2011 Recapitulation

Way back in the beginning of the year I came up with three "Big, Fun Scary Adventures," referred to herein as "BFS Adventures." The first of these was a concrete goal: to obtain my level-2 certification for high-power rocketry. The story of this adventure was a long and comical one:

My first attempt was in June, using my rocket called "Stinger." I used a Cesaroni J285, which is a very small J-motor. For some reason, the flight was just a flop:

Next month I managed to put together an entirely new rocket (can't remember the name of it). It was a big, galumphing rocket made from thick cardboard tubes. The idea was to build heavy so that the rocket didn't go very high so I didn't need dual-deployment. That idea came back to bite me:

So I figured that the third time is usually the charm, and I came out next month with this rocket, which is the sustainer stage of a multistage project.

I figured that I had failed, but we kinda had to rush off at the end of the launch, and didn't talk much with the certifying member afterward. But a few weeks later I got my card in the mail, which read "cert level 2." So that's the story of how I got my level 2 certification.

My second adventure was less than exciting. I set a specific goal to "earn at least $5000 by working and at least $5000 of non-ISU scholarships." This one was also a success. I failed to find an internship, so I worked hard on a sod farm all summer, some weeks working 60 hours! It was quite the arduous ordeal but I earned about $4500 for school. Previously during the spring semester I had earned about $800 from working at Target. So there's my $5000 by working. And I got a pretty nice engineering scholarship for $8000 which helped me stay in school!

My last BFS Adventure was rather vague. "Invent something cool," I said. I'm counting the payload we built for USLI for this adventure. While it was not entirely my invention, I learned a lot of great stuff from being on that team and helped develop pretty cool technology for it. All of the structural components were designed and built by me. A lot of the programming was me, too. One thing is irrefutable: It was cool.

So there's 2011 in a nutshell. Of course, that leaves out 99% of my life, but now you have the 1% worth talking about.

I sense 2012 has some adventures in store that will make 2011 look like a walk in the park. Bring it on!


December Rockets

After a great semester, I now have three whole weeks of holiday to kill. I've already dived into a couple rocket projects, one that I've been working on for a while now, and one that I've been wanting to start for just as long.

The rocket that I got my level 2 certification on was actually designed to be the upper stage of a two-stage rocket. So I'm now continuing work on the booster stage. Where I left off was a messy plywood and expanding foam blob, and today I picked it up again and started working on a fiberglass layup. I figured that today might be my best chance, since it got up to 45 degrees today.

I also want to work on the 38mm minimum diameter rocket I've been planning. I might try doing the layups inside if I have to, but I don't want to fumigate the house with epoxy.

Lastly, if I have time, I might work on a scale rocket for USLI... but more on that later!

[Build pictures]


Armadillo Aerospace Reaches 137,000 ft with "Stiga"

I've been following this company for a while, and am very impressed with what they can do. It is a very small company with only a handful of employees. One of them, (Ben Brockert) is an alumnus of Iowa State, and I met him down in Boulder Colorado during the 2011 Space Vision conference.


Internship at XCOR!

I had a very interesting Thanksgiving break. During the first couple of days I was contacted via email about a possible internship at XCOR Aerospace. I called the next day and learned about what it involves. It sounds...


XCOR is based in Mojave, California. Mojave is a small town of maybe three or four thousand people, and whose industry is almost entirely based around aerospace. The life of the town is the Mojave Air and Space Port, the first inland spaceport in the United States. Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites once said, "Innovation is what we do here, because there's not much else to do in Mojave." Mojave is also the future home town of Captain Christopher Pike, for all you Star Trek geeks out there.

XCOR Aerospace was founded in 1999 by former members of the Rotary Rocket company. Their main focus is on building Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLV's). Current projects are:

  • Lynx is their big project. It's a HTHL suborbital rocket plane that's designed to take one pilot and one passenger and/or payload into the edge of space. I've actually posted about the Lynx before. It is still in the development stages, and looks to enter flight service in the beginning of 2014. In the future they plan to develop a more advanced version with an external dorsal pod for experimental payloads requiring exposure to space, or for launching mini satellites into orbit.
  • EZ-Rocket: This rocket plane is basically an R&D testbed for their rocket engines and other stuff.
  • X-Racer: This is a plane much like the EZ-Rocket, but designed specifically for the Rocket Racing League. The vehicle they have now is a prototype. It has flown for many demonstrations, including Oshkosh AirVenture 2008. It holds several records for rocket powered aircraft, such as the most flights of a single rocket power aircraft, the fastest turnaround time for a rocket powered aircraft, and some other stuff. They continually conduct new flight tests on the vehicle, often with new test engineers in the designated right seat. From my conversation with Aleta Jackson, it sounds like they like to send up their engineers, including interns (!), because they don't want people designing stuff they wouldn't fly themselves.


