back to article LOHAN turns up the heat on Vulture 2 motor

We know you lot like a nice bit of kit, so you'll certainly enjoy the latest piece of high-tech gadgetry to turn up at the SPB's mountaintop headquarters. Click here for a bigger version of the LOHAN graphic As you know, we've been busy conducting experiments with the Rocketry Experimental High Altitude Barosimulator (REHAB) …


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  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Pre-heat sounds sensible

    - no added weight to worry about.

    Just don't pre-heat it too much!

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Pre-heat sounds sensible


      And you get to add the lines "rocket motor pre-heat start" and "rocket motor pre-heat shut-off" to your pre-launch countdown checklist.

      1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

        Re: Re: Pre-heat sounds sensible

        Yup, I reckon pre-heat is the way to go. I'd also like to add "arm rocket motor pre-heat system" to the checklist.

  2. Tank boy

    Why not do both?

    Pre-heat on the ground, then keep the motor warm for the ascent with the battery pack in the truss.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Why not do both?

      If we can preheat and the insulation is sufficient to keep the motor warm enough to fire after a couple of hours at -60C external temperatures, that's the cleanest way to go. Adding temperature checks and a heater switch and batteries makes things more complex and gives the processor (a little) more to think about.

      We're working hard on the KISS principle here - the less there is to happen in the air, the less there is to go wrong!

      1. The First Dave

        Re: Why not do both?

        Insulation to keep it warm, in those temperatures, for that long? If you can make something that good then a change of business is in order.

  3. Christoph


    "B) Use external battery packs to pre-heat the motor on the ground, and rely on the insulation to do the rest."

    Or a low-tech solution? A hot water bottle.

    1. BigBadAl

      Re: Pre-heat

      Or use solar panels on the truss to keep the rocket motor nice and crispy:

  4. Paul Smith

    mission creep?

    If you guys keep adding more and more 'stuff' you risk ending up with something that will be too heavy to fly! Go back to basics and remind yourselves what it is you are trying to accomplish here.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: mission creep?

      Steady on - the heater weighs 15g. If we pre-heat, it's hardly adding much weight. What we're trying to do here is to get a rocket motor to fire at altitude. It's without a doubt the most critical and difficult part of the mission, so we make no excuses for covering all bases.

      1. M Gale

        Re: mission creep?

        Any chance you can make the motor eject itself or be on an external pod? Even more weight savings, and every gram counts for a glider.

  5. hugo tyson
    Thumb Up


    Can you power the heater using solar? Single figure Watts doesn't take much. That would save mass....

    As for pre-heating on the ground, I would use an oven - KISS? initially, then try to maintain temp during assembly with this device. Start off with a core temp of 80C rather than 15C and you've got quite an advantage.

    1. M Gale

      Re: Solar

      Assuming (and this is a big assumption) that the operating power levels end up being 10 watts, that's a rather large solar panel to be carrying up. Even just a couple of watts will be something on the order of suitcase sized.

      That said, there's no clouds up that high, and I'm guessing this thing will be launched in Spain rather than Cloudsvill^Wthe UK.

      1. Tom7
        Thumb Up

        Re: Solar

        Size doesn't matter, weight does. We're not exactly worried about wind resistance here.

        The article talks about ~2W solar power - you can have a 3W panel at eg for ~£90. It weighs less than 100g and. To run a heater you don't need any fancy voltage regulation, just hook it up. If you don't want it on all the time, then a MOSFET switch between it and the heater will be enough to switch it on or off.

        1. M Gale

          Re: Solar

          The article talks about 2.24 watts of power at 12v, with a comfortable margin for increasing the levels if needed. I'm guessing the amount of power required to keep things from freezing is going to be tested before the launch, and I'll hazard a guess that even with the best insulation, it'll be hard to keep the temperature within design parameters at only that power level. At least, not when sharing company with a whole bunch of dry ice in a bucket.

          Another thing to think about is the risk of the heater making things a little too toasty near ground level where it's likely going to be a lot warmer. Single thermistor, one relay and a routine in the onboard computer to check temperature every few seconds, perhaps?

          1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

            Re: Re: Solar

            Yup, we've got make sure we don't accidentally set off the motor at ground level, so some form of control is in order.

  6. M Gale

    Couple of old laptop batteries, or a broken fondleslab or two. Enough capacity to get you into the stratosphere with the heaters on. No need for extra sensors, timers, or faith in the insulation. Job done.

