Estes Mars Lander Build

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SecondRow

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This past winter, a club member donated a number of cool kits that he had picked up at NARAM last year. He set up a yankee swap/white elephant exchange/whatever you want to call it at our monthly meeting to determine who got what. I ended up with this Damon era Estes Mars Lander model K-43:
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I looked it up and it seems this kit was made sometime between 1969 and 1974. The kit has seen some wear, but looks pretty good for being 45-50 years old! It looks like there’s been some moisture damage to the box and, as you’ll see below, some of the parts. Here are those parts:
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As you can see, a previous owner started cutting some of the landing gear struts out, but that looks to be as far as he got. The parts are in relatively good shape. The pattern sheet is yellowed but still legible. The fin stock looks like it might have some moisture stains, but the 1/8” sheets are not warped. My biggest concern are the wraps and decals. Some of the wraps are crinkled. One of them has a folded corner, as well. We’ll see how they look when I form the shrouds. If they’re bad enough, I’ll order a set from Erockets.
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The decals might need replacing, especially the US flags and “Martin Marietta” decals.
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In the kit was a replacement set of the “Martin Marietta” decals, but they are much larger than the original version. I don’t know the story behind that.
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So I’m going to build this kit, but I’ll be taking my time with it. Updates will be infrequent, between other projects and work (I’ve got a LEGO lunar lander to build with a 7 and a 4 yr old, plus repairs of all my NASA stuff in time for next month!)

The first challenge will be cutting the fins from the stock, since I don’t have a lot of experience with that, save for some Fliskits models I’ve built. Additionally, the two struts already cut out are a little short of the pattern. I’m going to try, but if I muck it up, I reserve the right to get the laser cut stock from Erockets. We’ll see.

Either way, this looks like it will be a really fun kit to build.
 

mach7

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Great score!

Put the decals in a ziplock bag and tape them in a sunny window for 2-3 days. The sun will bleach the yellowing out.
You might also think about coating the decals with liquid decal film after. you will have to cut the decals out carefully after, but I might save them.
 

Steve Shannon

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Cool, I had one exactly like that, which I gave away unbuilt when I went to high school.
 

kuririn

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Fritzk

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Another possible save for the decals is to hit them with a Fixative spray: #82858 Fixative Spray from Micro Mark, ordinarily used to seal the ink on print-yourself-decals. While I've never tried it personally, I've known a few friends in the Model Ship community that have had some success at stabilizing older, delicate decals by spraying, and allowing to dry before attempting to use the decals.
 

SecondRow

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Mach7, I’ve taped the decals in a baggie to the window. Will let you know how that turns out.

Is the fixative spray in Fritzk’s post the same as the liquid decal film that mach7 suggested?
 

Fritzk

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The Micro-mark fixative, and Microscale decal film, are slightly different formulations for the same purpose. However, I think where microscale (microscale Stock# MI-12) is purposed specifically advertised for saving old decals, it may be a better bet to go with Mach7's suggestion.
 

SecondRow

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You have to cut four landing gear struts (the big pattern) and eight of the smaller housing pattern from two balsa sheets. Two of the landing gear struts were cut out by a previous owner, but weren’t done very well. They were cut to size with no room for sanding, and the cuts are sloppy. The edges are visibly crooked. I don’t want to use them, and I don’t think I can fix them without making them too small. So I am cutting new ones.

I’ve cut and shaped one landing gear strut and four housing parts out of the first balsa sheet. I’ve laid out the patterns for the rest of the sheet in the picture attached. I’m using the previously cut landing gear struts to cut the smaller pattern out of. This way, I don’t have to get everything on the last balsa sheet. There’ll be plenty of room to cut the pieces wide and sand to shape.
 

SecondRow

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Back at it. I’ve finally cut and shaped all the balsa parts from the sheet. 8 of the smaller gear housing pieces and 4 of the larger landing gear struts. Also pictured is the patterns for each type of piece. I haven’t yet cut out the notch in the 4 landing struts. Whew!
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Next up is to remove the 4 gear housing covers from the cardstock sheet and glue two gear housing parts to each cover. Here are the covers:
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One set glued together:
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All four:
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The water damage the kit took affected the cardstock a bit. The covers were a little warped, so the pieces weren’t square after they were tacked on. But I used some small clamps while the glue cured to straighten them out. They’re good to go.
 

SecondRow

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Okay, time to build some landing gear. Lots of dowels to cut and shape.
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The dowels are glued around the larger balsa struts and some cardstock supports are attached to make the cool looking landing legs.
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One change I made is that I substituted the rubber bands that came with the kit for metal springs. Most of the rubber bands had deteriorated and fell apart with the slightest pressure. I read in some threads where others had used springs instead, so I picked up some at Ace.
 

SecondRow

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The landing pads were next. I’m amazed at the number of parts this kit has. The landing pads alone have four parts each plus two gussets to attach them to the legs I think each landing leg, when fully completed has about 20 separate parts that have to be cut, shaped and/or glued together. Anyway, these three parts make up the main body of the pad:
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Then, a wrap is glued around the middle of the pad.
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Hmm, that’ll need some filler:
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The pads are glued in, gussets added and an extra pad on the bottom for protection (along with some glue smeared on the bottom of each pad). I now have four landing legs.
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aerostadt

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I built one of these kits around the 1973 time frame. It flew great on the 18 mm Estes C-motors of that time period.
 

