Nevada trip report and photos

2003 Nevada Rocket Trip Report

In early August I set off on my annual rocketry and camping trip through the Mojave desert and Nevada. This year I had some special flights I wanted to make that required more altitude and recovery space, so my travels were limited and had less emphasis on visiting mines and ghost towns. The photos from this trip are posted online and can be seen at this site:

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My first flight took place at a salt-encrusted dry lake in the Mojave, at the edge of a vast network of salt evaporator canals. This was a two-stage 1.8" diameter rocket powered by G80's. The flight was perfect but the photos were less than impressive. Considerably more altitude would be needed to get a decent shot of the salt works.

The next morning I spotted a family of bighorn sheep at a waterhole near a mine. I also explored another mine which had literally miles of tunnels.

The next flights took place at a small quarry in a colorful, volcanic area of Nevada that I call Rainbow Hills. Two rockets were flown side by side using my newly constructed dual launch pad. One rocket was a 2.6" diameter two-stager powered by a Pro38 Smokey Sam three-grain I motor in the booster, and a Pro38 regular three-grain in the sustainer. The other rocket was 1.8" diameter. It had an H180 in the first stage, and an G80 in the second stage. The first stage also had two strap-on boosters loaded with D12-0's.

The larger rocket took off fine, but experienced a delayed ignition of the sustainer. This caused the second stage to impact at high speed nearly a mile from the launch site, destroying the camera payload and rocket.

The smaller rocket had a misfire of the booster motor. A few seconds later the second stage took off on its own. After recovering it, I reloaded the motor, prepped the camera payload, and set it up on the booster for another attempt at a two-stage flight. This time the booster motor ignited and the flight went as planned. However, the booster shock cord failed and the booster snapped a fin on landing.

A few miles south of this site there is an old hot spring in the middle of the desert. Someone has built a small concrete "hot tub" there into which the water flows. The water then spills out into two small ponds. I made two flights from the narrow strip of land between these two ponds, both using H180's. The first flight failed to get any photos due to a loose screw that jammed the camera mechanism. So I reloaded the motor and flew the rocket a second time.

In between this site and the Rainbow Hills quarry, there is a grassy salt marsh surrounded by volcanic hills. A small white hill sits in the middle of the marsh, and this was the site of my next launch. I used a 2.6" booster powered by a three-grain Pro38 Smokey Sam, lofting a 1.8" diameter second stage. Originally I had planned to use the Pro38 G69 in the second stage but at the site I discovered that the nozzle was too small for the Thermalite timing fuse. Luckily I had an adapter and was able to fit a G80 into the second stage for this launch. The resulting flight went very well but the booster's chute tangled, causing a hard landing that damaged the interstage coupler and took about an inch off the forward airframe.

That night I camped a short distance way next to a hill of bright red volcanic rock. The following morning I prepped one of the most complex rockets of the trip. This was a 2.6" rocket with a 54mm motor mount loaded with an Aerotech I65; and two 38mm strap-on boosters loaded with smokey three-grain Pro38's. The booster hardware was modified for experimental pyro release using a simple "explosive bolt" mechanism. Gray timing fuse was used to fire the pyro mechanisms.

The intended flight profile was for the rocket to take off powered only by the strap-on boosters. As soon as they burned out, the explosive bolts would fire and release the boosters. At about the same time, the I65 was supposed to light. A magnetic apogee detector was used to deploy the main parachutes.

Liftoff was perfect as the rocket soared into the sky on twin plumes of smoke. Then four things went wrong...

First, the G force of the combined booster motors proved to be too much for the onboard camera, causing it to stop taking photos during the boost portion of the flight. After the boosters burned out the camera resumed operation.

Secondly, one of the boosters broke loose about halfway through the burn. The glue bond on the forward mounting component failed. After separating from the rocket, the booster was subjected to excessive aerodynamic pressure which ripped off its fins. The rest of the rocket continued flying straight and true, and the second booster was deployed successfully.

Then the I65 misfired and failed to ignite. The rocket coasted upwards quite a ways, but as it reached apogee it didn't arc over. Instead it fell flat and slightly tail-first. This proved to be the worst problem of the flight, as it prevented the MAD from detecting apogee. The MAD could only fire the ejection charge if the rocket turned over and pointed downward. That didn't happen, so the chutes were never deployed. The rocket hit hard, snapping off a fin, then slammed down sideways. The forward airframe broke in half and the payload capsule burst open. The capsule was repairable but the camera was DOA. However, I was able to retrieve the film and got some good pics from this flight.

Although the flight was not a success, it provided valuable info about the use of high-powered strap-on boosters as well as the experimental pyro release mechanism.

Afterwards I moved to the edge of a large salt lake. There I launched a small rocket on a single Pro38 G69 for a successful flight. The salt flats here were much more photogenic than the dry lake I'd visited earlier in the trip, and I got some interesting photos from this flight.

The next flight took place at the ruins of an old ranch in the hills overlooking the salt lake. For this flight I used a 4" diameter rocket powered by an old Vulcan K420 Smokey Sam. Gray timing fuse was used to fire a backup ejection charge. Two smaller rockets were mounted on the sides of the large rocket and were powered by G80's. They were timed to ignite after burnout of the K.

On a previous flight in June this same configuration was flown on a Pro54 K570. On that flight, the mounting brackets for the smaller rockets failed under thrust. So for this flight I built new, stronger brackets which were reinforced with fiberglass. These were attached to the rocket with numerous small screws. Strips of wood were glued into the airframe to provide a solid attach point for the screws.

At liftoff, the K roared to life and the rocket shot into the sky on a trail of thick black smoke, spiraling slightly. A couple seconds after burnout, the smaller rockets ignited and separated from the booster, which then deployed its chutes. A perfect flight with successful recovery of all three rockets and payloads. The camera in the large booster rocket jammed at liftoff, but the other two functioned perfectly and got some great pics including one shot of the booster rocket ejecting its payload and chutes.

Late that evening, I was treated to the site of several pronghorn antelope along the trail. I also spotted a fox and a couple large toads as I headed back to the Mojave desert. I spent the night at the ruins of a large mine on the side of a mountain in the eastern Mojave.

The following morning I launched two rockets near the large wooden ore bin at this mine. The first rocket was a single stage 2.6" rocket powered by an I285 Redline. The second rocket was 1.8" diameter two-stager powered by an H180 and an H128. The smaller rocket took off first, but the sustainer ignition was a bit late and the second stage went off at an angle. It was moving fast when the chutes ejected, and the payload lost its chute. The payload capsule was damaged but repairable. The camera was DOA and the film had to be manually removed.

The larger rocket took off a split second after the small one and had a perfect flight. However the camera jammed so I didn't get any pics from this flight. I also had to climb halfway up the mountain to retrieve the rocket. I then spent about six hours searching for the second stage of the smaller rocket, which apparently became lost in a network of small gullies. I'd been using the Pratt MicroBeacons on all of my payloads but didn't have enough to put them on the rocket vehicles too. If I had, I'm sure I would have been able to find this rocket pretty quickly. As it was, I never found it. I lost not only the rocket but also the expensive motor hardware.

That night I camped in an area of large granite boulders, and launched a small rocket there the following morning on a Pro38 G69. This was a short but successful flight, and the last one of the trip.

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