Space Group Attempts Saturday Morning Launch Of First Amateur Rocket From High Altitude Balloon
[This Release Forwarded By The National Space Society On Behalf Of The Huntsville, Al, L5 Chapter]
|Where: Cerro Gordo, North Carolina (60 mi. west of
When: Balloon Launch at 6:30 AM EST on Saturday, March 22
When: Rocket Launch at 8:40 AM EST (estimated)
On the morning of Saturday, March 22, a small group of space enthusiasts will attempt to make space history by sending the first amateur rocket into space -- and the first hybrid rocket into space ever. Press and visitors are welcome to attend.
The Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5), a chapter of the National Space Society (NSS), has spent the past two years developing and testing components for a "rockoon." A rockoon is a rocket that is launched from a high altitude balloon. The rockoon approach allows a small rocket to obtain a very high altitude because there is little air to slow it down during launch. Rockoons were first flown by James Van Allen in the 1950's as part of a joint Navy/university project, but were abandoned when sufficiently large ground-based sounding rockets became available.
The balloon launch is scheduled for 6:30 AM EST, to obtain the calmest winds and to satisfy FAA requirements. Setup will begin around 3:00 AM. Rocket launch will occur about two hours after the balloon launch (between 8:30 and 9:00 AM EST). If March 22 is windy or rainy, the launch will be postponed until Sunday the 23rd, or Monday the 24th.
HAL5 has updated the rockoon concept using 1990s amateur rocketry and electronics technology. HAL5's goal is to make space more affordable for students, amateurs, experimenters, and researchers. The HAL5 program, started in July of 1994, is called Project HALO, for High Altitude Lift-Off.
The HALO rocket utilizes hybrid propulsion, whereby an inert solid fuel is kept safely away from a liquid oxidizer until the rocket is ignited. The solid fuel used for the HALO rocket is pure asphalt, the same material used on streets and roofs. The liquid oxidizer used for the rocket is nitrous-oxide, the same "laughing gas" used by dentists. After constructing their own rocket motor test facility in early 1995, HAL5 has since performed over 50 static firings of its hybrid rocket motors. HAL5 successfully launched a test hybrid rocket from the ground in Manchester, Tennessee in April of 1996.
The garage-built HALO hybrid rocket, to be launched from off the coast of southeast North Carolina, will become the first of its kind to ever make it into space -- if it successfully exceeds an altitude of 50 nautical miles (300,000 feet). The highest hybrid flight to date was flown on January 8, when a NASA-industry team sent a nitrous-oxide and HTPB-rubber hybrid sounding rocket from the ground to 119,780 feet.
The high-altitude helium balloon to be used is made of clear polyethylene plastic over 70 feet long, but thinner than a sandwich bag (only 0.35 mils thick). At the launch altitude of 90,000 feet, the balloon, which has a volumetric capacity of 54,000 cubic-feet, will expand to 47 feet in diameter.
Floating in the frigid stratosphere, the balloon will be brittle enough to "pop" when the HALO rocket safely shoots through it. HAL5 successfully launched a smaller 19,000 cu.ft. capacity plastic balloon from Huntsville, Alabama in September of 1996. HAL5 also has successfully sent six smaller latex rubber balloons to the edge of space, which have carried both rocket test parts, electronics, and student experiments.
The Project HALO rockoon, if the rocket successfully launches from the balloon gondola, will become the first amateur rockoon mission to succeed. Previous rockoon attempts involved solid rockets, which failed to ignite at altitude. Lessons learned from those attempts have been incorporated into Project HALO.
Due to limitations of recovery boats, the balloon will be launched inland, from a farm in Cerro Gordo, North Carolina (about 60 miles west of Wilmington). March winds will carry the balloon ESE as it rises to 90,000 feet. The command to launch the rocket will be sent only once the balloon is safely over open ocean and the rocket is pointed away from land.
The balloon gondola will carry an amateur television (ATV) camera to record the launch live and transmit the color video back to earth. The frequency is 434.00 MHz, which corresponds to Cable Ready TV channel 59. The rocket also carries an ATV camera, a smaller B&W model.
Altitude verification for the rocket will be primarily based on signals from an onboard GPS receiver. Backup will come from the B&W camera, which is oriented so that the curvature of the Earth can be viewed, recorded, and later measured to estimate the altitude.
For more details (including directions, hotels, restrictions, and requirements), please see the following HALO web site at:
This information can also be requested by sending an E-mail message to "email@example.com" or by calling one of the contacts listed. Press Kits will be available at the balloon launch site, and will be uploaded to the Web site as soon as possible.