Record-Breaking Amateur Rocket Launch

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Steve Eves broke two world records Saturday, when his 1/10th scale model 1/10th-scale model Saturn V rocket lifted off from a field in Maryland:

The 36-ft.-tall rocket was the largest amateur rocket ever launched and recovered successfully — and at 1648 pounds, also the heaviest.

Eves’ single-stage behemoth was powered by nine motors — eight 13,000 Newton-second N-Class motors and a 77,000 Newton-second P-Class motor. (Five Newton-seconds is equivalent to about a pound of thrust.) All told, the array generated enough force to chuck a Volkswagen more than a half-mile — and sent the Saturn V more than 4440 feet straight up. It was arguably the most audacious display of raw power ever generated by an amateur rocket. “I didn’t start out to break records,” the soft-spoken 50-year-old says. “I had just been working away, building it — and then one day I realized no one’s ever pulled this off before.”

The launch took place at Higgs Farm, near Price, Md., home field for the Maryland-Delaware Rocketry Association (MDRA). The MDRA has a history of generating headlines along with serious thrust: Eves broke records set here five years ago by the Liberty Project, a 24-ft.-tall rocket that weighed 1368 pounds. But as a testament to the camaraderie in the hobby, Neil McGilvray, one of Liberty Project’s team leaders, packed the parachutes for Eves’ Saturn V. “When something like this comes along,” McGilvray says, “there’s no competition.”
Two years ago, Eves says, he began thinking back to his childhood — to the days teachers would roll a TV set into the classroom for the students to watch Apollo launches. He tracked down schematics for the 36-story-tall rocket on the Internet and in old NASA drawings. Then the man who spends his days as an auto-body repair specialist built a skeleton from seven-ply aircraft-grade plywood. He built the tubular skin from Luan plywood — nearly 300 square feet of it, according to Rockets magazine — and then coated it with fiberglass. He told Rockets it took more than six hours, and 14 gallons of resin, to apply all the fiberglass cloth. All told, the project cost about $25,000 — including nearly $13,000 for the fuel alone, which burned up in less than 10 seconds Saturday.

The rest of his rocket will have a greater shelf life. NASA has already contacted Eves about displaying it at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., beneath an original Saturn V.

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