Chapter 43: No Space In Space
Another product of the astonishingly creative mind of Yorkshire inventor Kevin Spout was displayed today. This time the venue was a football field a mile or so from the Spout family home in Sheffield. Madazine’s science reporter Axel Griess was invited to view the proceedings.
Kevin explained that his latest idea had come to him while he was listening to a radio programme concerning the possibility of astronauts landing on Mars and returning safely to the Earth. “The speakers chose to ignore the main problem,” said Kevin. “As matters stand, we shall be unable to leave this planet until we have got rid of the junk we have sent up to encircle it. We are quarantined by our own trash. I know I am not the first to notice this, but I intend to take the lead in doing something about it.”
Armed with this notion, Kevin constructed a rocket which he says is the forerunner of a much bigger version, soon to be produced. Both are two-stage machines, fuelled by a combination of refined petroleum (RP - 1), oxygen and hydrogen, both liquefied, plus a secret ingredient which will be revealed later.
As with other rockets of this kind, the task of the large first stage is to hurl the craft up to a certain height, then the smaller second stage takes over to place the payload into an orbit that can be varied as required. The final operation in this case is the deployment of a funnel-shaped scoop, intended to emerge from the nose cone and expand, then gather up any space debris it encounters. When it is full, a membrane closes over its mouth and the apparatus falls back into the atmosphere and burns up. The objective of today’s test was to reach a sub-orbital position and establish that all the parts worked as planned.
Blast-off was at ten o’clock this morning. The launch pad was an array of pallets, borrowed from a local warehouse. About two hundred spectators watched as Kevin strode to the base of the rocket and started the first-stage ignition by lighting a short fuse. He then retreated swiftly.
The craft ascended at a much slower rate than predicted and ran out of fuel when well short of the altitude its designer had in mind for the first phase of the operation. As it came to a halt, two of its four tail fins, intended to act as in-flight stabilisers, fell from the housing. This unbalanced the rocket, which immediately swung through one hundred and eighty degrees and began to fall, retracing exactly the path of its climb.