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Rocket Space
Part 2: Amateur, Student & Small Company
Experimental Rocketry

Aerospike engine by Garvey Spacecraft and CSULB

The collaboration of Garvey Spacecraft and Cal State Unviversity at Long Beach built
this multi-chamber aerospike engine and tested it in June 2008. See report.

Amateur advanced (or Experimental) and student rocketry groups develop sophisticated rockets that are reaching towards the threshold of space (100km or so depending on whom you ask!).


The vehicles include liquid and hybrid propulsion technology in addition to solid fuel motors.

Besides trying to break high altitude records, these rockets are intended to provide low cost vehicles for research in such areas as microgravity.

Though these advanced rocket projects demand enormous amounts of work and dedication, they are fun, exciting and educational for all involved.

The organizations listed here include student groups, student/commercial company collaborations, purely amateur clubs, amateur/company collaborations, and small, entrepreneurial companies.

See History of Experimental Rocketry by Jeff Hove for reference information on current and past experimental rocketry groups and projects.

News about launches and other developments in advanced rocketry typically appear first in one of the bulletin boards or mailing lists.

News sites include:

US Advanced Rocketry Groups & Projects

Black Brant Project
The Black Brant Project will build a 107% scale version of the Black Brant II and propel it with three "54,600 NS motors (33% "P" motors), all lit on the pad." It should reach 14,700 feet (4.48km) and a velocity of Mach 1.20 (1320 Feet/Second)

The project is led by Wedge Oldham who previously built and launched 1/3 scale Nike Hercules replicas at LDRS 20 & 21. Other participants include Darren Wright of Ozark Aerospace and Jeff Taylor of Loki Research.

They plan to launch the vehicle at BALLS 2004 in Nevada.

Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society [ERPS]
ERPS is a San francisco Bay area group that concentrates currently on development of liquid fuel rockets. In particular, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) oxidizers combined with fuels such as kerosene and jet fuel.

  • E.R.P.S. - homepage is now in blog format
  • K.I.S.S. II - April 2002 - successful launch and recovery. Video of launch.
  • K.I.S.S. I - February 10th, 2002 - successful launch but unsuccessful chute deployment. Includes video of launch.

Experimental Manned Rocketry Association of America
Organization formed by Glen May in 1997 :

"EMRAA is a attempt to bring science fiction into reality, to make manned rocketry common place. EMRAA is a Internet meeting place where engineers, technicians, aviators, and craftsmen can find each other to start projects, share ideas and information, and make friends with people who have liquid rocket engines, hybrid rocket motors, and manned rocketry as a common interest. This is a association, there are no officers or dues. EMRAA is not a pie in the sky organization.

EMRAA projects will be worked on in spare time by most people. Capital will be generated by individuals, advertising sponsors, and by bartering services. Even though the aerospace giants are working on projects their is no good reason why individuals and small companies cannot get together and accomplish a lot for manned rocketry. Remember what the Germans accomplished before World War Two. If you know someone who is interested tell them about this home page.

If you have a manned rocket project of any kind we would love to hear about it. If you are building a powerful safe rocket motor or engine let us know." - EMRAA statement of purpose

Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA)
This group is described as

The Experimental Sounding Rocket Association is dedicated to getting students of all ages excited about rocketry and space exploration through building and launching experimental sounding rockets and other rocket-related technology. An "experimental sounding" rocket bridges the gap between "experimental" or "research" rockets built by hobbyists and professional/government "sounding" rockets that reach suborbital space, with potentially some overlap at each end of the spectrum. Generally, "experimental sounding rockets" can be a small as launching a 10-pound payload to 10,000 feet above the ground, to being able to launch a 50-pound payload in excess of 100 miles altitude.


ESRA was formed in 2003 in Logan, Utah, as an outgrowth of the "Unity IV" four-university (Brigham Young University, University of Utah, Utah State University, and Weber State University) student hybrid rocket program.

More info:

Friends of Amateur Rocketry

"In 2003 four guys Kevin Baxter an inventor, Fred Holmes a patent attorney, Mark Holthaus an electrical engineer, and Ted Rothaupt a mechanical engineer, came together to form the Friends of Amateur Rocketry, Inc. (FAR). Their goal was to encourage cooperation between individuals and groups involved in amateur rocketry. To this end, they purchased and developed FAR site, a ten-acre property which is a safe location to test and launch rockets.

