Project Overview

The EX5 project was officially completed on the morning of 26 August 2012. The project’s main objective was to prove that active guidance of a rocket by entirely mechanical means is possible. The results of the project were thus indeterminate: due to ignition failures, the guidance system of the rocket was never fully activated. In fact, the ignition systems turned out to be the Achilles heel of the entire project. With more time, the ignition problems were resolvable, but the project had to be terminated because of the departure of its chief engineer and architect. Video from project coverage is being compiled, in the meantime please enjoy video of the launch failures from the project’s last day.

Percent Complete: 100% (26 of 26 tasks complete)

Component Status Percent Complete
Vehicle Done 100% Complete (5 of 5 tasks finished)
Boosters Done 100% Complete (5 of 5 tasks finished)
Guidance Done 100% Complete (9 of 9 tasks finished)
Launch Systems: Pad Done 100% Complete (7 of 7 tasks finished)


Responsibility Assignee
Vehicle Chris
Boosters James
Guidance Joe
Launch Systems: Pad Joe

All tasks and their dependencies


Originally the EX5 project was an idea for a rocket with 5 E-rated motors. Two motors would be in boosters; the other three would be clustered inside the main rocket body. The two main challenges were the separation of the boosters and the planned in-flight ignition of the cluster after booster separation. It was a staged rocket with boosters instead of stages.

The weight kept adding up. There needed to be systems to capture the booster motors’ ejection charges to separate the boosters. There needed to be enough batteries on board for the in-flight ignition. This rocket was going to fly slowly. Too slowly for fins to work. Add another requirement to the project challenges: keep it flying straight.

Maybe keeping it flying straight was a better challenge anyway. A guidance system would be needed, and that would make the rocket heavy, but that’s where the boosters come in. The main rocket body only contains the guidance system, and the guidance system uses only one motor to express its wishes. The other four motors are in boosters.

The complexity of the challenge quickly became apparent. A special pad had to be designed in order to prevent roasting of the motor mounts during liftoff. The guidance column couldn’t transmit its steering motor’s ejection charge, so the responsibility of recovery had to go to the boosters. The rocket body needed myriad interfaces for all the components that were going to be attached.

In the end, four main components were identified: vehicle, boosters, guidance, and pad (or the nebulous “launch systems”). Each of these systems has been under construction geo-separately. Launch date was originally planned for mid-June.


We are doing this project because it is hard. It is complex, it is confusing, and success is not guaranteed; but difficulty ignites us to meet the challenge.

We are completing this hard project by applying engineering methods to the project process. We are dividing the project into components. We are identifying every task before we start any of them. We are making the project progress “visible,” and we are testing every component before calling it “done.”

What are we doing? We are launching a finless rocket.

All-up Test Video:

12 July: Added new tasks to Guidance Spec and Pad Spec
5 July: Added new video to Project Overview: The Next Generation
26 June: Added dependency chart to Project Overview
24 June: Added new video to Pad Spec: Pad Static Test
23 June: Switched “all-up” test from Booster Spec to Vehicle Spec
19 June: Added new task to Pad Spec: Pad System Test
18 June: Added pictures of project’s current state
2 June: Added new team member (Mitch) to task list
14 May: Added video of latest version of guidance column to Guidance page.


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