Inventor building rocket in back yard
- Source: The Seattle Times Company
June 24, 2000
Inventor building rocket in back yard
by Gordon Gregory
Newhouse News Service
BEND, Ore. - Brian Walker, a toy inventor with no college degree and
almost no flight experience, plans to blast himself into space next
summer in a rocket he is building in his back yard.
Walker, who looks more like a middle-aged TV junkie than an astronaut,
is spending a quarter-million dollars to fulfill a lifelong ambition.
"I'm planning on being the first private human being to go to space in
a home-built rocket. . . . I'm out to demystify space travel," he
It sounds crazy.
But an aerospace engineer says Walker's rocket design is simple enough
to work. And a former astronaut who met him last year at a space
tourism symposium thinks Walker has the right combination of guts,
audacity and know-how to pull it off.
However, Walker will have to overcome a lot of obstacles before he can
go into space, including persuading the Federal Aviation
Administration to give him a license to launch his craft.
Walker plans to power his 9-foot-tall capsule with custom hydrogen
peroxide rockets built by a Florida company that specializes in making
rockets to power superfast cars and motorcycles.
The 44-year-old is building the capsule in a warehouse-sized shop on
his Bend-area property. He also has built a backyard centrifuge, which
he'll use to acclimate his body to high gravitational forces.
Walker has designed and built hundreds of devices. He gets royalty
checks from 18 of his inventions, including an air-powered toy bazooka
sold at Wal-Mart and a laser light show device found at Target.
Soon, he'll be constructing a 30-foot-long launch trailer he plans to
tow into the Alvord Desert just east of Steens Mountain next year for
his solo flight.
Many skeptics would tell him he is nuts to think he can blast himself
into space and return in one piece. But since he was a kid watching
the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo flights on TV, Walker has longed to be
He knew he'd never make it at NASA because all the early astronauts
were career military men. "I just didn't see myself going through a
military life to get there," he said. "As an 8-year-old kid I said,
`Well, I'm going to grow up and build my own rocket.' "
For the past three years, he has put his intellect and energies into
figuring out how to do it.
Walker's space capsule will have three thrust nozzles at the top of
the engines and immediately below the capsule, and three at the nose
of the capsule, allowing them to lift the craft upward.
Most of the weight will be behind, and gravity will keep the rocket
The fuel will be hydrogen peroxide that flows over a silver screen.
The silver is a catalyst that causes the peroxide to instantly expand
600 percent and generate steam heated to 1,380 degrees. That steam
will be used to give the rocket its lift.
The capsule will sit on top of 10, 14-foot tanks of 90 percent
hydrogen peroxide containing some 7,000 pounds of fuel.
When the tanks are empty, says Walker, they and the main engine will
be jettisoned and guided back to Earth on a parachute-style wing
controlled from the ground by an assistant.
After the fuel tanks and main engine are jettisoned, the capsule
should be hurtling upward at about four times the speed of sound.
Walker figures the peak of his trajectory would be about 160,000 feet,
or 30 miles above Earth.
(According to NASA, that will put him on the edge of space. Most
scientists define space as beginning at 62 miles, or 100 kilometers,
Walker will be wearing a Russian-built anti-G suit and two other
special suits that will give him a pressurized, heated environment.
As the capsule begins its descent, says Walker, a small drogue
parachute will deploy and retrorockets in the rear of the capsule will
fire, slowing the craft from an estimated 600 mph to 300 mph or less.
At about 10,000 feet, Walker says he'll deploy a large parachute-style
wing to glide the capsule to a soft landing in the Alvord Desert.
He has had some experience flying paragliders. He will have radio
communication with the ground and a locating device.
Robert Frisbee, senior engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at
the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said
Walker's plan should work in theory.
Frisbee said the engines are simple - although hydrogen peroxide at
high concentrations is highly volatile and tricky to handle - and can
produce an enormous amount of power.
"There's nothing inherently wrong with this," he said, adding, "It'll
be a wild ride."
Walker will have to get FAA clearance before he launches his rocket.
The FAA will review the design of the craft as well as the flight plan
before considering issuing a license.
Walker acknowledges there are serious risks, but he thinks his plan is
limited enough to succeed.
"I'm not going orbital. I'm not going to the moon," he said. "I'm only
carrying so much fuel. I can only go so high, and when I run out of
fuel, I'll come back down."
Copyright © 2000
Alien Astronomer - "Exploring Our Universe"
Astronomy - Hi-Tech/Secret Projects - Secret Societies - Ufology