14 May 1997
After two previous attempts during the past few weeks, the Huntsville Alabama L5 Society, a chapter of the National Space Society, this morning, successfully launched the first amateur rocket into the edge of space. The launch of the "rockoon" -- a rocket that is launched from a high altitude balloon -- took place from a beach in Hampstead, North Carolina, and represents the first verified launch of an amateur rocket into space.
The high altitude balloon carrying the rocket in a gondola was launched just before 7:00 a.m. EST. According to Gregory Allison, Project HALO (High Altitude Lift-Off) Program Manager, the rocket was launched from an altitude of approximately 60,000 feet at approximately 8:25 a.m. EST and reached an altitude of 38 nautical miles,. Although the rocket did not reach its target altitude of 64 nautical miles, the launch is still considered to have taken place through "the edge of space," according to Mr. Allison. Altitude verification was provided by signals from an onboard GPS receiver and from a B&W camera on board the rocket.
"We're very pleased with today's results and we learned a great deal," Allison added. "There were many challenges and many unknowns, but we worked through them all." Because the balloon is floating in the frigid stratosphere before the rocket is launched, ground crew must constantly work to maintain pressures and perform other tasks. "It's not like a shuttle flight where you're thrust into space in about eight minutes," Mr. Allison added. "We're 'in the environment' for over an hour and a half with this balloon. We've succeeded in proving the concept, now we're ready to proceed to operational phase."
The launch also marked the highest altitude achieved to date by a rocket using hybrid propulsion. In a hybrid rocket, the solid fuel is kept safely away from a liquid oxidizer until the rocket is ignited. The group has been working on the garage-built rockoon in an effort to make reaching space more affordable for students, amateurs, experimenters and researchers.
"We're very pleased for Greg and all the other volunteers who have been working nearly three years for this moment," said David Brandt, Executive Director of the National Space Society in Washington, DC. "Their achievement represents a great grassroots accomplishment in the effort to lower the cost of getting into space -- a major goal for everyone working in space today, from NASA to industry to private citizens."
HAL5 volunteers will be packing up equipment and returning to Alabama through today and tomorrow. Final details of this morning's flight will be posted at the chapter's website during the next week.
The National Space Society is an independent space advocacy organization with headquarters in Washington, DC. Its 25,000 members and 95 chapters around the world advocate a spacefaring civilization. For more information on the NSS and our future in space, visit NSS.
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