Hair Dryer Glitch Pushes Private Danish Rocket Launch to 2011
The HEAT-1X during its launch attempt on Sept. 5.
Credit: Copenhagen Suborbitals

Edited at 3:57 pm EDT on Sept. 14

A powerless hair dryer was apparently to blame for thwarting the debut launch of a privately built Danish rocket, pushing the novel booster's first flight back to sometime in June 2011.

The maiden launch of the Tycho Brahe space capsule, which has room for a human pilot to half-sit, half-stand in it, was to have carried a test dummy almost 19 miles (30 km) into the upper atmosphere on Sunday (Sept. 12). The capsule rested atop the Hybrid Exo Atmospheric Transporter 1X, or HEAT-1X, rocket, from a launch platform floating in the Baltic Sea.

But the suborbital rocket launch was scrubbed when a liquid oxygen valve in the rocket became stuck after a hair dryer lost electric power, near the Danish island of Bornholm, the Copenhagen Post newspaper reported after a press conference with the rocketeers.

Rocket creators Peter Madsen and Kristian von Bengtson of the nonprofit Copenhagen Suborbitals did not sound discouraged. "We aim to launch ourselves into space," von Bengtson told SPACE.com. "The entire R&D and production of it is just as exciting as the launch attempt itself."

The engineers, tackling the lofty goal of eventually launching a human, are relying on private funding and donations for their effort, which is costing just $70,000.

Their first launch try Sunday came after several days of delay.

The rocketeers have already compiled a list of improvements to work on before next year's attempt, according to a Sept. 7 blog post by Madsen.

What went wrong

In his post, Madsen referred to the faulty valve-heater component as a blow dryer. The Copenhagen Post reported that it was a commercial hair dryer. [10 Private Spaceships Becoming Reality]

Madsen's homemade submarine, called the Nautilus, had towed the floating platform to its designated launch site under an empty sky Sept. 5. The Nautilus' engine supplied power for the hair dryer used in the rocket to keep the liquid oxygen valve from freezing. But the submarine's engine was shut down for the launch ? and a short launch delay may have sealed the deal.

It may have been frozen lubricant in the actuator that prevented the actuator from opening the valve, according to the Danes. Another possibility is that traces of water left from an earlier pressure test froze inside the valve.

"We had to leave the heating system without power for longer than planned," von Bengtson said in an e-mail. "Those extra minutes without power were perhaps enough for the LOX valve to freeze up."

There were other possibilities for the failure to launch, but such an investigation would have to wait for the engineers' 21-person team to disassemble the rocket.

Team member Thomas Scherrer has proposed coming up with a more "elegant" heating solution for the valve, the Danes said, but either way, they plan to ensure next time that power is available leading up to the actual moment of rocket firing.

How to make it better

Future launch attempts could also benefit from more stability on the rough seas, Madsen said. One improvement would be finding a better way to secure the rocket in its standing position.

Madsen envisions an upgraded version of the Sputnik launch platform that would provide its own propulsion.

Adding a third hull beneath the Sputnik platform could free up the outer two pontoons to mainly act as stabilizers in choppy waters, he said.

"The third hull will contain a propulsion machinery, generators and steering gears for a rudder," Madsen explained in his blog post.

The upgraded Sputnik II would more or less act as a catamaran with a Kubota V3800 engine capable of doing 8 mph (7 knots).

In any case, the Danes can expect far greater attention for next year's test launch as they attempt to join other space-faring nations by someday putting a person into space.

"I think we have taken Denmark by storm," von Bengtson said. "I hope it is because people are inspired and like what we are doing."