Testimonial by James Gibbs (HidroMAX 3D Printing)

Fun and Science with the HidroMAX Water Rocket Launcher and TiltMAX Parachute Recovery System

Water Rockets are:

  • An affordable, educational hobby using water, compressed air and (Pepsi) PET soda bottles that can safely withstand pressure of 100 PSI. 
  • No chemicals, fire or hazardous materials are required to explore the world of rocketry.
  • An integral part of education curriculums all around the planet.
  • A low cost hobby - as long as there is water in the tap and someone is ready to pump air, rockets can be launched. 

The internet shows extent of this activity - from enthusiasts with amazing multi-bottle creations, to dedicated scientific researchers achieving new altitude records of a thousand feet and more with highly pressurized, carbon reinforced PET bottles.

Why are water rockets fun?

  • Rocketeers can build, decorate and fly their own creations
  • Competitions are frequently conducted all around the galaxy with events such as accuracy, altitude and technical capability (e.g. staging systems)
  • It is an exciting and fun outdoor activity for families, schools and individuals.
  • A fun way to explore science 

Why did we develop the HidroMAX?

When shopping for a good water rocket launch system with my 6 year old boy, there was nothing out there that really did what we wanted... At that time, we were also involved in science education outreach programs in schools that required a water rocket launcher that was both safe and dependable.

We searched for a launcher that was easy to transport, had an adjustable trajectory, could be triggered remotely (not with strings or other trigger devices that moved or pulled the rocket over) and had a reliable recovery system so our rockets did not become lawn darts. 

Additionally, we wanted to be easily vary nozzle diameters to provide greater experimentation and science value of water rockets.

We quickly learnt that, compared to other aviation based hobbies such as RC airplanes, helicopters and quadcopters, water rocketry has not benefitted from the same kind of commercial development. The reality is that there are many water rocket scientists who are responsible for significant developments in water rocket technology though many of these developments are yet to be converted into products. Our objective here is to make it easy for everyone to enjoy both the science and fun  of this cool hobby by providing an easy to use, mass produced, launch and recovery system.

With this in mind, and a background in 3D CAD, we decided to develop our own launcher with the features we needed. And so, the HidroMAX Water Rocket Launch System was born.

HidroMAX and 3D printing

The design was worked on and off for 2 or more years though it was not until quality desktop 3D printers arrived that we were able to first test our design. 

We purchased a 3D Printer Sdn Bhd UP! Plus printer that provided outstanding print quality. Through refining post-printing treatments, we created parts capable of withstanding significant pressures… up to 130 PSI - we think this is pretty amazing!

These results inspired us to continue on with the development program. Ideas spawned on a Sunday were being designed, printed, redesigned and tested by Wednesday! 

The reason why we like the 3D Printer Sdn Bhd UP! Plus 3D printer is because of the print quality. Parts produced are treated with acetone to bond the layers together then lacquered to produce results not far from molded parts. An additional benefit with this printer is that very little model cleanup is required. Our UP! Plus 3D printer has not stopped now for 8 months producing many hundreds of parts for prototypes 24/7. Low cleanup significantly assists this process.

When looking back at earlier prototypes, it is clear to see that without 3D printing, going to manufacture, (making expensive mold and dies), would have been a disaster at that time. For sure, those earlier design iterations, even though functional, had so many bugs that it was highly likely we would have wasted many expensive molds and hence jeopardized the entire project. One clear example of this was that earlier, the main body of the launcher and tilt hinge was all plastic. Even though the release mechanism worked well, we found that the whole assembly swayed when the rocket was loaded onto the launch pad. We moved to an aluminium support structure that fixed not only the swaying problem but also dramatically reduced the tooling cost for that part. 

By far the most interesting aspect of this project was the developing the parachute recovery system. The challenge here lay in figuring out a lightweight and reliable method of triggering a parachute release at the rockets apogee. We found an excellent tilt sensor that works great in zero-g environment and built our electro-mechanical release module, the TiltMAX PRS arounds this sensor. Here, again, after around four major 3D printed design revisions, we now know we can deliver an excellent and mature product.

For sure this product is a testament of the new paradigm where 3D printing is an integral part of the design process. Thank you UP! Plus 3D printer!!

Water vs. Chemical Rockets

Although Chemical rockets are an amazing amount of fun, there are several drawbacks with this technology for hobbyists.

Chemical (solid fuel) rockets:

  • Are difficult to purchase (especially outside the US) 
  • Dangerous to transport
  • Are hot and can burn
  • Require expert handling
  • Can cause fires
  • Make authorities nervous about security aspects of the wrong people gaining access. 

Additionally, other than the size of the engine, there are few parameters that can be varied with a chemical rocket engine; it;s either on or off - same like a space shuttle booster.

Water rockets are capable of providing higher levels of science discovery in that parameters such as rocket overall volume, water load, pressures and, now, with the HidroMAX, nozzle diameter, may all be varied. All flight characteristics may then be calculated and later checked against data collected by accelerometers carried aloft as payload.

Other fun things to do with water rockets include multi-staging systems (under development), cameras and micro-gravity experiments to name a few.

The HidroMAX Water Rocket Launching System

What is included with a Hidromax Launcher?

The HidroMAX Launch and Recovery System represents a new generation of water rocket launching with remote firing, a reliable tilt operated parachute system, an advanced nozzle mounted guide fin and safety systems.

