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World’s First 3D Printed, Rocket Powered Aircraft Mission, LOHAN, Takes to Kickstarter for Funding

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After a three-year research and design period, the LOHAN mission’s Vulture 2 3D rocket is finally set to take off from Spaceport America, New Mexico in Autumn 2014.  That’s if funding of £30,000 is achieved with their campaign on Kickstarter.com. While the 3D rocket was originally slated to take off in Spain, legal restrictions blocked their initial plans. Moving the launch from Europe to the U.S. is no small feat, and (see more at The Register) thus a fundraising effort on Kickstarter is open for public donations. All funds are being allocated for fees, flights, transport, spaceport fees, and basic expenses, and always with a sense of humor, to include “a starvation diet of beans and rice.”

Avionics - long

The LOHAN (Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator) mission is the baby of cheeky London website The Register, operating under their Special Projects Bureau (SPB). As a worthy successor to their PARIS mission (Paper Aircraft Released into Space), the LOHAN project has been ongoing since 2011. The PARIS project consisted of a mission to launch a lightweight paper vehicle, dubbed Vulture 1, into the mid-stratosphere. In 2010, they launched it successfully to 90,000 feet (17 miles high) and earned a spot in Guinness World Records. Following PARIS, they decided to outdo themselves with the LOHAN project, using 3D printing (by 3T RPD) to create a sturdier body from its predecessor. Designed by postgraduate aeronautical design students from the UK’s Southampton University, Vulture 2 has gradually acquired greater avionics power than originally conceived, and will house onboard electronics, camera and motors. It will be lifted to the edge of the earth’s atmosphere by a weather balloon and its GPS will guide it to a specified landing point.

Vulture 2 3D parts

Vulture 2 3D parts

With a large team of volunteers investing time and money, their original mission was to send a rocket plane to high altitude with assistance from a helium balloon, but the mission itself has taken on a far greater scope than they imagined in the beginning. Their project so far has included:

team members (from L-R) Paul Shackleton, Rob Eastwood, Anthony Stirk, Dave Akerman and El Reg's Drew Cullen

team members (from L-R) Paul Shackleton, Rob Eastwood, Anthony Stirk, Dave Akerman and El Reg’s Drew Cullen

  • Seven high-altitude avionics and motor ignition electronics flights
  • Epic struggle to persuade the rocket motor to fire at low temperature and pressure
  • Construction of flying truss launch platform
  • Failed attempt to launch from Spain due to rocket motor reload import restrictions
  • Current fundraising effort on Kickstarter

Their European team, made of volunteers, is working in tandem with Colorado’s Edge Research Lab, who are also working for “minimal financial reward.”  So now the launch relies on the Kickstarter funding.

Those who make donations will receive an array of different “rewards,” depending on the size of their donation. Beginning with just simply having their name mentioned on a long list, contributors can also donate to receive mugs, beer tankards, tee shirts, patches, advertising, as well the opportunity to be a “main launch sponsor.”

Hopefully years of effort will propel Vulture 2 into “near space,” elevating the process of 3D printing further into the spotlight as well. As stated on The Register’s website, “if it were simple, somebody else would have already done it.” We certainly wish them best of luck and a happy landing. Have you backed this project?  It is only a short ways away from its Kickstarter goal.  Let us know in the LOHAN 3D Printed rocket forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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