Saturday, March 8, 2008

Masters of Doom: Armadillo's roots...

Masters of Doom...

Wow! I finished reading this book by David Kushner a few weeks ago and really meant to get a posting up. It alls ties together for me. Teaching myself computer programming, experimenting with my own rocket engines as a kid, and now having a renewed interest in rocketry myself.

This book brought back many memories from the past. Back to my first kit computer, a Timex-Sinclair ZX81, my Commodore 64 and a luggable IBM PC with little amber screen. I actually carried that thing around with me to class at the University of Arizona...

I started programming games on the TRS 80's and later IBM PC's at Sabio Junior High School. I taught myself BASIC on the ZX81 at home. Later, I fell in love with the Commodore 64. It's added color, resolution and sprites made for much more interesting graphical games.

I wrote some pretty good games, but never sent them off for publishing. Don't we all wish we could go back a change a few things...

I only dreamed of what Carmack and Romero actually did with their games...

Last year at the X Prize Cup Lunar Lander Challenge at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, we actually got to meet John Carmack and watch the flights of the Mod rockets in the competition. We drove over there to see his team complete, visit White Sands and the Space Museum. (Our hotel up in the mountains was even haunted... Very cool.) I will post another entry with pictures from the trip...

Carmack signing the group shot of the Armadillo team that we brought with us.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

UA teams up to shoot for Moon!

This is great news for Tucson!

"The UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department have teamed with Raytheon Missile Systems and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to design, build, fly and operate a robotic lunar lander mission.

The team, called Astrobotic Technology Inc., is competing with nine other groups for the the Google Lunar X Prize, which offers a $30 million purse for the first private robotic mission to the moon that meets operational specifications."

Read the full article at:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brenda's Custom Elite finished

Brenda finished her custom painted Custom Elite rocket today.

This Custom Elite egg lofting rocket kit was purchased from where they sell for only $6.19. Pretty good price for a rocket that can send eggs up into the air.

It is 15.37" when complete and has an 18" motor mount.

The recommended motors are: B6-2, B6-4, C6-3 and C6-5.

Custom Rocket Company
Lake Havasu City, Arizona

We will see later about sending up some sort of small robot in it...

Keyboard as a fin holder...

Fins, standoffs and launch lugs all glued on and ready for paint.

Painting the nose cone yellow with help from twin Alan...

Body and fins all primered gray.

Sanding the primer off for a smooth finish before painting.

Adding her favorite color - RED!

Red and Yellow, Brenda's two favorite colors.

Painting the clear ring silver color.

Masking for Brenda's custom design touch.

Last step, assembling and attaching the parachute...

She had a great time building it and insisted on her design over the suggested theme. Great girl! Can't wait to see what she sends up into orbit!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Primer, Sanding Sealer, Balsa Filler, Paint, etc...

Do you really need all this stuff to build rockets?

Well the short answer is "No. " For the majority of the rockets we are building, we follow a pretty simple regimen for prepping and finishing them.

1. Sand the fins with tapered trailing edges, rounded leading edges and flat where they are glued to other surfaces.

2. After the rocket is constructed, paint with regular, inexpensive gray paint primer. This fills in some iregularities, but also provides a more even paint finish when parts that are originally dfferent colors, such as white or black plastic parts, balsa wood parts and various colored body tubes. We use gray colored primer because it works well under all light and dark colored paints.

3. Let the primer dry for a couple hours.
4. Paint a light coat of paint.
5. Let the paint dry for a couple hours.
6. Paint final coat of paint for good coverage.
7. Let completely dry for 24 hours or more. (Or you may end up with fingerprints, etc.)

Now go out fly it and have fun. Get out of the shop!

Now, on the other hand, if you are building an expensive scale model, a model that has fins that will be difficult to reach, once the model is constructed, or if you are building a rocket for performance over utility, then you will probably want to use fillers, fillercoats and sanding sealers.

Currently, we are building a Semroc Hydra VII that has some hard to reach, "internal" fins. For this reason, and because I wanted to follow the "exact" instructions, I decided to go ahead and take the time to use balsa fillercoat and sanding sealer.

