Friday, December 09, 2011

$5000 D.I.Y. Moon Launch Proposed

Dreaming of building your own moon rocket? If a team of space enthusiasts succeeds in their goal of developing a crowd-funded rocket kit you may be able to send a 3-lb. payload from your backyard to the moon for about $5,000.

While it’s not advisable (or humane) to begin training your child’s hamster for the rigors of a space voyage, it would be entirely possible to send a loved one’s ashes or some family mementos to the lunar surface – perhaps ending the vicious holiday cycle of re-gifted fruitcakes  for years to come.

Before that can happen, the team from Lunar Robotics needs to raise $25,000 to develop a do-it-yourself kit for a 4-to-6 foot rocket that could be launched through use of a weather balloon. In recent years space and photography enthusiasts have been pushing the boundaries of amateur space flight by using weather balloons and camera equipped smart phones to snap pictures from the edge of outer space.

Going beyond earth orbit could be the next logical progression according to an article in InnovationNewsDaily:

"If I go to a private person, they're going to turn it into a commercial product, and that's fine," said Philip Pierce, a software engineer with Lunar Robotics. "But I want an open project so that anyone can modify it and use it. Who knows, maybe someone can scale it down to $3,000."
The team is looking for $25,000 through Kickstarter to test out its rocket idea by launching about one rocket per month between now and December 2012. If it proves successful, it can begin offering the $5,000-moon-rocket kits that would allow anyone to launch a 4-to-6-foot rocket to the moon carrying any 3-lb. payload.
That development cost is considerably cheaper than the $250,000 Lunar Robotics was originally counting on for its Google Lunar X Prize bid, because the team no longer has to worry about contest rules such as having a big-enough rocket to land a robot on the lunar surface. Still, it wants to prove the concept works before selling any kits.
"Part of the testing is that we have to send something to the moon to show that it's possible," Pierce told InnovationNewsDaily. "But we also have to test different fuels and make sure components work in space with temperature extremes and radiation."
The team is considering using an off-the-shelf solid fuel already used by large hobbyist rockets; a mixture of ammonium dinitramide with a binder of glycidylazide polymer. That mixture contains an own oxidizer which would allow the rocket to continue to burn even without oxygen in space, and would be safer than the potentially explosive use of a liquid fuel.
InnovationNewsDaily reported:

Launching the rocket into space from its balloon is expected to be as easy as "fire and forget," but a simple ham radio aboard the rocket could beam telemetry data back to the human user on the ground. True to the DIY spirit, the team also plans to use mostly commercially available parts for building the rocket.
"Ideally, the goal is for everything to be off-the-shelf or as close to off-the-shelf as possible," Pierce explained. "Anything that's not could be manufactured with a 3D printer or CNC machine."
Time has begun running out for the Kickstarter project's goal of reaching $25,000 by Dec. 14. But even if the crowd-funding approach falls through, Pierce and his fellow engineers hope to find some sort of new private funding so the DIY kit can appear on future holiday wish lists.


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