May 17-18, 2003

CPSS Turns 2 StarBoosters Around in 24 Hours

Fresno, CA - Cal Poly Space Systems (CPSS) rocket club from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo succesfully launched, recovered, and re-launched a three-rocket cluster with two glideback boosters and a centerstage on May 17-18, 2003 at "Dairy Aire" near Fresno, California.

"Dairy Aire" is a launch event near Fresno organized by the Central California Tripoli group. Approximately 20 CPSS members ventured out to battle the heat and wind to prepare and launch their rockets. The plan was to launch the cluster vehicle and then launch the "old" orange 10-footer.

After a late start on Saturday morning, they began assembling and attaching the 5ft cluster. Finally, by 3:30pm, they were on the pad and ready to go. The launch was picture perfect and the separation was sharp, the boosters raced away from the center stage and both pilots took control. Both boosters were transmitting data and both boosters flew beautifully back to the ground. The yellow booster did a very nice flyby parallel to the flight line and came to a smooth landing with little to no damage. The green booster landed in a far off corn field as it got stuck in a strong wind and couldn't turn around. Again minimal damage - only the pitot tube needed fixing.

On Sunday, they started prepping the 10ft for launch. At the same time, however, they realized that the 5ft cluster was still in perfect condition. And the motor vendors there had a second motor available. So, CPSS decided to try and do what they had never done before and prove that these are indeed reusable launch vehicles. One team assembled the 10ft and another began working on the cluster again.

After replacing a few broken bolts on the 10ft it was ready for launch. The 10ft uses a motor twice the size of the cluster, and created quite the awesome liftoff. A huge bright red flame emerged from the bottom of the rocket and it raced skyward, burning for 6.5 seconds. After dumping its water ballast, the pilot was able to gain control and the "Orange Monster" lived again. The eerie howling sound made by the holes in the nosecone caused everyone to just stop and stare. And for the first time ever the 10ft landed horizontally! It flared to a perfect landing where it hit the ground and then skipped back up into the air where it proceeded to travel another 100-150ft where it rolled slight, damaging a canard and a wing tip, nothing that isn't fixable. Immediately following that flight, CPSS crewmembers ripped the receiver and kick-switch out of the 10ft and installed it back into the green 5ft booster. Final attachment was completed, the 2nd motor was installed, and they took the 5ft cluster out to the pad for the 2nd time. It launched just before the FAA waiver expired for the day, within 24 hours of its previous launch! Again, a beautiful launch followed by a crisp separation, again the boosters just sailed around in the air above as the pilots prepared for landing. There were even a few aerobatic moves as the yellow booster did nearly 3 barrel rolls in a row. Yellow landed first, flaring to a perfect landing. The only damage was cause by a hump in the field and a control surface was lost. The green booster followed doing a near-stall descent and touching down softly right in front of the crowd with little to no damage.

CPSS collected two complete sets of flight data from each booster and now has two videos of the flight from onboard the yellow booster as well as the video from the ground, and they have flight data from the 10ft as it was carrying the RDAS and GPS.

Pictured at right: the "Orange Monster" (10-foot StarBooster) at liftoff (main picture) and nearing touchdown (inset).

The StarBooster is a reusable fly-back booster concept conceived by StarCraft Boosters, Inc. and designed to act as dual first stage boosters to a separate center stage that carries a payload to orbit. CPSS demonstrated the airworthiness of a single 10-foot StarBooster model (1/3 scale) in May 2001 (see May 2001 "Orange Monster" story), and had already launched two three-foot cluster models in December, 2001 (story) and March of 2002.

CPSS Contacts:
Dr. Dianne DeTurris, CPSS Advisor and StarBooster Project Principal Investigator, 805-756-1515
Trevor Foster, CPSS StarBooster Project Manager, 805-431-9740