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« Jim Muncy Speaks | Main | Frontier Astronautics »


John Carmack is showing a video describing all of the testing they've done, and how all the progress they've made is two days a week with an all-volunteer team. Describing the switch from peroxide to lox/methanol, and how they built the two vehicles capable of entering the Lunar Landing Challenge. Time constraints didn't allow them the test time, so they had vehicles that "couldn't land as well as they could fly." Vehicles kicked up so much dust out in the desert, it "looked like a tornado approaching the landing pad." Hard to capture all of the testimonials and desciptions of the flights from the various participants. Presumably this video will appear soon at the Armadillo web site. Showing a computer graphic of assembling a theoretical modular orbital vehicle (influenced by Otrag concepts). Video ends with an NVidia logo, thanking them for sponsoring attempt.

Spent three million dollars over six years. Half a million dollars a year, with most still in volunteer positions. Had to pay Neil, because getting permits doesn't qualify as "fun" like the rest of the stuff. Thinks they're on the right track to get them all the way to orbit, eventually. Have much more robust legs in the vehicles now, has improved guidance to eliminate drift, increased deadbands to waste less RCS. Have experimental permit to go up to Oklahoma Spaceport and do some testing next month. Think they're ready to win, but know they have to wait until October. Vehicle "looks a little funny," but has more capability and performance than either SpaceShipOne or DC-X.

Has a theory that roll-thruster deadband may have been too tight on the Falcon second stage, based on many similar experiences with their own vehicles. Flown half a dozen times since LLC, and they always launch in a "go to space" configuration, including fuel and burn duration, but keep it low. Overall the regulatory burden has been light, and they're expecting to apply for a commercial launch license this year--doesn't expect it to be that bad, though worse than permit.

By the end of this year, space-capable vehicle, with insurance already in hand, at least permits and probably launch licenses at that time. Thinks that if the technology is right, the business issues are solvable. They've learned a lot about manufacturing, and tradeoffs in solutions space for materials, and tank shapes, and they aren't spending that much money, and are flying many more test flights than anyone else is doing. Doesn't expect to go to space the first time. Expects to have many failures, some of them catastrophic. Their philosophy is not to make things perfect on first attempt by spending lots of money (NASA approach), but making things perfect over time with a lot of build and test.

It's been nice to have a growth curve from tee-shirts, appearance fees, sponsorship. Not profitable yet, but can see it ahead. They were rushed last year, but think that this year they have plenty of time, and it will take "really bad luck" for them not to come away with something this year. Program is sustainable with his funding, "as long as the bottom doesn't drop out of the videogame market." Could cost-effectively get to perhaps twice their development rate, but can't speed up much more by throwing lots of money at it. Happy with the rate they're going, and "absolutely going to carry people into space." Making steady progress toward that next year, but not promising. Believes that when the vehicles have been demonstrated, the business case will take care of itself. They expect to have spent five million in development, whereas Virgin will spend ten times that much. They will have much bigger windows and better view. Sees multiple market niches, with some people wanting to take off like and airplane, and some who want to ride a "real rocket ship."

He thinks that a vehicle with "dozens of engine modules" can be reliable. Most look at this with skepticism, but he thinks it's unjustified. May want to have a bigger base module when he gets to large vehicles (Falcon 5 class). Will be adding three-axis GPS, whose price has dropped to ten grand, which will allow recovery from tumbles. Thinks that he is ahead of his competitors because he accepts failure, whereas others still work too hard to get it right the first time. If he wins money, they'll be flying straight up early next year, and think they will get close to a hundred kilometers if not all the way, but there are market opportunities even at a hundred fifty thousand feet. They're getting better at building these vehicles, and they can get more productive at higher rates. Still believes that it's possible to build something that can go all the way to orbit with something built in a garage, or at least a small section of a warehouse. And he thinks he may make back his investment in the next couple years.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 23, 2007 04:39 PM
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Why don't they finally beef up the size of NASA prizes?

DARPA has beefed up its Urban Challenge prizes, and the DOE is on track to offer a hefty "H Prize" before too much longer.

Posted by Centennial Challenges fan at March 23, 2007 10:10 PM

That's a simple answer. DARPA itself has a larger purse than NASA. Maybe not directly, but via DoD. DoE certainly has a larger purse.

Posted by Leland at March 26, 2007 02:01 PM

I think that he will hit sub-orbital late next year. In 2009, I think he will be ready to start offering flights. @010/11---Orbital. Yes--I know you have to go a lot higher and the temperatures are higher. But he has shown us what it takes to go there...he nearly won the LLC last year. This he said---unless he has a piece of bad luck...he will place in at least 1 maybe 2 prizes. Why do I say place and not win, there is still 6 months...and look what he did in 6 months last year!

Posted by Phillip George at March 28, 2007 05:40 PM

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