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MD-085 Apollo 1 Model Rocket Build and Launch

September 16, 2022

(3rd Quarter - 2022 Public Affairs Challenge Winner)

September 16, 2022 – Tipton Airport, MD –  The members of MD-085, Apollo 1 Senior Squadron at Tipton Airport, are working very hard to make up for time lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Because of the safety and health measures enacted, squadron members have spent a long time without being able to interact in person.

Hoping to change that, the squadron set to earn the Aerospace Education Excellence (AEX) award, which requires several group activities.  Included in the available choices of activities are building and launching model rockets, and calculating the altitudes of the launches.

At the conclusion of the June 2022 squadron meeting, 11 members of the squadron spent time constructing model rockets.  The squadron had applied for, and received, the CAP Model Rocketry STEM kit.  This kit includes everything needed to build and launch Estes Alpha III model rockets, from the rocket kit itself to solid fuel engines and igniters, parachute recovery systems, to the launch pad and associated electronic launch equipment.  Members cut and trimmed engine tubes, launch rail guides, and quickly went from a pile of raw materials to completed rockets.  Some members used their artistic creativity to personalize and decorate the rockets.  Others simply went with the stock decals provided with the kit.

While building the rocket was a fun activity in and of itself, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.  These rockets needed to fly!  Apollo 1 faces a geographic disadvantage in that it is located within the DC Special Flight Rules Area, and is very close to the DC Flight Restricted Zone.  Additionally, the squadron itself is located at Tipton Airport.  Great space, but rockets and airplanes don’t really play well together. 

As luck would have it, Apollo 1 is also located near the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.  What better place to launch model rockets than a NASA facility, named after “The Father of Modern Rocketry?”  For years, NASA has allowed the NARHAMS Model Rocket Club to host public launches of model rockets on the first Sunday of the month.  Individuals provide their own rockets, engines, and igniters, and the Club provides the actual launch equipment and oversees the safe launches.  Administratively, NARHAMS also works with the federal government to obtain the waiver needed to launch model rockets within the Flight Restricted Zone. 

On Sunday, 03 July 2022, four members of Apollo 1 arrived at NASA GSFC with rockets and other materials in hand, ready to prove their astronautical engineering mettle.  Those present had their own rockets, along with the ones of members who could not attend the launch.  Final steps included installing the engine and igniter, packing the parachute recovery system, and getting a pre-launch checkout from NARHAMS safety officers, who certified each complete system was ready for launch.

With all pre-launch checklist items completed, squadron members placed their rockets on the designated launch rails, and connected the electrical leads from the launch panel to the rocket igniter.  After ensuring the launch and recovery area was safe, the NARHAMS launch officer launched each rocket after the traditional countdown to liftoff.  Of the 11 rockets prepared by Apollo 1 members for launch, all 11 were complete successes.  Smooth ignition and liftoff, followed by flawless parachute recovery system deployment, and gentle landing and recovery. 

But wait, there’s more!  This was not just an arts and crafts project designed to be a fun way to spend time together.  A second activity from the AEX program calls for determining the altitude reached by the rockets.  These rockets are very simple, with no instrumentation or telemetry.  So, Apollo 1 members resorted to rusty, dust-covered (buried?) mathematics skills to calculate the altitude.  The mnemonic SOHCAHTOA describes the trigonometry functions of Sine, Cosine, and Tangent.  Using a simple, handheld theodolite, the member stood at a measured distance away from the launch site (the “A”, or adjacent) and measured the angle from the ground to the apogee of the launch (the farthest distance from the Earth).  Referring to a trigonometry table, the member found the tangent for that angle.  Multiplying the known distance from the launch site to the measuring point by that tangent gave the altitude in feet (the “O”, or opposite).  No calculators, no computers, no high-tech telemetry.  This measurement was done the old-fashioned way, one that would have been recognized by scientists and engineers from generations back.

All in all, the NASA rocket scientists-in-waiting of Apollo 1 Senior Squadron had an enjoyable time preparing and launching the model rockets.  Showing a practical application for math learned decades ago by these same members was an additional perk of the activity.  Apollo 1 is looking forward to building a hovercraft as the next squadron activity in pursuit of the Aerospace Education Excellence Award.

Apollo 1 Senior Squadron has monthly meetings at Tipton Airport, Hangar 80, 7509 General Aviation Drive, Ft Meade, MD, the first Tuesday of every month.  Meetings start at 6:00 p.m.  Please drop by if you are interested.  The airport is not within the fenced area of Ft Meade proper, so no special arrangements need be made for entry.

For More Information:

Lt Col George W. Ryan, Jr., Aerospace Education Officer, Apollo Senior Squadron (MD-085)

Capt. Jeffrey (Jeff) Robertson, Public Affairs Officer, Maryland Wing

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