- by Tom Bell
The Venus Probe is an unusual Estes
kit to build and fly. There are two pieces to the completed rocket - a booster
and a three-legged lander, complete with an alien on top.
This is NOT an easy rocket to build, and should only be
built if you have built several rockets already.
The Venus Probe's instructions, at first glance, seem to be
complete and well illustrated. But, when you read them, you find that they are
numbered strangely. The assemblies have numbered sections, but these are not
consecutive through the entire instructions. For example, the lander has
steps 1,2,3 and so on; the booster has steps 1,2,3 etc. The pages are not
numbered, so it is easy to get confused.
Instruction sheets should always have every single step
numbered consecutively from beginning to end. Estes does this with most of
their kits, so they should know better.
The usual tools were needed, including plastic cement for
the lander. Wax paper is needed to lay the fins on while they are
EASE OF BUILD:
Again, this is not an easy kit to build. The fins come in
sections, so they have to be glued together and put on wax paper to dry. This
is not as easy as it sounds, as they must be lined up precisely.
The lander stage is also somewhat complicated, as the
landing legs must be assembled from many small pieces of dowel and
An assembly hint: Make sure the alien's back is directly
in line with one of the lander legs. The alien's back is where the parachute is
attached, and it does not make a three-point landing, the front side of the
alien lands first. You want two legs to cushion the blow and stabilize the
landing, so make sure there is only one landing leg behind the alien's
All the parts were in my kit and alignment was very
This kit is a sturdy one. I have never had any problems with
the lander or the booster unit, despite several launches and many hard
landings. Another reviewer indicated a problem with their body tubing, but the
body tubes on my Venus Probe are still in fine condition.
The only possible weak link is the BT-20 body tube which
connects the top tube and the bottom tube of the booster. Again, I have had no
problems with this. But, you could strengthen this tube by making "cooling
fins" that extend the length of the body tube.
Decals are excellent and help improve the look of the
model. This model looks great with the recommended black and white paint job,
which is easy to do by masking the model.
The only complaint I have in this area is that Estes
recommends that the alien be painted fluorescent green. Everybody knows that
REAL aliens are gray, so I painted mine accordingly, with gloss black
My Venus Probe is a veteran of several flights, including
some hard landings. The alien has landed on his head, with no other apparent
damage than a possible headache. The booster has lawn-darted, collecting a
3" for the alien to bring back to his home planet. But this is
a sturdy rocket and has survived all of these Roswell-type landings, without
any alien autopsies to date.
Before I built my Venus Probe, I noticed that other
people had lackluster performance with their Venus Probes and the recommended
Estes C6-3 engine. I do not recommend this engine combination, it barely gets
the alien high enough to eject. There are two different ways to solve this
problem: One is to use Aerotech 18mm engines, which will give your Probe more
power. The other is to re-fit the Probe with a 24mm engine mount and use Estes
D12-3 motors in it. I chose this method, as D12-3's are less expensive
than Aerotech D's.
I designed my own "D" motor mount and used the
existing body tubes, but if you need plans for a "D" motor Venus
Probe, they can be found in the September/October 1997 issue of ,
on page 19. My Venus Probe flies magnificently on "D" motors,
powering up to a respectable height and putting on a crowd-pleasing show. I
recommend using "D" motors in the Venus Probe.
Recovery is tricky with the Venus Probe. The upper body
tube is not very large for two parachutes. I had several chute failures until I
figured out the solution: don't use any 18" chutes. I use a 12"
chute for the booster and an 8" chute for the lander. These are
dusted heavily with talcum powder before flight, to prevent sticking.
Since I started using smaller chutes, I have had successful landings.
The Venus Probe would have gotten 5 points from me, except
for two problems, the instructions and the underpowered motor mount. It also
appears that Estes rates this as a Skill Level 1 kit, which would be an error.
This kit is at least a Skill Level 2.
I rate this rocket at
I recommend the Venus Probe to anyone who wants an
exotic, X-Files kind of rocket. It is a real crowd-pleaser, and fun to build
(by Doyle Tatum)
First, I would like to say
that this is not a skill level one rocket. It has lots of dowel cutting and
such and should be a level two. Also, this rocket is dangerously underpowered
on a "C" motor (leaving 's in a bind at launches - definitely a
model!). I used the instructions from Sport Rocketry magazine to
upgrade mine to a 24mm mount. I believe that the rocket is now not only safe,
but actually looks better. Following the directions carefully, the model built
flawlessly. I added a Kevlar shock k cord line from the motor mount and soaked
the fins in CA (one has cracked anyway!). The rocket flies beautifully on a
"D" and is spectacular on an "E30" . I bring the
lander down on an 18" X-Form and the booster on a plastic 18" with
spill hole Each landing, both pieces have been in close proximity to each
other. I recommend this rocket - with the 24mm upgrade only! NOTE: Last flight,
at ejection, the motor hook blew out the rear with the motor?!? I used an
engine block, at the top of the motor hook, when constructing - so I'll just
friction fit (tape) the motors in from now on.
(Contributed - by Dave Sutter)
This isn't really my rocket... it's my wife's rocket. When I was getting
my second rocket, she was curious enough to try a rocket of her own. Only
problem was, she didn't want to start with some namby-pamby simple rocket...
no, she had to go for the most complex rocket in the store... the Venus Probe.
Besides, it says "Skill Level 1" on the outside of the box...
