part of FLIP is some 100m long, but for the purposes of launching a rocket the platform probably doesn't have to be as stable as FLIP.

        IIRC, the Copenhagen Suborbitals group used a submarine they'd successfully designed and built as a tug to position their launch platform. From that I'd have to conclude they have the engineering capability to produce an inertially stable launch platform. If they haven't, it's most likely because it's not needed for this vehicle and mission.

    • by mogul ( 103400 )

      3 facts:

      Well, they have almost no money, everything is hand build by them self, almost.

      Denmark is pretty small, we don't have a Nevada desert where we can play with our toys.

      Having build a submarine, you know how to build a sea vessel, a floating launch pad is "just" an other level of fun added on top the whole project.

      And I think the "Its Danish Engeneering" is a goal goal too.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...it appears to be held together in part by duct tape.

    What can't you do with duct tape?

  • Uh, I don't think I would want to fly into orbit with a company that isn't even capable of proofreading their own website. Seriously, almost every page has a handful of typos on it! If you want people to trust their lives with you, a good first step is to not appear extremely sloppy.
    • Fortunately, they spend their budget on useful things like tests and building the thing rather than, you know, proof-reading and presentation. Not everyone's first language is English.
  • This is how it can go horribly wrong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E089FnwgUc [youtube.com]
  • I worked on the American Rocket Company's [wikipedia.org] proof of concept hybrid launch vehicle in 1989, which went under various names in the press, but the working name in house was Single Engine Test One (SET-1) [globalsecurity.org].

    SET-1 failed on the pad at VAFB, also due to a frozen LOX valve. There's a good account of the Oct 1989 vehicle accident attached to the Original Post here [nasaspaceflight.com]. I'll summarize from my experience.

    All of the engine testing took place at Edwards AFB, where the humidity was approx 10% on average. At Vandenburg, humidity was more like 100% during cryo fill/drain operations in the mornings. I suspect that similar condensation and freezing problems affected the Copenhagen Sputnik valve.

    After two days of dry-run fill/drain ops, there was a nice casing of ice around the 4" gate valve that separated the He-pressurized LOX tank from the polybutadeine rubber fuel cast into the combustion chamber, so it only opened about 10% of full -- just enough to ignite the engine but not enough to produce any effective thrust.

    The LOX valve failure was listed as the "cause," but it was only the proximate cause, and could have been predicted and/or mitigated. But a number of other contributing factors (human error, subcontractor interference from competing companies, and design shortcomings) led to the thrust vector control fuel, 60% hydrogen peroxide, pooling in the flame bucket and catching fire. As a result, the outside of the vehicle caught fire, and eventually the whole thing became a burning mess on the pad, sending a huge black cloud of smoke over Santa Maria, CA.

    The proof of concept failure was the direct cause of the failure of the AMROC startup. I joined in Feb 1989 when the staff was about 50. By the time of (company President and chief inspirational figure) George Koopman's death in July, the staff was four times as large. By the end of the year, the company was only 25 people, and closed its doors a year or so later, selling its IP to Westinghouse, which then transferred it to SpaceDev. So some of the work we performed did prove useful, eventually. And we succeeded in proving that hybrid rockets were "safer" than solid -- during SET-1 development, some Rocketdyne folks down the road at EAFB dropped a solid rocket section from a crane. The resulting explosion killed 2 people iirc. The SET-1 accident caused only $2000 of minor damage to the pad at Edwards.

    I was a young engineer just out of college. It was an awesome experience to work at a startup like that, and I have dozens of entertaining stories to tell as a result, and learned many lessons I used regularly over the next two decades. I'll never forget it.

  • Their homepage says the expected launch day is Thursday. Even the source cited for the launch happening on Friday says it is planned to happen on Thursday. So, where did the summary get Friday from?
    • by Plammox ( 717738 )
      From their blog updates (in Danish) here [ing.dk].
      Weather in Northern Europe is inherently changeable (and shitty most of the time) which is why they are operating with a launch window June 1-5. Also, the guy maintaining their website is busy preparing for launch. Finally, Sputnik got delayed by two days waiting for calm seas to cross the Baltic.
      Your next question will be "So why is the launch window so narrow?" and the answer is that the original launch window got shortened by the navy who came back a short whil
  • by Plammox ( 717738 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @03:27AM (#36305764)
    picture [bornholmstidende.dk]

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard