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Loomis' rocket man launched hobby 30 years ago

Sacramento Area Rocketry Group launch site opens in Roseville
By: Martha Garcia, Loomis News Editor
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Dick and Diane Jackson have an explosive hobby. They’re both rocketeers. When the Jacksons moved to Loomis from San Jose about three years ago, they came to the right place. The region is the home of several amateur rocketry groups, including the Sacramento Area Rocketry Group, which has a new launch site in rural Roseville. Dick Jackson, 60 and semi-retired as a concrete finisher, said he got into rockets about 30 years ago and still enjoys the sport. “You get to be outdoors … and everybody in the family can participate,” he said. Jackson also likes the camaraderie among rocketeers. “The clubs are not essential to belong to, but they’re fun. There’s a lot of information to pass on. They all want you to do well and will take the time to help you with any problem you might have,” he said. The model rockets consist of body tubes, fins, a nose cone, a motor and an ejection system consisting of parachutes and streamers. Jackson’s motors use solid rocket fuel, but there are some hybrid motors that use other fuel, such as butane. Jackson lights the rocket fuel chamber with an electric match, called a squib. “It’s like striking a long kitchen match, but they burn a lot hotter. Once that fuel is ignited, you can’t put it out,” he said. “It creates an expanding gas that’s being forced out the nozzle, and at that point it’s pushing it so fast that it makes its own propulsion, hopefully, upwards. It reaches apergy, the very top of its flight path, which means it has coasted to a stop up in the air, starts to head downward toward earth and at that point it burns through an injection system for the parachute to deploy.” Rocketeers are certified by their experience, from Level 1 to Level 3. Level 1 is a beginner certification to learn about rocket safety, putting motors together, and how to have a safe launch. These rocket kits are relatively inexpensive, said Jackson, at $25 to $30, which includes everything but the motor. C-size motors are about $10 for three, and reach heights of less than 2,000 feet. Level 2 certification is for bigger, more complex rockets with larger motors, from size F to K. Rocket kits are usually about $60 to $70, and can be more expensive. Motors are $22.50 each. Because they can attain heights of 2,000 feet and up, Level 2 rockets can include electronics. “Nowadays,” said Jackson, “you can equip a small rocket with a camera. Back when I started, they didn’t have that. Now they have miniature technology, with onboard computers and the whole 9 yards.” The top certification is Level 3. “The sky’s the limit once you’re a Level 3 rocketeer,” Jackson said. These rockets will go from 10,000 to 50,000 feet, or up to 100,000 in some restricted areas. To qualify as Level 3, rocketeers must record all building techniques, the rocket’s projected height and motor performance, and have a successful launch. A successful launch is essential. “It’s one thing to put them up in the air; it’s another to bring them back and relaunch them,” he said. “They’re called missiles if they don’t come back to you. They need to return to you safely and be ready to go again.” Some Level 3 rockets are $400 for the kit, and the motors, which start from size K, cost from $200 to $300 and more. “That’s only 6 seconds worth of fun,” Jackson said, for a rocket that might have taken months to put together. However, the time will have been enjoyable if it involves family and friends, he said. Preparation, said Jackson, is key. “A lot of people can put rockets together, put a bunch of glue on them, put them up in the air. But if you just put them up in the air and they blow up or don’t come back, you’ve lost a lot of money. I’ve seen that a lot,” he said. Sometimes things go awry, even if you’re careful. During Saturday’s launch event, Jackson’s 48-inch rocket did not have a successful flight. “I didn’t have enough power to get it high enough,” Jackson said. “I used a smaller motor and thought I could get by with it.” It didn’t have enough height, and the chute didn’t eject until it hit the ground. Gina Gibson, a Sacramento Area Rocketry Group member from Citrus Heights, watched the launch. “As heartbreaking as it was, it was a spectacular flight,” Gibson said. Jackson has built a 6-foot rocket that qualifies as Level 3, but because he hasn’t had to time to document his work, he’s certified as a Level 2 rocketeer, as is his wife. In addition to his membership in Sacramento rocketry group, Jackson belongs to several groups, including the Tripoli Rocketry Association. Jackson launches his Level 3 rockets in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, where Tripoli holds high-power rocket launch events. ------------------------------- SACRAMENTO AREA ROCKETRY GROUP What: Launch of low-power rockets. Competitions for altitude, altitude prediction and duration of stream. When: Setup starting at 8:15 a.m. Saturday, March 12 Where: Intersection of Sunset Boulevard West and Amoruso Way, Roseville Who: Members and non-members; spectators welcomed Information: www.sargrocket.org