  7. Paul_Murphy

    Ideas in no order

    1) Too late to mount the rocket in the truss I guess.

    2) Fuel cell, for example: (temps might be an issue)

    3) Solar? probably too large an area needed to give the current needed.

    4) Wind -hmm non-starter

    5) A just big-enough (LiPo? - battery that can be set to turn on at a certain time or altitude?

    all for now.

  8. TheRealRoland

    Ah, Apollo 13 scenes coming up!

    I can feel the full cinematic Director's cut coming up -- Lester, laying on his back, underneath LOHAN, looking at the power consumption of all the doodads that have been built so far... Angry because it's using too much...


    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Ah, Apollo 13 scenes coming up!

      "laying on his back, underneath LOHAN"? Rather an agreeable idea, I must say.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Ah, Apollo 13 scenes coming up!

        "trying to get it up"?

  9. Mike Richards Silver badge

    How much heat is in a nice cup of tea?

    That'd be the proper boffin way to keep things warm.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: How much heat is in a nice cup of tea?

      I'm just having a lovely cuppa now, while puffing away on my pipe in a contemplative manner...

  10. Magnus_Pym

    drop 'em?

    Would it be possible to use an external battery pack that could be dropped off on parachutes at set altitude to and allow the rest to continue unencumbered? You have the altimeter thingy all set up so it shouldn't be that difficult to add an extra triggered event.

  11. Rene Schickbauer

    Timed pre-ignition heating

    You already have some sort of timing/computing system onboard to launch the rocket at the right moment, right?

    Why not let the rocket cool to whatever temperature it will go, and then a few minutes before ignition, connect the heater to, let's say, a 9 Volt block battery via a transistor or relay. That way you don't need much power, you can probably save the weight of (most) of the insulation and the complexity keeps relatively low.

    In my mind, it doesn't matter if the rocket temperature drops very low during ascent, as long as you can get it to reasonable temps just before ignition. And i doubt you get it insulated enough that preheating on the ground will make any difference.

    1. Annihilator Silver badge

      Re: Timed pre-ignition heating

      ^^ that. You've already got a power source in the mothership for the camera, GPS etc, so just run off that. You can connect it via a contact pad in a Scalextric style-ee, instead of using the daughtership's power supply (which I assume it has for its own GPS tracking, pictures and radio downlink?) to minimise the weight at rocket launch.

  12. Andus McCoatover

    Hmmm...Remembering from my school experiment days...

    Anhydrous copper sulphate gets VERY warm with the addition of a little water...or exposure to humid air...

    1. Tom7
      Thumb Down

      Re: Hmmm...Remembering from my school experiment days...

      I think the humidity at -60C is likely to be minimal.

  13. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Layer of insulation

    Go for aerogel! Anything else would be disappointing.

    1. Osgard Leach

      Re: Layer of insulation

      Nice one Auditor, nice one. With the sickening absence of lasers aerogel is a minimum.

  14. Eddy Ito


    As an on board option, caps are pretty light and cheap. A set of 10F caps running through that Polyimide Thermofoil might keep LOHAN warm enough to light her fire. That said, I imagine it would be more of an insurance thing with the preheat on the ground and let the caps do what they can on the trip up.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: tuppence

      Even a couple of 10F supercaps don't store the amount of energy to bring the engine from minus umpteen to plus umpteen celcius. A 9v block battery does, but it itself has to be at some cosy temperature to be able to deliver.

      1. Eddy Ito

        Re: tuppence

        Agreed, which is why the preheat would still be needed. The caps would just provide a means to postpone the big chill but it would really depend on what the rate of ascent is. There's always silica aerogel or hollow micro-spheres for good insulation but those get pricey pretty quick.

  15. Neill Mitchell

    Come on

    Surely this isn't rocket science? ;)

  16. Rick Brasche

    another part source option

    if you need a smaller sized sheet, the ones used for motorcycle heated grips would probably fit the motor casing better.

    flames, cuz, brangs teh HEAT, yo!

  17. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Insulation is the key. There are some fantastic materials around these days. In a well insulated, small size environment 2 watts is a lot of heat!

