"All In" to 100K ft.
Much of the excitement this weekend was around the 100K team. This is the only place in the country with an FAA waiver to shoot up 100,000 feet. The atmosphere ends at 55K feet at this latitude, and you can see the thin blue line clearly up there (see photo below).
This rocket is a sleek 2-stage custom build with redundant electronics bays (altimeters, GPS, telemetry, motor controllers, parachute deployment systems for drogue and main chutes). It is designed for an O motor booster stage (with an engine repurposed from a cruise missile launcher), and an upper sustainer L-motor stage that will go for the prize.
Well, this particular 100K test launch performed beautifully with the booster stage, with the rocket roaring out of sight, but the sustainer had an electronics malfunction. (current hypothesis is a software bug in the sustainer’s motor controller)
The sustainer did not light, or pop its chute. We heard a sonic boom as the top stage went to ground.... and drilled into the solid clay 14 feet down.... When dug out, they found a cave… created by the shock wave of the impact. It was effectively a "bunker buster." The unlit and heavy motor from that stage drilled a further 5 feet down.
This was not the first spectacular “lawn dart” for this rocket. Here's commentary from the designer:
"This is an experimental motor we built, about a half M in the booster, with an L in the sustainer. Flew to about 30K which was the target altitude to shake down CO2 deployment system and airframe. Too much rollrate, though. Onboard video will make you puke. Recovery system never deployed drogue, so it came in post Mach 2. I think about 2.8. You can hear the sonic boom as the shock wave passes us just before the video cuts out. It came in ballistic at about Mach 2.8, blew its main chutes as designed at about 800 ft., which shred, and then lawn darted into the playa. Spent the last 3 weeks in a rebuild project.
This is a two stage rocket that air started the sustainer at about 20K AGL. The sustainer motor was soft, to keep the altitude below the jet stream.
My favorite quote out of the launch audio track……. “We’ve got a booster chute, but I don’t know where the sustainer is”……….…..”It’s in heaven”…”The space station just saw it go by”"