Estes Mercury-Atlas kit

Estes Mercury Atlas Tips

by Manuel Mejia, Jr.

The Estes Mercury Atlas is one of the most complex kit rockets that has ever come on the market. I managed to pick one up for $34 from a very friendly hobby shop and started work on it immediately. The first few steps detail the construction of the motor mount. This part of the building was straightforward.

The fun starts when one starts on the rocket body itself. Be sure to test the contact cement that you plan to use on all of the styrene parts. Apply the cement on a section of scrap styrene from the Engine Strouds & Equipment Pods vacuform Sheet and let is sit for 24 hours. If the plastic melts, DO NOT USE THIS CEMENT!!!! I basically ruined my Mercury Atlas by using a contact cement that softened and deformed a section of the first stage stiffener shroud. My model now has the appearance of having developed plastic cancer.

The rest of the plastic parts are now attached with RC-56 glue. Model airplane fliers use this glue to glue plastic windshields onto their airplane models. The adhesive resembles white glue in color and lack of smell. It also dries to a bond that is strong enough to hold the plastic components to the rocket.

When cutting the moldings, be sure to use a gentle hand and take plenty of time. If you rush the job, you will cut the parts improperly and will have to use aluminized mylar to cover up your mistakes. The mylar is a rudimentary fix.

The instructions also leave out one important detail. When mounting the two separation rings, the mounting instructions do not tell you which side is up or down. In the middle of the ring, there is an indentation that is narrower on one side vs. the other. I had to compare the plastic part that goes on top of the separation ring so that I could find out which side was up. The narrow side must be facing the top of the rocket.

The rest of the Atlas booster assembly was ok. I did add a motor mount on each of the fin units so that I could fly the rocket as a cluster. Given the amount of work one has to put in in order to build this rocket, it is not surprising that most people would avoid this extra step. After all, why risk a rocket as expensive as this to cluster work ? Since this rocket already as plastic cancer, I guess that it is uniquely qualified for this experiment. Be sure to plug the ends of the fin unit motor mounts so that the exhaust from the engines do not char the plastic equipment pods.

To save time, I used black monokote to color the adaptor skirt. I then used the aluminized mylar to detail the rest of the rocket. I chose to delete the installation of the escape tower since that particular item always breaks off after the first or second launch of any scale rocket that carries such a device. In any event, this particular rocket will never be entered into a scale event.

The Mercury capsule itself seems to be recycled from the old Estes Mercury Redstone kit. Regrettably, the mold may be showing its age. The capsule sections were warped badly enough that they did not fit together. I glued the pieces together as best I could using the old Redstone booster shoulder as a jig to hold the three pieces together. The final product looks decent from a distance.

Since the plastic stiffener shroud was cancered to the point of being obnoxiously ugly, I decided to not apply the aluminized mylar strips to the booster. Makeup will only go so far. The booster was just spray-painted with Dutch Boy Aluminum. I also used a Testor's aluminum paint pen to color the LOX supply line and the two fuel lines that are molded to the adaptor skirt.

For a recovery system, I dumped the Estes plastic chutes and used one 28" Loc/Precision nylon chute for the Atlas booster and one 12" Loc/Precision for the capsule. I consider this rocket, as cancered as it is, to be too expensive to risk with the standard plastic chutes that Estes sells with most of it line.

I have only flown the Mercury Atlas once on a single D12-3. The take-off is almost as slow and majestic as the real thing ! I got a good deal of applause from the spectators who watched the launch. I now need to see how this rocket works on a cluster. I will probably use Mini A10s as a start. One should add some 25 grams of clay to the Mercury capsule as a precaution if the rocketeer wants to fly the Mercury Atlas model on C motors.

Even with all of the wonders and warts, the Estes Mercury Atlas is fun to build and to fly.


If anyone wants to reprint this article in its entire form or in part, you are free to do so as long as proper credit is given. Please e-mail me that you are doing this before you publish the article. Also, I want a copy of the newletter that carries the article.

Happy Flying !
Manuel Mejia, Jr.
Tampa, FL--------5/17/95