Private Rocket To 121,000 Feet (Plus Video)

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A team self-identified as Qu8k (spoken "quake") claims to, on Sept. 30, have launched an unmanned 26-foot rocket at 2,185 mph to more than 100,000 feet over Black Rock Desert, Nev., and possibly earned a monetary prize for the effort. The team's effort addressed the Carmack Challenge, which, among other things, required the rocket to record a GPS altitude of over 100,000 feet to win a prize of $5,000. Qu8k says that none of four independent GPS systems onboard its vehicle maintained positional lock through the trip and suspects some simple reasons for that. According to Qu8k, that launch included a roughly 15G acceleration and pushed the rocket through 17,000 feet in less than 11 seconds. GPS notwithstanding, the team's rocket returned intact and Qu8k believes it has data that confirms they bested the goal. They also have video.

Qu8k says accelerometer data and time to apogee available from onboard video footage allow them to mathematically deduce "with high certainty" that the rocket reached 121,000 feet. It will be up to former computer game developer John Carmack, who in February announced his "Carmack Challenge," to determine if Qu8k can earn the $5,000 prize based on that. Qu8k has images they say were recorded by onboard cameras during the rocket's journey and those images (and the video) clearly show a black midday sky and the curvature of the earth below the rocket at apogee. The team says the rocket reached its highest point 90 seconds into the flight where it deployed its chute. The rocket then returned to earth over the next seven minutes and landed just three miles from its launch tower. According to Qu8k, all parts of the vehicle were recovered and could be easily prepared to fly again. Watch the video at right, or click this link for a picture gallery.