Sunday 14 December 2008 - Filed under Rockets
Let me preface by saying that I really, truly don’t feel like I need to justify my activities to anyone. My family is very supportive of my random interests and as long as I am learning and enjoying myself, I don’t beat myself up about opportunity costs. Hedonism, no, enjoying life’s random byways, yes.
But I keep asking myself — what is so interesting about rockets? I can skip to the end of the book on this little hobby and see that I will never have the capital necessary to actually play around with the cutting edge of “amateur” rocketry (unlike Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and John Carmack). I’ll build and launch rockets and build and launch payloads, like video cameras or whatever, and then I’ll have done it all and I won’t need to do it anymore.
But the goal isn’t necessarily to do something that has never been done. Sometimes great goals are ones that do things that many people have done. It’s the whole thing about the journey and not the destination. It was the night before my last launch and I grabbed my wife by the shoulders and shook her and said THIS IS SO FUN. I was having a blast. It’s really fun stuff and I’ve thought a bit about why.
1. The Need for Speed. Rockets go fast. In fact, I was thinking about it and I don’t know of any other thing, period, that humans deal with, besides light, that goes faster than rockets. I’m working on a rocket right now that I calculate should go about 1.2 times the speed of sound. That’s over 900 miles per hour. What else do you know that goes that fast? This is a 2 foot rocket and it can go faster than every other thing I know of excluding multi-billion dollar air and spacecraft. That’s cool.
2. Math and Physics. For me, those are good words. Any activity I do which can involve math and physics is a good thing. With rockets you calculate various aerodynamic values to determine stability. Then, given the physical parameters of the rocket and motor, you can very accurately model flight behavior and predict altitude, velocity and acceleration. With cool software like RockSim you can design rockets and virtually fly them to try to optimize for altitude, payload or speed. So far the best I have is a design for a rocket that will go 20,000 ft. It’s basically a motor with fins at that point.
3. Electronics. I’ve not taken the step of total nerdery where I build electronics from scratch. Quite the opposite, I’m pretty much a beginner tinkerer and haven’t done much more than basic soldering. With rockets you can use electronics to deploy parachutes or to fire motors while in flight. You can fly payloads like video cameras, accelerometers, iphones and GPS. I imagine a world where high power rocketry meets the high-tech servos and airfoils of remote control (RC) aircraft. Rockets are getting more sophisticated and more capable as electronic components get smaller and cheaper.
4. Pyromania. Rocket motors are cool. The big ones are like the size of a fire extinguisher. The ones I’ve used are about the size of a nice Polish sausage. But you also fabricate ejection charges, to blow off nose cones and such. This is a black powder controlled explosion inside the rocket. So Myles and I will be going in the backyard to do some ground testing. This means blowing nose cones off of rockets with electronics. That’s fun!
5. Zen and the Art of Rocket Building. With rockets, beauty is functional. Rockets should be very smooth, very symmetrical, very aerodynamic , very strong and very easy to see. Building rockets is a little like building models but the fact that the thing will fly very fast and very high and be subject to very strong forces makes it more of an engineering project. Rockets are torn apart all the time, once one gets into high power rocketry. Building rockets is a slow and detail-oriented process that is quite satisfying, both on an aesthetic level and on an intellectual one.
6. The Final Frontier. The reason that Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and John Carmack are into rockets is because it really is the final frontier. Orbit is still the province of governments, as we speak. Can amateurs get fractions of the payloads into orbit for fractions of the cost? What would it take to get my iPhone into orbit? Can we design the necessary guidance to put a rocket into a specific orbit? Can amateurs get to the moon?
So, um, that’s why. I like to amuse myself and I find rockets very amusing. I’m going to launch some rockets and see what sort of fun stuff I can make ‘em do. Maybe I’ll be the first person to get an iPhone into orbit. Or maybe I’ll just have fun trying.
Throws Things At Sky
2008-12-14 » lolife