SecondRow

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Final step for tonight is to create the flexible hinge for the legs, which together with the springs should keep the legs from snapping upon landing. This includes cutting the hinge support dowels and connecting the support dowels to the leg by way of some flexible tubing and a plastic ball bearing between the balsa pieces.
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The legs are filled and painted at this point. They’re supposed to be painted international orange, with the landing pads and control cylinders silver. Not sure if I’ll be able to find the orange shade, but we’ll see!
 

SecondRow

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I built one of these kits around the 1973 time frame. It flew great on the 18 mm Estes C-motors of that time period.
Are the older C motors much different than today’s version?
 

mbeels

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Looking good, those spring loaded and hinged legs are a really neat idea!
 

SecondRow

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Well, it’s been a little while. I had trouble sourcing the color. The only international orange I found was Testors acrylic in a bottle. I don’t have the tools or skills for airbrushing. So, after much thought, I went with Testors competition orange, which seemed to me to be the closest to the reddish orange look. I don’t think it came out too bad.
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The legs were then attached to the motor mount, and the motor mount was glued into the parachute tube.
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SecondRow

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The descent stage aft bulkhead was glued onto the motor mount CR and gussets were inserted between the bulkhead and the motor mount. 3/16” square notches were cut into the bulkhead ring where the legs would go. The positions were determined by fitting the descent stage over the assembly, but I have no pics. Then the springs were fed through the holes in the bulkhead and attached to dowels that were then glued onto the aft side of the bulkhead.
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SecondRow

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Should have posted this before the last post. Here are the subassemblies. From left to right are: the aft bulkhead, descent shroud, nozzle, ascent module, parachute tube, command module and descent stage (with the four housings glued on). This is where having an old kit with some moisture damage started to affect the build. It was difficult to get the wraps smooth and circular. Inserting ring on each side helped force the wrap into the correct shape, but there are still some issues. You can sort of see the problem on the descent shroud which only has one ring. Because there no ring on one side, that side is not as circular. I’m sure I’m going to have gaps when I glue everything together, but I think filler will fix most problems. I guess I could have ordered new wraps, but I want to build this kit with as many of the original parts as I can.
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mikec

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This is where having an old kit with some moisture damage started to affect the build. It was difficult to get the wraps smooth and circular
I think you'd find that this is a challenge even with a fresh just-manufactured kit, at least it was for me when I built a Tango Papa upscale.

Build looks great.
 

nosecone

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Look terrific so far.

My brother had one in the 80's and it landed on the roof of the car.
 

neil_w

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Outstanding work so far.

Are those hinged legs part of the kid, or a modification? If they're a mod, it's not clear how the original would go together.
 

SecondRow

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Part of the kit. The only mod I’ve made so far is substituting metal springs for rubber bands.
 

SecondRow

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The only substantive change I’ve made so far is the springs for the rubber bands (which were mostly useless after all this time anyway). I’ve also had to replace the shock cord and one plastic hinge. They both had some weird mold which caused both pieces to stiffen. The shock cord snapped with the slightest force. The hinge was hard as a rock and wouldn’t bend. I replaced the hinge with the red fuel line tubing you can see in some of the pics.
 

SecondRow

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I think you'd find that this is a challenge even with a fresh just-manufactured kit, at least it was for me when I built a Tango Papa upscale.

Build looks great.
Building this has been so much fun that I’ve been looking at getting that Tango Papa upscale in the future. There aren’t too many non-3FNC HP kits around. I think that would be a cool rocket to fly. How was the build?
 

troj

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Building this has been so much fun that I’ve been looking at getting that Tango Papa upscale in the future. There aren’t too many non-3FNC HP kits around. I think that would be a cool rocket to fly. How was the build?
I have (and have flown) both the 1.6X and 2X Tango Papa kits. They're great kits and very well done. Definitely takes some time to build them.

-Kevin
 

SecondRow

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Final part of the build is putting everything together. Most of it went on smoothly, except for the ascent shroud. It had to fit around the outside of the descent stage tube, while it’s internal ring needed to go inside the descent tube. It was a tight fit and it was already a little warped from the moisture. You can see the results. A little wrinkly. I think I can fix most of it where it will be noticeable only to me.
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As expected, because of the moisture problems, I had gaps between the shrouds. So out comes the squadron putty. I’ve started filling in some gaps, but have more to go. And I need to redo some parts that didn’t get filled properly. And I’ve got to get the seams.
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I haven’t glued the exhaust nozzle on. The shroud is supposed to be painted orange and the bottom of it black. I’ll glue it on after the rocket gets its coat of white. I painted both colors on the nozzle, but the automotive low tack masking tape I used (which was first taped to my shorts to get some of the stickiness out) STILL ended up pulling some of the orange off. :rolleyes: So I’ll either spray it with orange again (and risk pulling off the black) or touch it up with a brush.
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mach7

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Looking Nice!

Be cautious when overbuilding the ML. It is very sensitive to added mass and C/G.
I can't say for sure, but when you start adding mass with springs and filler you could start eating into
that margin.

For the 1st flight try for calm winds.
 
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