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TCS Tutorial: Launching Rockets

The system is armed. Finger on the button. The anticipation is building. The order to fire is screamed and your heart just might skip a beat while everyone and everything falls still for just a second and suddenly, boom.



Hyperplane Interactive held two rocket launch events, one at the Santa Barbara Mission, and another at the Ventura Community Park. Building and wirelessly launching a model rocket was a great way for us to show off our project, get some needed real world testing, and it was an incredible amount of fun.

At the first launch event, we luckily had an audience of grade school kids who were out for a field trip. They got to see how it all worked, watched us launch the rocket, and even got to pass the rocket around afterward.

For our second launch event, we took the rocket to Ventura Community Park where there were several soccer games going on. It was less windy that day than it had been the first time we launched, so we opted for the larger rocket engines. It was really neat to see entire soccer teams running across the field to catch the rocket on its way down.

This is a Estes Magician, a level 3 model rocket kit with a 720p camera mounted inside of it.



Ignition System

We used Touch Control System to build 2D and 3D interfaces for launching model rockets. These control screens connect to our wireless model rocket launch controller.

To make sure everything would go smoothly out at the park, and after we had built our first launch controller, we ran some tests.

Initially, we used a Arduino Uno with a Ethernet Shield, and a 8 channel relay board to ignite some model rocket engines.

This first control screen that we used can launch 3 rockets at once and features individual countdown timers:

On our first run, we discovered that we didn’t wait long enough before deactivating the relay. We increased the delay value and ignited the first rocket:

Success! Everything worked great so we took it to the Santa Barbara Mission and used a battery powered wireless router to connect the launch controller to a Lenovo Lynx tablet. Here is the full video from the on-board 720p camera, be careful not to get dizzy watching it come back down:


For our second launch event, we built a new launch controller from scratch:

This time we used an Adruino compatible board that had built-in wireless so we could connect directly to the tablet without a wireless router. The 8-channel relay board was also replaced by our own 1-channel relay.

The code we have on the launch controller runs a small web server that toggles the relay:

http://192.168.1.20/on activates the relay and launches the rocket.

http://192.168.1.20/off deactivates the relay.

This new control screen is actually one Photoshop PSD file. TCS automatically extracts individual layers from PSD files for use as interactive control objects. You can download the PSD file below.


Our new 2D screen:



Component List

  • Model Rocket Kit with Engines
  • 808 #16 720p Camera
  • Plastic Project Box
  • WiFi Redback (Arduino board)
  • Lithium Backpack - HiCap Lithium Backpack
  • 9v battery
  • BC547 Transistor
  • 1N4148 Diode
  • 10K Resistor
  • 5V Relay
  • Various switches, LEDs and resistors, wire, stand-offs, and breadboard


Downloads

Arduino Source Code & Wiring Diagram
Rocket Pad PSD File



Conclusion

This ignition system is an easy to construct project for any rocket enthusiast. Make sure to use appropriate resistors for your LEDs, follow all rocket science related safety precautions, and adhere to any applicable local and international rocket laws.



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