"Rockoon" Launch By National Space Society Volunteer Chapter Displays Best Of Spacefaring Spirit
|(WASHINGTON, DC) -- May
12, 1997 -- With luck, Mother Nature's blessing and a last-minute
dash to the local 24-hour Food Lion for extra helium, yesterday
morning just before 7:00 a.m. EDT, the Huntsville Alabama L5
Society, a chapter of the National Space Society, launched a high
altitude helium balloon as their first step in being the first to
successfully launch an amateur rocket through space. At
approximately 8:25 a.m. EDT, the hybrid rocket was launched from a
gondola hanging beneath the balloon at an altitude of 60,000 feet.
Launch of the "rockoon" took place from the coast near Hampstead,
According to Gregory Allison, HALO (High Altitude Lift-Off) program manager, the rocket reached a height of 38 nautical miles (229,026 feet), the highest altitude achieved to date by a rocket using hybrid propulsion, and flew through "the edge of space." The "edge of space" is defined as the area nearing 100,000 feet and above 99 percent of the atmosphere; "space" is defined as the area above 50 nautical miles or 300,000 feet. In a hybrid rocket, a solid fuel of pure asphalt is kept safely away from the nitrous-oxide liquid oxidizer until the rocket is ignited. The previous highest hybrid rocket was flown by a NASA-industry team to an altitude of 119,780 feet on January 8.
Target altitude for the rocket was to have been 64 nautical miles, however, a seam on the high altitude balloon split before reaching its own target of 105,000 feet, forcing a decision to fire the rocket ahead of schedule. "By that time, the balloon was well out to sea. We knew we'd already surpassed FAA's required 50,000 feet before ignition, so we decided to go," said Allison.
The group, comprised of volunteer
professionals, has been working on the garage-built rockoon in an
effort to make reaching space more affordable for students,
amateurs, experimenters and researchers. Full details of Sunday's
flight will be posted at the chapter's website during this
The National Space Society is an independent space advocacy organization with headquarters in Washington, DC. Its 25,000 members and 95 chapters around the world advocate a spacefaring civilization. For more information on the NSS and our future in space, visit http://www.nss.org/.