A team of self-financed amateur rocket scientists from south Florida, working under the name Qu8K (pronounced quake), launched a 14-ft-tall, 320-lb rocket from Black Rock Dessert, Nev., this past September. Estimates are that the rocket climbed to at least 100,000 ft before deploying a parachute and was recovered. That was enough to earn the team the $5,000 Carmack 100kft Micro Prize offered by Jon Carmack, developer of the popular Quake and Doom video games.

The rocket accelerated off its launch pad at up to 15 gs, hit a maximum velocity of 2,185 mph, generated 4,000 lb of thrust for 8 sec, and pushed through 17,000 ft in 11 sec. Ninety seconds after launch, after burning through 150 lb of ammonium perchlorate fuel, the rocket deployed its parachute, then touched down 7 min later and less than three miles from the launch site. The team says the rocket landed intact and could be relaunched with little effort other than refueling.

The rules to the Challenge say the 100,000-ft limit must be verified by an onboard GPS unit. Unfortunately, the four GPS units the team installed onboard the rocket failed to maintain positional lock throughout the flight. Still, the team believes it has enough data to confirm that the rocket surpassed the 100,000‑ft goal. For example it has video taken by an onboard camera clearly showing the curvature of the Earth. It also has accelerometer data, and team members can tell from the video how long it took to reach apogee or the highest point. Based on all this, the team calculates that its rocket reached 121,000 ft.

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.