Landing a Rocket Vertically, Without Being a Billionaire Aka Rocket Drone





Introduction: Landing a Rocket Vertically, Without Being a Billionaire Aka Rocket Drone

Trash to Treasure

This is an entry in the
Trash to Treasure

This is my patent pending Rocket Drone.
Since SpaceX and Blue Origin achieved the vertical landing of their own rockets, to obtain the reusability of the Falcon 9 and the New Shepard, I've been fascinated (and obsessed at the same time), by these accomplishments. In short words, I've designed my own rocket (on a small budget) to have the same "fun", on a smaller scale!

Of course, propellers don't work in outer space.
Actually it would be better to say, not above the stratosphere. The maximum altitude reached by an aircraft with propellers is nearly 30,000 meters (moving forward). This altitude has been achieved by the prototype Helios, developed by NASA. In 1972 a Chopper helicopter reached the altitude of 40,000 ft.

Anyway, beyond the provocation of the title of this Instructable, and beyond the pure fun there is in launching and landing vertically the Rocket Drone, I've built it, mainly because I've noticed the drones on the market have a deployment/ascending speed pretty slow (the DJI products are between 4 to 6 meters per second). The Rocket Drone is nearly 3 times faster (12 meters per second), using compressed air and water and it can be even faster using a solid fuel motor (Estes Rockets). The unique feature of the shafts controlled remotely, allows the Rocket Drone to be deployed in a matter of seconds.

I've already created the 3D drawing of it, but (regrettably), I can't afford to buy a 3D printer, therefore all the parts of the Rocket Drone have been built from scratch (mostly using PET soda bottles).

The only parts 3D printed are the hinges (I spent 90£ to print them in nylon).

Having a proper budget this drone should be fully autonomous, using a Pixhawk controller that starts the engines as soon as a barometric sensor detects the apogee. Using a GPS the drone should stop in mid-air for a few seconds, to stabilize itself and using the precision landing IR-Locks and IR Beacons, plus my magnetic platform, should land autonomously.

I believe that a Rocket Drone built in that way could be used by the law enforcement and by militaries (patrol and reconnaissance).

Although I'm patenting the Rocket Drone, I'm open to a collaboration. I think that building a proper prototype and presenting the finished product on any crowdfunding platform, would raise the interest of a lot of funders.

Step 1: Shopping List

A large quadcopter

XinXun X30, or a Wltoys V262 (cheaper), or a V666 Quadcopter with 6 Axis Gyro

4 Permanent magnets 2cmx1cmx2mm (for the landing gear)

8x Extension Springs: Diameter0.5cm Length 0.8cm 14+2 Windings for the hooks (Hinges)

2x A4 Correx 4mm sheet black (Fins and pyro rocket motor mount)

2 PET 1.5Litre Soda Bottle

4 Zip ties

1 Lid of cotton buddies 6.8cm diameter (New Battery Holder)

1 Kitchen foil cardboard roll (pyro rocket motor mount)

2 Popsicle sticks (pyro rocket motor mount)

1 Ferromagnetic sheet 50cmx50cm (Landing Platform)

1 Polystyrene (57cmx57x4cm) the one used for the packaging of kitchen furniture - Landing Platform

2 Paper clips (Hinges)

1 Lid taken from the soap dispenser (the thread match perfectly the one of the soda bottle)

1 Male Gardena Connector (Water rocket module)

1 Estes Motor (D12-0 for Pyro Module)

Electrical tape

Duct tape

Hot Glue

UHU POR (foam friendly)

CorrosionX (If you are going to use the water rocket module)

Painting (water based)

Step 2: Buy a XinXun X30 or a Wltoys V262 (cheaper), or a V666 Quadcopter With 6 Axis Gyro

You can buy a large Wltoys V262 quadcopter here...

Or you can go on Ebay and waiting for a good bargain (as I did), of models such as:

the XinXun X30, or a Wltoys V262 (which is generally cheaper than the V666 quadcopter), equipped with 6 axis gyro.

I paid my V262 £30! Not bat, isn't it?

I watched a video on Youtube about how much weight the V262 can handle and, according to RavingMadProduction, the total weight AUW can be 430g (or even more), but the lighter the Rocket Drone will be, the better control you'll have.

Step 3: Printing 3D the Hinges

The video above is about the early development of the Rocket Drone. Even though the launch was successful, I want to underline that I've understood immediately the foldable shafts were indispensable, because:

1) They decrease the drag/load on motors and propellers. Using the water rocket module, at 74 psi of pressure, the force at the start of launch tube is 37 Newton. Therefore, the load on shafts is around 4Kg (Torque=ForcexDistance).

In short words, after a few launches (without using the folding shafts), it's inevitable to break the booms.

2) They allow the Rocket Drone to reach a higher altitude (aka straight ascending trajectory), because the rocket is well balanced, having the motors positioned at the CG (Centre of Gravity). A predictable (and straight) trajectory, means more safety during the launching and landing phase.

Therefore it was necessary to create the folding shafts, using some 3D printed hinges (initially designed 2D by me and put in 3D by a friend who is an expert in 3D drawing).