FAR has since become a publicly supported nonprofit corporation recognized by the IRS. Its mission has expanded to educate the general public in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through the use of amateur rocketry; and to foster rocket technology by supporting individuals, hobbyists, student groups, businesses, and other like-minded non-profit entities. To date, FAR has worked with the Boy Scouts, hobbyists, university students, aerospace start ups, and the Mythbusters cable television show.

The FAR site is uniquely located under the R2508 controlled air space umbrella of Edwards Air Force Base, at the edge of a military supersonic corridor, many miles from any inhabited area. This allows us to have a much higher launch altitude than most other locations in California. Our FAA Wavier allows rockets up to 9,208-lb. sec. total impulse. Launch altitudes are up to 18,000-feet Monday through Friday and 50,000-feet on Saturday and Sunday. We have also received all the necessary local, state, and federal licenses, allowing a user to test rocket technologies without the overhead found at government and military ranges.

In addition, we have pyrotechnic operators licensed by the California State Fire Marshal and the ATF to help you safely manufacture, store, set up, test, and launch rockets. Our facility has a blockhouse, viewing bunkers, explosive magazines, fire fighting equipment, propellant storage, static test stands, and launch rails. Other facilities include: an assembly building, work shops, storage, sun shade, weather station, internet, electrical power, street lights (for night operations), non-potable water, outhouse (restrooms are under construction), and camping.

We have an assortment of heavy equipment such as: all-terrain-forklift, skip loader, and boom crane to help with loading, unloading, and setup. For fabrication and assembly we have a lathe, mill, drill press, chop saw, grinder, and welder. For safety, we have first aid, automatic defibrillator, oxygen, and a helipad for emergency evacuations.

For our schedule and fees, visit our Home/Calendar and Customers/Fees pages."

The FAR test facilities in Mojave are now used by many amateur and small company teams to carry out engine tests, tethered vehicle flights, and launches.

Huntsville Alabama L5 Society
This group has a very active high-altitude rocket program underway. Their rockoon - balloon launched rockets - are intended to set high altitude records and eventually to provide low cost research sounding rockets. Project HALO -- High Altitude Lift Off  

Ozark Propulsion Labs
This program is "run by an avid amateur / experimental rocketeer, Darren Wright. He has designed and sucessfully flown the largest motor east of the Misissippi, a 54,000ns 'P' motor. He will also be building the motors for the second heaviest amateur rocket attempt, the Maryland / Delaware Rocketry Association (MDRA) group project, the Liberty Project. He also runs propellant classes to introduce rocketeers to the science of propellant deisgn and manufacturing."

Big Eastern Rocket - HobbySpace News - Oct.30.02 - Ozark Propulsion Labs and Maryland Delaware Rockety launch a big recoverable rocket.

The OPL also works with the JAMSTAR program at the Florida Institute of Technology mentioned below.

Reaction Research Society
RRS, founded in 1947, is "...oldest continuously operating amateur experimental rocket group in the United States." RRS carries out a full range of rocketry research including "...designing, building, and testing solid, hybrid, and liquid fueled rockets."

Rocketman's Civilian Space Exploration Team
Ky Michaelson, aka Rocketman,, supports the Civilian Space Exploration Team, which became the first volunteer rocket group to cross the generally accepted threshold of space on May 16, 2004 when the GoFast rocket reached an altitude of 77 miles (124km).

For more info about the fight, see the entry SXT 2004 in Expt. Rocketry Records section and reports in Advanced Rocketry News for May 2004.


Rocket Mavericks
This organization was formed in 2007 to carry out advanced amateur rocketry and spacecraft (e.g. cubesat) projects. The founders include Stanford smallsat guru Bob Twiggs and Rocketman Ky Michaelson, leader of the CSXT group that launched an amateur rocket to over 120km in 2004.

