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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Mars attacks rocket records
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Rocket Mars
The last time the Mars group launched a rocket was earlier this year
A group of Britons are heading to the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, US, to challenge the UK and European altitude records for an amateur-built rocket.

The Mars Advanced Rocketry Society believe their unique Phobos-EAV design can reach a height in excess of 15,240 metres (50,000 feet).

This is far higher than any non-US team have ever gone before and would almost triple the current UK record of 4,388 m (14,398 ft) set by the Sheffield Rocketry Association in a competition run by the BBC in March.

"We are very excited," the rocket's designer, Richard Osborne, told BBC News Online.

"We have a great rocket that our computer simulations say could break the record."

Recovery parachute

The rocket stands at just over 3.6-m (12-ft) tall and is only 10 centimetres (4 inches) in diameter. It resembles a slender fibreglass and metal javelin. Its long, sleek, low-drag design has been used on the smaller rockets built and successfully flown by the group on previous occasions.

The booster motor in the rocket is being custom built by an American company and will be delivered to the team on their arrival at the launch site on 28 September.

The motor delivers an average thrust of one metric tonne, which should propel the 24-kg (53-lb) rocket to a speed in excess of 3,220 km/h (2,000 mph) - almost three times the speed of sound.

When the motor shuts down, a slender, 1.8-m (6-ft) long "dart" mounted on the top of the rocket will be released.

This dart will then coast under its own momentum to a peak altitude of well over 15,240 m (50,000 feet), before deploying a recovery parachute and descending safely back to Earth.

The dart will carry a complex electronic payload, including three altimeter/accelerometer units to be sure to record the peak altitude reached by the rocket.

Cheap access

A GPS satellite location system will also record the rocket's position in three dimensions throughout the flight - the first time such a system has ever been flown on a UK amateur rocket.

Rocket Mars
Project Leader Ben Jarvis stands next to the Phobos-EAV rocket
Unfortunately, an automatic camera has had to be dropped from the rocket's payload at the last minute. It had been hoped it would capture the elusive image that every amateur rocketry group has strived to obtain: a picture of the curvature of the Earth as the rocket streaks into the blackness of near-space.

"It is a bitter blow not to have a camera on board," said Richard Osborne, "but we have had technical problems with it that would take too long to resolve."

The planned launch date is 30 September although if launch conditions are favourable and all systems are ready then efforts will be made to launch on 29 September.

The Mars group will not be the only ones at Black Rock. Several US-based rocketry groups will be competing for the $250,000 Cats (Cheap Access To Space) prize which will be awarded to the first group to put a 2-kilogram payload to an altitude of 200 km.

The highest verified altitude achieved by a European-built amateur rocket stands at around 6,100 m (20,000 feet).

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23 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Sheffield rocket breaks record
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