How far can you take this hobby?

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by JeffTaylor, Feb 20, 2020.

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  1. Feb 20, 2020 #1

    JeffTaylor

    JeffTaylor

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    I've been cleaning out my house in preparation for a move in a few weeks, going through the garage, basement, shelves, etc. paring down a lifetime of collected stuff. Inevitably, I found myself sidetracked today sorting through lots of old photos and other relics from my days as a rocket guy.


    I always tell people that the surest way to ruin your hobby is to make it your job. Well I did just that and had a heck of a good time ruining my hobby.

    Anyone want to hear my story? It will start when I discovered HPR and end with professional launches to over 350,000 feet. I traveled to many interesting places, the Black Rock Desert, the Florida everglades, White Sands Missile Range, and Wallops Island Flight Facility launching all sorts of projects. These projects went high above the surface of the earth and and a few over 10,000 feet below it. I earned over a million dollars doing it and I still have all my fingers and toes. Let me know you are listening and I'll spin a good yarn.
     
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  2. Feb 20, 2020 #2

    les

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    Spin away!
     
  3. Feb 20, 2020 #3

    dhbarr

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    Should be a good yarn.
     
  4. Feb 20, 2020 #4

    Blast it Tom!

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    10,000 ft. below it? My first rocket (early teen, 50+ long years ago) made a "lawn dart" out of it self, but even coming from 350,000 ft, a negative 10,000 ft is a lawn dart to put a "bunker buster" to shame!

    Ok, I'm just kidding, but sure curious about it all, including the -10,000 ft parts!
     
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  5. Feb 20, 2020 #5

    OverTheTop

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    Sounds like fun. I'll listen!
     
  6. Feb 20, 2020 #6

    kuririn

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    I'm game.
     
  7. Feb 20, 2020 #7

    Dipstick

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    Yup, let's do this! If I recall correctly, a number of your projects were featured in RocketsMagazine launch videos, but I'd have to go back and search for the details.
     
  8. Feb 20, 2020 #8

    TSMILLER

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    I’ll follow along. Sounds quite interesting!
     
  9. Feb 20, 2020 #9

    timbucktoo

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    Where in the Everglades?
     
  10. Feb 20, 2020 #10

    3stoogesrocketry

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    Please tell away . Thank you immensly for helping out with Icarus 1 from ERAU flown from wallops .

    Eric Stackpole
     
  11. Feb 20, 2020 #11

    Greg Furtman

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    I want to hear the tale. :rolleyes:
     
  12. Feb 20, 2020 #12

    Bat-mite

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    Post what you want to post! People will read or not read based on their personal preference. I'm in, I think.
     
  13. Feb 20, 2020 #13

    Cl(VII)

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    Sounds like a good read to me. Spin away.
     
  14. Feb 20, 2020 #14

    Dipstick

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    Haha, now you're committed, we'll hound you until we hear it all!
     
  15. Feb 20, 2020 #15

    SeanW78

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    Please proceed :popcorn:
     
  16. Feb 21, 2020 #16

    JeffTaylor

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    Okay I'm not the best writer or story teller, but the material is good, so we'll find a way to make this work.

    A few warnings:
    I've been out of the hobby for close to ten years now, so I'm not up on the current state of things. Most of the forums and mailing lists that I used to share amateur rocket ideas are gone and I don't know where this stuff is discussed today. The history I relate here is how I remember things and there are sure to be errors. Also, I don't mean to imply this is any sort of complete history, I'm writing from my own experience so there are certainly people and events that I will leave out due to my own ignorance. I may refer to "the early days of rocketry" or other such terms, and by this I mean early to my experience, not that nothing happened before I came along. I've always lived on the east coast of the USA and thus I know more about what went on this side of the country than the west. I'll babble along as memory permits, but if there is a name, a place, or or something else you want to know more about please ask!

    The 1990s were a time of growth in hobby rocketry. Composite propellant technology was making its way to consumers for the first time and this was a game changer for the model rocket hobby that I had enjoyed growing up in the 1970s and 80s. I first caught wind of these developments about 1995 when I wandered into a hobby shop and found a copy of High Power Rocketry magazine. The mid to late 90s were the glory years for HPR magazine. Bruce Kelly did a great job of collecting rocketry content from all over the country and publishing it in a glossy slick format. It was unfortunate that he wasn't able to maintain the pace and the magazine declined dramatically until its death in 2001(?).

