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Sunday, September 7, 2014

L3 Rocket

Purpose: document the build and flight of my Tripoli Level 3 certification rocket

I've always liked the Phoenix AIM-54A missile. I had an Estes kit of it when I was little that I put a 24mm motor mount in it. I flew it probably close to 50 times before it died. I've seen a few larger scale Phoenix missiles, but I've never seen a 1/2 scale kit, so I decided to custom build one.

I got the specs from here. Using stock 7.5" ID, 7.75" OD phenolic tubing results in a 0.517 scale, which is close enough. Given that, the body tube length should be about 63", and the nose cone should be slightly less than 3 to 1. Though it's not ogive in real life, 3:1 7.5" ogive nosecones are commercially available, so I decided to use one and make the body tube slightly less than 63" to compensate for the slightly too long nose cone. I decided on a 3ft long, 98mm motor mount and 1/4" thick 12ply wood fins. I'm building it super tough, so it should be able to go supersonic (large M or small N motors).

The rocket was designed in OpenRocket and Solidworks.
Solidworks model of stretch 1/2 scale Phoenix

OpenRocket model of Phoenix

OpenRocket model of Stretched Phoenix
OpenRocket is predicting ~7000ft for the stretched (dual deploy) Phoenix on a medium M. It predicts ~2000ft on a medium K for the non-stretched Phoenix. Both configurations will use about 4lbs of nose weight. This is due to the stubby and spread-out nature of the fin area, causing the CP to be further forward than usual for a rocket this size.

My dad gave me two 48" long, 7.5" phenolic tubes, two 12" couplers, and 48" of 98mm phenolic motor mount tube. He also has (had) tons of fiberglass, so he let me use it. This wasn't my first time making composite rocket tubes, but I didn't have all the supplies I was used to (MIT Rocket Team, DBF had vacuum bagging supplies we used to make tubes with...I was spoiled) at dad's house, so I had to do a basic wet wrap. I measured and cut two wraps of ~10oz 0-90 E-glass and two wraps of ~4oz 0-90 S-glass for each tube. I used medium cure time West Systems epoxy and wet out the FG as I was laying/stretching it around the tubes.

Setup for layup. Katie's L3 kit is in the background

Lots of fiberglass

Finished layup

Heated cure
Each tube went from 3lb pre-glass to ~5lb 12oz post-glass. Final OD was ~7.75". The surface finish was terrible (no peel ply or release, no vac bag, etc. ), so I had to do a ton of sanding and filling (two coats of automotive spray primer and filler). You can see the result in some of the pics below. Total time spent on the tubes was probably 20-30 hours. 

If I had left the couplers stock, I ran the risk of coupler failure (breaking in half), which is common in these large rockets during high accelerations. So I fiberglassed the insides with 2-3 layers of 10oz glass. Balloons were used to hold the glass against the insides, then popped after curing.

I wanted to do 1/8" G10 fins, but I do not have access to a CNC router or large enough laser cutter here. Custom fins would have been ~$400, which is crazy, so I bought a $50 sheet of 12ply plywood from aircraftspruce. I penciled the lines using a cardboard stencil and checked them all with a ruler. 

I then cut them out with an oscillating saw. I tried to sand them with a palm sander and sanding block, but quickly realized it really needs to be done with a belt sander, particularly the beveling. I'll finish them later. I'm going to build a jig for the FIT shops's belt sander and do the beveling there.

I slotted the tube next using a Dremel and reinforced cut-off wheel. I made two slits lengthwise per slot, then broke the material in the slot out using needle nose pliers. Fiberglass is brittle, and the thin/small amount on the ends of each slot made breaking it out easy. I then finished the ends of the slots with a 1/4" sanding drum attachment.

All tubes done
All tube ends were sanded smooth, treated with thin CA, then sanded smooth again to prevent phenolic wear.

Left to do:

  • Buy plywood centering rings, bulk head, nose cone, altimeters
  • Cut motor mount tube
  • Finish sanding fins
  • Make motor mount
  • Install fins
  • Filleting 
  • Build altimeter bay
  • Minor stuff
  • Final primer coat, sanding, then painting

The fins will have internal and external fillets. The rear two centering rings will not be installed until the set of fins they contact are completely done so that the volume they enclose can be filled with expanding foam. The shock-cord mount will be a pair of U-bolts in the forward centering ring. Altimeter bay will be classic rods + sled construction. I haven't picked the altimeters yet. The goal is to be finished by December.

Next time I build a big rocket, I will probably order pre-glassed tubes unless I can figure out a way to get a much nicer surface finish. I'll get them pre-slotted, too, unless I build a nice router tube slotting machine/jig. I want a CNC router and laser cutter in my home shop eventually, so that will make fins significantly easier. 

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