Headlines > News > BREAKING NEWS: Rocket engine fails; Rubicon destroyed in test flight off Queets

BREAKING NEWS: Rocket engine fails; Rubicon destroyed in test flight off Queets

Published by Cathleen Manville on Mon Aug 9, 2004 4:00 am
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chabot imageby JEFF CHEW

BULLETIN, Sunday, Aug. 8, 4:40 p.m.

An engine malfunction caused the Rubicon 1 rocket to pinwheel over the Pacific Ocean this afternoon, then explode. The malfunction also explodes the dreams of two Forks rocket scientists to win the $10 million X Prize. The complete report in words and photos in Monday’s Peninsula Daily News.


The Rubicon rocket crashes into the Pacific Ocean just south of Queets as observers run toward the wreckage.

The blast scattered debris on the beach, including the plastic head from a dummy that was the craft’s sole passenger. Company officials said they’re not giving up on their goal of manned space flights.

Company co-founder Phillip Storm checks out debris from the rocket after the explosion. “We’re disappointed, but not extremely disappointed because this was the first test flight,” he said. Storm’s partner in the endeavor is Eric Meier.

One of the tail sections housing the solid fuel of the Rubicon rocket landed in the surf south of Queets.

Underdogs’ spacecraft explodes on 1st launch
similar: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5642831/

In a giant leap backward for the underdog, two young rocketeers watched the unmanned spacecraft they’ve labored on for a year explode seconds into its maiden flight yesterday.
The spectacular mishap rained debris on the beach and into the Pacific Ocean, and probably ended the duo’s long-shot attempt to win a $10 million space race.

But Phillip Storm, president of the two-man company called Space Transport Corp., said they will continue trying to build rockets that can ferry tourists and payloads into space cheaply.

“We’re disappointed, but not extremely disappointed because this was the first test flight,” Storm said, standing by the remnants of one of the rocket’s engines. “NASA lost several rockets before they got something good.”

Then he sighed deeply and rubbed his smudged hands through his hair. “It’s just too bad.”

Wisps of smoke hung over the remnants of a grass fire ignited by the explosion, while stunned volunteers and supporters gathered up bits of burned rubber and aluminum from the beach. Forks High School teacher Martin Dillon, who had spent days helping assemble the 23-foot-long rocket, trudged up with the plastic head from a dummy that was the vessel’s sole passenger.

“The occupant was decapitated,” he deadpanned.

Storm and his partner, Eric Meier, both 26, had hoped a successful flight by the Rubicon rocket would attract investors to their cash-strapped endeavor based in the former logging town of Forks, Clallam County.
More money, they said, was the only way they could hope to compete with 25 other teams for the X Prize, a $10 million bounty for the first private company that develops a manned space vehicle.

Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen is bankrolling one of the teams, which successfully sent a man to the edge of space in a June test flight.
“We’re definitely the underdogs,” Storm said before the launch. “We’re underfunded and understaffed, but we think we’ve got what it takes.”
The pair have raised $220,000, about half from their families and personal savings and the rest from people on the Olympic Peninsula who have embraced the romance of a local rocket port.

Forks contractor Darrel Gaydeski had toiled on the 2,500-pound rocket most of the previous day, then used his heavy equipment to load it on the launcher and haul it down winding forest roads to the launch site. He shrugged as he reviewed video he shot of the explosion.
“I’m just helping some friends, doing what I can,” he said.

That included pushing the detonator button for Storm, who was too nervous to do it himself. And he’s ready to do more, if needed.
“Hey, the government has wasted way more money and time than we have,” Gaydeski said with a grin.
Steve Imholt, an investor from Sequim, isn’t ready to quit, either.
“It was so pretty and we worked so hard on it,” he said, as he stared at a huge dent in the portable, steel rocket-launcher. “Ahh, but you can’t give up on them — just like kids.”
Minutes after the disaster, Storm, a mathematician, was analyzing the problem, which he attributed to a bubble in the solid rocket fuel. “We can learn from this,” he said. That’s the kind of attitude the sponsors of the X Prize say they’re hoping to encourage.

The Associated Press

A team taking a low-budget stab at the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private manned spaceflight suffered a setback Sunday, when their rocket malfunctioned and exploded after shooting less than 1,000 feet in the air.

No one was hurt in the test of the Rubicon 1 just south of Olympic National Park. The 23-foot-long, 38-inch-diameter spacecraft held three dummies simulating the weight of astronauts.

The rocket, which crashed about 200 feet from takeoff after its parachute failed to deploy, will have to be completely rebuilt, said Eric Meier, a mechanical engineer and co-founder of Space Transport Corp., of Forks.

Meier and partner Phillip Storm had hoped to reach supersonic speeds and an altitude of 20,000 feet in Sunday’s flight, but Meier seemed undeterred by Sunday’s failure.

“We need to raise some more money … fix our problems and launch another low-altitude flight as soon as possible,” Meier told the Peninsula Daily News of Port Angeles. “It’s a learning experience to be expected when you’re developing a vehicle with this kind of capabilities.”

More than two dozen teams are competing to win the X Prize, which is promised to the first organization to successfully launch a privately financed, reusable craft that makes a suborbital flight 62 miles high twice within two weeks while carrying a pilot and weight equivalent to two other people.

The first private manned spaceflight took place in June, when SpaceShipOne, a craft funded by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and designed by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, reached the required altitude on a test flight. The SpaceShipOne team plans to make its first X Prize qualifying flight in late September, and a Canadian team plans its own qualifying flight a few days later.

The rocket launched Sunday cost $20,000 to build. Meier said he hoped the fact that “we work for cheap” would make raising the money to build another rocket a little easier. The partners have invested about $100,000 of their own funds in the company.

If you want to help Space Transport:

Personal Sponsoring: http://www.space-transport.com/?stc=merchandise
Do you own a company ?:
Publicize your pioneering company as a supporter of private space development. E-mail sponsor@space-transport.com or call them at (360) 374-4147.

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