    Here's an example of an article published in the November 1997 issue of HPR that really got me excited. If you haven't read this one I highly recommend it.

    There were several routes through which composite propellant technologies trickled out from government and industry to us amateurs. One route was a guy who's name I have forgotten that worked for Thiokol and was highly involved with the development of the space shuttle SRBs. When he left ATK he formed a new business he named "Dynamic Propulsion Systems" and he continued to manufacture propellants and rockets in Utah on a much smaller scale. Sometime in the early 1990s he sold DPS to Jim Mitchell, interestingly, after that he also tried to sell it to me and others. I'm not sure what Jim Mitchell bought, but Jim did get the DPS name and some propellant formulas. Jim took the DPS intellectual property and started making rocket motors and he was really good at it. Terry McCreary remarked to me once that Jim's intuition about what would work or not being unrivaled. Jim had no interest in jumping through the hoops required for TRA certification. Instead, he started to teach people what he knew and the Thunderflame propellant making classes were born. Jim traveled around the country holding hands-on propellant courses and he is responsible for me getting into propellant making, along with many others at the time. Jim's classes also got me into machine work and making rocket hardware. I was working at Duke university at the time and had access to a machine shop where I started making motor hardware. I soon bought my own lathe and there was the first piece of equipment that helped get Loki Research, LLC off the ground. Jim paid it forward and got the propellant ball rolling. Soon his students were teaching classes of their own, myself included, and amateur launches really kicked into high gear. LDRS added "EX day", the BALLS launch grew, and several large TRA prefectures started flying under their own insurance to accommodate experimental motors.

    More to follow...
     
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  17. Feb 21, 2020 #17

    Blast it Tom!

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    Good start, Mr. Taylor! You know that the good Pr'fesser, Terry McCreary, is active here? And is quite the gentleman and quite helpful.

    As a fellow getting back into it after my youthful rockets of the late 60's - early 70's, I find the interim history fascinating!
     
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  18. Feb 21, 2020 #18

    pondman

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    Jeff, I am glad to see this thread. There is so much history out there that I would hate to see evaporate.
     
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  19. Feb 21, 2020 #19

    JeffTaylor

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    Jim Mitchell was also a source for propellant chemicals, such as AP and HTPB, and on several occasions I drove some distance to meet up with Jim and others to split up a barrel of AP. Ever find yourself in a cheap motel room with a bunch of guys cutting up large quantities of white powder for resale? The times were strange. When I bought those early few pounds little did I know that it would not be long before I was buying the same material by the ton!

    AP.jpg
     
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  20. Feb 21, 2020 #20

    Blast it Tom!

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    Err... I'm a little back on this stuff, but if "AP" is "ammonium phosphate", then yes, you'd garner a lot of attention these days! Too bad a few wicked souls can cause death, pain and misery to their direct victims, grief to all their kin and dread incovenience to the rest of us -from this to airport security, and all the rest. Costs billions, to boot.
     
  21. Feb 21, 2020 #21

    Nytrunner

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    AP for our purposes is ammonium perchlorate
     
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  22. Feb 21, 2020 #22

    ThreeJsDad

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    Cool stuff !!! Times have sure changed.
     
  23. Feb 21, 2020 #23

    Blast it Tom!

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    So i went and rewoke some extremely old and almost clueless chemistry brain cells reading the wikipedia article on APCP propellants... so much neat stuff to consider! Thank you!
     
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  24. Feb 21, 2020 #24

    FMarvinS

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    Jeff, I'm Looking forward to your HPR sagas!
     
  25. Feb 21, 2020 #25

    JeffTaylor

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    Genesis of Loki Research

    So there I was, living in North Carolina, working at Duke University, and making rocket motors on the side. I started selling some of my motor hardware on Darrell Mobley’s old website RocketryOnline.com (he later did RocketryPlanet.com too). My first customer was a guy named Darren Wright. Darren had caught the propellant making bug as well, we became good friends and business partners. Without Darren’s business skills and seed capital, Loki Research would not have happened. Darren also introduced me to Erik Hall. Darren and Erik had developed the ARTS flight computer and were just starting the flight testing. As I had also been working on flight computer designs myself, this was a natural fit and we agreed that the ARTS would be marketed under the Loki Research banner. Why the name “Loki Research?” Darren and I were both very interested in the Loki Boosted Dart rockets that had been developed in the 1960s and were still in use at the time. Those little 3” and 4” diameter boosters could throw a dart well over 100,000 feet up. We thought that was really cool and something we might be able to replicate. We learned everything we could about those designs, but at the time, information was scarce and hard to come by.