Possible Internship at XCOR Aerospace

Last night I got an email from Aleta Jackson at XCOR Aerospace indicating that they are interested in taking me on as an intern. I'm all excited! But I have to call today and verify the details, and figure out what it would entail. I'll keep you all posted on the details as they become more evident.

I wrote a program in my mind of how the phone conversation might go.

CHARACTER :: response*400
LOGICAL :: answering_machine
INTEGER :: i, numQuestions

CALL Aleta_Jackson()

IF(answering_machine==.TRUE.) THEN
     WRITE(*,*)"Hello, this is Daniel Hastings. You had emailed me last night about a possible internship at XCOR, and I just wanted to call and talk to you about it. You can reach me at 763-XXX-XXXX. Otherwise I’ll probably try again later today. Thank you very much! Bye."
     "Hello, this is Daniel Hastings. You had emailed me last night about a possible internship at XCOR, and I just wanted to call and talk to you about it today."
     READ(*,*) response
     OPEN(unit=10, file="Daniels_memory.dat")
     WRITE(10,*) response
     IF(response == "Do you have any questions?") EXIT
READ(10,*) numQuestions
DO i = 1, numQuestions
     READ(10,*) question(i)
     WRITE(*,*) question(i)
     READ(*,*) response
     WRITE(10,*) response
WRITE(*,*) "Thank you very much for your time, and for considering me. I look forward to talking to you again in the future. Yup, m-hm, bye."



"Is this internship intended to be for the summer, or for next semester?"
"What sort of work could I expect to be doing?"
"What would a typical day look like?"
"What sort of pay/compensation would I get?"
"Does XCOR help make living arrangements?"
"Do I have to have any specific knowledge or would this be mostly on-the-job training?"
"For how long would the internship last?"


SpaceVision 2011

This update is late in the coming, mainly because of brief and puzzling start-up problem with my computer, but I'm back up and running now and ready to post.

The Iowa State Space Society is a chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space organization, which has a national conference once a year at various universities across the country. This year it was in Boulder, Colorado, and about ten students from Iowa State (myself included) made the trip this past weekend. It was a great experience traveling, networking and meeting new people.

Why didn't I go to school here??

Oh yeah. $45k out-of-state tuition.

Anyway, I am reinvigorated to pursue a great career in space industry. Specifically, I was surprised by how far the private space industry has advanced. We've got companies building capsules for CCDev, we've got an explosion of suborbital launch vehicles, companies like SpaceX and ATK are building their own launch vehicles, and myriads of other private ventures, such as teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize.

I am a busy college student, and I don't have the time to write down all my cool stories from this adventure unfortunately. I will at least share a few pictures:

This is a VTVL monopropellant rocket built by Frontier Aerospace. I talked to a guy named Jack, who I believe build this rocket, for upwards of half an hour. He was very interesting.

 This a snap of me behind the wheel of a full-size mockup of the new Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle being developed by Sierra Nevada.

This is a 1/16th scale model of the Dream Chaser with the hood open. This was actually primarily constructed by undergraduates at CU Boulder, and was drop tested from a helicopter at 15,000 feet.

I really should have taken more pictures, but I kept forgetting. Some blogger I am, ay?


University Student Launch Initiative -- We Made It Again!

Our proposal was accepted, so Iowa State is now one of 42 universities competing in USLI.

The University Student Launch Initiative (USLI) is a NASA competition for universities across the country to design, build and launch a high-power rocket to an altitude of 5280 feet (1 mile). The rocket is designed to carry a scientific or engineering payload of the team's own creation. The launch is down in Huntsville Alabama near the Marshall Space Flight Center every April. Throughout the school year each team must submit four reports; the initial proposal, the preliminary design review (PDR), the critical design review (CDR), the flight readiness review (FRR) and finally the post-launch assessment review (PLAR). Other requirements are to create and up-keep a team website, and to conduct educational outreach activities on space and rocketry, or other scientific or engineering related disciplines.

