A team of amateur rocketeers is hoping the third time will be a charm for their latest attempt to loft a homemade rocket into space.
After two unsuccessful attempts, one of which ended with the explosion of their first vehicle, the members of the Civilian Space eXploration Team (CSXT) are again hoping to launch what they bill as the most powerful amateur rocket ever constructed.
CSXT is set to launch its GoFast rocket from Black Rock, Nevada on May 17, though mission planners have an eight-hour window starting at 8 a.m. local time.
"It's a very robust rocket," said Jerry Larson, program manager for the CSXT effort and launch conductor for the space shot. "We have redesigned the thing from top to bottom."
GoFast is a larger, heavier version of CSXT's Primera rocket, which exploded just three seconds after liftoff on Sept. 21, 2002 when the engine burned through its casing. That launch was the second attempt by CSXT to loft Primera in 2002 -- the first one was scrubbed in June of that year after a sandstorm destroyed the group's campsite.
At 21 feet (6.4 meters) in height, GoFast is four feet (1.2 meters) taller than Primera with a heavier frame specially designed to prevent engine burn-through, Larson said, adding that the rocket should reach an altitude of about 70 miles (112 kilometers) during its suborbital flight.
A homegrown effort
CXST is a collection of is space enthusiasts spread across the country. Members include a retired Hollywood stunt man, ham radio operators, teachers and students, as well as true to form rocket scientists, all of whom have worked together to build GoFast and its predecessors. About 40 people are expected to turn out at Black Rock for Monday's launch.
"What this really demonstrates is that a group of ordinary people with a vision to launch something into space can go ahead and do it," Larson told SPACE.com. "It opens the door, I think, for much bigger projects beyond that."
The Ansari X Prize competition, a race to develop a reuseable spacecraft capable of flying three humans on a suborbital flight twice within two weeks, is a prime example of what can be accomplished, he added. The X Prize, which carries a purse of $10 million, is expected to be won by one of its more than two dozen entrants by the end of the summer.
GoFast's unmanned flight won't win any prize money, though sponsored by Colorado-based Go Fast Sports & Beverage Co., Connecticut's Fuscient LLC and others have been vital for the CSXT effort.
Monday's flight plan calls for a 10-second burn of solid rocket propellant, akin to that used in the strap-on boosters of NASA's space shuttle launch system, to loft GoFast on its way. Then, travelling at five times the speed of sound at a height of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), the engine is expected to shut off, allowing GoFast to coast into space for about two minutes. Four minutes into the flight the rocket should reenter the Earth's atmosphere, deploying parachutes on the way down for both its electronics module and engine stage.
If all goes well, GoFast should come to a halt some 30 miles (48 kilometers) downrange from its launch site.
"We do have bigger plans beyond this," Larson said. "Our really long-term goal is an orbital shot to put something up there that will stay."
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