Vertical Takeoff and Vertical Landing, Now Available for Model Rockets

Alasdair Allan
3 min readOct 27, 2017

The success of Elon Musk’s SpaceX has fundamentally altered the landscape for space companies, potentially dropping the price of access to space. They’ve done it by reusing the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket, and while it took them many less than successful attempts, they’re now making it look easy.

I guess it was just a matter of time before someone in the model rocketry space decided to try and replicate it. It turns out that person is Joe Barnard and his company Barnard Propulsion Systems.

Barnard’s Echo TV7 waits on the pad before launch. (📷: Barnard Propulsion Systems)

Barnard is developing a thrust vectoring system for model rockets similar to that used by real full-sized rockets. This sort of systems allows the rocket to adjusts the direction its motor is facing, allowing it to direct thrust sideways to keep the rocket upright in flight.

Thrust vectoring for model rockets. (📷: Barnard Propulsion Systems)

The system should also eventually allow a model rocket to land vertically under thrust, like the Falcon 9, using a second smaller rocket motor.

Released this month the Signal Alpha flight computer is the first board supporting Barnard’s Signal Avionics system.

Hold down test of thrust vectoring. (📹: Barnard Propulsion Systems)

The Signal Avionics system makes model rockets more realistic by enabling thrust vectoring at the model scale… The flight software tracks vehicle flight dynamics while the rocket is powered on. Signal looks for cues to shift system states at liftoff, burnout, apogee, and landing. Especially regarding liftoff, this makes Signal’s operation simple. Once detected, thrust vectoring is activated, in-flight abort is armed, and high-frequency data logging begins.

The Signal Alpha flight computer and thrust vectoring mount. (📷: Barnard Propulsion Systems)

The first limited production run of the Barnard’s Signal Alpha is now underway, with pre-orders being held open until the run is sold out.

Boards are expected to ship towards the middle of November. If you’re interested in picking on up you should probably go ahead. The next production run isn’t happening until January next year at the earliest, and there are only thirty Signal Alpha units available for purchase in this first production round.

The system costs $299, and is only available for sale to residents and citizens of the United States due to ITAR restrictions.