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Advanced Rocketry
Records, Achievements & Competitions

Reaction Research launch
Reaction Research Society
George Garboden and members of the Reaction Research Society
built this 500lb rocket that launched a payload to above an estimated
80km (50mi)* on Nov. 23, 1996.

In this section we cite various advanced experimental rocketry acheivements such as the highest altitude reached by an amateur rocket. We also list various other accomplishments of interest. We also list several competitions in advanced rocketry.

Note that we don't claim to be an official record keeper but just want to provide a central database for this hard to obtain information.

Note that we don't have a absolute, clear-cut definition of "amateur", "advanced", or "experimental" rocketry. Generally, if an effort was carried out by volunteers (even if they work day jobs in rocket propulsion companies), then it will be included here.

See History of Experimental Rocketry by Jeff Hove for reference information on current and past experimental rocketry groups and projects.

High Altitude Amateur Rocket Records

Other Notable Achievements
Aerospike Engines

First Rocket Flight Powered by a Liquid Fueled Aerospike Engine - a team of students from Cal State Univ. at Long Beach and Garvey Spacecraft launched the first liquid fueled aerospike powered rocket on September 20. See entry in Adv. Rocketry News - Sept.22.03.

Bi-Propellant Engines

Highest Thrust Amateur Bi-Propellant Engine:
A team from Orange County California constructed an experimental 4000 lb thrust LOX/Methanol engine first tested on Dec 2 2006 for 24 seconds. Making it the highest thrust bi-propellant engine for an amateur. The engine was fired again on April 26 2008 for 33 seconds. Giving it the highest total impulse for an amateur bi-propellant engine, 132,000 lb-seconds.

The engine is made from mild steel with an aluminum injector and relays solely on film cooling to keep the hardware from over heating and melting.

The engine was designed and built by Richard Ornellas. Carl Gervais provided technical and logistical support. Dave Crisalli provided technical support and pyro-ops. Additional technical support: Dick Blumer, Mike Blumer, Curtis Nemith and Mike Oakerman Both tests where conducted at the MTA (Mojave Test Area) in California. Under an RRS (Reaction Research Society) sanctioned event.

Next Highest Thrust Amateur Bipropellant engine:
2000lb thrust LOX/Ethanol (75% Ethanol, 25% water) engine for the Spacefarer X-80, first fired in late 1994, with a full duration test June 12th 1995. The full duration test lasted for 52 seconds, making it the longest firing of an amateur biprop, and also setting the record for total impulse in an amateur engine, 102,000 lb-seconds.

The engine was designed and built by a core team lead by Charles Pooley and including Korey Kline (of HyperTEK fame), Paul Mantilla, and Robert Matevossian. Funding was provided in part by the National Space Society, and the work was carried out under the auspices of the Pacific Rocket Society (PRS) as part of an effort to send an amateur rocket to an altitude of 80 kilometers. The test was carried out at the Mojave Test Area (Wikimapia) jointly operated by PRS and the Reaction Research Society.

Other Notable Amateur Biprops: K. Mark Cavaziel's 1500lb thrust Lox/Ethanol Biprop (RRS), fired at the MTA on January 23, 2000.

Hybrid Powered Rockets

* The single project with the largest number of notable accomplishments in amateur hybrid propulsion is SORAC (SubOrbital Rocket, Amateur Class), lead by Bill Colburn, co-inventor of the Urbanski-Colburn valve commonly used in amateur hybrids. The SORAC team built the largest amateur hybrid, at 12.6 inches in diameter. This motor (four were built and flown) had a total impulse of 23,800 lbf-seconds, a thrust of 3400 lbf, and an ISP of 190 seconds, with a burn time of 7 seconds.

"On September 28th of 2003 the SORAC team, under the leadership of Bill Colburn, flew an 8" diameter, 270 lbm rocket to a height of 40,000 feet, with successful parachute recovery. Maximum speed is estimated at Mach 2. The Nitrous Oxide hybrid motor produced 2000 lbf thrust, burning for 7 seconds."

The SORAC team has also developed and tested a coaxial hybrid motor, in which the fuel grain runs down the center of the oxidizer tank, giving a shorter overall length.

