Ingenuity + explosives = ‘Large Dangerous Rocket Ships’

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This IS rocket science, but not just the kind where you melt your brain with complex mathematical equations – it’s the kind where you watch a team of “junkyard geniuses” launch a full-size Tiki Bar into the stratosphere just for the fun of it. That’s the concept behind Science channel’s Large Dangerous Rocket Ships (LDRS), premiering on Sunday, October 28.

Large Dangerous Rocket ShipsLDRS is held annually in Finger Lakes, New York, and is one of the country’s largest competitive rocket launching events. Rocket enthusiasts (or Rocketeers if you will) from around the country get together and compete in categories like:

  • Odd Rockets – Showcasing creative designs like a port-o-potty rocket and a replica R2-D2 rocket.
  • Experimental & Human Interest – Showcases functional designs that have a special purpose.
  • Dark Matter Altitude Race – The rocket that reaches the highest altitude wins.

In addition to cool combustible rocket ships, the LDRS show is hosted for the third time by the sexy-smart Kari Byron from Mythbusters. “LDRS brings together a menagerie of crazy geniuses to compete in this insane competition and I am continually blown away by the outrageous rockets they create and this year is no different – it’s why I keep coming back,” said Byron.

The Arizona State University Daedalus Astronautics organization was featured in last year’s Large Dangerous Rocket Ships show on the Science channel and they competed in the 2012 contest as well. Gaines Gibson is the President and Project Manager behind this year’s Daedalus team that also consists of members Steven Berg, Jack Lightholder and Lauren Brunacini.

Mr. Gaines is experienced with both hybrid rocket engines and solid rocket motors, researching new nozzles, propellant formulas and configurations, and he has worked on building numerous rocket airframes. He graciously took a few minutes away from his complicated work to entertain a few of my brainless questions.

Can you give us an overview of the Daedalus Astronautics organization and what it does?

Daedalus Astronautics is a student organization at Arizona State University that focuses on anything rocketry related. In the past we have published award winning papers on developing propulsion systems and have won national [&] amateur rocketry competitions. In addition to our extensive technical portfolio, we complete outreach events every year and have started [to] reach out to 1500 K-12 students in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] based research – with the numbers looking to grow this year.

This year we are working on a thrust vector control system, solid rocket propellant, a roll control system, an aerospike rocket nozzle, and beginning the design of a bipropellant liquid rocket engine and a rocket plane. The members of Daedalus love what they do, and enjoy working on a large variety of different projects.

In what categories did Daedalus participate in the past LDRS competitions and how did the team do?

Two summers ago, Daedalus competed in the drag race to 10,000 feet. We achieved Mach 2 and made it to the target altitude in 6.7 seconds. We then came in second place. This past summer, we did the odd-rockets competition and while we didn’t place particularly well, we were the crowd favorite.

ASU Daedalus Astronautics TeamWhat’s the oddest rocket design the team has created? Did it successfully launch?

Definitely the pitchfork that flew at LDRS this year. It did successfully launch, but the take-off shifted the weight backwards, so the rocket started spiraling soon after launch. We considered it a fun launch and the crowd was very excited to see us launch. Odd-rockets are not really something that we do often, but we enjoyed the opportunity.

What can we look forward to seeing in this year’s LDRS competition, which categories did you compete in and how did the team do?

Just odd-rockets this year. Again, the judges did not like our flight, but the crowd thought that we had a much more fun, innovative design, and really liked our college spirit.

Did the team get to hang-out with Kari Byron from Mythbusters at all?

Not this year, but we did get to two years ago.

What other competitions besides LDRS does Daedalus participate in?

We are currently moving away from rocket based competitions, but in years past we have done very well at the Experimental Sounding Rocketry Associations (ESRA) competition, as well as at the Undergraduate Student Launch Initiative (USLI), put on by NASA. However, we are moving to more serious research projects that we present at technical conferences across the United States.

What is next up for your team and are there any local events where we can see Daedalus in action?

We have started to test out at the Rainbow Valley launch site that the local Tripoli Rocketry Association uses. The launches are every third weekend of each month and are a lot of fun. We are starting to test on a frequent basis and it looks like many of our projects, such as a thrust vector control system and an aerospike rocket nozzle, are going to begin their advanced testing phases

Where can students or other interested parties find out more about the Daedalus Astronautics organization and your events?

You can look us up on ASU’s website, or go to our club website.


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About the author


Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.

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