  18. darkith

    Cheap and lightweight

    I'd suggest that airborne heating might be best done with some of those air-activated hand warmer heater packs. They're light, and cheap. Sure, they're technically producing heat through a form of combustion (oxidization of iron filings IIRC), but there's no open flame, and you've already proven that the rocket motors are bloody hard to ignite with the correct gear, let alone by accident.

    They're safe enough to be used near skin, so I wouldn't think overheating would be a problem. They do need oxygen though, so their effectiveness will decrease somewhat with altitude I suspect. Might be a good insurance policy...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cheap and lightweight

      There are also the sodium acetate hand warmer things, the ones that utilise a phase change I think and are 'charged' by boiling them

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Cheap and lightweight

        Those things would still add a noticeable amount of weight around the engine, or you would need some way to eject them at launch or keep them attached to the truss.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Cheap and lightweight

          I'm sorry, but in the weight and size range we are discussing here, no they are not. They are bulky and heavy.

          1. darkith

            Re: Cheap and lightweight

            Are you sure you're thinking of the little disposable ones, and not the heavy re-usable ones (either sodium acetate or platinum catalyst)? The disposable hand sized ones are about 10-20grams, so in the ballpark of the heating panel *before* batteries are added.

  19. Stoneshop Silver badge

    Nice bit of kit

    but I'd have gone for a suitable length of nichrome wire wound around the engine. Cheap, robust, no need for epoxy (inbetween the heater and the engine) reducing heat transfer to the engine body. You could even distribute the turns so that there are more around where the igniter sits

  20. James Pickett
    Paris Hilton

    Aren't the batteries going to be at -60deg too? They don't work too well then, either...

    (Paris, 'cos I'm sure she knows about batteries)

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      If we stick the batteries inside the electronics enclosure, then no, they won't be.

  21. Myself-NZ

    Pre Heating - pedantry alert

    It is either heating, in equilibrium or cooling. pre-heating is nonsensical. Next thing I know you will be talking about post-heating when attempting to cool something down...

    Having got that out of my system, you lot can carry on with the actual rocket science

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Pre Heating - pedantry alert


  22. imanidiot Silver badge

    I have my doubts

    I doubt you'd be able to insulate the motor casing enough (On all ends) to prevent it from cooling. The business end, the nozzle, is where it matters. And that is exactly the bit you can't insulate as good as the rest. And even the rest can probably not be insulated enough to keep it nice and toasty for 30 minutes in an environment well under freezing.

    If you really want to save weight, do some quick calculations on the amount of energy needed to keep the motor warm all the way. (For which you need a thermal resistance value for the motor insulation) and for warming the motor up from cold prior to launch. I am guessing warming it up from cold in flight is going to be more efficient than trying to keep it warm all the way.

    Then also decide if you NEED it to be at +20 degrees C or if you can get away with only -5 C for instance. The lower the temperature difference with the outside air, the smaller the heat loss through conduction.

  23. Eugene Crosser

    KISS objection

    Extra piece of equipment to stick to the glider? Dangling wires? Don't like it very much.

    Surely simply using more flammable material for the igniter will sufficiently heat up the part of the fuel that needs to fire up. After that it will heat itself. No?

    Or, attach the motor to the glider in such a way that until launch it can rest inside a cylinder that is attached to the truss, and heat the insides of this stationary cylinder. (But this, too, fails the KISS principle.)

  24. M Gale

    Just a thought

    You sure you need to epoxy the element to the engine? It seems a little permanent. Wouldn't TIM compound and duct tape work just as well, and be removable?

    Plus, well, duct tape.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Just a thought

      Yes, you can mount with a rubber shrink-fit band, too, which sounds easy enough.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not all insulators will work

    With low pressure, insulation relying on trapped air is nearly useless. This rules out fibreglass, wool, polyurethane foam, and even aerogel. Since radiation is the only source of heat loss at altitude, you need radiant insulation. Layers of infrared reflective material separated by a small gap performs quite well on satellites. A cheap version can be made out of a space blanket and some cheap lace.

    Of course, you'll probably need a bit of conventional insulation before it reaches altitude.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Not all insulators will work

      Thanks for the input. We're mulling the insulation possibilities, and space blanket is already on the list...

  26. Neil 30

    Just the tip, just for a bit.

    Just a thought, but you only need to heat the ignition area, and this could be brought up to temp shortly before launch. So less kit needed, less kit=less weight.

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Just the tip, just for a bit.

      Fair point, but the heater only weighs 15g.

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