Watch a DIY Rocketeer Attempt to Land His Model Rocket Like SpaceX

Joe Barnard founded a company with the aim of matching the technical achievements in the space industry at the hobby rocket scale. Motherboard went to visit him to see how his tests of self-landing rockets are coming along.

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Dec 6 2018, 9:58pm

This video was created with GEICO.

Joe Barnard is not your typical rocketeer. His educational background is in music, not physics, and up until this year his professional life was in videography, not aerospace. Nevertheless, Barnard is now single handedly revolutionizing the hobby rocket scene by creating rockets that attempt to match the pace of development on rockets being launched by the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin. Although Barnard hasn’t landed a rocket yet, he’s gotten closer than any hobbyist has before—and he’s just getting started.

When Motherboard went to visit Barnard at his apartment / “rocket lab” in Nashville, Tennessee, he told us that his interest in rocketry started when he was a kid. Although this youthful hobby was put aside when Barnard went to Berklee College of Music, he never lost touch with his roots. Then on a fateful day in 2015, Barnard found himself watching test videos of early SpaceX flights.

“I saw a video of this and realized that’s what I want to be doing,” Barnard said. There was just one problem: Aerospace companies aren’t exactly hiring too many musicians these days. Rather than return to school to get an engineering degree, however, Barnard decided to make the aerospace industry come to him. He resolved to teach himself how to code, do 3D modeling and the basics of rocket science in the hopes that it would attract the attention of SpaceX.

Three years later, Barnard said he has accomplished his original goal insofar as he has received inquiries from various aerospace companies, which he declined to name. Now, however, his goals have changed. Now he said he’s focused on pushing his company, Barnard Propulsion Systems, as far as it can go.

As documented on Barnard’s YouTube channel, he’s made remarkable progress on his homemade rockets. His initial goal was to incorporate flight vectoring—the ability to alter the angle of the rocket exhaust—into model rockets has now expanded to using this technique to land his model rockets just like SpaceX. For the second episode of ETA, Barnard gave Motherboard a demonstration of his self-landing when we visited, which was frustratingly close to success.

Barnard is accustomed to tests going wrong, but this hasn’t dampened his hopes for his rockets.

“I would love to send something to the moon,” Barnard said. “But there are a lot of steps between where I am now and what is required to send something that far, that accurately.”