Early in the morning the rocket team drags itself out of bed and does final set up for launch (exhaustive technical details may be found at CurrentCheckList). This is a flurry of activity but the team is pretty used to it. The first area of activity centers around launch control (computers and radios), and next to launch control the rocket's batteries are installed, flight computer and communications checked out, the launch electronics are safed, the parachutes are installed, it is loaded with pyrotechnic charges, and buttoned up. The rocket is then transported to the launch tower and winched into place. Communications to the launch tower via wireless network and to the rocket are confirmed.
The LV2 rocket (see ProjectLV2) weighs about 65 pounds and stands about 11 feet tall. On board are TV camera and transmitter, digital (WiFi) telemetry radio, GPS receiver, inertial measurement accelerometers and gyroscopes, a two meter radios, patch antennas, a 5x86 computer running Linux, and many sensors. The rocket is propelled with a solid fuel rocket motor (same compounds as the Space Shuttle's Solid Rocket Boosters), and is ignited by the launch tower computer from a command from the launch control computer, along with a safety interlock from the rocket itself.
Throughout this time only some of the people are busy on assignments. Everyone loves to talk about the rocket and its ground support systems so there's a lot to discuss. Then we wait, standing around drinking hot coffee and blabbering about this and that, waiting for the weather to improve.
Eventually there is a big hole in the cloud cover. People hurry around for 5-10 minutes clearing the launch tower area, arming (un-safing) the rocket's launch system, taking final stations and readying cameras. There's a 30 second countdown.
We activate the ignition for the rocket using our WiFi launch tower communication system. Everyone holds their breath for about 10 seconds.
The rocket roars off the tower for about 10 seconds. During all this time radio telemetry from the rocket sends back lots of data from the onboard computer, and the amateur TV signal from the rocket is visible on the monitors.
People look happy but increasingly nervous and wait for the next step and crowd around the telemetry displays from the rocket. Less than a minute into the flight the rocket coasts to about 18000 feet above the ground (visible only in binoculars unless you have very sharp vision). The only sound is a time count every five seconds from the recovery team timekeeper (there's an emergency backup radio for firing the chutes from the ground). The rocket arcs over.
The onboard computer recognizes it's at the top, ejects a small parachute, and the rocket descends under control. Very loud, sustained cheer from the team who then knows they will get their rocket back in one functional piece.
When it gets real close to the ground the computer commands the big parachute to open and it comes down softly. More cheering. People babble on excitedly about the telemetry recieved and anything else of note.
When the rocket gets back (it may take the team 30 minutes or more to retrieve it) there's a champagne (and sparkling juice) celebration. People secure all the data, review stuff for a bit, then pack up and go home.
--- 01 Feb 2005