When was the last time that you took your laptop, stuck it inside a rocket, and launched it into the Stratosphere? For one group of kids, it was on July 23. Sony teamed up with The Mavericks Civilian Space Foundation–an affiliate of the Tripoli Rocketry Association–and an outgoing group of experimental rocketeers to put on “The Rocket Project.”
Sony and the rocket clubs worked with a group of high school students, to build rocket with a Sony VAIO laptop as its “avionics package” (i.e. the rocket’s brains).
Talk about one heck of a marketing campaign.
But is this really “The Ultimate Science Project,” as Sony claims? I think not. It makes for great marketing, but as a rocket enthusiast, I can tell you that there are better ways to build a rocket.
There are many things that could go wrong when you launch an entire laptop as part of a rocket. A laptop needs to be able to handle some serious Gs (especially when the parachute deploys–the G forces greatly increase for a brief moment when the parachutes open). Second, a notebook adds considerable weight to the rocket, which can prevent the rocket from flying as high as it otherwise could.
When you build an avionics package for a rocket like this one, you’d want to use a micro-controller with a microprocessor, such as the ever-popular Arduino board. With that alone you save tons of weight, massive amounts of battery power, and you can much more easily control thermocouples, pressure sensors, accelerometers and even a Geiger counter.
It might not be “The Ultimate Science Project,” but I will admit, I was impressed that the group launched its VAIO-equipped laptop to a height 147,000 feet. For more awesome high power rocketry, watch a Nexus One-powered rocket launch to 28,000 feet, and check out some serious launch material on the Arizona High Power Rocketry Association’s site.