Any of our rocket experts heard about this?:
Saturday, June 24, 2000, 12:00 a.m. Pacific
Inventor building rocket in back yard
by Gordon Gregory
Newhouse News Service
BEND, Ore. - Brian Walker, a toy inventor with no college degree and almost
no flight experience, plans to blast himself into space next summer in a
rocket he is building in his back yard.
Walker, who looks more like a middle-aged TV junkie than an astronaut, is
spending a quarter-million dollars to fulfill a lifelong ambition.
"I'm planning on being the first private human being to go to space in a
home-built rocket. . . . I'm out to demystify space travel," he said.
It sounds crazy.
But an aerospace engineer says Walker's rocket design is simple enough to
work. And a former astronaut who met him last year at a space tourism
symposium thinks Walker has the right combination of guts, audacity and
know-how to pull it off.
However, Walker will have to overcome a lot of obstacles before he can go
into space, including persuading the Federal Aviation Administration to give
him a license to launch his craft.
Walker plans to power his 9-foot-tall capsule with custom hydrogen peroxide
rockets built by a Florida company that specializes in making rockets to
power superfast cars and motorcycles.
The 44-year-old is building the capsule in a warehouse-sized shop on his
Bend-area property. He also has built a backyard centrifuge, which he'll use
to acclimate his body to high gravitational forces.
Walker has designed and built hundreds of devices. He gets royalty checks
from 18 of his inventions, including an air-powered toy bazooka sold at
Wal-Mart and a laser light show device found at Target.
Soon, he'll be constructing a 30-foot-long launch trailer he plans to tow
into the Alvord Desert just east of Steens Mountain next year for his solo
Many skeptics would tell him he is nuts to think he can blast himself into
space and return in one piece. But since he was a kid watching the Mercury,
Gemini and Apollo flights on TV, Walker has longed to be an astronaut.
He knew he'd never make it at NASA because all the early astronauts were
career military men. "I just didn't see myself going through a military life
to get there," he said. "As an 8-year-old kid I said, `Well, I'm going to
grow up and build my own rocket.' "
For the past three years, he has put his intellect and energies into
figuring out how to do it.
Walker's space capsule will have three thrust nozzles at the top of the
engines and immediately below the capsule, and three at the nose of the
capsule, allowing them to lift the craft upward.
Most of the weight will be behind, and gravity will keep the rocket pointed
The fuel will be hydrogen peroxide that flows over a silver screen. The
silver is a catalyst that causes the peroxide to instantly expand 600
percent and generate steam heated to 1,380 degrees. That steam will be used
to give the rocket its lift.
The capsule will sit on top of 10, 14-foot tanks of 90 percent hydrogen
peroxide containing some 7,000 pounds of fuel.
When the tanks are empty, says Walker, they and the main engine will be
jettisoned and guided back to Earth on a parachute-style wing controlled
from the ground by an assistant.
After the fuel tanks and main engine are jettisoned, the capsule should be
hurtling upward at about four times the speed of sound.
Walker figures the peak of his trajectory would be about 160,000 feet, or 30
miles above Earth.
(According to NASA, that will put him on the edge of space. Most scientists
define space as beginning at 62 miles, or 100 kilometers, above Earth.)
Walker will be wearing a Russian-built anti-G suit and two other special
suits that will give him a pressurized, heated environment.
As the capsule begins its descent, says Walker, a small drogue parachute
will deploy and retrorockets in the rear of the capsule will fire, slowing
the craft from an estimated 600 mph to 300 mph or less.
At about 10,000 feet, Walker says he'll deploy a large parachute-style wing
to glide the capsule to a soft landing in the Alvord Desert.
He has had some experience flying paragliders. He will have radio
communication with the ground and a locating device.
Robert Frisbee, senior engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said Walker's plan
should work in theory.
Frisbee said the engines are simple - although hydrogen peroxide at high
concentrations is highly volatile and tricky to handle - and can produce an
enormous amount of power.
"There's nothing inherently wrong with this," he said, adding, "It'll be a
Walker will have to get FAA clearance before he launches his rocket. The FAA
will review the design of the craft as well as the flight plan before
considering issuing a license.
Walker acknowledges there are serious risks, but he thinks his plan is
limited enough to succeed.
"I'm not going orbital. I'm not going to the moon," he said. "I'm only
carrying so much fuel. I can only go so high, and when I run out of fuel,
I'll come back down."
Copyright © 2000 The Seattle Times Company
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