Friends of Amateur Rocketry, Inc.
Serving the Amateur Rocketry  Community

Encouraging Amateur Rocketry to Educate the Public

History

Every great organization has an interesting story behind its origins.  Lets call it the “Genesis Story”.

Between 1981 and 1987 Dan Ruttle, George Morgan, and Steve Morgan designed and built a 4-inch diameter by 8-foot long nitric acid and furfural alcohol hypergolic rocket.  George, Steve, and Dan launched the rocket in the summer of 1987 at Smoke Creek, Nevada for a perfect flight.

Dave Griffith, Ted Stevens, Paul Mcquown, Ron Milfild and Dan Ruttle were impressed with how the 4-inch hypergolic rocket flew, formed a rocket team, and decided to build a 8-inch diameter by 20-foot long hypergolic rocket called “Genesis”.  Dan designed the motor, Ron built the launcher, Ted and Paul gathered materials and money.  Dave machined the motor, thrust frame, tank ends, launch lugs, and fins.  Ron welded the tanks and made the payload section.  Paul and Ted got the plumbing.  But, through all of this, Dan had to leave the project because he worked for Marquart Aerospace where working on Genesis was viewed as a conflict of interest.  After everything was complete, the team started doing water flow testing and the resulting flow was poor and the rocket leaked.  It took several tries before everything worked perfectly.

The next problem the team encountered was getting nitric acid. The team spent about a year perfecting a way to purify the acid themselves.  Steve Morgan finally got good results turning 70% into 95% nitric acid.  During this period of time Ron was keeping the rocket at his house and passed away from a heart attack.  His wife thought that the rocket was worth a lot of money and would not give it to the other team members. About 4-years later the people storing the rocket called Dave and said come get it, its taking up to much room.  Genesis was moved to Dave's house where it sat for about a year.  Dave eventually gave it to Kevin Baxter with hopes he would finish it.

In late 1999 Kevin took procession of the Genesis rocket and launcher, put the rocket in storage, and built a trailer around the launcher. The launcher turned into a first-class mobile launch rail to support amateur-launches. The rail was immediately adopted as the launch method of choice by the amateur community and by the CSULB aerospace program. Soon several other universities became aware of the availability of the mobile launch rail and they too began using it for their programs.

In 2003 the launch rail’s storage location in Los Angeles and the large truck that towed the rail to the Mojave Test Area (MTA) launch site, would no longer be available. After getting permission to store the launcher at the MTA from the Reaction Research Society (RRS), Kevin with the help of Mark Holthaus quickly purchased a prefabricated building kit which was ready to be erected at the MTA to permanently house the mobile launch rail.  Just before construction, the RRS board of directors reconsidered their decision and decided that there was no room on the 40-acre site for the building.

A search was made for a property adjacent to the MTA.   A property was found and was immediately purchased by Kevin for the location of the prefabricated building.  Because of the high-cost of this parcel of land, Kevin got financial help from Mark and Ted Rothaupt.  This adjacent property is an inside-corner of land with two sides consisting of BLM type 1 critical desert tortoise habitat. This habitat posed both a liability and a haven for rocketeers.  On one hand this critical habitat has to be closely protected from motor vehicles, domestic animals, brush fire, and environmental destruction; but in the long term provides protection in itself from local real estate development and human encroachment, a situation that preserves a location ideal for rocketry.

Shortly after the land purchase, Kevin, Mark, Ted, and attorney Fred Holmes formed the corporation Friends of Amateur Rocketry, Inc. (FAR) and became its Directors.  FAR was incorporated to provide support for the university programs and became an educational institution in itself. Thus, an application was filed to become a IRS 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, and the IRS gave use probationary nonprofit status.

The next order of business was to acquire our own FAA wavier.  We applied for and received an FAA wavier for any size and type of rocket that does not exceed an altitude of 18,000-feet Monday through Friday and 50,000-feet Saturday through Sunday from sunrise to sunset, 52-weeks a year.  Along with this we received a letter-of-agreement with R2508 CCF (Complex Control Facility) that gave us use of the R2508 restricted airspace surrounding Edwards Air Force Base.

The Pacific Rocket Society (PRS) members, which had been leasing the MTA, began using the FAR property for many of their launches about this time. The PRS was a member driven organization whereas FAR was largely an infrastructure and mentoring organization so the two groups had an ideal symbiotic relationship that continues to exist to this day. Other groups such as the Mojave Desert Advanced Rocket Society (MDARS), which is a high power rocketry club, also began occasionally using the FAR facilities.

