It should be routine by now – he’s been counting backwards since he was a kid.
Yates is forming the South Texas Aeroscape Club.
“I’ve been launching rockets since I was 13,” he says. “I want to share that experience with others.”
Once viable, he hopes the club will sponsor rockets launches at the municipal airport at least once a month, maybe more.
The club would be sanctioned by NAR – the National Association of Rocketry – which boasts more than 58,000 members.
Current members of the club are Yates’ wife, Mei Yin, and Art Applewhite of Kerrville; it is associated with the Hill Country Rocketeers in Kerrville and with the Alamo Rocket Association in San Antonio.
“It starts out as something to do that’s fun,” Yates says. “But later, the hobby starts exacting a price: an understanding of math, physics and engineering.”
Those demands are what Yates calls the hidden agenda of rocketry.
“A club such as this can lead youngsters to a career in aerospace engineering. Just look at what youngsters are learning today in school,” he exclaims.
Yates, a USAF veteran, is co-owner of Netstar Technologies, dealing in satellite communications, security systems and advanced weapons systems for special military operations – just the type of person for handling rockets.
Amateur rocketry is divided into a number of classes, depending on the size of the rocket, how it is powered and how high it will go.
At the basic level is model rocketry. A typical rocket, available at hobby stores, is powered by a black powder motor that can lift the rocket from 100 to almost 2,000 feet.
Most of the rockets are constructed out of cardboard, plastic and wood.
“They’re not that expensive,” Yates says. “A kit runs around $40; the paint costs another $12, and the motor runs around $20. For less than $100 you’re ready to launch.”
The next step up is the mid-power rocket with a motor powered by a hybrid composite fuel, similar to the solid-rocket boosters used to lift the Space Shuttle into orbit. These rockets can fly from 100 to almost 7,000 feet.
These rockets often are powered by more than one motor. “This one,” Yates says, using one of his own rockets as an example, “is powered by three motors. It’s called ‘clustering.’”
The championship belongs to the high-power class. Its rockets are often powered by the same hybrid fuel, but some use liquid fuel. The rockets, between 15 and 40 feet long, can climb as high as 150,000 feet.
Launches to such altitudes require coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Which is why all club launches follow NAR requirements to the letter. At the local airport, the launch pad will be on concrete with fire extinguishers nearby. A range safety office supervises every launch. The club will carry a $2-million liability insurance policy through NAR.
Yates says that rockets can be launched even during burn bans.
A favorite practice is to mount tiny, battery-powered video cameras on the body of the rocket.
“Some look straight down the fuselage,” Yates explains, “others look straight out. You can find all sorts of examples on YouTube.”
But he has more in his sights than monthly launches. He wants competitions.
One typical contest is to launch an egg.
All rockets, when they’re out of fuel, open a parachute that allows the rocket to gently fall to earth.
Rockets can be used for multiple launches — although Yates remembers one of his first launches as a youngster.
“The wind caught the rocket and carried it way downrange. I finally found it stuck in the top of a pecan tree, about five miles away. I couldn’t reach it; part of it may still be up there.”
But Yates has a more ambitious contest in mind than launching and returning an astronaut egg.
He wants members to compete to see which rocket attains an altitude of one mile.
“It’s sort of like a vertical mile drag race,” Yates says.
The rockets, he says, achieve the speed of sound in the first 100 feet, generating a sonic boom, more like a sonic “pop.”
That vertical mile is significant.
“They have the ‘Texas Mile’ here. Well, they’re going to have to rename it to the ‘Texas Horizontal Mile.’
“Because our contest is going to be the ‘Texas Vertical Mile.’”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.