Fri, 12/10/2010 – 19:54 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
After the nail-biting rocket launch of our Dynetics FASTSAT (Fast, Affordable Science and Technology SATellite), we were all ready for a little R&R. FASTSAT was Dynetics’ major investment into the world of satellite design and manufacturing. We had several experiments onboard from different customers. The launch and deployment have thus far been amazing.
We are now settled back in from the Thanksgiving holidays. It was good to get away for a few days to Chicago to visit friends and go shopping with family at the huge Macy’s downtown, despite the fact that I was sick. It gave me a lot of time to think about how tough of an economy we are in and the fact that new sponsorships will not come easy for our Google RCSP effort, and we will really have to be creative and effective to bring in funding. We have got some great talent at Dynetics working on the new RCSP website. It will offer all the bells and whistles. We will have much new content that so many folks from across the company have been contributing. We have been amazed at the interest this project has generated! Stay tuned!
Changing the Face of Space Access
Wednesday brought the amazing launch of Falcon 9, America’s first commercial launch vehicle capable of taking cargo and maybe even human passengers to orbit and ISS sooner rather than later. My hat is off to Elon Musk, Tom Mueller, and the entire SPaceX Team. Having worked in the periphery of the launch vehicle world over the last 16 years, and heavily in all areas of propulsion, I can assure you that this was no small feat for the money and time spent developing these incredible technical marvels. These guys are truly amazing, and their success is no fluke.
In case you have not heard, this is the rocket we are riding on to take our RCSP Google X PRIZE entry to the moon. We are offering to carry others as well to help pay for our ride.These guys are making America competitive again in the launch business! Congratulations, Team SpaceX!
Local Educational Outreach
On another cool note, we had an amazing opportunity to go to the Boys & Girls Club in Triana, Alabama, which is on the outskirts of Huntsville. Several of the RCSP team members visited the Club, which has an after school program for students from elementary to high school. Alan Harmon of Dynetics, who volunteers with the Club through the Madison Rotary Club, asked us to share some experiences with the students. We loaded up our high-tech toys and set out to show the children what rocket science is all about. We have a portable venue, which includes a rocket engine that runs on laughing gas and plexiglass (fuel), a helicopter drone that is flown with the iPhone via a direct wifi connection, and a scooter with a real jet engine.
We started the day with the suitcase hybrid rocket engine test. We covered the basics of what makes sustained combustion possible, the three key ingredients. The kids answered the hard questions. They gave us a big countdown . . . and the igniter fizzled. Within two minutes, we had recycled back through, and the kids did another countdown which resulted in a loud engine firing that burned for about 10 seconds, producing a bright yellow flame with mach diamonds visible. The children really liked it. It was cool and loud! They asked us to do it again. We were out of fuel, so we went on to the next venue.
We decided it was time to show them a scooter that looks like one some of them have in their own homes, I am told, except on the back end, it has a jet engine mounted to it. It has an electric starter, and it took a while to get it going in the cold winter breeze. We finally did get it spooled up, and it was screaming! It produced about 28 pounds of thrust as I rode it down 6th Avenue in downtown Triana. The kids said they had heard jets passing over the town, but never on the street and in town.
Once I made a couple of 10-mile-per-hour passes in front of the Boys & Girls Club facilities, I shut the engine off and “safed” the system so the children could see it up close. Several of the kids climbed on deck as I pushed them up and down the road. It was fun.
After the cold outside activities, we all went in to the gym and I gave a presentation of who our RCSP team is and why we are going to the Moon with a Rover. We covered the Russian and American Space Race, and where we are today as far as manned missions are concerned. The children asked several questions, and it was obvious they knew a lot about space. We showed off the cool Lander model the Huntsville Center for Technology high school students built for us – students just like them.
I showed the youngsters cool videos from home projects from my daughter, friends, and other enthusiasts of space and rockets. They seemed to really enjoy the videos.
Once the presentation wrapped up, we flew my AR Drone Helicopter. It uses the iPhone as the camera display as well as the controller. It is just like flying a video game. Many of the children have video games, so I let some of them take control and fly the drone through the gymnasium. The children did an amazing job. They had no close calls or incidents. I was the only one in the almost empty gymnasium to land the drone in the Christmas tree! My hat is off to these youngsters!
All and all, I think all of us kids had a really good time, and hopefully we inspired and recruited some new future engineers, scientists, and technicians.
Tim Pickens, RCSP team leader, demonstrates his jet-powered scooter for the students at the Triana Boys & Girls Club during an educational visit this week.