Estes Orange Launch Controller stopped working

ehousey

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Hi,

We have an Estes orange launch controller. It worked fine for a while, but now it ignites the igniters but they do not launch the rocket. We replaced the battery with a brand new 9 volt, and still no launch. I tried 5 igniters in a row - they all burned but the rocket did not launch.

I then replaced the igniter in the engine and used the 9 volt battery directly on the igniter leads. The launcher controller was not used at all. Every single launch was successful. This tells me:

- it's not the battery
- it's not the way we are installing the igniters in the engine

It suggests to me that the launch controller itself is faulty "in some way". I say this lightly because when we use the launch controller, the safety light goes on, it *does* ignite the igniters, but it's as if they don't burn hot enough to ignite the engine. Using a 9 volt battery directly on the igniters worked every time.

What could go wrong with the launch controller? It's as if something in the controller is sapping some of the voltage out of the battery, which weakens the glow of the igniter.

Any suggestions?

Thank you,
Ed
 

neil_w

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A bad connection inside the controller is certainly a possibility. I don't recall if you can easily get to them inside that controller, but if you can then you can go in and tighten/secure/solder the various joints.

If you have a multimeter you can try this: remove the battery and jump the two terminals on the battery connector to each other. Connect the meter to the two alligator clips, activate the controller (push the button) and then measure the resistance through the controller. Should be very close to zero. If not, you've got a connection problem inside there.

In general, 9V controllers are not great, due to the inherent limitations of 9V batteries. If you're going to be doing a lot of launching on your own, I would recommended upgrading to something like an Estes PSII controller, which is reasonably priced and much more solid.
 

BABAR

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Pratt Go-Box
I like this, but you need a separate 12 volt battery or you can hook it to your car battery if accessible. I have used a car jumper battery, you Red to choose your hook up, my car jumper battery has a cigarette lighter socket, which is really convenient, but this are getting harder to find.
 

BEC

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If you are firing the igniters but they are not lighting the motor then it IS installation of the igniters in the motor that is the issue. Especially with that little 9V controller and the Estes "starters" with the yellowish tip it is ESSENTIAL that the tip of the igniter is firmly against the propellant. Drop them in straight, then put the plug in, THEN bend them over. Do not bend them over first.

Also, rarely, a motor will have a bit of clay from the pressing of the nozzle preventing the igniter from actually reaching the fuel. The cure in this case is to use a drill bit (3/32 or 1/8 inch, depending on the nozzle size) just held in your fingers and used to very gently drill against that clay flashing. Then shake the motor's nozzle end out into the palm of your hand. If the powder is grey, repeat. If it's black, the nozzle is clear.

I agree with @neil_w that the 9V controllers are not the best choice to use, especially since recently even Duracell seems to have changed the internal construction of the batteries so that they are lousy at delivering current. This takes away what little margin the little 9V controllers have between working and not working.

Even the regular Electron Beam — the one that uses 4AA cells — with good quality cells in it is a much more reliable option. I also concur with Neil that if you're going to buy another controller, then the Estes PSII unit, which uses six C cells, is a great choice.

That said, if you have a Hobby Lobby in your area, you can get a launch set (rocket, pad, controller) for $20 that will have an Electron Beam in it. They also sell the Estes "E Launch Controller" separately which is a version of the Electron Beam with much heavier gauge wires that are 30 feet long (instead of 15). This one will also be more satisfactory than that little orange Astron II controller. Either of these options are easy if you have an H-L to go to.

If you have to order by mail, spend a little more and get the PSII controller. For example, here it is at jonrocket.com: https://jonrocket.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=65_166&products_id=961
 

ehousey

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A bad connection inside the controller is certainly a possibility. I don't recall if you can easily get to them inside that controller, but if you can then you can go in and tighten/secure/solder the various joints.

If you have a multimeter you can try this: remove the battery and jump the two terminals on the battery connector to each other. Connect the meter to the two alligator clips, activate the controller (push the button) and then measure the resistance through the controller. Should be very close to zero. If not, you've got a connection problem inside there.

In general, 9V controllers are not great, due to the inherent limitations of 9V batteries. If you're going to be doing a lot of launching on your own, I would recommended upgrading to something like an Estes PSII controller, which is reasonably priced and much more solid.
Hi Neil,

Thank you so much for the advice. I do have a multimeter and set it up as you described. The resistance is constantly fluctuating when I hold the button down, varying widely. I confirmed the multimeter is working correctly. Time to spring for a new controller.

