In the recent editions of Sport Rocketry, we noticed the NAR increasing its messaging regarding rocket and range safety. The San Luis Valley Society of Model Engineers, dba San Luis Valley Rocketeers NAR Section 774, supports this messaging and wishes to expand on a couple of points based on our experience with this year’s NSLW 2023.
Although daily operations went pretty well, NSL West 2023 witnessed a sizable group of unstable flights, shreds, incidents, and similarly “non-nominal” operations. Too many rockets came down over or behind camp. Too many rockets disassembled themselves. Too many rockets sky-wrote. Too many rockets came down in multiple pieces.
A few years ago, Tim at Apogee wrote an excellent article in Peak of Flight about things that contribute greatly to unsafe conditions. If we remember correctly, he identified:
- “Rocket Fever” – or being in a rush.
While our Section agrees with Tim wholeheartedly, we would like to highlight a fourth aspect: Failure to adhere to the Code.
- Our Code specifies that our rockets will be stable.
- Our Code specifies that we will insert igniters at the pad only after the rocket is vertical.
- Our Code specifies that we will set our pads up so that the trajectory does not take it directly over the heads of spectators.
- Our Code specifies that our rockets will return to earth safely and in a condition to be flown again.
We accept that flying rockets have some inherent risks and that “things happen”. That’s flying. However, every significant non-nominal issue our club dealt with during NSLW 2023 pointed to a code violation.
A community’s willingness to accept and host a group, depends almost entirely on how that group behaves on and off of the field. Whether it’s the local hot rod club, motorcycle club, bicycling community or rocketeers, the goodwill and economic impact of a group can be squandered in a fraction of the time it takes to build.
During Alamosa’s annual hot rod weekend (for example), there is an evening cruise on Main St. It’s a great night of awesome cars. Almost all drivers behave, but it’s a “self-regulation” situation. There’s always one or two people who decide to push the limits or ignore the accepted laws and codes. When things go wrong, an incident isn’t just between two hot rodders, or between a hot rodder and law enforcement. When things go wrong, we never remember the name of the driver. But we always remember the name of the club or town whose event it happened at / during / around.
A more stark example would be 90 minutes away from Alamsoa at the Red River Motorcycle Rally. Google it.
Pay It Forward
So how do we step up our vigilance, in a way that is supportive and effective both? For Section 774, beginning with NSLW 2024, non-nominal HPR flights at Alamosa will be subjected to post-mortem inspection by the RSO. Our objective is to collect data that may be useful to the individual rocketeer, and the hobby as a whole. Our expectation is that post-incident inspection, including helpful conversation between the rocketeer and other members of the hobby, may enhance education, experience, and safety.
We want to emphasize that this process is not punitive. Our intention is to make our launches safer, and to help the hobby improve through investigation, conversation, and thoughtful review. We understand that things can go wrong in rocketry. Our position is spelled out perfectly in the NAR motto: Be safe, have fun, and pay it forward. Through friendly and honest reviews of non-nominal flights we can increase our safety, improve our fun, and pay it forward for the next rocketeer. We tested this process informally at NSLW 2023 and found the conversations to be helpful for the rocketeer. That’s the point.
That said, an organization is measured in part by its response to incidents. A group’s safety profile and the respect it holds within a community follows its behavior. Therefore, Section 774 is adding the following language to our by-laws: “Rocketeers who knowingly violate the NAR Safety Code are banned from our site.”
We rocketeers enjoy a large measure of self-regulation in our hobby. If we don’t treat this responsibility seriously we will find some outside agency more than willing to handle regulation for us.
Thanks to everyone who attended NSLW 2023 and we hope to see you again next year.
Section 774 Club Officers