Wednesday, September 28, 2016

TARC workshops and cell towers...

In terms of rocket events, September has been a busy month. A few days after the Geezer TARC launch, HARA hosted a Saturday TARC workshop at the Educator Resource Center located on the grounds of the Space and Rocket Center. The idea was to condense the information offered in HARA's hour long classes - which took place just before the monthly club meetings during TARC season -  into one day; we figured this would better enable the teams to get a good quick start into the competition. It worked out pretty nicely, and we got some nice compliments and feedback that will make next year's workshop even better.

TARC teams building the BMS School rocket at the HARA TARC workshop (Click to enlarge).
I began the workshop with an overview of TARC and this year's rules, then moved into the details of the Open Rocket design software and how to use it. Duane followed with the practical stuff - building techniques like cutting body tubes and fin slots, the double glue joint, using angle iron to mark body tubes, etc. Then each team applied some of these techniques in building the 3" School Rocket from Balsa Machining Service; it's a beefy 3" diameter, 24 mm powered bird that is perfectly suited for practicing painting and finishing techniques. Thanks to the generosity of HARA, the teams were able to take these rockets back to their schools, along with the tools and stuff they used in their construction. Mid-afternoon saw the end of the session, and I was convinced that the one day workshop was a much better approach than the classes. The kids were pretty fired up as they left, and it was clear that they had learned most of what they needed to know.

I have also been working with twelve 6th grade home schoolers at the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga. Many of these kids participated in an introductory rocket workshop I gave there a few months back, and the museum decided to follow that workshop up with a month devoted to designing and building egg lofters - a "pre-TARC", if you will. The 2 hour sessions were held each Tuesday in September, and I conducted the first one via Skype. It was devoted to designing rockets using Open Rocket, with the students creating rockets capable of carrying an egg to 300 feet. The second class saw me traveling to the museum, where each of the four teams (consisting of 3 kids) built a Quest Courier egg lofter. I was in Europe on business last week, so the students took advantage of the class time to decorate the rockets, and yesterday was the much anticipated launch day.

Egg lofter designed by a team of 6th graders at the Chattanooga Creative Discovery Museum (Click to enlarge).
While I was in Europe, I realized that a frequent attendee at the Manchester launches, Keith Nyman, lived in Chattanooga and figured it might be a good idea to introduce him to the museum folks - an experienced local rocketeer is a handy resource. Fortunately, Keith is not one to pass up a rocket launch, and I was very pleased that he came out to help with the egg lofter launches; the two of us made short work of assisting the student teams in preparing their rockets for flight.

At the first workshop, the Creative Discovery Museum had obtained permission to launch on the banks of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga; the proximity of the river to the north and busy streets to the south made for a less than ideal situation. For this launch, the museum approached Chattanooga High about using one of their fields for rocket flying, and the school kindly gave its permission. However, upon arrival I did not see the football field I was expecting; instead, I was greeted by a tiny baseball diamond, with a line of trees to the north, a construction site to the west, school buildings on the southeast, and a large cell tower at the southwest corner. Not good. Even though there was little wind, the available clear space was very small. Keith was very concerned about rockets landing on the roof of the school, whereas I was more worried about the trees and that menacing cell tower; it just screamed "rocket eater".

The pad was quickly set up and the launch got under way. The first Quest Courier powered off the rod on a C6-3, soaring up into the blue sky. Ejection occurred near apogee, and both parachutes deployed. I was relieved to see that the sustainer section of the rocket would land safely on the ball field, but then my worry became reality, as the egg capsule drifted straight for the cell tower, my $50 Jolly Logic Altimeter One dangling from the attach point. It landed in the middle of a small platform near the top of the cell tower, and I just knew I was being mocked by the rocket gods. There was nothing to be done, and with a sigh I turned to the students and informed them that our means of determining altitude was trapped about 100 feet above our heads. Not a good way to start.

A Quest Courier clears the pad powered by a C6-3 motor (Click to enlarge).
Keith and I adjusted the rod angle slightly, which paid dividends; both pieces of the next Courier landed in the field. The same could not be said of the last two launches - one saw a sustainer hanging out of reach on a tree branch and the other had an egg capsule drift into the forbidden territory of the construction site. This did not seem to matter much to the students, who had a great time despite the lost parts. They were thrilled to see the rockets they had built carry eggs high into the sky and return them safely to the ground - at least for the two eggs we could check. We then had a short Q&A session on the field, after which the kids went home and I returned to Huntsville. The museum was pleased, and I think they will continue with rocketry, which was the objective. Despite the loss of a few pieces, mission accomplished.

And now to find the money to replace the altimeter...

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