Saturday, April 11, 2009

Space Day at Sci-Quest

The Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5) has a regular presence at science-related events in the Huntsville area. Today the local science activity center, Sci-Quest, invited us to participate in their Space Day. I joined HAL5's two Education Chairs, Dave & Emily Hewitt, for this activity.

HAL5's table/booth was situated next to the Van de Graaf generator (zap!) and was across from the Belch and Burps exhibit. (Could've been worse--the vomit display was behind us but, mercifully, didn't work too well.) The belch and burp thing worked by crankin up a bubbly liquid that looked like pop into a Cletus-looking character's mouth. This would soon be accompanied by an impressively modulated belch and some snarky comment "Hit the deck, here it comes!" Dave took some time with the bubbles. Emily and I each got a picture with the belch-o-matic.

Of course there was some work to be done. We were there to talk about HAL5 and show off Orion Propulsion's "suitcase hybrid" rocket motor. This is an invention of Tim Pickens, a HAL5 rocketeer who went into business after helping Burt Rutan build his hybrid motor for SpaceShipOne. The "suitcase rocket" includes its own tank of nitrous oxide, which is hooked up through a set of hoses and valves to a removable fuel grain--in this case, a transparent plastic tube. I'm there for moral support--I leave handling the fire and smoke to professionals like Dave. That's not to say he gets everything to work his way every time. Sometimes the igniter wires don't work right, as happened a couple of times today. Sometimes the nitrous comes out too fast and essentially "blows out" the glowing wires meant to ignite the propellant. I seriously recommend NOT trying this at home--Dave is an actual rocket scientist (aerospace engineer, that is).
The suitcase rocket is a great way to educate kids about rocketry. Dave does a great job explaining not just how the suitcase rocket works, but how it's different from purely solid or liquid-propellant rockets.

Dave checks his procedures prior to firing. This is an occasion where RTFM is absolutely necessary!

Spectators are kept at least five feet away from the firing.

Behold! A rocket grain!

Emily takes her turn cranking up the Belch-o-matic.

My turn...

Tim Pickens put in an appearance for the event, and also provided some useful pointers in operating the suitcase rocket.

We have ignition!

Some of the other displays at Sci-Quest. They host a lot of birthday parties there. I can see why: it's got a lot of very cool, fun things!

Dave adjusts the oxidizer valve prior to ignition.

The igniter wires are coated with steel wool to start the process....

Flame on! The secondary flame at center-right is the insulation from the igniter wire catching fire. Don't worry, we didn't set off any alarms...

Best flame of the day. The center of combustion can change position based on how much nitrous is flowing into the fuel grain.

1 comment:

Science Cheerleader said...

Now THAT looks like a fun day. Thanks for sharing the photos, too!