At Georgia Tech’s 2013 Homecoming Keynote Address, the President of Boeing Network and Space Systems, himself a Georgia Tech grad, offhandedly mentioned the notion that he was waiting to see someone strap a couple of solid rocket boosters to Tech’s iconic administration building to launch it into space. I’m not sure how serious he was, but he had a video graphic of his vision for such a launch, and there was at least one ramblin’ rocketeer in the room at the time (Hi!), so this build should not have been entirely unexpected. I set out on a personal quest to see this vision, nay challenge/dare, to its realization. And honestly, who wouldn’t want to launch a symbol of their alma mater when it is already rocket-shaped? (Author’s note: This is meant to be a rhetorical question. If you don’t want to launch your school administration building…well, that might actually be normal.)
The airframe and nosecone are made from a corrugated cardboard box, which was, in retrospect, not the best idea ever, but it would suffice. Honestly, acquiring a square cardboard box was the biggest setback to this project. After quite a bit of waiting to get such a box, I was finally able to get my hands on a fiberglass roll shipping box. It was a bit dented and in need of structural reinforcement, so the entire rocket was outfitted with a core support tube which was both a structural mechanism and a handy way to minimize interior volume (and to avoid torching a weak cardboard box. The shoulder for the nosecone was made by cutting off the box’s cap and folding the flaps inward, which allowed me to maintain the outer perimeter flushness (?) and have an exactly-sized inner perimeter. The shoulder plus the entire airframe were reinforced with plywood bulkheads and centering rings (can I actually call them that?) to maintain the square shape. The nosecone tip was made by sewing and gluing together cardboard triangles I cut out and then affixing the resultant pyramid atop the nosecone shoulder. The entire building is to scale with the exception of an extended tower length to improve stability margin. The skin on the tower portion is also not to scale, but that’s mostly a result of printing it out the night before the launch. I also made laser-cut acrylic letters to adorn the top of the tower to replicate the design of the real Tech Tower. Of course, the most important detail is the strategic theft of one of the T’s at the top of the tower.
The flight was fantastic–straight as an arrow and fairly easy to track. I was told that square rockets are notorious for having a mind of their own, but even in the moderate winds, the flight was almost perfect. Perfect, that is, until it decided to land in the dead center of a pond that took up only a tiny fraction of the field.
I was able to acquire a 33-foot pole from someone at the firing line, but naturally, the rocket was 35 feet away. Strong winds did create a current that finally blew it closer to shore, and I was able to recover a soggy mess. Apparently wood glue re-liquefies under water exposure. Who knew? Fortunately there were extra plastic bags, so my trunk didn’t get too wet on the drive back. Unfortunately, the remains were retired to the trash later that evening, but the rocket would have been otherwise flyable if not for the Apollo-style landing. Fortunately, I got a good video of the ascent which is being hosted on the Georgia Tech Ramblin’ Rocket Club’s YouTube page.