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Pathfinder Rocket

Designed and Built By University of Cincinnati,
Casper College & Natrona County School District Students

Successful Launch On
July 17th At NASA Wallops!

Main Home Page

Motor Static Test
Video/Photos

Progress Report

Launch Video & Photographs

Casper Students On Project

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Pathfinder Rocket In Flight

UPDATED.GIF - 0.2 K January 18, 2005 - The Pathfinder Rocket was successfully launched on July 17th @ 7:17am EDT from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Based on preliminary data and visual observation, the ignition of the solid rocket motor was as expected. Liftoff was also as expected occurring about 4 seconds after T-0. About two-thirds into the motor burn, the rocket appeared to experience some flight instability causing it to begin an oscillatory pitch. This oscillation of the rocket raised the aerodynamic drag forces dramatically causing it to reach a peak altitude of a little under 16,000 ft. After the rocket reached its peak altitude, the rocket appeared to be in a flat spin rather than coming down nose first. Further information will be posted after data and video of the rocket in flight becomes available for analysis.

For more information on the launch, go to the Pathfinder Progress report page by clicking here. Pictures and a launch video have been posted on the Pathfinder rocket launch page. Click here to go to the launch video and picture web page.

Click here for a NASA newsletter on the launch


Background Information

Casper College and Natrona County School District (NCSD) students have designed and built a solid rocket motor that will be mated with the upper part of a rocket built by the University of Cincinnati. The rocket, called "Pathfinder", is eight inches in diameter and will be approximately 17 feet long. It will be launched to altitude of approximately 40,000 ft. The rocket (shown upper left) will use a dual deployment parachute system and land in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Virginia. It will float in the water so that it can be recovered by boat after the flight.

The rocket will carry a TV camera looking aft so that a "real time" image of the ground can be seen as the rocket leaves the launch pad. Instrumentation will also be on board the rocket and will be data logged and transmitted to the ground via an "S" band transmitter. NASA will provide radar tracking for determining altitude and the landing area.

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The students at NCSD and Casper College working on the project range from 9th grade to sophomore in college. They designed the propellant grain pattern to achieve the desired thrust and burn duration. The students designed all the parts and conducted thermal and structural analyses of the motor (shown left).They also manufactured all the rocket motor parts. In March 2003, the motor was successfully hydrotested to 1400 psi to ensure it was structurally sound and did not have any leaks. The parts were machined by high school and college students using the machine shop facilities of Casper College.

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Students Cast Solid Rocket Propellant Into Propellant Cartridges

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Propellant Is Loaded Into Propellant Cartridge
With Removal Core In The Center

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The rocket motor was successfully test fired on May 17th, 2003 at Wickman Spacecraft & Propulsion Company facilities north of Casper, Wyoming. The motor reached a peak operating pressure of 550 psi and was slightly progressive. The burn time was approximately 12 seconds. The motor was designed to be reusable and has been reloaded for flight.The data acquisition system used in the static firing of the motor is the same that will be used in the flight test. It was designed and built by the students.

Click here for still pictures and video of the rocket motor test firing.

The coupler connecting the University of Cincinnati upper rocket body to the Casper College/NCSD rocket motor had been partially machined before the end of June, 2003. Work on the coupler was completed in July, 2003 so that it would mate to the rocket motor. It was shipped to the University of Cincinnati where they machined it to fit to their end of the rocket. The coupler was shortened as much as possible to reduce rocket weight so the rocket does not sink after it lands in the ocean.

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In August 2003, the motor flight data recorder (shown left with lap top computer) was tested at Wickman Spacecraft & Propulsion Company facilities. The recorder will log chamber pressure and temperatures inside the rocket. A small rocket motor was test fired at Wickman's test stand. The chamber pressure was logged by the normal test stand data acquisition system and the flight data recorder. The results agreed indicating the flight data recorder is ready for flight.wallrang.jpg - 14.3 K

The fin can slides over the base of the rocket motor and is held in place by the nozzle retaining ring bolts. Attached to the fin can are the three rocket fins. The fin can was finished in June. The fin size and shape were determined by the University of Cincinnati.

The Pathfinder rocket will be launched from the NASA Wallops launch range in Virginia on July 14th. It has been assigned to NASA Wallops Launch Pad 2 and the ARC launcher. Students will assemble the rocket and rocket motor at NASA Wallops on July 12th. It will be transported to Pad 2 and attached to the launch rail on July 13th. An environmental shelter will enclosed the launch pad and the rocket so that students can check out the rocket on the pad in a protected environment. The shelter also protects the rocket from the weather until launch.

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wallcont.jpg - 13.9 KStudents will monitor the Pathfinder rocket prior to launch from the Wallops control center. Assisted by NASA engineers and technicians, students will conduct the countdown to launch. The rocket will be tracked by radar to obtain range and altitude during the flight. A variety of video cameras around the launch pad will permit viewing of the rocket on the launch pad. Video tracking of the rocket from liftoff to apogee will also be displayed inside the control room as well as the video being transmitted from the rocket during flight.