The instructions below, from Semroc, came with the Hydra VII and have a good illustration of the smoothness achieved by using fillercoat and sanding sealer. This decreases drag and improves performance of the rocket. The rocket should be able to fly faster and higher.

* Note that for my 3rd coat, I used sanding sealer in place of fillercoat.

For this rocket, I used the following steps:

1. Sanded the flat sides of the fins before cutting them out of the sheets.

2. Sand the fins with tapered trailing edges, rounded leading edges and flat where they are glued to other surfaces.

2. Brush on two coats of balsa fillercoat and let dry in between each coat. You can use wax paper to set the pieces on after applying the fillercoat.

3. After letting the fillercoat dry completely, sand with fine sandpaper again. This all took a while with the Hydra VII as it has 21 fins in all!

4. Then I applied sanding sealer to all the fins.

5. After the sanding sealer dried overnight, I again sanded all the fins with fine sandpaper.

This process takes days, especially if the rocket has 21 fins. But seeing as I wanted to do it "by the book" on this rocket and because of how it is constructed, I followed these steps.

For this type of rocket with "internal fins," you could also follow a similar practice and spray on primer and sand it off before contruction as a lower cost alternative.

You can see by the picture of the Hydra VII below why it is hard to primer and sand the fins after the rocket has been assembled.

The Hydra VII kit is available from Semroc for $38.00 Postpaid from the following link: Hydra VII

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Mean Yankee" Rocket Completed

Brenda standing next to the "Mean Yankee"

After the gray primer was applied and sanded down, a gloss white paint was applied to the whole rocket. After this white paint had dried for a day, we wrapped the upper 3/4 of the rocket with a high quality painter's tape. Use this instead of regular masking tape so that it comes off easily without messing up your paint job.

This masking spiral was done so we could next spray on the gloss red spiraling stripe shown next.

The red gloss paint was sprayed on after covering the lower section and fins with a plastic trash bag taped to the last part of the purple painter's tape.

Only let the paint dry for a couple minutes before unwrapping the painter's tape. You want it to just start setting just a little, and the paint we use dries very fast. If you let it dry too long you can end up ripping off part of the paint when you remove the tape.

After a couple tries and a few rockets, you will get the hang of it. Or maybe you will be perfect from the git go... :-)

Alan next to the lower section before applying the stars...

We used foil stars bought at Michael's craft shop and stuck them on the lower white section for "masking" where we wanted our stars. Here it is even more critical than with the painter's tape to work quickly because the paint dries so fast.

Painter's tape is made for this... Foil stars are not... so you must work even faster.

I sprayed a quick first coat of gloss blue over the stars. I let it just dry for 30 seconds or so and sprayed the second coat to get it dark and even. Then I waited just 30 seconds more before using a pen knife and tweezers to remove the stars. I would use the pen knife to raise a corner of the start and the tweezers to quickly pull it off.

It actually turned out pretty good with only a few taking off more blue paint than desired, but you can't really see those unless you are real close. No one should be that close anyway at launch... right?...

Overall, it turned out pretty good. Above you see the finished paint job drying.

The finished "Mean Yankee" standing tall at 6 feet 7 inches.

The name comes from the fact that it was made from an Estes "Mean machine" model rocket and of course the US Flag paint job. I guess we will be flying this one the Fourth of July.

It was also a play on the irony of our country coming to the aid of other countries with money, resources and even our soldiers' lives and still being considered by some to be "Mean Yankees."

I served proudly in many countries and helped people wherever I went. I always tried to learn as much of the language and culture that I could. I showed great respect for the countries that I was a guest in.

I was no "Mean Yankee," but this rocket is...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recreation of 1962 John Glenn Space Flight

Americans In Orbit-50 Years has announced their plans to recreate the historic flight of John Glenn in which he was the first man to orbit the Earth.

They will actually be launching an improved version of the famous Mercury capsule and even splash down in the ocean for recovery.

They are taking applications for astronauts right now if you are interested...

That would be a dream come true. I wish I was qualified. I just don't have quite enough hours in high performance aircraft, yet...