The file is available on

You need also 8x Extension Springs: Diameter 0.5cm Length 0.8cm 14+2 Windings for the hooks

Step 4: Fitting the Quadcopter Inside the Water Bottle.

As I mentioned before, even though I have "ready to print" in 3D all the parts of the Rocket Drone, I don't have the 3D printer, therefore I have been forced to use recycled parts (mostly PET 1.5 Litre soda bottles).

In fact, printing all the parts will cost me a fortune!!!

Anyway, let's start to attach the quadcopter. Basically, you need to cut 1 PET 1.5 Litre soda bottle in 2 parts.

Using 4 zip ties you will attach the support of the controller to the base of the plastic bottle, covering the pcb with the upper part the water bottle you have previously cut. You have also to cut the neck of the soda bottle, closing the hole with some duct tape and a tennis table ball, cut in half. In this way your Rocket Drone will have a proper nose cone. Cut also 4 x 5mm stripes, to slide the top of the bottle on the shafts of the drone.

Step 5: Cutting the Shafts

This operation requires a lot of patience and accuracy.

You should cut the carbon shaft (please use a protective mask and a wet cloth when you are doing this operation), at

11.2cm from the motors shafts.

Make a mark on the carbon shafts and, using a small hacksaw cut them, without cutting the 4 cables there are inside of it!

Shafts are squared and very thin. You should make small precise cuts on all the sides of it.

Ideally when the shaft is bent, the landing gear should touch the cylinder of the rocket, keeping an angle of 90 degrees.

Step 6: Fitting the Hinges

Again, this job requires a lot of patience.

You should remove the shafts from the quadcopter (take a picture to remember the exact position).

Remove from the controller the motor connectors and the LED connectors.

Using a file and some sand paper, make the surface of the 3D printed hinges smoother.

Using a small screwdriver, make the holes bigger enough to fit a small paper clip inside the hinge and cut it to the right size.

Once you have done that, start to open and close the hinges until the parts will be able to move freely, with no friction at all. Please note that this task is very tediuos.

Now slide the 2 parts of the carbon shaft inside the hinges, reattaching the arms to the controller.

The position of the hinges should be at 11.2cm from the motors Shafts and 6.3cm from the motors holders.

Ideally, when the shaft is bent, the landing gear should touch the cylinder of the rocket.

Anyway, at the end of this process, secure the top of the soda bottle to the lower part of it, using some duct tape.

Step 7: Making a New Battery Holder

The current battery of the V262 has a 25C rate which is not enough to decelerate the Rocket Drone during the descending phase.

You need to buy a battery which is light (42 grams) and at the same time powerful enough to withstand the weight of the Rocket Drone (420 grams). I chose a discharging rate of 70C.

Remove the hold battery older (using the screw) and fit the new one, which is made using a lid of the cotton buddies. With a height of 3.3cm and a weight of just 7.8 grams it's ideal to keep the new battery in place.

Also the diameter of this lid fits perfectly with the support of the controller.

You just need to cut the rectangle on one side, to slide the battery in.

The battery cover will be sandwiched between the drone and the soda bottle, using 4 zip ties.

I've also put some thin foam inside of the new battery holder. In this way the battery won't move during the flight.

Step 8: Making the Rocket Module (Water or Pyro? This Is the Question)

There are a lot of tutorials that explain how to build a water rocket, or a pyro one.

Air Command Water Rockets, US Water Rockets and The King of Random have published fantastic videos on Youtube. You basically need to build a "booster" (aka a rocket without the nose cone), that later is going to be connected to the drone part you have previously made.

The only thing you should consider is that if you want to swap the modules, you should have the same diameter/height. Initially, for my pyro rocket module I've used a cardboard/postal tube for the documents (diameter 79mm), but it was too heavy, therefore, I've swapped it with a PET soda bottle (diameter 80mm).

If you want to use a model rocket motor (Estes Rockets), you should design the fins in a way that are not going to get burnt during the exhaustion phase.

To make your life easier, you can use the 1st drawing (1st fin on the left), for both modules.

To be sure 100% the fins are not going to be melted, glue a small piece of silver foil to the part closer to the rocket motor.

Please be aware that a bigger area of the fins moves the CP (centre of pressure) toward the tail of the rocket.

Once you have built your water/pyro rocket, test it!

To do that, first secure the drone part to the rocket module (pyro/water), using some electrical tape.

Fold the arms and tie a string around the CG (centre of gravity). The CG should be at 27.5cm of height.

Clear the space around you (according to the length of the string) and very carefully start to spin the Rocket Drone.

If everything is ok, the Rocket Drone should fly straight (nose first). If this thing doesn't happen, you should create bigger fins to move the centre of pressure toward the tail. Ideally, the distance between CG and CP should be at least the diameter of the rocket itself.

Attach 4 permanent magnets 2cmx1cmx2mm at the base of the fins. This will keep the Rocket Drone still when it lands on the ferromagnetic platform.

Another important thing for your safety, test the rocket motor holder with a dumbbell that matches the amount of force exerted by the rocket engine.

In my case I'm going to have an initial impulse of 32 Newton, therefore I've decided to put a 4Kg dumbbell to test the solidity of my motor holder.

