No Space In Space
Another product of the astonishingly creative mind of Yorkshire inventor Kevin Spout was displayed today. This time the venue was a football field a mile or so from the Spout family home in Sheffield. Madazine’s science reporter Axel Griess was invited to view the proceedings.
Kevin explained that his latest idea had come to him while he was listening to a radio programme concerning the possibility of astronauts landing on Mars and returning safely to the Earth. “The speakers chose to ignore the main problem,” said Kevin. “As matters stand, we shall be unable to leave this planet until we have got rid of the junk we have sent up to encircle it. We are quarantined by our own trash. I know I am not the first to notice this, but I intend to take the lead in doing something about it.”
Armed with this notion, Kevin constructed a rocket which he says is the forerunner of a much bigger version, soon to be produced. Both are two-stage machines, fuelled by a combination of refined petroleum (RP - 1), oxygen and hydrogen, both liquefied, plus a secret ingredient which will be revealed later.
As with other rockets of this kind, the task of the large first stage is to hurl the craft up to a certain height, then the smaller second stage takes over to place the payload into an orbit that can be varied as required. The final operation in this case is the deployment of a funnel-shaped scoop, intended to emerge from the nose cone and expand, then gather up any space debris it encounters. When it is full, a membrane closes over its mouth and the apparatus falls back into the atmosphere and burns up. The objective of today’s test was to reach a sub-orbital position and establish that all the parts worked as planned.
Blast-off was at ten o’clock this morning. The launch pad was an array of pallets, borrowed from a local warehouse. About two hundred spectators watched as Kevin strode to the base of the rocket and started the first-stage ignition by lighting a short fuse. He then retreated swiftly.
The craft ascended at a much slower rate than predicted and ran out of fuel when well short of the altitude its designer had in mind for the first phase of the operation. As it came to a halt, two of its four tail fins, intended to act as in-flight stabilisers, fell from the housing. This unbalanced the rocket, which immediately swung through one hundred and eighty degrees and began to fall, retracing exactly the path of its climb.
A further and more alarming development came almost immediately after the rocket had begun its descent. The second stage was activated and the craft hurtled down at tremendous speed. Though the scoop deployed, it inverted at once in the updraught, like an umbrella in a high wind, so had little or no braking effect. The crowd, having moved in from the football field’s touchlines, scattered back. The rocket, with its engine still roaring, plunged through the middle of what remained of the launch pad and burrowed into the ground to a depth yet to be ascertained, but certainly great.
An inquiry began at once. It emerged that Kevin’s assistant, his cousin Donald, had run out of super glue when fixing the tail fins. In order to meet the tight schedule, he had resorted to using the only material he had to hand – wallpaper paste. When taken to task by Kevin, he pointed out that the rocket’s base was slightly squared off, so the four fins could be regarded as two pairs, on what he called the port and starboard sides. He said that if numbers one and three, or two and four had failed, all might have been well. As it was, numbers three and four, both on the same side, had become detached and this caused the imbalance.
Having remonstrated with his assistant for the use of an inappropriate bonding agent, Kevin learned that he had made an even greater error himself. This came to light when he tried to find out why the rocket had performed so sluggishly in its climb from the launch site. He discovered that after assembling the craft correctly, he had then wired up the two engines in the wrong sequence, so the second-stage unit had tried to do what had been expected of the much more powerful first-stage one. Seconds after the fins failed and the rocket upended, the larger engine took over and caused the rapid descent.
Kevin was philosophical, claiming that the operation had not been entirely fruitless. “You have to admit,” he said, “that the original first stage was very robust, as it survived the downthrust of the second engine. I take a lot of comfort from that as I return to the drawing board.”
Axel Griess commented only that if Kevin had used this technique in his earlier attempt to bore through to the Earth’s core, he might have come closer to success than he did on that occasion.
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