Last year I signed on to the project as an exciting activity for my freshman year at Iowa State. It was such a good experience that this year I am co-leading the project.

We began meeting in early September to discuss what the project was going to be about this year. The payload concept had to be decided first, because it would dictate what sort of launch vehicle would be able to take it to a mile. There were many concepts proposed, including the following:

  • Self-retrieving rocket (almost a joke, really)
  • Load cells on fins/other protrusions to measure drag
  • Deploy a rover on landing (similar to Arizona last year)
  • Reconnaissance controlled descent vehicle
It was clear that we wanted to expand on last year's project and do a controlled descent vehicle, but with a twist, using the payload as a video surveillance platform to observe the ground. Our main concern was that a parachute recovery system was going to rock/sway/spin too much, so we began to explore other options such as helicopter recovery.

Somewhere along the line, somebody suggested powering the helicopter and going for a full-fledged UAV. This suggestion was initially met with some skepticism, since it would greatly magnify the complexity of the system.

Our current plan is to go for a quadcopter system, with hinges on the four deployment arms so that the payload can fit snugly into the rocket body. The nose cone will be part of the payload; a clear plastic hemispherical dome. The camera will be on a pan and tilt system using a motor and servo, and will transmit live HD video to a ground tracking station.

One of the benefits of this option is that the user can keep an eye in the sky for as long as the battery will last, which would be much longer than the time it would take for the payload to fall, retarded only by the free-spinning helicopter blades. This extra time-aloft increases the return on the significant cost of rocket-assisted deployment.

The launch vehicle concept is currently to construct it from fiberglass with a 7.7 inch outer diameter. The motor we currently plan to use is a Cesaroni L1115, which would take a 10-lb payload approximately 5500 feet. It's always good to design the rocket to fly higher than it's supposed to, because the rocket tends to be heavier than RockSim predicts and have a higher drag coefficient than RockSim predicts. Also, after the test launch in mid-February, if it is determined that the rocket will fly too high, additional mass can be added to bring the altitude down to the desired level.

One concept for the launch vehicle is to use air-brakes to keep the rocket from going over a mile. Judging from success rates of attempts in the past, this would be a very challenging design feature to implement. We're currently exploring the feasibility of this option.

We are all very excited about this project. I think we have a good plan, and a lot of good, fresh ideas. The team of roughly 12-15 students has a nice variety of skills, majors, experience, etc.

More updates will follow regularly. When the team website is up and running I will post a link. When we begin work on the project I will also post YouTube videos.


The Most Amazing Video I Have Ever Seen

Go full screen at 1080p!


Iowa State University Professor Wins Nobel!

In my Classical Physics II class, we took a day to talk about superconductors. Fascinating stuff. But on this one slide in the presentation we see this pretty picture:

So apparently this guy named Dan Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry today. This is kind of a big deal, because how many people do you know from Iowa State who has won a Nobel Prize? He apparently won it for discovering quasicrystals. I have absolutely no idea what quasicrystals are, and reading a Wikipedia article on the topic did not help in the least. I'm pretty sure you could win a Nobel for just coming up with the word.

Here's a more informed article if you're interested: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/science/06nobel.html.

Or if you're really brave, here's Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasicrystal.



100 Subscribers!

My YouTube channel has just crossed 100 subscribers. I post all kinds of videos from rockets to programming. Check it out!



Rocket Science 101 Course Syllabus

Rocket Science 101
Course Syllabus
Daniel Taylor Hastings
                Aerospace Engineering
                Iowa State University

  • Trigonometry, minimum knowledge of calculus, basic physics
  • Rocket Propulsion Elements (7th edition) Sutton and Biblarz
  • Handbook of Model Rocketry (7th edition) Stine and Stine
  • Students grade themselves. There will be several quizzes and one exam, weighted by:
  • Quizzes: 25%
  • Semester project 25%
  • Final Exam 50%


1.       Definition of a rocket
2.       Math background
3.       Physics background
4.       Chemistry/thermodynamics background
5.       Basic nozzle theory
6.       Forces on a rocket
7.       Aerodynamic drag
8.       Flight stability
9.       Thrust and weight
10.   Analysis of flight
11.  Model rocketry
12.   Semester project

Remember:  There is nothing magical about rocket science. It is just a sampling of subjects such as physics, chemistry and math, all applied to the goal of flying through space. You don’t have to be a G-whiz to become a rocket scientist, despite the popular phrase “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to .” It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to study math, science and engineering and love space travel.