    A photo of Darren examining a Loki Dart at Kennedy Space Center. I drew on notes about three important details of the dart coupler we discovered that day.

    LokiDart1.jpg

    Loki Darts are spin stabilized, but the spin comes not from anything on the booster, rather they are fired from a helical launch rail like this one:

    LokiDart2.jpg

    I should note that these are my photos, taken on actual film, which is how we did it in those days.

    Darren and I wanted to get into selling propellant, but there were significant hurdles to be overcome. In those days APCP was considered an explosive by the federal government, so I had to get an explosives manufacturing license from the feds and this required that I have a proper manufacturing facility. Working out of my garage was not going to cut it for very good safety reasons. When my wife wanted to move to Connecticut for a new job I agreed and started looking for a place to build a propellant business.

    It wasn’t long before I stumbled onto the ideal place. The Dapkus Fireworks company had a facility in an industrial park in a wooded area backed up against a state park. They were well known to the state and local fire marshals, as well as the BATFE, and permitting was not a problem. I leased several manufacturing buildings they weren’t using and multiple storage magazines.
    Loki's first manufacturing buildings.
    Rockets1.jpg

    I bought equipment, most importantly a 40qt industrial vacuum mixer. Rockets2.jpg

    And I hired people. Here is Cam Vickers, Loki's first employee posing with our big mixer. Cam was a chemical engineer retired from Monsanto, Inc. Behind the blue wall in the photo, there was a press we used to force the propellant into tubes. You could work the press with the buttons shown while looking through the window behind Cam. A really nice safety feature. The fireworks guys were very safety oriented and I learned a lot about how to work with energetic materials from them.
    Rockets3.jpg
     
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  26. Feb 22, 2020 #26

    HVArcas

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    Wait, Jeff Taylor is asking if we want his stories?

    What, are you freaking kidding?! Every word!
     
  27. Feb 22, 2020 #27

    ben

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    Hey Jeff, Ben and Elaine say hi. Remember the good days at Whitaker's.

    Ben
     
  28. Feb 22, 2020 #28

    JeffTaylor

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    Hi Ben and Elaine! The Whitakers crowd was awesome, I do miss those days. You two are the only couple I know married under crossed rockets! (or did I just make that up?)
     
  29. Feb 22, 2020 #29

    Speaknoevil

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    Loving this!!

    My first 98mm hardware was purchased from Mr. Taylor as he was transitioning out of Loki.
     
  30. Feb 22, 2020 #30

    JeffTaylor

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    This was the back cover of the July 1998 High Power Rocketry magazine. I need to explain what this photo is before continuing my story.


    Aerotech1.jpg

    The photo is a propellant scrap burn, a big one. When manufacturing propellant, there is waste, sometimes a lot of waste. You get propellant on your disposable gloves, cleaning rags and other sundries. Propellant is cast in long sticks and then cut to size, so there are end-cuts that aren’t used. Sometimes cores are drilled or slots cut in the propellant sticks and this makes waste, very flammable waste. If you ignite the end of a stick of propellant it burns relatively slowly. You can hold the stick in your hand, like a road flare, and it may burn for several minutes. But chop that stick up into little pieces and it will all burn up in a matter of seconds. Waste propellant is too hazardous and toxic to put into your normal trash stream. Burning is the only way to dispose of it.

    Some people like to blow stuff up, not in any malicious way, they just like the BANG, the flash of light, the thump in the chest. Pre-911, groups of people would get together in open places and set off explosions of various sizes and varieties, sort of like a rocket launch with a 100% CATO rate. I don’t know if this stuff happens at all anymore, but certainly not as openly as it did back then. If you want some good stories, buy TRA Arizona guys Mark Clark and Jim Cornwell a few beers. Anyway, in 1997 I saw an advertisement on the web for “Desert Blast!” a weekend gathering for like-minded people to come and share explosions in the Nevada countryside. Nevada was too far away for me to attend, though I wanted to, but it was right in Aerotech’s back yard and Gary Rosenfield trucked his stored up waste propellant to “Desert Blast” and burned it to the delight of the crowd. That’s what you see in the photo.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2020
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