If you want to use the water rocket module, I would strongly recommend you to waterproof all the electronics of the quadcopter, using some CorrosionX.

You can also paint your rocket module, using your favourite colour.

Step 9: (Ferro) Magnetic Landing Platform / Barge

Of Course I Still Love You!

Ehm... don't get me wrong, but this is my favorite name for SpaceX ASDS (Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship).

This one and the other one (aka Just Read the Instructions), have been named by Elon Musk after two of
the sentient, planet-sized Culture starships which first appear in Ian M. Banks' sci-fi novel "The Player of Games".

I decided to name mine "You were always on my mind", as I've had this project in my head... for a while.

Anyway, the landing pad is a piece of squared (57cmx57cmx4cm) polystyrene, wrapped with duct tape.

In this way it's water resistant and it can even float as a barge!!!

I also glued a sheet 50cmx50cmx1mm of ferromagnetic material, on top of the polystyrene square.

It will work perfectly with the 4 permanent magnets attached to the fins of the Rocket Drone.

Step 10: Have Fun, Stay Safe

Launch and land the Rocket Drone in "safe places", far from people, animals and properties.

If you are a beginner, to have a better orientation of the Rocket Drone after the launch, leave on the quadcopter the propellers with different colours (Red/Orange Forward and Black Backward).

For the launch pad, please take a look at my Instructables competition finalist

"PVC Water Rocket Modular Launch Pad With Gardena Connector"

If you'd like to use my PVC Water Rocket Launch Pad to launch Pyro Rockets, please take a look at my Instructable:

Last but not least, I've made another tutorial that shows you how I've built a Rocket Launcher Controller.

For this huge project, nearly everything has been built from scratch... more or less.

Step 11: Add-on Landing Gear SpaceX Falcon 9 Way Aka Something That Looks Like That ;-)

I thought it was really cool to add the landing gear to my Rocket Drone, but I don't have any gimbal that stabilizes the thruster (I use solid fuel motor), therefore I need to use the fins to have a predictable flight path. Basically I've been able to keep the fins (thinner this time), in the right place to have the right CP (centre of pressure). The descend of the landing gear gives a proper structure to the fins, creating a sort of stable tripod. In this way I've decreased the total weight of 10 grams, adding a cool feature. That's why is called rocket science, you'll never stop to learn something new.



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    2 thoughts:

    Would a rare earth magnet latching system for the booms possibly be lighter and easier?

    Perhaps this hybrid idea would work as well. Use fabric between the rotor arms creating a parachute like surface. Going up it would be pressed against the rocket body, but once it started falling to earth the fabric would push the arms up. With a locking mechanism and simple microswitches wired in series, when all booms were up the power and guidance system would kick in. That would eliminate the need for a Pixhawk controller and barometric sensor trigger.

    Wait, I mean... weight! :-)

    Keeping on eye on the weight of the rocket (according to the speed), is very important in rocket science.

    I've previously tested the permanent magnets version of the hinges (that was my second drawing out of 5 versions created).

    For my Rocket Drone, to keep the shafts in place, you need a force of 0.25 Newton per meter. Using the "right for this torque" permanent magnets, you'll end up in adding another 20 grams, plus the weight of the hinges.

    The permanent magnets are also difficult to separate remotely (always keeping the weight in mind).

    Regarding your system to deploy the shafts, in my humble opinion is going to be "a bit" unreliable.

    After the burnout the rocket experience nearly 0G (gravity), except for the drag on the rocket, which creates a negative acceleration. When the rocket reaches the apogee, (lowering the drag), it will inevitably start to coast, deploying the shafts in an erratic way. Plus, the parachute will probably interfere with the prop wash of the propellers, causing an uncontrolled flight.

    Theoretically, if at apogee the rocket was straight (without coasting), as soon as the drag is lowered, the shafts will come up by themselves, without even using a parachute and without even throttling up the motors, because of the nearly 0G state, but knowing that throtthling up the motors will lock firmly the shafts in place, makes the flight experience less nerves wrecking and, most important thing, safer!

    The Pixhawk is necessary, firstly as a controller for the autonomous flight and secondly because you can eventually choose - precisely - when to deploy the shafts in a very reliable way.

    This is brilliant. I had been looking at similar ideas but in my case I wanted to launch a rocket using a High Power engine, or series of engines, and get it up high enough to deploy a glider, fly autonomously (while shooting video of course) to land where it started. If you want some stuff printed, shoot me a note with some STLs. Maybe we can merge both our projects.

    For the HPR you need to get the certification, that's why I kept my Rocket Drone lighter as possible. In this way I can use an Estes Rocket D12-0 motor, (which is not expensive), having a "nearly" real rocket experience.

    Regarding your project, an italian Company made a similar thing building an autonomous glider, that reaches the altitude of 35km using a weather balloon.

    Thanks for your help. I have all the .stl ready to print, but also I need a proper budget to buy the parts that will make the Rocket Drone fully autonomous.

    Awesome Project. We've built out share of water rockets, some landed with and some without a parachute. None landed as cool as yours, ever!

    Thanks... it took a lot of time to make it work!