In the summer of 2005, one of our first paying customers was the Discovery cable television program Mythbusters to test the myth of the Myng Dynasty Astronaut.  Mark, Ted, Kevin, Mike Tockstein, Erik Gates, and a host of friends helped with the production. We were instrumental in killing their crash-test dummy Buster twice riding two different rocket powered thrown chairs, once in an explosion, and second flipping him and ramming him into the ground.  All-in-all it was a highly-successful show that is still shown today.

Since the events of 9/11, an environment of higher regulatory encroachment manifested itself regarding explosive materials and rocketry. FAR then successfully garnered both explosive manufacturing and magazine permits in order to make and store rocket fuel on-site. Under the new regulatory system even small amounts of black powder and igniters are required to be controlled and properly stored. These permits allow FAR to help various groups such as the PRS and the RRS to continue operating by providing storage for these regulated but necessary materials. FAR then became a leader in satisfying all regulations and requirements in regards to amateur rocketry.

Little more than one year after the formation of FAR, the RRS decided that the various university students, which were RRS members, had to be considered outside groups when they fired large rockets and needed independent insurance. This new insurance expense coupled with an ever growing and aggressive flight schedule was simply incompatible between the university programs and the RRS.

FAR offered to help these programs, but had little to offer.  The FAR site infrastructure was minimal and the few on-site sea containers were stuffed full of tools, the prefabricated building kit, generator, and other materials.  This left little room to protect the students from the ravages of the Mojave Desert’s environmental extremes. There was only a small wooden blockhouse for blast protection at the site, not strong enough for larger motors and not large enough to protect all the students.

At this point Kevin, Mark, Ted, Fred, and a large number of volunteers started a fast-paced and massive-infrastructure program. Several large water tanks were placed and filled in order to fight fires. An underground blockhouse and aboveground viewing bunkers reinforced with steel and 16” of concrete were built to protect the students.  Test stands of radically different sizes and types were erected.  Storage areas were increased and in general the property was made a viable test site for amateurs and students.   FAR resides in the middle of the Mojave Desert which has some of the highest summer temperatures in the world. The need for shade and shelter has driven a program to add sunshade over the main body of sea containers.

By 2008, FAR became a fully recognized 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. Up to this time we have gotten donations from a large variety of donors and FAR site has a wide and diverse number of users that also pay user fees.

In 2010 we finally we got to the assembly of the prefabricated building kit, which was the impetus for starting FAR in the first place.  At its completion, the prefabricated building becomes a refuge from the heat and wind of summer with evaporative cooling and underground power from the generator. The building also had a radiant heat system built into the floor to allow operations in the winter when night time temperatures can fall into the low teens. With its large clear concrete floor plan and large garage doors, has become the center of facility activities including vehicle integration, test fixture preparation, classes, and testing.

Also at this time, a major re-write of the Code of Federal Regulations, CFR 101.27 changed the FAA wavier requirements.  Now FAR is restricted to launching rockets of a maximum total impulse of 9,208-lb. sec. (40,960 Ns).  Any rockets larger than this will require an additional wavier application applied for 45-days in advance of the planned launch date.

The facility is constantly improving with a professional appearance. Recent additions include underground wiring and utilities, internet access miles from the nearest telephone pole, sea container internal lighting, power, and security. A heavy duty all-terrain forklift was acquired to assist in almost any sized project at the facility.  This forklift allowed placement of giant-street lights enabling night operations when daytime temperatures rise too high.

To this point, FAR has the unique attitude of being inclusive and allowing experimental rocketry to occur on an almost continuous basis. We try to never say “no”. FAR has also become a favorite place for television show productions which feature rocketry based themes. These shows both thrill and educate the viewer with the FAR facility benefiting from the world-wide public exposure.

Because there are park style grills, water, and clear and starry skies, the Boy Scouts regularly use the site as a camping, rocketry, and astronomy field trip destination. As more of the amateur and education communities discover this jewel in the desert, the more active participants flock to the best amateur rocket facility in the world.

In 2011, the beginning of the final episode of the Genesis rocket has begun. Mark, Hal Duffy, Robert Matevossian, and other volunteers have pulled the rocket out of storage and have begun reconditioning and preparing it for launch.  We too are going through the trials of getting nitric acid.  So, stay tuned we will update this history when we finally launch.