For Christmas, my lovely wife gave me a Lego Saturn V. After building it and putting it on a shelf, I soon realized that I wanted a more interesting way to display it. I’ve been a fan of the LED clouds other folks have made and thought I could use the same technique to make the Saturn V look like it’s blasting off! My wife and I set out to make it over a weekend.
The first step was look through the electronics I had left over from other projects. I had a string of NeoPixels and an Adafruit Trinket. I wasn’t sure if the Trinket was enough to run and power the NeoPixels. I mostly have used Particle Photons but since this doesn’t need to connect to the internet, the Trinket seems like a great fit. So I set out to see if it could run the lights… and yes, it can!
After running a test program to make sure the NeoPixels worked, it was time to remove the silicon sleeve that comes with the strand. That way we could use double stick tape to attach them to a short section of ABS tube. The silicone sleeve is great, but it really doesn’t stick to anything!
Next up was building a platform the rocket could stand on. I used clear acrylic tube and clear acrylic sheet for the base of the stand. I cut the tube with my miter saw to a length that felt right. Then I needed to cut a circle and a donut. Luckily, I have a CNC! People usually cut acrylic on a laser cutter, but a CNC with a small bit (I used a 0.125") and a couple passes works well.
After gluing the pedestal together with hot glue, we masked off the parts that will be visible and coated the rest with spray adhesive. We then glued on pillow stuffing. It was a fun process to sculpt the stuffing and stylize the exhaust. We found that rolling the stuffing between the palms of your hands helped mat it together enough that you can easily shape it.
After getting the stuffing attached we could start playing with the LEDs. Our goal was to get a nice rocket engine effect. We searched online and found a few open source projects for NeoPixels that had “fire” effects. After trying them out we decided to write our own library to get the exact look we had in our minds. https://github.com/asamiller/blast-off
Once we had the base together, we put the rocket on top. The Lego set stands up great, but I had a nagging worry that I would unintentionally recreate one of those early SpaceX landings (you know the ones… where it tips over and explodes).
I thought the best way to solve this was to make a wall mount bracket that would hold the top of the rocket. I started by designing the bracket in Illustrator. I wanted it to hold the rocket but not be very visible. I thought the bracket could be on the back side with a thin white wire holding it on.
I cut it out on the CNC out of more clear acrylic. (And yes, it kinda looks like a penis.)
I clamped it to my workbench and heated it up with a heat gun. Acrylic bends really nicely. The key is to be patient and keep heating it until it bends pretty easily.
The next few days were spent randomly saying “wow, the rocket looks really cool!” every time we passed by it. It’s hard to capture the look of the LEDs in photos, but I’m really impressed with how they look.
We love how the rocket turned out and, if you think so too, maybe you’ll try your own version of the build. If you do, let us know in the comments! If you have any questions, or need more insight on how we did something, let us know.