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Dry Run Testing


Dry Run Testing

[This is a long article. If you’d like to see just pictures and videos of our tests, check out our YouTube and Facebook pages!]

Last week, Castle Point Rocketry had two full days of testing. We verified our mechanical and avionics systems to ensure full preparation for the next round of testing: propulsion. In propulsion testing, we will light the rocket and measure the thrust it produces. It was necessary, then, that we check to make sure the test apparatus works (and can support the weight of the rocket) beforehand.

At the end of the second day, we had a fake rocket towering into the night sky.

It took all of both days, but the test was a success. We strapped a 500-pound surrogate rocket to the test stand and raised it from horizontal to vertical. In the dark!

Day One: Wednesday

We started the day by needing a U-Haul. Our lab in Griffith isn’t too far from Walker Lawn, where we were testing, but hauling a literal ton of metal up the hill sounded … none too fun. Luckily, we had some lifting help from Stevens Physical Plant and some traffic direction by Stevens Police.

Officer Gamez of the SPD posing with the team after helping us back in.


The big focus of Day One was making sure all of our Avionics and Ground Control systems worked. To do so, we needed to take over a classroom, too. Ben found an empty room not too far away, overlooking the mechanical proceedings on Walker Lawn. Our ground control station was set up, and the wires started running!

Ground Control to Major Tom…

All the wires serve three purposes: valve actuation, transducer reading, and real-time image processing. So far, the project has grown to incorporate 27 instruments. Eight of these require active actuation, and six send signals to ground control.

After double-checking that the radios worked (another important electronics test), Ben and Faris actuated each valve in the order that they will be used in testing. Though we didn’t have any temperature and pressure sensors set up, Ben also made sure the sensor code was running. Finally, we set up each of our three cameras — one real-time, one slo-mo, and one thermal — and they each came up on-screen!

Avionics Dry Run Testing: Successful.


Mechanical systems were being assembled throughout the avionics tests. All hands were on deck to set up the gantry hoist, test stand, and aluminum truss.

These three metal structures will serve as the backbone for our propulsion testing. To restrict movement under fire, the rocket will be bolted to the 30-foot-long aluminum truss. (And tied down, twice-over.) In turn, the truss is bolted onto a short steel structure called the “test stand.” It sinks into the ground to provide added stability. In order to raise the truss, several cables run to another nearby steel structure: the “gantry hoist.” Equipped with a heavy-duty winch, it pulls the truss and rocket into place atop the test stand.

This process of raising the truss is what we tested. After a few preliminary tests and some iterative construction:

Some small edits to the gantry hoist before another pre-test. (Video has no sound.)

It went all the way up!

(Pardon Dakota’s yelling.)

By the time it came back down, it was nearing dark and threatening to rain. So we packed up and vowed to raise a weighted truss another day!

Day Two: Friday

It rained all day Thursday. Bummer. Luckily, we had the lawn reserved Friday, too. So we got back out there at 9:00am and went to work!

Step One: Check Everything

Even though everything had been set up on Wednesday, we needed to make sure everything was ship-shape. Even the slightest wiggle room on a bolt could send the whole thing crashing down. Not optimal.

Once happy, we jumped ahead to where we left off: Adding weight to the rocket. Our first subject? Our very own Abraham Edens.

Step Two: A Small Amount of Weight

It didn’t take much coaxing before Abe was hanging upside down. Who doesn’t want to say they’ve hung like a koala from a truss and elevated eight feet in the air?

Abe being raised to Height #1 for the first time.

To check all of our structural components, the truss first took Abe up to about six feet, then up to eight. Twice. (You can see more in the time lapse video below.) After Abe had had his fill, we gave Tom a go as well.

But all this wasn’t just eight college kids goofing off with a 30-foot truss. There was actual science behind it. Before loading up our testing equipment with 500 pounds of wood and concrete, we wanted to be sure that it could repeatedly lift human-sized cargo. And it’s a good thing we tested it out first. We were successfully able to raise both people, but the winch slowed down to a snails pace. This indicated we would need more powerful equipment for the full rocket.

Time lapse footage of both of Abe’s adventures up the truss. (Video has no sound.)

Step Three: Time to Buy Some Stuff

We took a lunch break. After all that heavy lifting (and being lifted), it was time to eat some food. We also took the chance to buy a heavy-duty winch — then the car battery to operate it.

Will and Nathan got to work installing the new winch atop our gantry hoist. Once it was up, we were all ready to go.

Step Four: Fake Rocket, Real Results

500 pounds of concrete is heavy. Our 2-ton pneumatic engine hoist was busy elevating the aluminum truss, so we lifted and moved the fake rocket by hand. Talk about a workout. Coupling the surrogate rocket to the truss required moving it ten feet to the west, then elevating it while another team member temporarily secured it with ratchet straps. Then, three linear rails permanently mounted the rocket to the truss.

But after all that grunting and sweating? We got to stand back and watch this:

Pardon the abrupt switch from landscape to portrait. (Video has no sound.)

So, there we were. Eight rocket engineers standing out on Walker Lawn at 11:45pm on a Friday night. Covered in mosquito bites, still sore from lifting a fake rocket, and getting kinda hungry again. But in front of us was solid proof that our testing structures would support the weight of our rocket.

Gazing up at the fruits of our labors at 11:45 Friday night.

In fact, the fake rocket we lifted weighs more than the rocket parts we will use in testing. The dummy rocket’s 500 pounds accounts for the weight of the entire rocket — when, in testing, we won’t be adding the fins, nose cone, or fuselage. So, really, we have a built-in Factor of Safety greater than 1.0!

Step Five: Teardown

As much as we all could have stood there for hours just gazing up at it, we took it down in a hurry. After all, it was nearing midnight and all of us were tired from two long days of testing. We packed up the U-Haul with all of our materials, leaving behind only the test stand, rocket, truss, and pneumatic hoist for Saturday morning.

Though it looks like someone landed a plane on Walker Lawn, this is what our testing apparatus looks like all wrapped up!

We found out it took even more work to take the rocket off the truss than it took to get it on. So the remaining construction was wrapped in a tarp, and we finished taking it apart the next day. And just like that? We called it a successful Dry Run Test.