I chose Western Space Technologys Space and Rocketry Resource Disk as my prize in EMRRs Mars Endurance Base contest. This is version V2.0 of the disk, and contains over 240 MB of data and 100s of links.
Organization and Content Overview
The disk came in a slimline jewel case and a single page of instructions on how to get started. The only thing really required was the name of the file to get you started. The disk is navigated with your web browser, starting with the Information Launch Pad. There are a lot of pages on the disk and in several cases there are multiple links to a given page. The format between sections is inconsistent, which is not a big issue, and there are HTML issues (text color hard to read, picture covers links). Through the disks hierarchy and most notably at the bottom levels is a huge set of links. A lot point to information on the disk, but the majority of the links direct you to web sites. The on-disk resources are in a number of formats: HTML, .jpg, .doc, .xls, .ppt, .pdf, and .wmv.
The following is a summary hierarchy of whats on the disk. This is not perfectly accurate, but will identify the contents well enough.
The contents list is impressive and this is an ambitious project. However, the CD is not all it could be.
The most obvious issue is a large number of dead links, links that point to the disks directory rather than what the name implies, and some that just point to the wrong information (e.g. a solid motor link that points to liquid propellant info). Anyone who has built their own web site probably feels the pain of trying to keep up with web references. Sites come and go, change ISPs, and change directory locations within ISPs. These are somewhat understandable, but the ones that are just missing or wrong were aggravating to me.
Despite the large range of subject matter, a good deal of the material is rather thin and narrow in scope. An example, is the Rocket Design Section. This section is sketchy and doesnt discuss all the classical parts of a rocket. It provides an excel spreadsheet for a few body tubes (LOC, Estes, and Rocketman) but doesnt discuss nose cones, rings, motor tubes, etc. This might not have been so noticeable if all the links had been there.
Buried in the disk are 13 technical reports covering: staging, piston ejection, motor test stands, umbilical systems, orbital maneuvering, motor ignition, space on a small budget, and building large rockets, and background data on the Atlas IIAS/IIIB, Delta II, Mercury Redstone, Jupiter C, and Black Brant X. The quality of these reports was in general not what I would expect from commercial reports. I found a several cases where I didnt think the information was correct. Since this is not a black and white world, Im sure this statement could be disputed, however the information is not what Id expect in a tutorial publication. Still several of the reports were interesting, including the test stands and umbilical reports. I even enjoyed the building large rockets report, even though it falls in the prior category.
Other issues include: 1) Most of the lists of subject links are not comprehensive. For example, in the Rocket Design section, the list of rocket hardware vendors has eight entries. These are all good vendors, but only a small sampling of what is out there (a link to BuyRockets.com would have been more useful); 2) Many diagrams are of poor quality/detail (a some are even hand-drawn); 3) The use .doc files vs. .pdf may limit their portability for some users.
Despite all the problems, there is a lot of good information and working links to wade through, and I found some interesting stuff. I spend several hours with just a cursory run through the material and found some material I have not seen before, such as a list of Space Ports. Want to know about the United START facility at Svobodny? Its in there.
I have not fully explored the Excel based tools that are provided. Some appear very simplistic, from a simple table to log flights to performance estimators, and others may prove interesting if not useful. I think you would do better to get demo versions of the nice simulators that are available, or even just VCP a wRASP.
This product is not very mature, and the quality is poor in some areas. It is like a space hobbyists personal website put on disk (although a bit bigger). In places, I thought that I could pick 10 good rocketry links that would be more useful to the hobby rocketry newbie. (ROL/InfoCentral, EMRR, TRF, Apogee, Tripoli, NAR, Jim Balls Scale Library, NASAs home page thats seven, Id have to think about the other three).
I have spent lots of time with the CD and havent really gotten that far. There is, after all, al LOT of stuff on the CD and LOTS of working links. One of the nice features about this product is that updates are free to registered users, and the disk points you to the on-line form. I hope to see this product maintained and expanded.
I am struggling with what else to say. Since I got it free, I am finding the disk entertaining. But, I cant say I have found any really useful rocketry material (Im an old-fart after all), and anyone who is interested in science and rocketry can rapidly build an impressive collection of links on their own. If you buy this disk with high expectations and/or are looking for a tutorial intro to hobby rocketry, you may be disappointed. If you enjoy surfing and you buy it for the hours of entertainment it can provide, then by all means give it a try.