Also pretty cool that they looking to use the Falcon 9 being developed by SpaceX for transport.
SpaceX was the company founded by Elon Musk in 2002. You may remember him also as the founder of PayPal and Zip2 Corporation.

On a side note, we were able to see a model of SpaceX's own capsule at the X-Prize Lunar Lander Challenge at Holloman AFB in New Mexico last year.

Alan really liked that as his soccer team is the Blue Dragons.

Asteroid near Earth on Jan 29, 2008

I know this is not about rockets and/or robots, but it is pretty cool.

On January 29, 2008, Asteroid 2007 TU24 will pass by the Earth at just 1.4 lunar distances from the Earth.

Space Daily article:

Cool 3D Java simulation of orbits.
(Use the Forward, Pause, etc to turn the auto simulation on…)

The image above was captured from the simulation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stars and Stripes Rocket

Well, now that the "Orange Twist" has met its demise, we are building another Mean Machine. As I said, this is a great rocket. The kids especially love it! So, I imagine, we will always have at least one of these in our fleet.

Our new paint scheme will be more patriotic in nature, Stars and Stripes, etc. I saw a similar paint job before and it looked pretty cool on this rocket. It is just primered in these shots. The new coat of White Gloss is drying now...

In thethe shot below, you can see the coupler that separates the two halves for transport. Great feature! I have read of many people shutting the old model in car doors because it was too long and the wind caught and shut the door...

My advice: Build one! You will love it! We will keep you posted on the "Stars and Stripes."

Orange Twist KIA

Big Daddy, "Orange Twist", Executioner and SpaceShipOne

We are currently replacing the Orange Twist the was KIA after more than a dozen beautiful flights. The link below is a video of it's 2nd flight. A slightly shorter delay would have been a bit better, that flight was on a D12-5. A D12-3 would have probably been perfect.

This Estes kit is one of our most recommended for enthusiasts to build! The kids just love it. Being over 6 1/2 feet tall, it is definitely impressive out there on the launch site. And this newer version, that now accepts E size engines, flies 50% higher than the riginal. Another very nice feature is the twist-lock coupler that lets you break this extra long rocket down in half for much easier transport than the original that had to be transported at the full length!

This kit is not bad to build even for those starting out. So if you have a several rocket builds under your belt, buy a Mean Machine, build it, fly it and have a blast!

Estes Mean Machine™
Product Number: 1295

The Mean Machine is back and now it's meaner than ever! Now you can fly it on Estes E engines and soar over 900 feet (274m) high!

Length: 79.0" (200.6 cm)
Diameter: 1.64" (41.7 mm)
Weight: 5.8 oz (164 g)
Recovery: 24" (61 cm) parachute
Fins: Laser Cut Fins
Recommended Engines: D12-3, D12-5, E9-4, E9-6

Orange Twist 2nd Flight

The pictures below are a grim reminder to repack your chutes before flying your rockets. We went out to fly on a windy day with our chutes already packed one morning. The wind was too strong and we delayed our launch by a week. Unfortunately, we did not repack the chute the next week on the Orange Twist. The chute did not open fully.
Repack every time and even use a little baby powder on your plastic chutes...

Friday, January 18, 2008

Viper Robot

Well, Santa delivered a very nice present this year!

It was a Viper robot!

We looked at many robots and robotics kits before deciding which one to ask Santa for.

We have not been disappointed at all!

Microbic Viper

The best store for US buyers is actually in Canada, RobotShop. They are very helpful and when we had an issue with a push button switch and a motherboard, they immediately sent us replacements.

Great customer support!
They also have other cool stuff at their site, too!

The best thing about this kit so far, is that Alan, who is now 7 years old, is learning to program and really enjoying it.

The kit comes with the easy to use BASIC Micro Atom IDE Version 2.2 (Integrated Development Environment) that allows for programming the robots controller using an easy to learn BASIC programming language.

Below, are some pictures of the kit and Alan working on it.

The larger box above contains the main kit and the three other boxes contain the three add-on kits. You can read about those on the Microbric or RobotShop sites.
Eventually, some form of robot built with this will be flying on one of our rockets!