* The MARS team in the UK (MARS is a recursive acronym for MARS Advanced Rocketry Society) has a number of significant achievements in hybrid propulsion. Their B4 engine has a design thrust of 2500 Newtons (550 lbf), but it has been measured as producing thrust up to 3000 Newtons (660 lbf). The B4 engine is a 4 inch diameter NOX/HDPE hybrid with a theoretical maximum total impulse of 110,000 Newton-Seconds, though MARS has only run it to a impulse of 35,000 Newton-Seconds, or about 30% of fuel consumed. The longest burn on this motor (15 seconds) was a flight from Black Rock, Nevada in September of 2002, in which it lofted a 24 ft tall 60 Kg rocket named Diemos Odyssey to an altitude of 25,700 ft above ground level. This is an altitude record for a European built amateur hybrid. MARS is continuing to develop still larger hybrid motors, and plans an eventual space shot.

* Large hybrid built by Jeff Jakob flew at BALLS 2003. Reached +25kft. Picture at rockethigh.com. (Submitted by Jeff Hove.)

* All-composite hybrid built by Tim Covey flew at BALLS 2002. Reached +55kft. (Submitted by Jeff Hove.)

High Reusability

Punching Holes in the Sky (PHITS), NAR section 565 launched a rocket using commercial solid motors 28 times in one day on 21st of April 2002, for a total accumulated altitude of 105,529 ft of altitude. Details were on the NCR website The motors were Pro38 manufactured by Cesaroni Technology Inc.

Advanced Rocketry Competitions

A low budget (£9,999.99 (sterling), or about US$20K, cash prize for the first private team to launch a payload that weighs between 9.99 and 19.99 grams.


NASA Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge
This is one of NASA's Centennial Challenges competitions. It was opened in 2010 and at the moment (March 2011) is still getting organized, e.g. they need a private partner organization to run it.

The $2M prize requires the following:

"Deliver a payload with a mass of at least 1 kilogram and dimensions of at least 10x10x11 centimeters to Earth orbit, complete at least one orbit past the launch site and deliver payloads successfully at least two times in one week."


The Carmack 100kft Micro Prize
This competition arose from a discussion on the AROCKET forum about the difficulty of an amateur team launching a rocket to 100,000 feet (30km). John Carmack said he would award $5k to any team that did it and after some further discussion, the rules were set. Some others offered to contribute to the purse, which is up to $8k.

Other competitions

Previous Competitions:

Official Boundary of Space
There is no generally agreed on official boundary for where the atmosphere ends and outer space begins.

In the US the boundary is usually given as 50 miles when discussing altitude records and so forth. The US Air Force pushed for a 50 (nautical) mile boundary so that the X-15 pilots could get astronaut wings.

In the book X-15 Mission Reports, Apogee Books, p. 9:

"The United States Air Force and NASA reached an agreement which finally set the lower-limits of Space at an altitude of 50 miles. By this arbitrary definition only five months after John Glenn became the first American to orbit on July 17th 1962, USAF Major Robert White became the first man to fly into space and subsequently land back at his point of origin." - Robert Godwin, editor

However, according to Bill Claybaugh, a former senior executive at NASA HQ, NASA no longer accepts the 50 mile boundary:

"I specifically asked the then General Consul of NASA about this '50 mile' stuff and he replied that since 1968 it has been the official policy of the United States that it 'takes no position' with regard to where space begins. This policy--to which all executive agencies must conform--is a consequence of the 1967 Space Treaty and subsequent claims by some nations to sovereign rights to geostationary orbit. For the record, if one were to check, one will find that astronaut wings are awarded to those who reach earth orbit, not 50 nautical miles"

I contacted a representative of the NASA General Consul about this and she responded with the following:

I am not aware of any "executive order" stating the U.S. position as to delimitation of outer space. However, the U.S. has constantly maintained that there is no need to fix an outer limit to air space or outer space. Here's a quote from the U.S. position that was presented by Ambassador Brill at the Legal Subcommittee meeting of COPUOS [UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space] in March 2003.

"At this time, the United States remains convinced that there is no need to seek a legal definition or delimitation for outer space. Activities in outer space and in airspace are flourishing and have raised no practical need for a definition or delimitation between the spheres. In the absence of a real need, any attempt to develop a definition would be ill-advised as there would be no experience to call upon in agreeing upon any particular definition or delimitation. The current framework has served us well and we should continue to operate under it until there is a demonstrated need and a practical basis for developing a definition or delimitation."

In Europe, one typically hears 100km (61.6mi) given as the standard.


Other resources related to the issue of the boundary to space:


The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey








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