My name is Bryce Chanes. I am Project Manager of the Eagle Space Flight Team. I would like to make a short statement regarding our team’s flight on January 24th, 2015. First, I would like to again congratulate the team for their remarkable work leading up to and including the launch. Because of a rushed schedule at the start of the semester, the vehicle was completed less than a week prior to the launch. As the flier on record, being the only Level 3 NAR and TRA member on the team, I chose to take care of the recovery of the rocket on my own. This meant installing my personal deployment electronics that had been tested on many previous flights, assembling and installing the black powder charges used to deploy the recovery equipment, and installing my reliable GPS tracking system to locate the rocket after landing. I oversaw the assembly of the motor by our Propulsion Team lead (who is NAR and TRA Level 2 certified) which for this flight was a commercial motor.
The ascent went extremely well. The motor performed perfectly and no anomalies were seen on the way up. The GPS unit reported latitude and longitude as well as altitude every five seconds to a ground-based receiver. After the motor burned out, the rocket became extremely difficult to see. Our GPS unit reported a maximum altitude of over 22,000ft. The next couple data points looked as if the rocket was descending nominally. However, seconds later it became clear that the rocket was descending faster than it should. Once it was in sight it was clear what was about to happen. About 80 seconds after launch the rocket impacted ballistically (with no parachutes) 0.7 miles north northwest of the launch site. The GPS unit’s receiver stored the last point it received. After the crash, the last data point was 2,000 above the ground.
The team then packed out with a shovel in hand and plenty of water for the short hike through the desert. We located the GPS coordinates of the last data packet received by the ground station. Because of the rocket’s near-vertical state at that point in the flight, we expected it to be very near to that point. It took over 90 minutes to locate a small three-inch diameter hole in the ground about 30 feet from the last GPS coordinates. Remarkably, nearly no ground around the hole was disturbed. We then had a six-foot hole to dig. It took two hours, but we managed to dig the whole rocket out of the ground.
The energy involved in such an impact is incredible. The rocket decelerated at over 500 Gs at impact. This is enough energy to take a GoPro Hero 3 and compress it to a half-inch tall puck of plastic and metal. Alas the memory card was damaged beyond readability. The flight computers for recovery were smashed into a solid mass and the tracker and payload have yet to be extracted from the mangled nose cone.
During the dissection of the rocket it was clear to see that both of the drogue charges had fired when the rocket reached apogee. It also was clear that only one the main charges blew (This is understandable, as the backup charge at 700 feet had less than a second to initiate before the altimeter was destroyed).
Since both drogue charges fired, why did the rocket not separate? This was my fault. In the push to get the project done I chose not to do the most simple of deployment tests. This a universally recommended test that is used to ensure that an appropriately-sized deployment charge has been installed. What we did instead was run the calculations for recommended amount, doubled it for the primary charge and tripled it for the backup. This should have been more than plenty to separate the sections. It was noted that we were exceeding the 20,000ft altitude generally accepted as the limit above which standard black powder charges may not work. What we did was use a charge housed in surgical tubing. This contains the charge and allows the powder to burn completely in the low-oxygen environment at high altitudes. Hindsight is 20/20 and we/I will never go again without ground testing. It is a mistake I will have to live with and the whole team will learn from. I am proud of the entire team and am sorry my mistake led to the failure. The flight represents a major financial loss for the young team, and we will be looking at how we can restructure our launch schedule to continue to stay on track. I thank you all for the support you have given us, and I assure you we will be back soon with our next project.
Eagle Space Flight Team Project Manager