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« Space Property Rights Open Letter | Main | The Awakening Spreads »

Armadillo Thoughts

From Clark Lindsey, and from John Carmack himself:

There isnít anything I can look back at and say we did obviously wrong. We had backups for everything, we had demonstrated the required flight performance many, many times, and we had made three free flights under experimental permit since the last XPC, all without incident. The problems we had at XPC last year were clearly solved Ė our landings were accurate, and our landing gear didnít break. I am honestly very surprised that we didnít take any of the prizes. My final estimate before we made the first flight was 90% chance for level 1, and 60% for level 2. There were a lot of things that branched off of the ďif we win the LLCĒ path that we arenít going to be able to do now.

I wonder what those things are? Will this slow down their progress in getting into space, and (among other things) supporting space diving? Certainly this weekend's events have to be sobering for anyone who was considering riding an Armadillo vehicle out of the atmosphere. From a Bayesian standpoint, they're going to have to demonstrate a lot of successful flights now to overcome concerns.

And I don't know how to reconcile "demonstrated the required flight performance many, many times" with the earlier statement (to which Neil Milburn had alluded on Sunday morning) "...Our best guess for this hard start was that we were going significantly faster between flights than we usually do at our test site..."

To me, doing the required turnaround time is part of a "demonstration of the required flight performance," and it sounds like they had never done this prior to this past weekend. If true, I continue to be astounded.

In any event, here's hoping for a rapid recovery, and future success.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 31, 2007 06:22 AM
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I suspect that many, if not most, of the folks who will be "considering riding an Armadillo vehicle out of the atmosphere" have at this point never even heard of Armadillo. Or any other private/commercial space operator (with the possible exception of Virgin).

When the industry is mature enough to support a large (or any, for that matter) number of pax, these demonstration test flight misadventures won't even register in their collective memories.

Posted by Andy at October 31, 2007 07:07 AM

I bet I know what happened. Back in the UK we had similar trials on weapon systems etc and every time we went out to a new venue we had problems. Stress, both human and equipment. Not enough sleep - humans. On top of all this we get stage fright or the aerospace equivalent thereof which also adds a lot of stress to the humans.

Suggestion, next year arrive about a week ahead of time. Settle in. Get stuff working at a reasonable pace and flight test if possible.

Armadillo did nothing wrong as far as I can tell and are to be commended for a fine effort. As a team they have demonstrated again that they posses considerable resilience in the face of technical problems.

Posted by Andy Clark at October 31, 2007 02:41 PM

"On June 2, we conducted a complete LLC 1 operational profile at the Oklahoma Spaceport. Everything went great. Representatives from AST and the X-Prize Cup were present. This was the first flight under experimental permit rules from a licensed spaceport. Both legs of the flight landed within a meter of the pad center, and our operation time was only an hour and a half."

So, they have done it before, with the quick turnaround time, but that's not the way they "usually" do it, because there's a risk to non-tethered flights, AST & insurance problems are worse on non-tethered flights, and they usually do some envelope expansion on every test, rather than just repeating what's worked in the past.

"Demonstrated the required performance many, many times" just refers to a whole lot of 90+ second flights, and a handful of 180+ second flights.

You might be partly correct, though: they demonstrated the LLC 1 flight profile with a Quad, and I think the modules have an even-faster turnaround time.

Posted by Ashley Zinyk at November 1, 2007 12:09 PM

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