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Save Model Rocketry!

I haven't mentioned this previously, but I should have. The "Safe Explosives Act" part of the Homeland Security Act, will essentially ban model rockets, or make it so difficult to get and use the engines, because it will require getting an ATF permit, that it might as well.

In addition to being fun and educational, model rocketry is one of the paths that many took to becoming aerospace engineers. There's a movement afoot to get an exemption for model rocketry from the bill. The details can be found here. Write, fax or phone your Senators.

[Update at 2:10 PM PST]

There's an article in today's Washington Times about it.

Model-rocket hobbyists are lobbying Capitol Hill lawmakers for the exemption through faxes, e-mail messages and phone calls. They include Jay Apt, who has flown four space shuttle missions.

"It makes no more sense to restrict aerospace modeling than it would have to ban rental trucks after they were misused in Oklahoma and New York," Mr. Apt told

Actually, it makes a lot less sense. At least the rental truck was actually used for a terrorist act. No one has ever committed terrorism with a model rocket engine.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 03, 2003 01:33 PM
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Model rocket engines now. Can reloading supplies, e.g. powder & primers required to be purchased under ATF permit be far behind?

Say, who inserted that language in the HS bill?

Posted by Stephen at March 3, 2003 01:47 PM

Good question. The ATF has been wanting to do this for years, and they figured it was a good opportunity to slip it in. I don't know which congressperson they got to do it for them, though.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 3, 2003 01:53 PM

If we find out, can we duct tape a model rocket engine to his manly parts and launch them into space?

Posted by Steve at March 3, 2003 04:04 PM

Well, you can do the duct tape thing if it turns out to be a man, but I doubt if they'd make it all the way into space...

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 3, 2003 04:27 PM

With as little potential for damage as a model rocket would afford a terrorist, you'd think the DHS would be interested in *promoting* model rocketry for a distraction from other, actually dangerous improvised weapons.

Posted by T.L. James at March 3, 2003 06:29 PM

I sent my faxes off to my senators. Thought about telling them to legalize pot too but that seemed as though it would have weakened the argument for either one.

Posted by Hefty at March 4, 2003 08:55 AM

Not only has one never been used but I can't see any way that they could be used for terrorism. They simply lack the qualities necessary for a dangerous explosive device.

Posted by Chaos Overlord at March 4, 2003 10:13 AM

The claim that there is no way a model rocket could be used for terrorism simply isn't true. For instance, these photos show some larger rockets. Some of these can hit 20,000 ft and go miles down range.

Now, given the complete lack of guidance systems, they would make very poor weapons, not to mention being much harder to build and use than, say, a .223 caliber Bushmaster. Further, it's actually quite easy to make your own rocket fuel so regulating it will only stop law abiding rocketeers, who use commercially made motors for safety and convenience.

That said, I don't think we do ourselves any favors by making statements, such as "it's not possible to use model rockets as weapons", that are easily shown to be false.

Posted by Annoying Old Guy at March 4, 2003 01:46 PM

This affects model and high-power reload kits as well. UPS has already stopped shipping motors and we're expecting other companies to follow suit, especially if we don't get legislative relief. The idea is to get the same kind of exemption allowed to antique arms collectors for black powder.
I suppose it would be possible to construct a high-power rocket for use as a weapon but I can't imagine it would be very effective. Those big ones may look imposing but realize they're mostly made out of fiberglassed paper tubes. They're VERY light for their size and aren't designed to carry warheads or guidance packages. That would make a big difference in construction techniques (i.e. added weight), which in turn affects range and payload capacity.
Medium and high-power solid motors use Ammonium Perchlorate Composite Propellant (APCP), and black powder for parachute ejection charges.
There's a whole certification process you have to go through with one of the major national clubs before anyone will even sell you a motor.
So yeah, it'd be easier to rent a U-haul and fill it with who knows what. We in the model and high-power rocket hobby welcome ANY letters to your Senators at this point.

Posted by PC at March 5, 2003 07:06 AM

The BATF is having to speak publicly this week about its "perception" of us who fly model rocekts and High Poer. Thier spokeswoman said they ar3e concerned that mn0optors greeater than 63.5 grams could be used by criminals. I take great offense at those words. After serving as a nuclear engineer and submariner defending this country for 12 years. ATF has no scientific basis for the 62.5 gram weight, its using a suggested demarkation between model and High Power that came from the Consumer Product Safety counsel. Not that the BATF did not consult NASA, or the NFPA when it sestablished the CFR's ( code of federal regulations ) that we are fighting over. Simply the BATF is not a bunch of engineers or scientists, they are a federal agtency who is strong arm the rockety market. Please note ATF that some 80,000 NAR and TRA members along with some 175,000 AMA members are going to put the lime light on you. And it seems you are feeling some discomfort and having to explain yourself in public. But I am offeded you can not even do that in an honest manner. Not a simple model rocekt fflown in nearly 40 years has resulted in a fatality. No planes fell out of the sky. We work well with the FAA and the FAR's because we want a safe model rocketry hobby. And BATF you can't seem to understand that what we have accomplished without you, works.

Posted by Dave Ketchledge at March 7, 2003 04:30 PM

for additional information on the hobby rocketry crisis, go to


- iz

Posted by izzy at March 9, 2003 02:35 PM

Recently enacted Federal law threatens hobby rocketry, affecting small businesses, school science programs, and individual freedoms to pursue the hobby. provides information for journalists and others about the issues.

It is updated daily with news and TV media coverage from all around the U.S. Please check it often to stay abreast of what's happening.

If you see any media coverage which is not already listed on send an email to

Posted by izzy at March 13, 2003 09:51 PM

when I was kid ibuilt rockets and firecrackers from honemaid stuff. my rockets wemt up like m-80,s and my firecrackers wemt like rockets. I wish that Ihad had some guidence then,so did my parents. SAM DENTON

Posted by sam denton at December 22, 2004 02:10 PM

if someone gave me $5,000 and told me to make something that would cause a lot of fire and destruction, i would just go to the nearest mobile station and buy a few hundred gallons of gasoline, not a HobbyTown USA.

Posted by at July 22, 2005 07:21 PM

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