Showing a 1930s-style newsreel video called “Armadillo News.” Describing 2008 activities, starting with Rocket Racer (ethanol/LOX). Showing takeoff in Oklahoma in August (test pilot says it’s a bigger kick in the pants than an F-18 on afterburners). Now experimenting with autogenous pressurization system for LOX (previous systems were blow-down). Describing trip to Las Cruces for Lunar Landing Challenge, where they won Level One, but didn’t make Level Two.
Planning flights up to 8000 ft this year in Texas.
John Carmack talking now and starting off with discussion of business aspects. This was the year they finally transitioned from hobby to business (partly at instigation of his wife). He has put in zero money in the last year (half a million a year before that). Company is in the black, with a small payback of his own investment. Wants to pay back his investors in full with a profit (“that would be me”).
Has finally understood why XCOR’s prices are what they are, and now understands that price has little to do with cost, and understands now how much one can end up spending when all costs are included and it’s not just a hobby any more. Several potential customers, but few of them pan out. Fortunately, two came through and were enough to get through last year. Armadillo has about the same fifty-fifty split between government commercial as XCOR. About a third the size of XCOR, and they’re both tiny compared to other companies in the business. Both companies focused on space tourism, but excited about suborbital science as well. Doesn’t expect a “ton of science” but it will be a good learning experience.
Were hoping to have flown at altitude by now, but hard to find air space where they could do it. Had to do a demonstration under tether with several FAA officials to persuade them that it was safe, but was a successful turnaround in attitude. ATC doesn’t care what happens on the ground — it’s all about not hitting their airplanes on IFR. ATC showed Armadillo how much air traffic was going through their box every day. Pain to coordinate as often as necessary for waivers, but they’re now on first-name basis with FSDO and establishing smooth relationship. Thought they were through the hurdles, but still awaiting final approval from Washington, which will be another three weeks or so. Forced them to miss a money milestone with NASA for methane flights. Expect permission, though, because everyone is on board. Has been a long wait (years) for altitude testing, but thinks they’re almost there. Has cash reserves because of revenue last year, and in good shape even if revenue peters out this year. Lunar Challenge has been beneficial, but has also been a distraction from their goals, and the revenue makes it worthwhile in hindsight. Will be competing for Level Two this year, and they hope to make their attempts from their home field when season begins in July.
Can’t reveal as much about business this year as he has in past years due to Rocket Racing League constraints. Has been useful to work with them because it has helped tighten up their procedures. Have gotten to become much more of a believer in checklists and call outs. Integrated check list directly into flight control system on his laptop, so they can actually now track time lines between events reliably with time stamps. Wants to incorporate voice logging. Was duct taping voice recorder to equipment, but now will be including live voice recording with other data streams and telemetry.
After working with rocket planes, still likes VTVL for efficiency. May have to sacrifice government business if it insists on wings. Agrees with XCOR that smallest vehicle for revenue with high flight rate is the way to go. Open to idea of rocket airplane, but think it’s just a lot harder. Getting to a hundred kilometers with rocket plane is not trivial, and thinks it’s just easier to bull your way through the atmosphere with high mass fraction. Glad to see that both approaches will be tried, and we’ll see how it works out. Starting to think about the implications of putting people in the vehicles, and sobered by the thought that they could kill this guy they sort of like, so getting more serious now.
Still talking to AFRL but they seem too timid to Armadillo. NASA has been very supportive, and eager to see things happen. Had to develop a lot of injectors to get combustion stability for methane in transitioning from alcohol engines and experience. Testing expansion bell technologies, and NASA doesn’t really care much about combustion efficiency, so it’s working out well, and they’ll be learning a lot about nozzles and bells that will be useful for upper atmosphere performance.
Discussing the learning experience about hazard and failure analysis. Says that they don’t have trivial failures any more — they’re always combination failures now. Showing a video of trashing a vehicle. It was a tether failure, and it’s something that AST could look at and use it as an opportunity to create a regulation, for good or ill. It was a big vehicle, where the computer controlled a ball valve to let pressurant into the tank. They started with a full tank. There was no ullage space, and the regulator valve allowed it to over pressure, and it burned through quickly. Should have been burn through, shut down, bounce off the tether. But it burned through while against a gimbal attach point, and rotated in a cartwheel. It happened to hit a tether attach point that had a smaller bolt than specced. It broke it off and hit another one which also broke. Shows it both real time and slow motion. Sequence of five things that went wrong to cause a bad day. Fortunately they have better fire suppression than the local fire department. In fact, they helped out the fire department when a neighbor’s house was on fire. They’ll have a sixteen-hundred gallon tank for their future tests. Also learned a lot about putting out chemical fires, upwind versus downwind, etc. Vehicle has been repaired and improved, with lighter-weight legs that they needed anyway.
Don’t know what the next vehicle will look like. Only think firm is fixed engine differential throttling, spherical tanks. Ready to start flying when the get permission from DC, and think they can learn much of what they need to under six thousand feet (e.g., max Q). Will go higher at Spaceport America. Has a line of skydivers who want to be first.