Search this Site
Selected Articles from the
|Armature rocket, Kimbo-IV, on launch pad.
Photograph courtesy Steve Bartlett.
That Want Ad from large and small rocket companies had gone unanswered for years. Liquid oxygen (LOX) and composite materials had never gone together in a rocket's propellant tank for a number of reasons: liquid oxygen reacts quite violently with most of the resins used in composite tanks, the composites become very brittle at the very low temperatures, and because minute cracks form in the composite structure and allow the tank to leak in dozens of places. Yet without such a tank, space launchers are forced to use conventional materials, such as aluminum and stainless steel, which can be quite heavy, or to use trouble-prone, expensive, high performance propellant pumps. Several companies had pursued promising technologies to build such a composite tank but none had been willing to "put it money where its mouth was" and put a composite LOX tank on a rocket.
This was the situation until five months ago, when a group of amateurs from the L.A.-based Reaction Research Society teamed with two small, local rocket companies in a bid to build and launch a small test rocket. Garvey Spacecraft Corporation of Huntington Beach and the amateurs would build the rocket around a proprietary LOX tank developed by Microcosm, Inc. of El Segundo.
Working with a shoestring budget and a sizable amount of volunteer labor, the team designed, built, and tested the rocket with several readily-available components: a modified fire extinguisher cylinder for the fuel tank, a commercially-available Global Positioning System receiver allowed the rocket to determine its location, plywood disks served as structural bulkheads, and a tube normally used as a concrete pouring form was used for the rocket's outer skin. The group chose to use de-natured alcohol and LOX for the propellants and gaseous helium to pressurize the system.
The rocket, dubbed "Kimbo-IV" after the wife of John Garvey, the president of Garvey Spacecraft, was ready for hot-fire testing in mid-April at the Reaction Research Society's Mojave Test Area site. Team members trucked the rocket, its support equipment, propellants, and pressurants out to the remote location and successfully proved out the rocket's systems prior to flight
|Kimbo-IV in flight. Photograph courtesy
After modifying the rocket to ready it for flight, the team returned to the Mojave on June 3rd for its launch attempt. The sun beat down on the dedicated team as they readied the rocket in the 100+ degree heat, making their tools and equipment almost too hot to touch. Their nerves grew frayed as electronic glitches played havoc with their instrumentation and recovery system and caused a premature ignition of the rocket's recovery system on the pad. A few voices advised canceling the flight and returning when the conditions were more favorable. But the savvy rocketeers chose to perform some on-the-spot repairs and modifications to fix the problems and were ready to fly less than an hour later. They quickly loaded propellants and helium, installed the rocket's pyrotechnic ignitor, and gave the go-ahead for launch. The Reaction Research Society's president began the countdown shortly after 1 pm. As the count reached zero, the ignitor fired on command, the propellant valves opened, and the Kimbo-IV rocket began its flight. It climbed slowly up the 50-foot launch rail, gradually gaining speed, followed by a nearly-invisible alcohol flame and sounding like the roar of a fighter jet. At the end of the rail, the rocket arced over toward the northwest and Koehn dry lake.
The low-flying Kimbo-IV impacted the lake bed 2.9 miles from the launch site, having met its goal of demonstrating that a low-cost, lightweight, composite LOX tank could be build and flown. The small group of amateurs and professionals had done this feat with a minimum of time, money, and paperwork and set the stage for larger companies to develop composite tanks for their space launchers.
It has often been said that the first real colony in space may be a religious or other extremist group, but Iíve often been struck by the fact that many of these groups have a basically technophobic outlook and might not find space colonization consistent with their philosophies. Furthermore, there is the issue of who is most likely to be capable of the kind of lifestyle required, and willing to do it.
In the process of looking for a good fit, I thought about the "Survivalist" movement. They have an interesting outlook indeed, and many would view them as being at the opposite political extreme from the space activist. Certainly some are pretty paranoid people, and some are just plain crazy (in my humble opinion, of course)! But there are also a lot of pretty normal people who just like the idea of being completely self-reliant, and that part ought to sound pretty familiar to us. I speculate that some use their elaborate, apocalyptic world-views in order to rationalize this interest.
Many of us (space activists) use the "but what if something happened to Earth "argument in a similar vein to justify "not putting all your eggs in one basket" by creating space colonies. And then of course, thereís Space Watch. The odds of us getting obliterated by an impacting asteroid any time soon are pretty thin, but it makes a good excuse to study the near-earth asteroids, which just happen to be one of the nearest sources of space resources, as well. This seems like a similar rationalization to me.
Many survivalists have set up isolated colonies in the wilderness on Earth, designed to operate entirely "off-grid" (that is, without commercial power, water, or sewer services). Unlike "back-to-nature" types, however, survivalists are usually not anti-technology, and will gladly use it whenever it is possible to do so without depending on the outside world. These colonies exhibit many of the same problems (especially regarding operations and lifestyle) that we are likely to find in small space colonies, and it seems to me that we could learn a lot from them.
In any case, some survivalists have done a lot of our work for us as regards collecting the information needed for establishing an independent colony. I highly recommend looking at the web site for the "Rocky Mountain Survival Group" ([Moved February 2006 to http://www.ssrsi.org/]) which is a really excellent starting point for this topic. Even if you find the Survivalist world view utterly appalling, you will find a lot of useful data on this site. There is some less useful stuff, of course: the power generation pages include a few on "free energy" (which appear to be perpetual motion machines), alongside some of the more practical (or at least physically possible systems. Nevertheless, it is an excellent reviewed links-list and source-book for independent homesteads (or space colonies!).
Copyright © 1998-2003 Organization for the Advancement of Space Industrialization and Settlement. All Rights Reserved.