lost my first rocket.

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Jan 23, 2018
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So we went to a large park in town to launch my rocket that I got for Christmas. It didn't take long to realize that building and launching were the easy part of this hobby. It was a little two stage rocket from the hobby store.

We did the countdown, hit the ignition, and the rocket disappeared into the sky without a trace. My daughter, 7 years old, surmised that it got too close to the sun and burned up. My theory is that the ejection charge blew the engine out from the bottom instead of blowing off the nose cone and deploying the chute. The last thing I saw was that the vapor trail stopped, and the rocket still had a ton of momentum and went out of visual range, and though the sun didn't burn it up, it did fly in that direction making it very difficult to see.

So I have a couple of questions. Is there a good way to tell if your top stage engine is in tight enough? The ejection charge has to move the wadding, the big rubber band, the chute, and the nose cone, all of which are held in by friction just like the engine. I used some masking tape on the engine as instructed, but I don't think that was enough. I was worried about it so I only used one piece of wadding. It seemed to go in there tight. Maybe I could have packed it more loosely.

My second question comes from my surprise at how high the thing went. My eyes aren't nearly good enough to see such a small thing that high. Do you need some kind of spyglass for this hobby? My rocket was mostly black against a clear blue sky, and I could not see it. What are some good ways to solve this problem?
My daughter, 7 years old, surmised that it got too close to the sun and burned up.

I like the way your daughter thinks....sounds like a plausible explanation to me.

You are right that the "up part" of flying a model rocket is the easy part. Controlling the "down" is the real challenge.
What was the kit and what motors did you fly it with? A little more info may help us diagnose the problem.

As for watching the flight, you are right, it is sometimes difficult to see. Rockets often fly out of sight, but you can usually find them in the sky when the chute deploys.

The best way to launch is with several friends. That way you have multiple eyes on the rocket. Most of us here fly with a club. You might want to see if you can find one near you. It makes flying rockets even more fun.

P.S. Good job doing something like this with your daughter. I got back into the hobby a couple years ago because it is a great activity to do with my kids. Now that's just an excuse for me building rockets that, for some reason, keep getting bigger and more expensive.
The kit is an Estes Supernova, and I used I think a B6-0 for the booster and a C6-7 for the top stage. The staging seemed to work correctly, and we did find the bottom stage eventually. I'm starting to suspect I packed the wadding too tight. I used a whole sheet from the little pack made by Estes. Maybe I should have cut it in half for such a small rocket? Does that sound plausible?
Friction fit on the motor should be good and snug but not brutal. I will carry a dowel in the range box to tap the motor out later. Many times the heat of the motor will case the tape to stick in the motor mount. Well packed wadding in the bottom of the tube could be a problem as well. An alternative is to use shredded paper insulation. Common term on the forum is Dog Barf. My ten year old daughter has a cat so we call it Cat Yack. It does not seal as tight as the paper wadding sheets and can disperse the ejection charge nicely. We also settled on using tracking powder for most flights over 500ft in tight recovery areas. It makes seeing the recovery deployment much easier. I hope this helps and good job with getting your daughter out there.

Sorry to hear you lost your first rocket.

I know hindsight is 20-20, but you probably should have launched the rocket without the booster on a A8-3 to test and verify your engine mounting and proper deployment of the chute. I also tend to ignore the recommended first flight motors and just go bigger, but sometimes it really is good advice.

At least now you have an excuse to build another rocket right away. You have to have something to burn the remaining motors in.

Welcome and Good Luck
Welcome aboard cephalo ! Sorry for your loss but every flight is a learning opportunity. :) So:

- stagers are fun
- stagers get up there in a great big hurry
- tracking rockets in the sky is a skill that improves with practice, and the more eyes the better especially with stagers
- they don't call the C6 the "See Ya Later" motor for nothing ! I suspect that if the parachute had deployed it might still be floating around up there somewhere ! :wink:
- stagers are fun !

You picked quite a little hot rod with the Super Nova. If you decide to try another or something similar you might try a few things differently:

- use a 4 or 5 foot length of mylar party streamer instead of the parachute. Those things are great at catching the sun and catching your eyes. The rocket will come down a little faster so include a little tube of super glue in your launch supplies for a quick fin field repair if necessary.