They describe the group as follows:

Mavericks is where the most independent, and most experienced high power rocketeers and civilian space explorers collaborate, compete and fly experimental projects that push beyond the hobby, to the next level of professional civilian rocketry and space exploration. Mavericks goes beyond sponsoring experimental launch services, and focuses on the complete needs of the civilian space explorer...
More info:

Paragon Foundation
This organization seeks to use advanced rocketry for educational purposes for students and the general public. Located in Denver Colorado, the group welcomes volunteers.

The Dragoon II sounding rocket project suceeding on June 7, 2004 in reaching 120,000ft (36.6km) altitude. Their ultimate goal is 350,000 ft. (107km).

The affiliate Paragon Labs company builds rockets and does aerospace consulting work.

Project R.U.S.H.
Rocket Guy Brian Walker planned in the early 2000s to blast off on his own hydrogen peroxide rocket. Walker is a successful toy inventor who is now building his own rocket that he intends to ride to an altitude of 30 miles. Though he made considerable progress, with other small budget efforts like that of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne and John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace finding success, he decided not to pursue his own rocketship any further.

Sugar Shot to Space
This team will attempt to launch an amateur rocket to 100km using a sugar based solid propellant rather than a higher power ammonium perchlorate composite (which the CSXT team used for its GoFast rocket.)

Student Advanced Rocketry

Cal Poly Space Systems
This AIAA student chapter consists primarily of students at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. It has made progress on a number of technology demonstrator projects, some of which were sponsored by NASA and Starcraft Boosters, Inc.

See the list of Projects and lots of Pictures and Video from their rocket flights and engine tests.

An earlier project involved scale flight models of Buzz Aldrin's StarBooster design. They launched a 10ft model, for example, which then glided back under ground control until near to the ground it popped a parachute for a safe landing. See the media section for pictures and videos of their StarBooster model tests.

Cal State Long Beach: Aerospace Engineering @ the Beach! and
Garvey Spacecraft /

As part of the California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative, the Aerospace Engineering department at Cal State University at Long Beach is collaborating with Garvey Spacecraft Corporation in developing various types of rockets and rocket technologies. (See, for example, the picture of their aerospike engine at the top of this page.) They have particularly focused on reusable (or, at least, refurbishable) rockets and supporting technology. The training from this has sent many students into aerospace careers.

This history of the collaboration shows them developing the Kimbo series of rockets from late 1990s to 2003 when they started the Prospector sereies. A general goal has been developing low cost reusable technologies. The series began when John Garvey of Garvey Spacecraft Corporation sought to continue the progress made by the DC-X project but on an even lower budget.

A long term goal is the two stage Nanosat Launch Vehicle (NLS) that would put small payloads (up to 10kg) into orbit.

The group also works with the Reaction Rocket Society and uses the Society's facilities for engine tests and rocket flights.

The program receives support from a the California Space Authority as a new program called the California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative (CALVEIN):

Cornell ASTRO
This project, which currently involves about 35 students along with faculty support, plans

"to build a reusable, autonomous, rocket powered vehicle that can lift off under its own power, hover at a low altitude to display its stability, and land safely without damage. After the completed testing of the first generation ALV [Autonomous Launch Vehicle], a new ALV will be designed and fabricated each year, building upon prior versions and improving ALV performance. ASTRO will build and launch its first functional ALV by the Spring of 2004."

Engine tests photos.

San Diego State University Dept. of Aerospace Engineering Rocket Project
The SDSU group is working with Flometrics (see below) to develop a liquid fueled, gimbaled sounding rocket that will go to 100km.

"A group of amateur rocketeers who are donating their time to assist University and High School Students in the implementation of Rocketry Projects. The numbers of involved Amateurs and Students grows every year. We began with a small project in 2000 with a rocket using only 360 Pound-seconds of thrust to the 2003 JAMSTAR booster with 18,000 Pound-seconds of thrust."

They work closely with the Florida Institute of Technology

  • JAMSTAR - JAMSTAR (Joint Aerospace & Meterology Stratosphere Analysis Rocket) is student project at the Florida Institute of Technology and in cooperation with Ozark Propulsion Labs (see above) and Loki Research.

