Project HALO Status Report

Rocket Ground Launch #1 -- Launch Aftermath

Held on Saturday, April 13, 1996 at the Barrens Test Range in Manchester, Tennessee

The following text was taken, with permission, from an article by Ronnie Lajoie, which was published in the May-June 1996 issue of the Southeastern Space Supporter, newsletter of HAL5.

Saturday, April 13, 9:00 am.  A caravan of automobiles assembles at a gas station on the border between Alabama and Tennessee.  I pass out T-shirts to HALO team members so that we can arrive looking like a team.  We head out confident we have left no one behind.  (Except for Larry who had driven over to the pumps to get some gas -- Oops!)

10:00 am -- Near Tuscaloosa, students Matt Beland and David Hewitt somehow manage to catch up with us.  We reach Manchester by 10:30 am and soon arrive at the Barrens Test Range, a muddy cow pasture followed by a field of last season’s trampled corn stalks.  It’s so windy we keep everything in our cars.  After all, we have plenty of time.

1:00 pm -- We no longer have plenty of time.  The rain which had been avoiding us is now barreling right over us.  It stops by 1:15 and magically takes the gale-force wind with it.  We decide to unpack and prepare for launch.

3:00 pm -- Halfway through our 2-4 pm launch window and it starts raining again.  A tarp is put over the gondola, and another is put over the rocket.  The rocket needs the nose cone attached and the ignition system prepared.  We struggle as best we can in the rain.

3:30 pm -- 30 minutes left in our window.  The rocket is in the gondola and we begin loading the N2O oxidizer, while trying to protect it from on-again, off-again wind and drizzle.  Most of us walk to a safer distance away leaving Tim Pickens and Al Wright to load the tanks.

The Long Wait

3:53 pm -- 7 minutes left.  The rain has stopped and the sun begins to peek through the clouds.  The N2O is loaded and we’re waiting for it to heat up a bit.  The cold oxidizer temperature shifts the frequencies on the radio transmitters.

4:00 pm -- Our launch window closes, or so most of us observers think.  The clouds above finally break and open up a big round patch of beautiful blue sky.

4:05 pm -- First launch attempt.  Car horns beep to alert others.  Blue sky above and there is amazingly no wind.  Countdown, but nothing happens.  Al and others go back to check the wiring.

The Rocket Launches!

4:13 pm -- After one failed attempt, we here Al signal the start of attempt #2.  Ronnie: “One more time.  Blue sky above. . . . They’re counting down!  . . . And, they’ve pressed the button and it’s still sitting there, dangerous as ever.” 14 seconds of silence go by, then “WHOOOOSH!!”  The rocket takes off!  After taking some quick photographs, Ronnie: “It went up; I don’t know what it was waiting for, but it went up.”  Another: “Can you believe that, God Almighty!”  23 seconds after launch, Ronnie: “It’s still firing!”

4:14 pm -- Tim cries out to Bill: “Tell me if you lose that [radio] signal.”  Bill Brown sadly replies: “Lost it!  . . . Lost both beacons shortly after take-off.  The G-forces must have ripped the batteries off or something.”

4:15 pm -- Bill: “No, we got one beacon!  . . . One beacon.”  Word quickly spreads.  The group collects and discusses the launch delay.

4:16 pm -- Ronnie: “Wait a minute, we still have a gondola!”  The group collectively suddenly notices it and runs over to inspect the gondola for damage.  It’s in great shape.  (See Gondola Test #2.)

Down Before Their Time

4:18 pm -- At the gondola, the group discusses the black objects seen falling off the rocket, presumed to be the fins.

4:19 pm -- Brent Sandlin returns from the field with a black object in his hand.  Tim: “Here comes Brent with it now.”  Ronnie: “I think we got a fin here.”

Drew: “That is the nose cone!  That’s the nose cone.”  Ron: “That’s not a fin!”  Ronnie: “Oh no!”  Drew: “That’s the nose cone!”  Ronnie: “How could we lose the nose cone?!  Oh, man!”  Greg: “Payload still in it?”  Brent: “No, it’s still on the rocket.”  Ron: “It shucked the nose cone!”  Ronnie: “Oh, I see, it ripped it off.”  Bill: “That’s bad news.”

The group quickly discusses the possibilities.  Drew describes how cold nitrous vent gas frosted over the entire bottom of the nose cone.  We theorize the frost made the epoxy shrink and/or brittle, separating the adapter ring from the fiberglass nose cone.  The group also discusses the fins.  Al is convinced he saw all three fall off.

The Search for Parts

4:23 pm -- The group hops in the back of Al’s truck and heads out in search of the rocket via the radio transmission.

4:30 pm -- Someone cries out that they see something hanging in a distant tree, which is in another field on the other side of a barb wire fence.

4:45 pm -- A boy named Matthew finds the payload section -- sans rocket -- in a field.  I trade him two HALO T-shirts for it.  Bill’s transmitter is gone, but the smaller one we borrowed is still connected and beeping.  The homing beacon is gone, as is its battery.  The IA-X95 accelerometer is still attached and looks fine; we should be able to get some data from the beginning of the launch.  Gene takes it for downloading.

4:50 pm -- Without the payload section, the parachute door could not open and the rocket would come screaming in and probably crash.  Chances of finding the rocket without a transmitter now are slim to none.  Greg encourages us to wander into the fields and “look for holes”.  Many join in.

The Rocket is Found

5:05 pm -- Greg finds the hole, in a nearby field less than 1/4 mile from the launch site.  The rocket is still in it and only 2 feet down.  The impact site is not a crater, but a perfect post-hole.

The rocket is amazingly intact -- the tanks are still connected, as is the motor case.  The force of the impact slammed the parachute door against the top tank, but the parachute is undamaged.  The impact also slammed the nozzle deep into the motor case.  The case pulls off the tank as the group tries to free the rocket.  The case shows no sign of either a rupture or a burn-through.  As intended, some of the ablative material is still lining the case.

The outside of the case is a different story.  Strips of fiberglass hang loose and the remains of one broken fin clings to the case.  The other two fins are completely gone, leaving only some fiberglass.  Another hour of searching fails to finds the fins or Bill’s radio.

An Overall Successful Flight

Overall, it was a very successful flight.  The motor performed fabulously.  The loss of the fins is disappointing but not unexpected; they would have stayed had this been the space launch.  The nose cone loss was surprising, but that problem can be solved fairly quickly.  There are no barriers to a space launch.

A large contingency of HAL5 members attended this first flight, including: Greg Allison, Tim Pickens, Al Wright, Ron Creel, Larry Scarborough, Ronnie Lajoie, Gene Hornbuckle (and son), Bill Brown, Clay Sawyer, Peter Ewing, Herman and Chris Pickens, Matt Beland, David Hewitt, Drew Prentice, Philomena Grodzka, Chuck Schlemm, and Brent Sandlin (and friend).  All were valuable in making this flight and Project HALO thus far a success!  A special word of thanks goes to HALO member Steve Mustaikis, who could not attend as he moved to California to work for Lockheed.

Ad Astra per Ardua -- “To the Stars by Our Own Hands”

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This file was last modified on Saturday, 15-Apr-2017 13:19:39 EDT