Beer blastoff! Help a keg rocket hit the skies

An idea born in a pub is aiming to take off -- literally -- over the Nevada desert this fall. Crave's Michael Franco talked to "Team Numb" about their latest stunt.

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These guys really know how to have a blast. An image from Team Numb's 2012 keg launch. Team Numb

The sport of rocketry has always been a competitive one. According to rocket enthusiast Pete Ekstrom, competitions known as "lofting" are regular events in the rocket world. "Egg-lofting and bowling-ball-lofting are recognized 'official' competitions," he told Crave. "There's also a long history of what are called 'odd-rocs', launching non-traditional items, like porta-potties."

Ekstrom's latest endeavor would certainly fit into that latter category. He, along with a group of fellow rocket and beer lovers known as "Team Numb," are currently seeking Kickstarter funds to launch a dual-stage rocket that will raise two kegs -- one 5 gallons, one 15 -- to the high heavens.

Although they've launched kegs before, this will be the first time they're going for a dual-stage design that will rocket the two party barrels into the sky at what they're expecting will be speeds of over 650 mph. They're also anticipating that the rocket will reach a height close to 20,000 feet, which will smash their previous record of 7,700 feet.

To accomplish their mission, Ekstrom told me, they'll be using a first-stage rocket known as a booster and a second-stage one called a sustainer.

The booster will have four N-Class motors firing at once that will provide close to 1,000 pounds of thrust for 3.5 seconds, Ekstrom said. "After the booster motors burn out," he told me, "the two sections, or stages, will drift apart, or 'drag separate' because of the larger fins on the booster section. The booster will have more aerodynamic drag than the sustainer section. Electronics onboard the sustainer stage will light its P-Class motor a few seconds after the stages separate. The 'P' motor will supply over 2,000 pounds of thrust for 5 seconds."

After the rockets reach their maximum height, altimeters will control the deployment of parachutes on the kegs using barometric and accelerometer sensors. This will allow both kegs to drift peacefully back to Earth where they will be -- what else? -- tapped and drank, natch.

The launch is scheduled to take place at an annual event called "Balls" (don't ask), held in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, Nev., at the end of September. "This is the premier rocket launch for high-powered rockets," Ekstrom said. "People come from all over the world for this event."

If you think this all sounds like something born over a few too many at a bar, you'd pretty much be right.

"We were sitting in a pub one day -- where all the best ideas are born -- talking about possible absurd projects when the bartender asked how big a motor would be needed to lift a keg of beer," Ekstrom said. "Long story short, bar napkin scribbles turned into cad drawings and we built the darn thing. At the launch site we were initially accused of committing the single greatest waste of propellant ever. After the launch, it was proclaimed by all in attendance that it was the greatest use of propellant ever!"

Team Numb (named after a group who did "music and visuals at raves in the Pacific Northwest in the '90s," Ekstrom said) is seeking a total of $2,000 in funding to help cover their estimated costs of $3,700 for the launch. That's broken down into $1,200 for propellant; $1,000 for motor hardware; $800 for parachutes and electronics; and $700 for airframe materials. Pledge $1,000 or more and you get to push the button on the rocket launch. And I'm sure the guys will let you have a beer afterwards too.

For now, pour yourself a cold one and watch this video about the launch of Team Numb's very first keg. Cheers!

Tags:
Crave
Sci-Tech
About the author

Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for Crave and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.

 

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