    The goal is to build a high altitude sounding rockets to carry scientific payloads such as meterological experiments. The group has built a P-class motor - "the largest amateur motor ever built & successfully fired on the East Coast."

    The group launched in April of 2003 a sounding rocket with a P motor booster and an unpowered second stage Dart .

  • SERRA - Supersonic Experimental and Recoverable Rocket Assembly.
  • SOAR (Suborbital Amateur Rocket) student rocket project at the Florida Institute of Technology plans to send a two-stage solid motor powered rocket to 122km (76miles).


MaCH-SR1 Hybrid Rocket Launch Vehicle
"MaCH-SR1 hybrid rocket launch vehicle is a student-driven project that is currently under development at the University of Colorado in Boulder."

The project's goal is by 2008 to build a sub-orbital rocket capable of:

Aeroscience Program at Fredericksburg High School, Texas
The Aeroscience Department - Fredericksburg HS offers a 2 year high school course, created by teacher Brett Williams, that has been widely praised for its successful rocket building efforts. The U.S. Congress officially recognized their launch in 1998 as the first high school rocket to break the sound barrier with a 2 meter rocket that was designed and built by the students.

Recent developments are described in

They have had assistance from the Marshall Spaceflight Center, which has now started a similar program with high schools in the Huntsville, Alabama area.

In August of 2000 their Redbird 9-H, 185kg, 7m solid fueled rocket, reached over 10km in altitude.

Here is a presentation about the educational benefits of the program: Fredericksburg High School Suborbital Aeroscience Studies - Mar.2004 (pdf)

The program Ignite - Education in Motion is based on the Fredricksburg High School rocket program. There is also this report on two Fredricksburg High rocket projects in 2008:

NASA Student Advanced Rocketry Programs

USAF Academy FalconLAUNCH Program
A program in the US Air Force Academy Department of Astronautics in which students design, build and launch advanced rockets.

Utah State University: Chimaera - Experimental Hybrid Rocketry
This team won the grand prize in NASA's University Student Launch Initiative two years in a row (2008, 2009) with their reusable vehicle.

More Student Groups & Programs in Advance Rocketry

Small Commercial/Volunteer Rocket Organizations
These groups fall in the grey area between advanced amateur and full blown rocket companies. They make and sell commercial products & services (or plan to) but they also involve volunteers and students in their projects and use advanced amateur facilities, such as the Reaction Research Society's Mojave test site.

Armadillo Aerospace
John Carmack, co-founder of Id Software and a key programmer for its games such as Doom and Quake, became an amateur rocketry enthusiast in the late 1990s and subsequently became highly proficient at building innovative rockets for very low costs. For many years his small but highly competent team consisted mostly volunteers. However, after winning several contracts with NASA, Air Force, and some private companies, AA transformed into small business operation.

Armadillo followed an incremental "build a little, test a little" approach in which trial and error has given them a strong grip on the practical aspects of building extremely robust yet low cost rocket engines.

The initial goal was to develop vertical takeoff/vertical landing (VTVL) vehicles and to pursue the X PRIZE. After the latter was won by Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, they regrouped and started a systematic approach to developing low cost, fully reusable high altitude VTVLs with the long term goal of a reusable orbital system.

In 2005 they began to purse NASA's Lunar Lander Challenge competition and came close to winning in both 2006 and 2007. In October 2008, they won the Level 1 competition: Lunar Lander Challenge ’08 – We win one! - Armadillo Aerospace - Oct.27.08.

In 2008 they began to work with the Rocket Racing League and put their rocket engines into a Velocity Aircraft airframe. Eventually, this vehicle was chosen as the RRL's primary racer design.

In the summer of 2013, John Carmack put Armadillo Aerospace into "hibernation". He wanted to focus on his software jobs and also try to attract outside investment. The three Stig high altitude sounding rocket type projects had not gone very well, i.e. they didn't reach space as intended and did not have soft landings, and had been much more expensive than previous projects.

Subsequently, some former members of Armadillo formed the Exos Aerospace to continue the rocket development started at Armadillo.

The Armadillo Aerospace web site provides a long series of postings from Carmack about their activitieis. Carmack's reports became less and lessfrequent over the years but there is still many remarkably detailed reports in almost an open source style for hardware.


