Rocket Revue!

Desert Heat 2012

Satisfy your inner rocket scientist or simply have fun watching a giant green crayon streak toward the stratosphere this weekend at Desert Heat 2012, a two-day festival sponsored by the Southern Arizona Rocketry Association.

The annual event, in its eighth year, has become one of the largest events for rocket hobbyists in the West, said Sean Keane, the SARA president. This time of year, "The hobby shuts down over a lot of the country, for obvious reasons," he said, referring to the cold temperatures and snow that Southern Arizona (mostly) avoids in March.

This year's biggest attraction, Keane said, is a 12-foot-tall rocket that looks something like a green crayon. Fueled by ammonium perchlorate, this rocket has an M-class rocket motor. For a bit of perspective, that means that the flying crayon has more than 4,000 times the impulse power of most model-rocket kits you will find at hobby stores.

The association needed to get clearance for the event from the Federal Aviation Administration, because some of the rockets launched will climb as high as 6,000 feet, Keane said.

Saturday events include a night launch, which tends to bring out the best in local rocketeers.

"Our club probably has one of the largest, most-active groups of night launchers. ... The rockets are spectacular to see, with the numerous different color flames with some of the larger rockets," said SARA spokesman Craig Brewer. "We probably have one of the biggest night launches in the country."

The event also features a mass launch of 50 rockets at 11 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

SARA holds monthly launches to promote an interest in rocketry for kids of all ages. Keane estimates that there were 100 launchers and observers at last month's event, which was a record for the club.

However, Desert Heat is SARA's biggest event. It regularly draws people enthusiastic enough to camp overnight, even though there are no RV hookups. Brewer estimated that there were about 50 campers at last year's event, both in RVs and tents, including a couple of Boy Scout groups.

Desert Heat is held on land the city of Tucson owns near Manville and Sandario roads in the Picture Rocks area. "Without (the city's) help, we'd be hard-pressed to have such a perfect launch site," Keane said.

There will be food aplenty at Desert Heat 2012. Tucson foodie favorites Planet of the Crepes, Isabella's Ice Cream and El Saguarito will be on hand to keep attendees from going hungry, as will shaved-ice and kettle-corn vendors.

Rocket and rocket-parts vendors also will be there with everything from small, prebuilt rockets to parts for high-powered rockets.

"I call it 'the toy store,'" Brewer said.

Last year's Desert Heat featured more than 700 launches, thanks to an influx of SARA members joining over the past four to five years.

"If (rocketry) is something that people are interested in, or that their kids express an interest in, but (parents) don't know where to go, we want them to know that we exist, and that we're willing to help wherever we can," Keane said.