- friction fitting motors is definitely an acquired skill. I've had the most success when I can get a piece of tape around the aft end of the 2nd stage motor and the motor mount tube like this:

friction fit staging.jpg

Hope some of this makes sense and helps.
Unless you used the whole pack of wadding that comes with a normal motor pack, and some how packed it in using a stick or something, I don't think you used too much for that sized body tube, and one of the sheets certainly wouldn't make it too tight. I typically use one sheet of the wading to form a cup and then put enough of the loose dog barf in to fill it up about two times the diameter of the body tube. Its not packed down by any means, but it does a decent job of keeping the chute and rubber bands from getting burned by the ejection charge.

I haven't launched this kit, but I've sent similar ones up, and unless you can keep eyes on it all the way to apogee, or have been launching other rockets to similar altitudes just prior to the launch, it can be very difficult to guess where they end up being blown by the higher altitude winds. It might be calm on the ground, or even have a slight breeze, but the winds at altitude may be much faster or blowing in a totally different direction, and if you don't know, you can end up looking the wrong way as the rocket drifts down happily unobserved in a different direction.
Losing rockets is a part of the hobby, but it's a bummer that you had to find that out on your first flight (actually I'm not clear if it was your first flight or just your first day).

That is a small-ish rocket and you probably sent it over 1000' up. That is an inherently tough thing to track. As others have suggested, more eyes can help in such situations. Also, there's a reason for the "first flight" motor recommendations (i.e., A8-5 on the upper stage). Start small, see if everything is working, check the wind, make sure recovery seems possible with selected motors. That is called "flying the field".

The ejection charge of a motor is surprisingly powerful. However, it is possible to pack the tube so tightly that it won't eject properly. The nose cone should be fairly loose, just tight enough so it won't fall out when turned upside down. Wadding should not be very tightly packed. Don't use less wadding as a cure for tight packing; inadequate wadding can lead to melted parachutes. In general, for BT50-based models like the Supernova, I'd crumple up the wadding, throw it in the tube, and then *gently* poke it in there just to make sure it's all sitting down nicely.

You can easily test your parachute and wadding packing skills by taking out the motor and blowing into the back of the rocket; if you've done things correctly you should be able to blow the parachute out (this doesn't work on much larger rocket. :)). Also be careful doing this after a launch unless you've done a decent job cleaning out all the residue, unless you want a mouthful of BP crumbs. :)

Finally: find a club to launch with. You'll find plenty of folks to help make sure you're doing everything correctly, and you'll be more confident when you go to launch on your own.
My first rocket experience was very similar to yours. I got the coolest looking rocket at the hobby shop, an Estes Black Brant II, which is a real hot rod kit. Took it to my local school yard, flew it on a D12-7, and watched it drift away into the trees. That was a good lesson in how starting a bit slower in the hobby, with lower flights, is a much better way to go until you get a feel for what kind of flights you can do based on the field and conditions. Good luck and hopefully your next project will be more successful.
My kids have a similar 2-stage rocket that they like to fly. Whenever they fly both stages, we add a bit of tracking powder to help see the ejection and use a Mylar streamer instead of a parachute. The streamer let's the rocket fall faster and the Mylar reflects nicely making it an easier target to track.
I have a few rockets that never came down. I assume they’re still up there in some sort of low earth orbit. There’s an Estes Mosquito that’s been up there since the 80’s.

There are things to do to increase your chances of recovering your rocket.

  • Prepping your flight includes making sure your motor is retained well, packing the wadding and laundry correctly, making sure the nose cone hasn’t pinched a shroud line or shock cord so it gets stuck.
  • Selecting the rocket/motor combo includes making sure your rocket doesn’t go so high you lose it. Even what color you paint your rocket can help by improving its visibility in the air.
  • Flying the conditions on launch day. On a clear day with blue sky you can see the smoke trail well. Even if you lose sight of the rocket, if you keep watching the top of the smoke trail you’ll eventually see the chute deploy, then watch that all the way back down. On cloudy days I’ll lose the tracking smoke almost immediately. If it doesn’t go too high I’ll see the chute pop out eventually. Launching with a group can help because a lot of the rockets will fly a similar pattern, and you’ll have an idea of where to look in the sky to see your rocket coming back down.
  • If you can keep your back to the sun and launch away from it that helps, but it’s easier said than done.