Amateur Spaceflight Association
Texas group seeking to set the amateur high altitude record.
JP Aerospace
This northern California group actively pursues a number of projects including high altitude record attempts with balloon launch, low-cost microgravity experiment vehicle, micro-satellite design, orbital transfer vehicle design, etc.

The group has "small core staff of about four people and nearly 50 volunteers". John Powell, the founder and head of the company, wants to include both paid and volunteer workers in their group to carry out a wide range of commercial, educational, and technology research projects.

The group has had Air Force contracts but generally pursues its own long term goal of a high altitude station from which rockets and perhaps even airships could be sent to orbit.

SORAC - Sub-Orbital Rocketry :

This group, involving 10 core staff members and another 20 volunteers, is led by Bill Colburn and "started in 1995 based on the earlier work from 1947 to 1965 of the Rocket Motor Research Society."

They are developing hybrid motor powered rockets with the initial goal of reaching an altitude of 62 miles ( 100km).

The groups also collaborates with Micro Aerospace Solutions on a contract from NASA to study Gelled Propellants. They also have three other contracts from "Stanford Research Institute for Gas Generators and research on Thermitic Materials".

Pipe Dreams: A veteran of the Apollo program continues a quixotic quest to send a small rocket of his own design 60 miles high and, in the process, save his soul. Maybe ours, too. by Tommy Craggs - SF Weekly - June.13.03

Texas Spacelines

Mark Goll runs this advanced rocketry company that "provides suborbital space launch services, and continues research in both low cost suborbital and orbital launch vehicles."

More Company/Student/Volunteer Organizations

Open Source Rocketry

These projects attempt to bring the open source approach to rocketry software AND hardware projects.

Other US Advanced Rocketry Sites & Info

Advanced Rocketry in British Isles

Rocketry seems to be a growing in popularity in the Great Britain. Several groups are pursuing advanced amateur rocket development and going for altitude records as well as the X-Prize.

See the compilation of firsts at STAAR's Amateur/Experimental Hi-altitude records page and their list of British Rocketry Groups

The "British Amateur Space/Rocket Program" works on several high power and high-altitude rocket projects. They have worked considerably on hybrid motors.

MARS Amateur Rocketry Technology
This group has broken British altitude records with its hybrid rocket motors. See the list of past MARS projects and accomplishments.

The Deimos Project uses hybrid rockets to challenge altitude records. The Deimos 3 is a 2-stage rocket that is 7meters high. Both stages are recoverable.

STAAR Research - The Scottish Rocket Programme 
The "Scottish Rocket Programme" works on projects that include high-power rocketry and Waverider demonstrators (see their introduction to Waveriders).

Steve Bennett, a lecturer at Salford University, leads the Starchaser project that has launched several advanced rockets. The recent launch of the 11m, 747kg Nova rocket received considerable media attention sucha as an article at the BBC.

The project has developed into a commercial company but still seems to involve students and volunteers.

The group's primary goal was the development of the Thunderbird rocket for the X-Prize contest but they did not get a flying vehicle buitl in time. Another BBC article describes the Thunderbird project.

Starchaser is now also holding a contest for a ride on the Thunderbird.

More British Advanced Rocketry Sites

Advanced Rocketry in Other European Countries

Though a small country, Denmark has some active advanced rocket projects:

Norwegian Experimental Amateur Rocketry
This group in Norway designs and builds every kind of rocket from model rockets to very high power rockets with hybrids and liquid fueled engines.

REXUS - Sweden/Germany
The REXUS program (Rocket-borne Experiments for University Students) involves Swedish and German students who put science payloads on a Orion rocket supplied by the Swedish Space Corporation.

SPL - Swiss Propulsion Laboratory
SPL is a non-profit group in Langenthal, Switzerland that works with universities and commercial organizations to further Swiss R&D in rocketry. Their projects include:

More European Advanced Rocketry Sites

Advanced Rocketry Around the World

Advanced Rocketry Equipment
These sites deal with engines, pumps, avionics, etc. for advanced rocketry projects.

See the Advanced Rocketry records and accomplishments section for info on


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