Well, she did a great job with it, despite the fact that it's not simple,
and it was her first rocket. Our biggest problems with it have been a lack of
knowledge on our part, plus a bit of bad luck. The first day we went to launch
it, it was slightly windy, say 5-10mph winds. That's just too much for this
heavy (and top-heavy at that), slow-lifting rocket... it weathercocks badly in
any wind. In other words, it went straight up to the end of the launch rod,
pointed into the wind, and took off about 20degress above horizontal on its
first flight. Debbie was disheartened; she immediately assumed that she had
screwed up building it (which she most definitely had not, as it turns out).
I convinced her to try it again that day. It went good, though not real
high. Without a doubt, this rocket is a joy to watch. Encouraged, she wanted to
try it again. We put in a C6-3, and... ! Wow! Our first (and so far, only
... knock on wood) Catastrophe At Take-Off. The facts are that there was a
small explosion immediately upon ignition, causing the rocket to lift to about
10' (above ground level), and causing the motor casing to go
backwards, slamming into the (denting it pretty good,
and breaking the plastic rod standoff). After hitting the blast , the
motor, now flaming, proceeded to propel itself about 100' AGL, with no ejection
charge 'pop' at the end. Near as I can guess, the propellant grain was cracked,
and the blew almost immediately, sending the rocket up, and the
engine backwards, and then the propellant took over and launched the engine
alone. Regardless of my theory, I wrote it all to Estes, and they responded by
sending a 3-pack of C6-3s, a 6-pack of igniters, and a 75-sheet pack of
recovery wadding. Very nice. They could have ignored me, but they didn't. They
sent a perfectly reasonable set of replacements, I thought. (I specifically
told them that I had already replaced the blast deflector and launch rod
standoff, so I wasn't expecting a replacement for that.)
Obviously, Deb was upset. Thankfully, the alien lander ejected and landed
ok, despite the ELF (extremely low flight) from the CATO. The booster, however,
was a bit worse for wear, as it crimped a bit just above the motor mount area,
and semi-pranged, mashing the very top of the tube, where the alien lander
sits. It was to fly again, however...
The second day of flying the Venus Probe wasn't real encouraging, either.
The first flight went ok. Low, but an ok boost. The only problem was that the
18" chute for the Alien Lander didn't open fully until about 15ft AGL... a
real heart-stopper, and a kinda hard landing, but the Lander was ok. Wasn't
really watching the booster, but it seemed to have had a bit of a hard landing,
too... the body was crimped again just above the motor mount area. Oh, well,
let's try again. Bad idea. Seems that the body tube had bent enough that
the launch lugs didn't line up well, only Debbie didn't seem to notice any
major problems when putting it onto the launch rod. Well, the motor lit fine,
but the lugs and the rod did the binding thing and the rocket never left the
rod. It was interesting to see that the engine exhaust burned through not 1 but
2 stacked Estes blast deflectors. (Since I still had the dented blast deflector
from the CATO mentioned above, I'd gotten into the habit of stacking the blast
plates, with the dented one on top.) Note that I said "burned
through", and I wasn't kidding. It left about a 1/2" diameter hole in
each blast plate. Fortunately, the launch pad itself was undamaged. For its
part, the Alien Lander part took off for another ELF on the ejection charge,
and landed hard, and on its side, but unharmed.
Well, Debbie had had enough of rockets, and "gave" the Venus Probe
to me. I've decided to ditch the bent, too-weak booster body with the question
launch lug placement. So, I'm currently in the process of building a 3"
diameter booster for the Alien Lander. This has the double bonus of being very
much more rigid, and allowing the launch lugs to be attached directly to the
outside of the body tube, rather than having the top one mounted on a stupid
post like the stock version. As a third advantage, I can now use larger launch
lugs (I can't believe that the stock rocket weighs over 5 oz, but only has
1/8" launch lugs! Come on.) Also wishing to kill a fourth bird with one
stone, I've also opted to make the motor mount completely interchangeable.
Currently in the works are a 24mm mount for D and E-sized engines, and my first
attempt at ... three 18mm motor mounts for a 3-B or 3-C blast. That
should solve those low-altitude blues...
||Normal rocket... except that the nose cone is a very cool, very complex
alien lander that comes down on its own chute. It's a real attention-getter and
a certain crowd pleaser.
||According to my wife: "I wanted something interesting" and
"It looks cool"
||I dunno, maybe 300ft... but then, that's not really the point with this
||1.325"/33.7mm (BT-55) - that is the size of the upper portion of the
0.736"/18.7mm (BT-20) - for the lower body tube portion
||Booster - 12" parachute
Alien Lander - 18" parachute
||The Alien Lander
||The Alien (sort of... he's really attached to the nose cone). There's no
||4, balsa, mounted through-the-wall (); two small squares, two large
||This model is quite heavy for a single C engine, so it weathercocks quite a
bit if there's any wind at all. In fact, this model, at Estes claimed weight of
5.1oz, significantly exceeds the maximum liftoff weight of the Estes
C6-3 engine (rated at 4.0oz/113g), which is a recommended motor! Launch
only in calm conditions.
Also, this model is too heavy for the little
1/8" launch rod. Use larger 3/16" or 1/4" launch lugs and rods.
If you've already built yours, just attach the bigger lugs to the other side of
the fin and upper lug strut, and use those.
Needs (3) 1x2 sheets of recovery wadding to not scorch the 'chutes.
||3 - At least. Yeah, yeah, I know, Estes states a skill level of 1, but
that's simply ludicrous. This rocket requires many, many complex steps, all of
which must be done right to have either the rocket or the lander come out