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The BBC's Tomorrow's World
"Getting the rockets up is only half the story"
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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 10:49 GMT
Sheffield rocket breaks record
Rocket BBC
The competition will become an annual event
The Sheffield Rocketry Association (SRA) has set a new UK altitude record for amateur rocketeers.

The team, led by Hugh Gemmell, sent a two-stage vehicle to a height of 4,388 metres (14,398 feet) over remote farmland in Lincolnshire.


Rocket BBC
The parachute must open at the right height
The mark was confirmed during Live Lab, a BBC and Daily Telegraph event staged for National Science Week. The SRA beat two rival teams in a competition that will now become an annual occurrence.

The teams used heavily modified commercial rocket kits that were all capable of reaching over 1,600 kilometres per hour (1,000 mph) in a matter of seconds. The competition rules stated that the entrants had to recover onboard altimeters within 18 hours of the launch.

This was essential if any mark was to enter the record books.


Rocket BBC
Hugh Gemmell checks his altimeter
The West Lancashire Rocket Society, with its PML Quantum Leap rocket, managed a height of 4,235 metres (13,895 feet). The London-based Team Mars, the previous record holder with an altitude of 4,269 metres (14,006 feet), flew a completely scratch-built boosted dart. However, Mars failed to recover its upper stage and parachute.

This is a problem frequently encountered by rocketeers who look like television licence enforcement officers as they sweep farmland with giant antennae trying to pick up radio signals from returned stages. If a parachute opens too high on the descent, the returning stage can drift for many kilometres.

But the SRA was lucky enough to track down its rocket within a couple of hours - it was lying in an open field.


Rocket BBC
The rockets can reach over 1,600 km/h in just a few seconds
"We knew that if the flight and recovery systems worked we'd be in with a great chance of breaking the record - and we did," said Hugh Gemmell, who used a modified PML Thunder and Lightening.

This year's competition, titled Rocket Challenge 2000, was organised by the UK Rocketry Association, and the National Space Science Centre presented a trophy to the SRA.

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