Image: Joe Barnard / BPS Space
To call Joe Barnard an "amateur" rocketeer is something of a misnomer.
As the founder of Barnard Propulsion Systems (BPS), a small business making flight hardware for other amateur rocketeers, the 25-year-old Nashville resident is working on cracking propulsive landings for model rockets. This is the same principle that allows SpaceX to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rockets after boosting a payload to orbit, but it has never been demonstrated in hobby rocketry before.
The key to propulsive landings is thrust vectoring, which enables control over the direction of a rocket's engines during flight to change its trajectory and stabilize the vehicle. Barnard is a pioneer in DIY thrust vectoring, and in the last few months he's harnessed the technique to test self-landing model-scale rockets. As some of the most recent videos on his YouTube channel demonstrate, there are still a few kinks left to work out, but it's pretty impressive what he's managed to accomplish so far.
Although thrust vectoring has been used in the aerospace industry for nearly a century, it was a technology generally considered to be too complex and expensive for amateur use. Barnard wants to change that.
"There have been maybe five independent projects in the last ten years trying to incorporate thrust vectoring in their rockets," Barnard told me on the phone. "Generally speaking it doesn't go so well or it never gets to the point of flying. No one else has carried it through to the point where I'm at right now."