Level-2 Certified After All?

I got my new Tripoli Rocketry member card in the mail yesterday, and lo and behold, it says "cert level 2." I tried for level 2 three times last summer, and *supposedly* failed each time. Evidently one of those flights (probably the last one) was not such a failure after all.


Rocket Science 101

I'm going to start a video series on YouTube on basic rocket science. Nothing too complex or too basic; I will be starting with concepts like Newton's laws and gradually get more complicated to describe the motion of a rocket. At the end, I will give an introduction to the actual engineering of a rocket (model rocket).

My aim is to get more people interested in the field of aerospace engineering, specifically rocketry and spacecraft. Even if only a handful of people watches these videos and only one of them is inspired to dig deeper, these videos will have been a success.

I will post a short "syllabus" soon.


Everything You Wanted to Know About Sound in 12 Minutes

I like it when people are smart and creative and humorous and competent and comprehensive.


NASA is Lame

NASA has so much potential, but for whatever reasons, they dink around in LEO. For the price of the Space Station (~$100B) I have to imagine we could have made at least 5 manned missions to Mars by now.

It's all a matter of will and priority. At our current technological and economical level, there is nothing stopping us from sending a manned mission to Mars by next year. But nope. We've got this extremely long and vague calender that alludes to somethin' or other starting around 2020... And no, NASA, don't go to an asteroid. Go to Mars. Seriously.

What we need is another space race. With nothing driving us forward we'll never go anywhere. Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites has mentioned the coming Private Space Race, a race driven by capitalism and competition in the private sector. But the private space industry is only going to take over the maintenance of LEO, leaving deep space exploration to NASA.

NASA: Do your job. Seriously.


Science vs. Religion

I think I found a good quote that sums up the incessant conflict between science and religion:

"Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."

~Albert Einstein

EDIT: Come to think of it, what's more blind is science without the insight of God. God is the only lasting truth, and all scientific research (and every other pursuit for that matter) is for the sake of knowing God, loving God, and showing God. I realize that that would be considered "scientific blasphemy" in the secular scientific community, but hey, it's true.

Besides, I would never try to force this mindset on anyone. It's just the way I approach life. But it would be great if you would join me.


Back to School

Classes I am taking this semester:

AerE 261 Introduction to Performance and Design
Astro 150 Stars, Galaxies and Cosmology
Phys 222 Classical Physics II
EM 274 Statics of Engineering

I will also be involved in USLI again which will give me a credit in AerE 290.

I am also looking for an on-campus job. Some potential opportunities include tutoring or being a research assistant.

It's looking to be a great semester.


Interesting Onboard Video from Last Launch

A friend of mine had this interesting flight of a cluster-ignition Patriot with several onboard cameras. Some sort of weird motor failure caused the flight to go terribly wrong. The only plus is that it made for some very entertaining video...


Fail #3

The failures this summer are beginning to get comical. Sort of like a running gag. I have no explanation for this failure, but it is obviously some sort of altimeter error, or user error pertaining to the altimeter.

As you can see in the video, the drogue charge did not fire at apogee, and then the backup motor-based ejection charge did not have enough power to separate the rocket. Finally the main charge went at 500 feet and saved the rocket. There was no damage, but I still failed to get my certification because not everything went according to plan.

One note about how the rocket fell back to earth. It's interesting how, despite my nearly 4 caliber stability, the rocket flat-spun and at times appeared to be falling backwards. What's with that? I admittedly don't understand how that happens.



Hopefully the 3rd Time's the Charm

Today was supposed to be Tripoli MN's August launch, but due to bad weather it got postponed until Sunday. Tomorrow I plan to launch the upper stage of my new Complex-L2 project for a level-2 certification attempt. I'll be flying it on a CTI J381SK, and it should reach 3000 feet.

This will be my third certification attempt for level-2 and the last attempt I can get in before moving down to Iowa for college, so I hope it works this time.

