Spectator Information

General Information

 

Attending a VAST rocket launch event is a fun, family-friendly activity. Not only are the flights exciting, it allows you the opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy the fresh air and outdoors. It’s also a much better activity for your kids than sitting in front of the television or video game console. If you plan on attending a VAST launch as a spectator, below are some things you should know.

 

Launch Times and Scheduling


As with any outdoor activity, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Launches may be canceled or postponed due to inclement weather or field conditions. The scheduled range hours are also approximate and may be adapted to the situation as necessary. If questionable conditions exist, please check the launch status indicator on the main page of the VAST website before heading to the launch site.

The published range hours are typically the outer limits of when launches will occur - that is, launches do not take place prior to the scheduled start time or after the ending time. Our launches are governed by a Certificate of Authorization issued to VAST by the FAA which includes start and stop times that are not generally flexible.

There is no real advance schedule of events. Rocketeers may announce their intent to fly a certain project at a certain launch, but there are many variables involved that can affect the actual ability to launch. If you attend looking to see a specific project fly, please understand that invariably some flights get delayed and even scrubbed altogether. When this occurs, the flyers are far more disappointed that anyone else, but it is done in the interest of safety and/or the desired success of the flight.

There is almost no way of knowing how many flyers will attend and how many launches will take place. During the warmer months, VAST launches are generally attended by 10 to 20 flyers that make an average of 30 to 60 total flights. Colder months tend to draw fewer flyers that make an average of only 10 to 20 flights. Nearly all projects are individual endeavors and each rocketeer has their own set of constraints to deal with. Sometimes there may be lull periods when no launches take place. Other times there may be half a dozen rockets launched consecutively.

 

Launch Operations and Flights


As mentioned, the FAA issues VAST a Certificate of Authorization that allows us to fly into controlled airspace. VAST has been given clearance to launch up to 10,000 feet above ground level (AGL) at its launch site near Monterey. Even though we are allotted up to 10,000 feet, most flights are typically in the 500 to 3,000 foot range and are easily visible throughout their entire flight profile.

For the safety of other aircraft sharing the airspace, a Notice to Airman (NOTAM) is issued before each event to notify pilots of our activity. Additionally, the Launch Control Officer (LCO) will scan the sky during launch operations prior to launching any rocket. If something is spotted or heard, operations are suspended until it is assured that a launch poses no threat to the aircraft.

Each and every flight is announced by the LCO. The announcement typically includes the flyers name, the name of the rocket, the motor being used, and then a 5-second countdown before the launch button is pressed. Occasionally, the LCO may give more details about the rocket such as on-board electronics or other special flight characteristics. He may also announce a "heads-up" flight in which everyone is asked to get on their feet and be prepared to react to any flight or recovery anomaly. Small children should be near their parents or in their parents’ arms for "heads-up" flights.

Rocket motor power is classified by an alphabetic nomenclature that can help give you an idea of what you might expect from the flight being announced. These designations start with the letter "A" and extend sequentially through the alphabet with the power basically doubling with each letter change (i.e. B = 2xA’s, C = 2xB’s, D = 2xC’s, etc.). So far, the largest motor to launch at the VAST site has been in the “M” motor range.

Model rocket or mid-power flights will launch from the closer launch pads while high-power flights will launch from the pads set back further from the flight line. The smaller model rockets will typically have motor designations of “A”, “B”, “C”, or “D”. Larger mid-power rockets typically have “E” through “G” motors while the high-power rockets are anything with an “H” class motor or higher. These are typically louder and faster flights and can sometimes scare younger children. By paying attention to what the LCO is announcing, it doesn't take very many launches to get a general feel regarding the speed and power of the rocket being launched.

A normal rocket flight usually consists of four major events. The first is the boost, or powered ascent, which takes place as the motor is burning its fuel. Second is a coast period after the motor burns out and the rocket continues to ascend due to momentum. Next is the apogee event (also called the ejection event, which takes place at or near the apogee of the flight. A small charge is fired either by the motor or electronic means which deploys the recovery device. The last event is the controlled descent back to the ground under streamer, parachute, or other safe means. More sophisticated (and typically larger) rockets will sometimes deploy a smaller parachute, or “drogue”, at the apogee event and then quickly descend to a predetermined altitude where another ejection event occurs and a much larger main parachute is deployed. This helps prevent a lot of wind drift since the rocket is closer to the ground when the larger parachute is deployed and therefore not in the air as long.

Things don’t always go as planned during the launch and/or recovery portions of a rocket flight. Even if the flight is perfect, a large rocket descending under parachute can land in the spectator area. Although every precaution is taken to prevent this from occurring, it’s essential to pay attention to all flights and LCO announcements/warnings and react accordingly.

 

Launch Site Environment


The VAST launch site is located in one of the most rural areas in Virginia with adjacent pasture land. Since livestock are present nearby, so are the normal "hazards" associated with animals. You can try to avoid many of these hazards by applying bug repellent and simply watching where you step.

Since VAST launches year round and we have such a diverse climate here in Virginia, please plan accordingly and wear appropriate clothing. There is not a lot of shade in an open farm field so sunscreen is also highly recommended. Field surface conditions can vary from being muddy & wet to hard & dry so choose your footwear wisely.

There are areas where folding chairs can be placed for easy viewing so be sure to bring them along.

VAST has a porta-john available on-site for your convenience. There are also restrooms available in the town of Monterey (5 minutes away).

 

General Spectator Safety Rules


If a closed gate in encountered, please close it after entering/exiting. Please do not climb any fences.

Spectators are required to stay behind the flight line at all times. For most launches, a rope barrier will be installed to designate the flight line. For lightly attended launches, the rope barrier may not be installed and in this case, the Launch Control table will designate the flight line. Staying behind the flight line is mandatory and launches will not take place when non-authorized persons are beyond it.

If you hear a "heads-up" announced or an air horn warning, take immediate action to locate the rocket and protect yourself and/or others in your charge.

Never attempt to catch a rocket descending under parachute.

Spectators and especially children should not approach or pick-up a rocket that reaches the ground after flight. Most flyers like to perform an initial assessment of the rocket immediately following touchdown, especially if the flight or recovery was not normal. Only the owner of the rocket may give permission for the rocket to be approached or retrieved by someone other than himself.

Never go near a rocket caught in power lines. Do not attempt to remove a rocket from power lines.

Parents should know where their children are at all times and ensure that they are aware of the safety rules.

Please keep children from climbing fences and/or messing with crops and livestock.

 

Rocketry is Fun!


Please enjoy yourself while attending VAST launches. Be sure to stop by the registration table and introduce yourself. If you have questions about what you are witnessing, we will be happy to discuss our hobby with you.

 

Questions?


Feel free to contact VAST with any questions you may have. We welcome all questions and comments and will get back to you as soon as possible.