How to Build a Better Rocket

When was the last time that you took your laptop, stuck it inside a rocket, and launched it into the Stratosphere? For one group of kids, it was on July 23. Sony teamed up with The Mavericks Civilian Space Foundation--an affiliate of the Tripoli Rocketry Association--and an outgoing group of experimental rocketeers to put on "The Rocket Project."

Sony and the rocket clubs worked with a group of high school students, to build rocket with a Sony VAIO laptop as its "avionics package" (i.e. the rocket's brains).

Talk about one heck of a marketing campaign.

But is this really "The Ultimate Science Project," as Sony claims? I think not. It makes for great marketing, but as a rocket enthusiast, I can tell you that there are better ways to build a rocket.

There are many things that could go wrong when you launch an entire laptop as part of a rocket. A laptop needs to be able to handle some serious Gs (especially when the parachute deploys--the G forces greatly increase for a brief moment when the parachutes open). Second, a notebook adds considerable weight to the rocket, which can prevent the rocket from flying as high as it otherwise could.

When you build an avionics package for a rocket like this one, you'd want to use a micro-controller with a microprocessor, such as the ever-popular Arduino board. With that alone you save tons of weight, massive amounts of battery power, and you can much more easily control thermocouples, pressure sensors, accelerometers and even a Geiger counter.

It might not be "The Ultimate Science Project," but I will admit, I was impressed that the group launched its VAIO-equipped laptop to a height 147,000 feet. For more awesome high power rocketry, watch a Nexus One-powered rocket launch to 28,000 feet, and check out some serious launch material on the Arizona High Power Rocketry Association's site.

[Sony via Engadget]

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