This product is a giant step forwards in water rocket launching technology and is intended to be for both family fun and worthwhile science.

A basic rocket launch kit will include a HidroMAX Launcher, a rocket kit and a remote launch trigger. (a bicycle pump or car tyre compressor will be also needed). Naturally, having a Parachute Recovery System (PRS) is nice to have though not essential. 

For rocket construction, the nozzles, fins and launch guide are provided. Thereafter, it is up to the creativity of the rocketeer to build the rest. For this - a couple of empty soda bottles and an hour or so of time is all that is needed.

The TiltMAX PRS will include the trigger module and the components to construct the parachute holding bay. Additional PET bottles will be required to cut to form the housing, release spring and door. This will also require around one hours work with basic tools such as scissors and cable ties.

HidroMAX will ship either as an ARF (Almost Ready to Fly – just need to add bottles and pump) or as an interesting self-assembly kit for more serious hobbyists. 

Features of the launcher include:

  • Folding base
  • Pneumatically controlled “Air-Remote” firing system
  • Variable nozzle diameter system from 5-12mm
  • Variable launch guide system suits bottle diameter 50-100mm 
  • Easy fin attachment system (low down near center of pressure for increased stability.
  • Adjustable launch trajectory 
  • Tilts to 90° for rocket loading
  • Safety purge valve enables controlled launch aborts.
  • ‘TiltMAX’ Electro mechanical parachute release mechanism 
  • Variable guide rod for launch accuracy
  • Pressurized system lock prevents accidental launch while system is pressurized (requires system purge to reset)
  • Check valve prevents rocket fuel entering the pneumatic system.
  • Removable splash deflector 
  • Uses high quality pneumatic and stainless steel fittings
  • Soon to come – staging system

About the HidroMAX Launcher

The production version of the HidroMAX Launcher will be constructed of quality injection molded components, anodized aluminium structural faceplate and folding legs. All pneumatic and assembly hardware are stainless steel to ensure great looks as well as longevity.

The “Air Launch” System

Central to the launcher is the patented remote “Air-Launch” system. Here, compressed air is used to both charge and release the rocket through system pressurization and depressurization. As the rocket is pressurized, the mechanism is automatically armed. To fire the rocket, the feed-line air pressure is purged at the remote controller. This makes countdowns exciting; especially when using our Cape Canaveral type push button remote firing switch.

The launch mechanism also features a safety lock that prevents accidental rocket release at the launch pad once the system is pressurized. If launch abort is required, pressure can be safely released through the purge button that vents pressurized rocket fuel away from launcher.

The Launcher Body

The launch pad permits the launch head assembly to be rotated up to an angle of 90 degrees.

This rotation makes it possible to:

  • Vary the launch trajectory to be adjusted to compensate for different wind conditions 
  • To permit the launcher to be used to fire rockets at a low trajectory in situations where accuracy over distance is accuracy, perhaps in rocket competitions. 
  • To prevent water loss whilst loading the rocket onto the launcher the entire launcher assembly is rotated 90 degrees. 

Also included in the launcher body is the variable launch guide rod that accommodates different rocket diameters.

Variable Nozzle and Fin Attachment system

Until now, most water rockets have been limited to fixed nozzle diameters or even just use the open end of the bottle as the nozzle. This significantly limits the potential for experimentation with rocket performance. The HidroMAX Launcher has a system of interchangeable nozzle diameters from 5 -12mm that permits awesome science as well as providing impressive flights. Here rocketeers can adjust fuel (water) loads, air pressure, bottle size and nozzle diameter and then observe the changes in performance and flight characteristics.

As a unique feature of the HidroMAX system, the fins are attached directly to the nozzle.

This has several benefits:

  • Low attachment point for flight stability
  • Different fin shapes can be experimented with that can be attached quickly and reliably 
  • No glue or tape is required for fin attachment
  • Safety release in case of impact with person, building or dog.

Carry Case

All the above fits into a snappy aluminium carry case that will make any rocketeer look like Men in Black at the launch site.

Thereafter, enjoy realistic rocket flights with reliable returns to earth.

Other Features in Pipeline (release date to be announced)

Payload bay – carry cameras, eggs or experiments aloft in the payload bay.
Staging system – join rockets together for multistage launches.

The TiltMAX Parachute Rescue System

Having a reliable parachute recovery system for water rockets is essential. Until now, there are no dependable, commercially available systems for ejecting a water rocket parachute.

The TiltMAX recovery system is based on the trajectory angle of the rocket. As the angle of flight moves beyond 60° to vertical, a (non-mercury) tilt sensor activates the release trigger for the parachute. A lightweight, secure mounting system makes the whole assembly easy to mount in a rocket irrespective of bottle diameter.

The HidroMAX at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida.

3D printed prototype versions of the HidroMAX launcher and recovery systems are now in use at the Kennedy Space Center Florida (here, especially, chemical rocketry has difficulty with approvals).

Also at the Kennedy Space Center are people exploring micro gravity experiments in conjunction with the outreach programs using the HidroMAX Launcher.

Atlantis Educational Services, Inc., are currently tasked to operate the education programs at KSC. From now, visitors attending the Space Camps at Cape Canaveral will have the opportunity to explore water rocket science using the HidroMAX rocket Launcher.

The feedback from those attending the classes is excellent with a high percentage of aspiring astronauts also wishing to take a launcher home with them.