Saturday, January 16, 2010

Refinishing the SpaceShipOne

Between a botched building (trying to use wood glue on a very humid day), botched painting (I didn't bother to prime it, ran out of spray paint halfway through, and then finished painting with ill-matching brush paint), and spending the better part of last february in a tree, the SpaceShipOne was not a great-looking rocket. Then, some of the decals started peeling off, half of it was covered with dirt, and one boom broke, which required epoxy clay to fix it plus more non-matching paint.

In short, it looked like crap.

However, it's a good rocket. I mean, it survived a while hanging in a tree, and except for the one broken boom due to the bad landing, it's taken some hits, so it's obviously a solid rocket.

So, I decided to fix it, and fix it right. That means a completely new paint job, making the booms stronger, bettering the motor mount, and better stability.

The stability is ironically the easy part. I just added another half an ounce to weight to the nose cone, which means slower launch speeds but far better resistance to wind gusts once it's in the air.

The motor mount will also be fairly simple. All I really need to do it to beef up the fillets, so I fly the SpaceShipOne on 18mm Ds, especially the D13-7 which is reloadable, smokey, and cheap.

The booms, on the other hand, will take a lot more work. They're made of thin balsa (1/8") which was not even very high quality, and since the rocket lands on them when coming down under its parachute, they are prone to breaking. In fact, one already did, on a landing under parachute on soft ground. I'm reinforcing all the fillets in place, and will cover the areas around the joints, which are the most prone to breaking, with wood glue or epoxy clay.

The hardest part, of course, will be refinishing the SpaceShipOne. I removed the decals, then sanded off most of the paint, especially the thick and bumpy parts. As soon as we get a warm day (It was almost warm enough today), I will prime it with automotive primer, which alone will eliminate much of the spotty paint job from before. Then, I'll give it two light, even coats of white paint, for a perfect finish, and then one of red for the masked-off areas on the leading edges and the nose tip. I'll reapply what decals I can and replicate the rest (or buy a second kit, use the parts for another rocket, and use the decals for this).

At the end of all that, It'll be a pretty nice rocket. Not quite a perfect kit, but pretty darn close, and certainly a rocket worth putting on display and flying.

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