You can do all those things (and others) to stack the odds in your favor and still have something go wrong. A weak ejection charge that doesn’t deploy laundry, CATO, gust of wind, or a dozen other things that can make a well-prepped flight fail.

You’ll learn all this stuff with practice. You’ll learn even faster if you launch with a group. They can provide pointers. In the meantime I’d recommend flying some of the larger rockets to lower altitudes to practice tracking them in flight. And don’t launch any rocket you can’t stand to lose.
Sorry to hear about the loss of the rocket.

I haven't seen anybody suggest that you put your name and phone number (or email) on your rocket somewhere. Me, I printed labels that I could glue to the balsa tube couplers. A sharpie works fine on the plastic ones. A couple of suggestions on tube couplers... Balsa is porous, and if at least one end of the couplers isn't sealed with something like glue, it is possible to blow off the nosecone (without the parachute) on payloaders like the Supernova (if the balsa coupler is stuck in tight). As I said before, I glue a paper label to both ends of them to seal them and improve my odds of recovery. Plastic tube couplers often have a hole right through them. Seal those holes.

Estes, and other manufacturers have recommended "first flight" motors. I used to think those were for wimps, but now realize that they were selected for two qualities. Safe launches, and easy recovery. Hindsight is 20/20.

I hope that you will still be able to recover the rocket soon.

Pointy side up!
We did the countdown, hit the ignition, and the rocket disappeared into the sky without a trace. My daughter, 7 years old, surmised that it got too close to the sun and burned up.

That, I believe, was the reason that Estes eventually discontinued this model.

You don't say if you saw the top stage separate. Did you see the booster (first stage) come down?
there is one simple thing that can be done to up the odds of actually seeing the rocket on the way up, get further away from the launch pad. the minimum safe distance is 15'...I would suggest 30' - 50'. it really does make a difference in tracking the rocket.
My "favorite" lost rocket story happened at HellFire a couple years ago. My rocket went up into a slightly hazy sky and disappeared. My wife and I jumped in the truck and headed in the direction of the surface winds and searched for hours. My wife kept suggesting that we look in the other direction, and I kept telling her she was out of her mind (or something like that). Several days later I got around to watching the GoPro footage I had from the launch of the lost rocket. I had the camera way down on the ground to catch as much of the flight as possible. It left a nice smoke trail right up to apogee, a puff of ejection event, and then disappeared. I watched the footage run for a couple minutes when I noticed the upper smoke trail drifting out of frame, IN THE EXACT OPPOSITE DIRECTION FROM WHERE I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR THE ROCKET. The upper level winds were blowing 180 degrees opposite from the ground winds, at least by the time I got around to looking for the rocket. I still haven't lived this down.
Two stage rockets will go higher than single stage rockets. That makes them inherently harder to track. If you want to try another two stage rocket I strongly suggest that it be the third or fourth rocket that you launch that day. Start with smaller motors on other rockets and get a feel for the launch area and the winds up high. Watch how the rockets react on the way up and after the parachute comes out. Even if you lose sight of a rocket you at least have an idea of where it may land based on what the other rockets have done. One thing you will learn is that the wind strength and direction near the ground may be very different than higher up.

I would also recommend joining a club if there is one on your area. Where are you ? Not only do clubs usually have nice launch areas, but extra eyes greatly improve your chances of someone spotting your rocket. You can also learn a lot from other club members about what to do or not to do.

Good luck in the future.
Estes Supernova, - that is one cool rocket, sorry to hear that loss, but creds for your ambitious launch there!
These guys got it all down....esp. the tracking powder.
I put a big F motor in a little Rocketvision Machbuster once...if it had not been for the tracking powder, never would have seen it or known the ejection charge went off.
I second the recommendation for using a streamer for recovery on high flying models. You should be able to find 2" wide flame-proof crepe paper ribbons at Hobby Lobby or party store. Just because they are flame-proof doesn't mean you should leave out the wadding! I built a Baby Bertha with a 29mm motor mount. Open Rocket said it should go well over 2000 feet. I used two 6' streamers, rolled up separately. I lost sight of the rocket on the way up, but it was easy to track on the way back down. Glad it was a windless day(what a hike to get it)!