Appreciate your help!
Ed
 

BEC

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Hi Neil,

Thank you so much for the advice. I do have a multimeter and set it up as you described. The resistance is constantly fluctuating when I hold the button down, varying widely. I confirmed the multimeter is working correctly. Time to spring for a new controller.

Appreciate your help!
Ed
Hmmmmm.....that does suggest the contacts for the switch are dodgy somehow....

I just dug out my controller of that type and confirmed there's no real way to get inside and fix anything.

While I stand (sit?) by my prior comments that if the igniter fires, so should the motor, if the igniter is installed up against the propellant, it seems reasonable that the dodgy switch takes away the margin in an already marginal setup under the best of circumstances.

Good luck getting something you can trust. I'd hate to have you driven away from the hobby by a dodgy 9V controller!
 

brockrwood

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A bad connection inside the controller is certainly a possibility. I don't recall if you can easily get to them inside that controller, but if you can then you can go in and tighten/secure/solder the various joints.

If you have a multimeter you can try this: remove the battery and jump the two terminals on the battery connector to each other. Connect the meter to the two alligator clips, activate the controller (push the button) and then measure the resistance through the controller. Should be very close to zero. If not, you've got a connection problem inside there.

In general, 9V controllers are not great, due to the inherent limitations of 9V batteries. If you're going to be doing a lot of launching on your own, I would recommended upgrading to something like an Estes PSII controller, which is reasonably priced and much more solid.

Agreed: A 9V battery cannot put out much current: Just barely enough to launch a model rocket.

OP: If you are handy with a soldering iron, you can make your own launch controller with 4 (6 volts) or 8 (12 volts) “AA” alkaline batteries. It is a simple circuit. I made such a controller (6 volt version) back in the 1990’s and it has given me many years of faithful service since then.

It is a very satisfying project to build and then use to launch your rockets. If you would like a circuit diagram, just let me know.

The circuit is similar to the Estes “Electron Beam” controller but with an LED and a resistor replacing the light bulb.
 
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I opened my Estes Electron Beam and replaced the wire with white 16AWG speaker wire using simple soldering skills. Mostly I was tired of tripping over the red wire. That said, this is what I'm mostly using with a Costco 12v battery recharger. The parts list is in the description.



That said again, my most reliable controller is the one I made two years ago with two 9v batteries (18v) but has to be really good 9v or not enough amps for ignition.
 

caveduck

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Using the Estes igniters with the clear-ish coating, excess resistance in the controller could indeed be the problem, even though the igniter appears to burn. The reason is that the clear coating is *not* a true pyrogen (allegedly cornstarch); it's just there to protect the fine nichrome bridge wire. That coating is actually an inhibitor to ignition.

In order to light a motor, you have to 1) get some burning particles onto the grain, 2) get direct contact with the hot nichrome wire, or 3) generate some plasma from vaporizing the bridge wire. With non-flammable coating, burning particles are off the table and the effectiveness is dependent on how hot you get the wire. Ed's tests show pretty clearly that at least part of the issue resides in the controller. I'm not sure about the latest orange ones, but Estes controllers for decades have relied on spring contacts that can get dirty or bent and need to be cleaned periodically with use.

9V batteries are not a good choice at all for a launch controller due to high internal resistance, which sharply limits the current delivery. I'm really not sure why Estes did that because the problems were foreseeable. I totally agree that 4xAA is a superior option, and a 2S or 3S LiPo is a vastly superior solution. The LiPos have almost no internal resistance and will at least double the current delivery, and they lose charge at under 1% per month. A sealed lead-acid battery is also a medium performance but high-mass option if you have one lying around.

It's possible to rescue the clear-coated igniters by removing the clear coating (soak in water for a few minutes) and re-dipping them in nitrocellulose fingernail polish, which is a decent pyrogen. They work a LOT better that way. Even without re-dipping hey actually work somewhat better if you just remove the clear coating and rely on getting them in contact with the propellant, but they're fragile when naked.

Estes themselves just re-designed the igniters - I heard they got some kind of agreement with BATFE - to once again have an actual pyrogen. They are in stock now and the word is that they are much better than the previous ones.

Of course it's fun to design and build your own lifetime-rated controller. Just stay away from cheap import key switches...a shorted 1/4" plug makes a much longer-lived safety interlock. There are plenty of nice designs on the forum and elsewhere.
 
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