Modification - Silver Comet XL {Modification} Modification

Contributed by Stefan Jones

Manufacturer: Modification

Rocket PicBrief:
Silver Comet XL - My Silver Comet kitbash project began with someone else having a bad bit of luck. An unknown party at a DARS launch (de Anza College, Cupertino CA) in early 1998 launched a Silver Comet with an Aerotech E motor. Maybe the motor had too long a delay. Maybe the parachute was packed too tight. In any case, the model took a nose dive into the unforgiving DARS' "AsphaltDrome." I didn't witness the crash. I did see the unlucky owner tossing the kit into the trash. Yes, I admit it: I salvaged the kit from a trash barrel. My kitbash project started with a bashed kit. You, of course, can do this kitbash on an existing Silver Comet, or one you build from a kit. No crash necessary. Aside from the totally mashed cone, and 3" or so of crumpled body tube, the unlucky space yacht actually looked in pretty good shape. I decided to do something *cool* with it. Not right away, as it turned out, but after a year and a half in a box, I took a second look at the model and began to plan. On my to-do list:

  • Replacement Nose Cone
  • Longer Body Tube
  • Niftier Fins
  • Less Cheap Looking Decals

Before gluing on the coupler and extra tubing, I carefully peeled off the transparent self-stick decals and stuck them on wax paper. They were in fairly good shape. Waste not, want not! Since the original shock cord mount was lost in the crash, I built one into the coupler using the old "double slit" method. I used a few inches of Kevlar thread as a leader, and about 3' of 1/4" elastic band as a shock cord. The fins of the crashed model were in OK shape, but I never really liked the shape of the things. They don't look like Olde Fashionede space ship fins. Rather than remove them, I simply added pods to their tips! The pods are made from three teardrop-shaped pieces of 1/8" balsa, glued together into a stack and sanded to have nice round edges. The middle layer has a roughly triangular shape snipped out of it, so that the finished pod could be slipped over the existing fin tips.

If you start with an intact kit, you won't have to worry about the first step! The replacement cone (with molded cockpit) is not a standard part, but at the time I did the project Estes did make it available through their customer service line. Shipping was inexpensive and fairly fast. Parts for the second step were easy to find. I purchased a pack of Estes BT-80 tubes and a coupler (from the Large Coupler Pack) from a discount distributor. I added a total of about 4" to the front of the model. (In my case I needed more tubing than that, to replace the crumpled tube.)

PodsRe-finishing the Silver Comet was a real chore. I thought at first that I'd preserve the original paint job and just paint the fin tips and new body tube section. But after sanding, sealing, spiral-seam-filling and spraying the new parts, the contrast between new and old was too obvious! I ended up sanding and priming the old parts and doing what I could to fill the fins. The result was pretty good. I was never good at achieving "chrome" like silver finishes, but after buffing and a few coats of Future floor wax the finish looks really nice. Sort of a "silver plastic" effect. When the paint was dry, I reapplied the decals. The original kit calls for the "portholes" and hatch to be placed on one side and the logo decal on the other. I decided that this was too unbalanced looking. So I called Estes Customer Service and tried to order another set of decals. They refused to sell me one . . . they sent me one for free! God bless 'em! I placed the new set of porthole and hatch decals on the port side of the ship, and the logo detail along the top. As a finishing touch, I used dark blue acrylic paint to color in the center of each porthole and the hatch's window. The result is an amazing improvement over the original look. (If you've got a Silver Comet, try it!) I tried painting in the cockpit windows, with limited success. I eventually settled on using pieces of blue Trim Monokote. This wasn't much better, and took a lot of work. I think I'd try harder to get a good paint finish if I had to do it over again.

The Silver Comet XL made its maiden voyage at the August 2000 LUNAR launch. I used a D12-3 motor and a two standard 24" Estes plastic parachutes. The comments I got from the launch volunteers and people on line for RSO inspection were very ego-boosting. The launch was a great success, too: The model was very stable, perhaps due to the pods acting as "drag members" far aft of the center of gravity. The parachute ejected near-apogee and landed safely.

Although finishing the kit was more work than it should have been, I had fun with this project and really liked the results. Although officially out of production, you may still be able to nab a Silver Comet kit from hobby stores or webstores. Go for it!

The only problem I've encountered with the model: The soft balsa I used for the pods tends to crunch easily. I've made lots of dents in them in normal handling. Having used harder balsa, and perhaps a coating of epoxy, might have made them a bit sturdier.

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