I'll keep you posted on the results.



I just downloaded OpenRocket, which is an open source rocket design and simulation software. So far I love it much better than RockSim, and it is absolutely free. RockSim has some quirks that are very annoying. While OpenRocket is somewhat less glossy and perty than RockSim, it does the job well and I believe it is more user-friendly and powerful.

Get it here!


Build Pictures for the 2-Stager!

I have made TONS of progress on my recent project since my last post. The exterior of the sustainer stage is finished, and the inside of the booster stage is finished. I have yet to put in the altimeter bay, recovery system and staging electronics housing on the sustainer, and still need to glass the booster airframe and paint it.

My work on the booster is rather unconventional. I cut out some strips of 1/4 inch plywood and glued them between the fore and aft centering rings. I then wrapped around the entire booster with plastic wrap and filled 'er up with expanding A-B foam epoxy.

I took this rocket to the county fair (it's my last year in 4H), and it got a purple ribbon. So I will be taking it to the MN State Fair this September, which means I will have to come up from college that weekend. I have a good reason to do so, however: If I participate in the State Fair this year, I am eligible to apply for a scholarship, so it is worth it.


Complex L2

You better believe it. It's time to bring out the big guns. I ordered some supplies from Public Missiles last week, and today a big box was waiting for me on the dinner table when I got home from work. Inside were two 4" body tubes, three coupler tubes, and a nose cone.

I am planning to build a two stage level-2 high-power rocket. This will be the biggest project I have ever undertaken.

I also plan to use the sustainer stage to certify L2 this August.


New Workshop Build Pictures

Oo looky here! Is Daniel about to build something? It sure looks like it. But what?

Hm. What is this?

Aha, it's starting to look like...

A workbench!

And a stool from the scrap wood:

My new, cozy little workshop:


A New Workshop!!

My dad has given me permission to use a corner of the former horse shed as a rocket workshop! This could be a great investment of my spare time for future projects. It is also a great place to store my rockets, especially as they grow in size.

So far all I have managed to do is clean out a spot and put in an extension cord and power strip. But I have plans to build a workbench, a stool, and a fancy rocket stand!

Stay tuned for more details as my ideas take shape.

Also, I have a new project in the works... it involves level-2 motors. Emphasis on the S in "motors."


Fail. Again.

I was able to get off work for this Saturday for this month's Tripoli MN high-power rocket launch. The plan was to try and certify level 2 again, since I failed my first attempt last month.

I'll cut right to the chase and tell you I failed once again.

I swore that my system was fool-proof. It was super simple: a large 10-lb rocket on a large sparky J-motor that would go to 2000' in altitude and land gently on the field under a 72-inch parachute. No dual deploy, no electronics, no rocket hunters, nothing fancy. Just the basics. What could possibly go wrong?

The parachute got stuck inside the rocket, that's what. It came out just fifty feet above the ground, giving us false hopes that the rocket would survive, and we thought it did. But a tent in front of my view blocked the fact that the rocket separated, and the rocket was rather damaged.

I'm not as disappointed as I could be, however. Because I can still continue to fly level-2, and with a 15% discount for certification attempts!

Here's the video:



This summer is much less "fun" than other summers, because I have a more-than-full-time job working on a sod farm. I worked almost 60 hours last week! In the HEAT!

I have survived so far, but unfortunately my rocketry work hasn't. I have just one week before the next HPR launch to prepare my newest creation, which I hope to certify level 2 on. Photos will be posted soon.

This is rather important, however. I need to pay for school!

Happy Independence Day!



Got an Arduino for my birthday, and I'm sooooo excited!

Okay, so you're probably thinking "What the heck is an... arr.. arr... thing?" Well, I'll tell you: It's an open source electronics prototyping platform, so I can make my own rocket payloads and robots and whatever else strikes my fancy.

We used an Arduino last semester for our USLI payload at Iowa State University. We started out using a PIC, which is similar but way more complicated. So we switched over to Arduino and the project moved along five times faster.

I'm looking forward to all of the different projects that will come of this. My first project will probably be a very simple robot, so stay tuned for that!


Pictures and Video!

I love Skidmarks.

Hybrid M-motor that never went :(

He's probably thinking "Not my day..."

From this --^

To this --^

Stinger on the pad.