White Sands Missile Range Launch 2008

27-Feb-2011 Fredericksburg (TX) High School students launch one rocket; learn from attempt
White Sands Missile Range - 2008 Launch

For immediate release 6/2/2008
Contact: www.systemsgo.org
Brett Williams
(830) 997-3567

It was a day of mixed but edifying results as 15 current and former Fredericksburg High School students returned to White Sands Missile Range on Saturday, May 31, to attempt to launch Redbird 10 and Redbird 11, rockets they designed and built in the FHS Aeroscience program taught by Brett Williams.

The students and staff arrived at the Army test site in New Mexico on Thursday. According to Williams, all preliminary testing of the rocket components was flawless, and the team was actually ahead of schedule right up to the hour of launch.

He noted that the public might not be aware that these rockets were not duplicates of each other. Each class designed a completely different rocket as well as new launch systems.

"Both vehicles had been completely recycled and retested from last year's attempt, and were 100% ready to go," Williams said. "This year's team also developed a new remote fill system and a remote fire system, which both tested out at school and again at the range."

Just before it was time to begin filling Redbird 10 on the tower, an igniter misfire due to a computer glitch caused the Redbird 10 to be aborted. The crew made the decision to put Redbird 11 on the pad while one team worked on installing new igniters in Redbird 10.

Redbird 11 had a "beautiful launch" according to Williams, but approximately 10 seconds into the flight the rocket had an anomaly with the pressure vessel. Just as the vehicle was reaching transonic speed a large cloud of oxidizer can be seen on the videos. In addition, the telemetry data showing the oxidizer flight tank pressure drops from 617 psi to zero.  Beyond this point, the vehicle begins to ‘corkscrew’ showing an additional impulse vector being added to vehicles flight.  The students will be performing a root cause analysis to determine the cause of the anomaly.  Williams said the team will analyze the video and data to determine exactly what took place.

Meanwhile, against the expectations of the White Sands staff, the high school students managed to replace the ignition system in Redbird 10 in time to keep their launch window. But again there was a glitch. After they had loaded about 50% of the oxidizer, the nitrous valve experienced a leak. Williams indicated this was especially frustrating, as all the components had passed thorough pre-launch testing, and the backup components they brought also failed.

Williams strongly complimented the Army’s support during the tests.  “When our fiber optics failed to transmit signal on the day of the tests we could not have been successful had not the Army pulled in some microwave dishes that the students could use to communicate and control events at the pad”, Williams said.

As they have learned in this program, failure to launch does not mean the mission was unsuccessful.

"The fact that the Redbird 11 launched at all showed that in the end the students were able to problem solve past all the problems and still fire off on time," Williams said. "The students did a fantastic job. They could have given up at several points, but they kept working."

This is the local program's sixth trip to White Sands, and the only high school ever to use the Army facility to launch a rocket. The rockets also carried research payloads designed by students at Stanford and Purdue Universities. Such an ambitious project encourages students to prepare for a larger future.

"This is all about the world of research and development," Williams said. "The focus of this program is on developing tomorrow's innovators and problem solvers. Since we had problems to solve, it was perfect for the students to experience."

"They all did a wonderful job, from the design of the vehicles, to the fill and fire systems this year’s students designed and built. FHS Aeroscience is working with Ignite, Governor Perry, the aerospace industry, the Army, and the Federal government to develop the opportunity for other high schools to replicate what we have done here. Our hope is that a couple of years from now the first of these schools will also be at White Sands with their rockets."

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