Redbuds and Rocket Fuel

DSC_7389Springtime in the Ozarks, when it seems all operations move outdoors.

When you have important business to conduct the ideal setting might be a remote woodland glade, well away from civilization. DSC_7484Better yet, by the side of a small, pristine stream, far from prying eyes, because you never know when you might have to put out a chemical fire. If, however, you hear banjo music drifting on a southerly breeze move north quickly. You’re too close to Arkansas.

Keep reading. This is not about (shame on you!) moonshine or meth.

Years ago the Miners’ Advanced Aero Vehicle Group expanded into rocketry, and the HPER (High Power Engineered Rocket Design Team) gradually moved into more and more complex projects that get expensive, fast.

You may remember last June’s biblical (three+ days wandering the desert) effort to find their 25,000-foot missile that disappeared into the beautiful Utah skies. When they finally recovered it there wasn’t much left to re-use for 2016. Nuttin’, actually, so it was start again from scratch.

The Miners decided to move all manufacturing operations in house. They’ve made molds for the composite nosecones and machined (and threaded) their own motor housings, but their biggest leap of technological faith was to set up their own rocket propellant facility.

Budgets be damned, they wanted the best regardless of cost. Their new assembly building is a DSC_7328 shiny new (to us) surplus military container about 8 feet long that set them back about $500. Their workbench is a plastic folding table and the sophisticated power blenders consist of stainless steel salad bowls paired with carefully-balanced, manually-operated wooden spoons. The custom-built oven, a plywood boxDSC_7462 lined with insulation batts and spray foam, is outfitted with heat lamps and has a cute little servo- and string-operated vent system to keep temps steady.

They “cook” the brownie-like mix after carefully mixing the propellant in the open air so that should a problem occur, people can run in any direction they choose.

They’ve been mixing and testing small batches, or grains in rocket parlance, with good results, and Friday it was time to move to full-sized motors. Chief rocket scientist Jill Davis did the precise mixing, and once ready DSC_7725the group rolled the “batter” into little pellets that looked a lot like, uh, deer droppings. Each of the pellets was carefully dropped into a cardboard tube where Matt Fogle carefully compressed their handiwork into a uniform consistency.

It’s this tube that, once the mix is fully cured, they’ll test fire late this week. Once confident of the results they’ll start producing more propellant grains; the actual motors they’ll take back to Utah.

Why all the effort? Pride of ownership, and they save a LOT of money over commercially-produced motors.