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« Ken Davidian | Main | Investment Climate Panel »

Masten Space

Dave Masten is talking about their company, that's now based in Mojave, just down the road from XCOR. Brief delay due to computer glitches. Meanwhile, here's a good roundup of what's going on in New Space in general from Alan Boyle, who unfortunately couldn't attend.

Giving up on the A/V, and just started talking instead.

Nothing in the literature on building expendable launch vehicles tells how to build reusable vehicles. For instance, factors of safety don't work, need more robustness. "Build a little, test a little," is working fine, and making similar progress to Armadillo but behind their schedule. Six months ago, they were two weeks from flight, and still are. As far as he's concerned, Armadillo won the LLC last year. They intend to give them a run for their money this year, but they may not, because they're actually busy with potential contracts. Nothing signed yet, but the exposure of the X-Prize Cup was apparently good for business.

Question from John Carmack about selling engines: same answer as XCOR--liability issues are going to be a problem, they have some ideas how to deal with this, but it's going to add to the cost of the engine. Cost of machining engine is tens of thousands of dollars, but sales price will have to be much higher. Have been looking at indemnification program with one of their insurance brokers. Thinks that some of the risk is reduced because users will likely be flying under FAA-AST review.

Noting that Mojave has been great for them, and when they need something done, people figure out how to do it, rather than telling them that they can't.

What is needed for success. Start with large fortune, large ego, and confidence, or you won't make it. Preparing for both Level 1 and Level 2 of Challenge, and hoping for both. Four people in Mojave, one business development guy (Michael Mealing) in Atlanta, and a few volunteers.

Applause as screen finally comes up.

Goal: aircraft-like operations of reusable rockets, quick turnaround, several flights per day. Spend a lot of time testing components, nothing except propellant changed between flights. Components seem to have almost infinite life. No single-failure modes, failures need to be graceful. Multiple failures don't jeopardize payload or public. They've built a prototype to validate engine, controls and operations. Original design was a maintenance nightmare in terms of leaks, and they redesigned to eliminate it.
History: '01, not just a hobby any more
'02, "Who's this Mormon?" (Jon Goff)
'03, Founders in same room at same time, "We're actually doing this."
'04-'05, setting up facilities, igniter work, vehicle/engine design
'06, Engine works well, but need new injector, because hand-sharpened tools of manufacturer were giving inconsistent results, think they have the problem fixed now. Built first prototype vehicle.

Next steps, finish vehicle, initial flight tests, then next version that will be LLC capable. Plan two test sessions a week of flight tests, of various durations.

Goal is operable suborbital, operable, responsive vehicle to a hundred kilometers. Vertical takeoff, vertical landing. Three-legged vehicle. Planning pistonless pumps, retractable gear, increased thrust, with more or bigger engines, RCS, "space rating" components, then go to space. Running on isopropyl alcohol/LOX. They were close to having permit applications for LLC last year, and anticipate no FAA problems this year.

Further plans, orbit, probably two stage. Notes that they're different from Armadillo in that their primary markets are research/education, rather than passengers. Wants to have system that can allow rapid reflight with experiments, a capability that the research community has never seen before.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 24, 2007 11:24 AM
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