I’ve talked about software and I’ve talked about hardware, so let’s move on to some rocket science! My apartment isn’t really big enough for a Saturn V, so we’ll limit the discussion to model rocket science.
I was about 12 when I first got involved in model rocketry, and I pursued that hobby on-and-off throughout high school. I basically stopped during my college years, because I didn’t have space to work or easy access to space to fly. I got into it again around 2004-ish, with my enthusiasm rekindled by the X-Prize competition. It turns out that sort of thing is pretty common in the hobby, so much so that the term BAR (born-again rocketeer) was coined to describe us.
While I was away, the hobby has changed quite a bit. That’s a result of three things: adults with more spending money returning or getting into the hobby, technological advances, and the Internet’s ability to tie people together.
One of these changes is the growth of high-power rocketry: large rockets powered by commercially available composite fuel engines. That’s something I’ve only dipped my toe into so far, but it’s very impressive. Search for “LDRS” on Youtube to see some examples.
Even the smaller end of the hobby has changed significantly. The web makes it possible for small, highly-specialized companies to reach a scattered audience. That’s led to the creation of a number of “boutique” rocket kit companies, such as Semroc, Fliskits, and Dr. Zooch, who create products that cater to the dedicated hobbyist instead of the mass market.
Here’s a kit from Semroc that highlights what’s changed and what’s stayed the same in this hobby. Semroc specializes in updated reproductions of classic Estes and Centuri rocket kits – this is the Cherokee-C, a downscale version of the Estes Cherokee-D. Like the original, the kit’s mostly made of paper and balsa wood, but there are some improvements thanks to modern technology.
My absolute favorite change is the move from die-cut (or die-crushed) balsa wood to laser-cut balsa pieces. Laser cut pieces can be made much more regularly and precisely – a fact that’s really taken advantage of by some of the other kits in my “build queue”. Laser cutting is another thing that changes the economics of kit production, making smaller production runs more feasible.
Another big change is the use of through-the-wall fins. In this kit, the body tube has slots cut into it, and the fins have tabs that fit inside. The result is a stronger mechanical join that’s easy to get aligned correctly. Sometimes you’ll see arguments online about how easy or hard a kit should be to build. I like building things, but I like kits that make it easy to build well.
Next time, I’ll put this together. And if we can get a break from the droughts and burn bans around here, I might even get a chance to fly it.