Mining for Rockets. Or, 400mph Lawn Darts.

We’ve posted about the desert search for errant rockets, and finally we have closure.

The Miners, along with Harry Steel and Michel Fathallah from the University of Sydney, covered well over a square mile of scorching desert floor and ravines in search for rocket 28A. Two days of systematically covering the San Rafael desert, sometimes as late as dusk, did turn up five competitors’ rockets, but just a few paint scraps of S&T’s Hyperion. It was as if the missile had left earth for good.
Harry of the desertbetter
Facing a 1,300-mile trip back to Rolla, it was time to give up and head home. Harry and Michel only had to drive back to Las Vegas so Harry, a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and a gazelle, gave it one more try. Just “going for a walk,” as he put it.

The Miners’ caravan was nearly three hours east when they got the text; Harry thought he’d found Hyperion! No question in the group’s mind but they had to see for real, so it was an immediate U-turn back to Green River. A quick lunch/planning session and another 20 miles out into the scrub, far past the launch base camp and well into 4WD terrain.

They left the truck on a ridge and hiked another 600 yards south, through two dry creek beds to the GPS coordinates. Just yards from where they found paint-chip remnants was a little piece of aluminum tape sticking out of the sand, still attached to the base of the rocket.
The nine-foot-tall rocket sustainer burrowed into the sand like a 400 mph acupuncture needle; didn’t even disturb the surface, and it looked like it’d take an archeology major to recover it. Or a pair of shovels, which Jill Davis and Kyle Bruer had the foresight to borrow back in town.

The four engineers-to-be dug a trench sideways into the hillside, then turned to scooping out sand by hand to make sure they didn’t discard any critical payload or data components.
It didn’t take long to realize the nose cone stopped about 5 feet down, while the payload components were still moving very fast. The rocket motors, vacuum chamber, main parachute and assorted hardware were crushed into a mangled mess of steel, wire, circuits, batteries and plywood. The Aussie’s satellite? Fuggedaboutit. Nose cone? Shattered. Metal rocket tube? Mushroomed like a bullet hitting concrete. Composite tube? Telescoped into itself, then disintegrated.
They foursome sifted through everything, looking for critical data cards which could help the autopsy. Miraculously they found a nearly-intact video camera and recovered the SD card, and they hope someone on campus can recover the flight images.

Some three hours into the “mining” they hit bedrock and, not finding any more rocket shreds, called it a day. They cleaned up the site and buried the debris in the hole from whence it came. And then drove home to Rolla.

In a few weeks they’ll carefully to peel apart the mess to see why the second stage didn’t light.

Or, as everyone said at Saturday’s all-team picnic, “NEXT year!”