Mystery Solved: Stratofox Recovers CSXT Booster

Updates to this info will be announced on the Stratofox talk mail list.
See also:
Locations of search and recovery for the CSXT Space Shot 2004, Feb 2009 (posted for the 5th anniversary)
5th anniversary - CSXT Space Shot 2004, May 2009

On May 17, 2004, Stratofox participated in CSXT Space Shot 2004, which succeeded as the first launch of a rocket to space without government funding and the first amateur (all volunteer) launch to space. Stratofox found the nose cone and avionics in 24 hours.

But the booster, the section with the motor and fins, remained a mystery. We heard the radio beacon from the booster and nose sections on the re-entry from the space flight.

Then we heard two sonic booms. We had been told to expect a sonic boom if either part of the rocket had failed to deploy its parachute. (The boom was expected to be too low to be audible otherwise.) So the sonic booms seemed to indicate bad news. After that, we only heard signals from the nose/avionics section. We followed that signal and found it the next day. The nose section had all the electronics necessary to prove the space flight was a success. But we assumed the booster was lost and probably underground.

At the launch site, Stratofox member Jeremy Cooper KE6JJJ had set up stereo audio recording equipment to record the launch. It had also recorded the sonic booms. Two months later, CSXT's Jerry Larson was curious about what analysis could be done on the audio of the sonic booms. To his surprise, the quality of the recording was good enough to see the N-shaped pattern indicating the leading and trailing edge booms. He could tell which one was the nose and which was the booster - the length of time between the booms indicated the length of the object. And the booster's boom indicated its parachute was deployed.

See the story about the re-entry boom analysis.

Jerry used flight data from the avionics section of the rocket, weather data from the flight day, and simulation of the re-entry to estimate a search area. The main unknown was how effective the parachute was. The search area was 1 mile either side of a line from the "ballistic entry point" (zero parachute effectiveness) across a rugged mountain range to the point of highest expected parachute effectiveness, which was near the point where we found the nose cone.

With that new info, we began to start searching on the ground and in the air.

As you'll see in the timeline below, we were looking in the right area. But we just didn't have enough time with thunderstorms forcing us off the mountains every afternoon in August. (That's normal in Nevada for that time of year.) The booster was found on Nov 10 by a BLM helicopter crew who were doing a survey of wild horses.

We quickly arranged an expedition to go get it. A 4x4'ing trip this time of year requires more experience and equipment. Some of our members who are in El Dorado County (California) Search & Rescue recruited fellow S&R members who are Ham Radio operators and have experience and equipment for Winter rescue.

We got the booster on Friday, November 26 and returned it to CSXT. It's now on its way to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC.

Something else that we learned: an audible sonic boom is inevitable when re-entering the atmosphere from a space flight. The boom was definitely audible even from the high altitude which it decelerated to subsonic speeds.

Personal Accounts

Here's an initial report that Ian Kluft sent to the AeroPAC members confirming a rumor about the booster's recovery.

Stratofox and CSXT volunteers have been asked to send in their personal accounts of participating in the launch and search. We'll add them here.

Timeline and Pictures

Date Event Pictures Notes
Jul 20 CSXT analyzes Stratofox audio of re-entry booms   determines booster parachute was deployed - search plans re-start
Aug 14 Stratofox/CSXT Search 56 needed to rescue one of our own 4x4s, turned away by thunderstorms
Aug 15 Stratofox/CSXT Search 35 aerial search, ground crew unknowingly hikes a mile from the booster, turned away by thunderstorms
Aug 20 Stratofox Search 112 needed to rescue one of our own 4x4s, turned away by thunderstorms
Nov 10 BLM helicopter crew finds booster   got more than they bargained for during a survey of wild horses
Nov 15 BLM notifies CSXT and Stratofox    
Nov 17 Fly-by 2 successfully got aerial photos (pics posted 12/1)
Nov 20 Stratofox Search 34 successfully reached booster site (pics posted 12/1)
Nov 26 Stratofox Recovery Expedition 127 needed to rescue two of our own 4x4s, spacecraft successfully recovered (pics posted 11/29)
Nov 27 Post-Recovery 48 preparation for transport (pics posted 11/29)

Booster recovery video: 320x240 WMV Video (7 minutes running time)

(credits: video by Diane Palmer KC6HVP and Randy Palmer WA6LCD of Placerville CA, and Steve Palmer KA6DHU of Cameron Park, CA. video editing by Dave Goodin of Real to Reel Productions, San Jose, CA.)

We've also received a report that a rocketeer from Texas named Chuck Cummins performed at least one ground search with approval of CSXT's Ky Michaelson. If we ever get more info, we'll post it.


See also Stratofox's page about CSXT Space Shot 2004 for the launch itself.

Participants are listed alphabetically by last name.

Event Participants
Stratofox CSXT TRA local residents
Aug 14-15 search Jeremy Cooper KE6JJJ
Will Galloway AE6EY
Ian Kluft KO6YQ
POC: Jay Lawson
Tony Cochran
Eric Knight KB1EHE
Rod Lane N1FNE
Clark Larson
Jerry Larson
Elsie Mathews KB1IFZ
Steve McMacken KD7SQX
Jodi Michaelson
Ky Michaelson
Bruce Lee Janice Samuelson K2JES
Ken Samuelson KS2R
Aug 20 search Ian Kluft KO6YQ
Jay Lawson
Perry Miller
Nov 17 fly-by       Ken Samuelson KS2R
Nov 20 search Mike Cornish
Jay Lawson
Perry Miller
POC: Ian Kluft KO6YQ
Nov 26-27 recovery Will Galloway AE6EY
Ian Kluft KO6YQ
Matthew Kluft
Olavo Kluft
Jay Lawson
Dave Masten KG6FNL
Diane Palmer KC6HVP
Randy Palmer WA6LCD
Steve Palmer KA6DHU
Ray Pledger KE6JOQ
James Robertson KG6FKP
Tom White KG6BRK
POC: Justin Rocha KG6SGU
Jim Hoffman
Eric Knight KB1EHE
Jerry Larson
Elsie Mathews KB1IFZ
Bruce Kelly Ken Samuelson KS2R

Did we forget anyone? We are trying to give credit where it's due to all who participated. Any omission is unintentional and we'd like to know about it so we can correct it.

"POC" indicates the Stratofox "point of contact" for the mission. Usually the team in the field can't be called directly. So the POC is the designated contact person who is not out on the mission. The POC is the one whom the team in the field contacts with updates, and where messages can be left for the team for when they call.

Links to this story

SciScoop: "Booster Recovered From Amateur Space Rocket"

HobbySpace: CSXT booster recovered (Nov 30 news)

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