Testing the Estes Pro Series II Igniters

There have been many online reports of people having problems using Estes’s new Pro Series II igniters to light composite motors such as the new motors from Estes.  Some people have even reported a 100% failure rate using the new igniters.

Others, however, have found that the new igniters work well in Estes and Aerotech composite motors. Michael Fritz, Marketing Director at Estes-Cox, responded to the reports of failure by posting:

…as I’ve stated elsewhere, we tested a huge number (thousands – all off of our E Launcher) of these before releasing them to the public…and considering our production history with our standard igniters, we have a pretty good handle on how to make them and make them work. I know this will sound very CYA, but we have been using them with the PSII composite motors here at the rocket ranch, launched off our E Pad (and new PSII pad) with the Estes 2230 E Launcher with an excellent success rate. Do we get a failure?…sure, every once in a while we get motor that doesn’t light up…but we can usually say that it was operator error and while the igniter flashed, it didn’t get the AP going…but those test flights have been rare. We formulated these igniters to work off of our E Launcher with 4 AA batteries and as long as they are fairly fresh, the igniter will light and has enough flash to get the PSII motors going if its in contact with the propellent in the motor case.

I’m not sure what happened with your 0/4 experience, but contacting Estes would have been a good first move. Without information from the user, we cannot determine if there is a problem or not. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t express yourself, but we have had very good success with these new igniters and your experience is the exception. I’d suggest contacting us through the website and we’ll replace your igniters as warranty replacement.

A possible explanation for the vastly difference experiences has been advanced. As the post by Mike Fritz stated, Estes tested the igniter using their E Launch Controller which is powered by four AA batteries providing 6 volts.  Many rocket clubs, however, use relay-based launch controllers that dump 12 volts at a high current to the igniter. Some have suggested that the higher-voltage/current launch controllers affects the reliability of the Pro Series II igniters.  One hypothesis is that the higher-current causes the bridge wire in the igniter to fail sooner.

I tested the theory by firing two Pro Series II igniters – first with a standard Estes 6v launch controller and the second from a high-current 12v battery.  I video taped both tests using a high-speed camera recording 1200 frames per second.  I attached each igniter to a piece of paper towel to provide an indication of hot the igniter got during the test.

Watching the tests as I performed them, the results using the 6V controller looked more impressive.  I was surprised by the brightness of the flash and loudness of the pop and crackles produced.  The 12V results did not look as spectacular in person. But, I may have been more prepared for the 12V test since I did it last.

Looking at the video, the difference isn’t as dramatic.  Both igniters produce one big flash and mutiple smaller ones.  Both igniters lit the paper towel on fire in about the same amount of time.

One noticeable difference is that the igniter lit by the 6V controller glowed for a longer period of time.  The nichrome bridge wire never melted during the test. I held pressed the button on the controller for a while after the the video ends – at least 30 seconds – and it continued to glow.  The igniter lit using 12V only glowed for a second.

The test results are not conclusive.  Looking at the video, it would be hard to say that one igniter would work better than the other.  But, I still can’t get over the perception that the igniter powered by the 6V controller produced a more brillant flash.  If I get the chance, I’ll repeat the experiment with the camera a little farther from the igniters so that the full extent of the flash is visible.

3 comments to Testing the Estes Pro Series II Igniters

  • Mark Kulka

    Gee I don’t know, Roger — to me the igniter fired with 12v looks a bit more impressive and fiery. They both look like they’ll do the job, but the 12v one on the right looked like it had more output, at least to me, and I have watched the video a few times now. They flare up at slightly different moments but both burn fiercely and completely, judging by how they looked on the video. I have some of these igniters but I haven’t tried them out yet, so I have no direct experience with them.

  • roger

    When I did the tests, I didn’t expect the big flashes so I zoomed the camera in too close. Estes Solar igniters just go “pffft” for a second which is what I expected from these igniters. But, I jumped when I fired the first of the new igniters. The report was much louder than I had expected and the flash was pretty cool.:-)

    As I said in the post, things looked different in person. The 6V test seemed to produce a bigger flash. If I get the chance, I’m going to try the tests again with a wider field of view so you can see the extent of the flashes.

  • roger

    “The test results are not conclusive.” But, I guess it shows that a high-current controller doesn’t somehow cause the igniter to fail before the pyrogen ignites which was one theory of why they were failing for some users.

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