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John Carmack is starting off with a video of Lunar Landing Challenge, showing the failed attempt to win last fall.

Likes the new single-tank design compared to the old quad. It's easier to service, though a little harder to transport because it's much taller.

Seeing views that we hadn't seen at the time, from the three on-board cameras.

Now showing a burn of methane engine that they've been developing with NASA.

Now have four modules of the six that they plan to build their suborbital vehicle. Landing gear turns out to be one of the heavier items, as heavy as the tank. Sticking to dual tanks and single engine on each module. 800 psi pressure tank, with rubber landing pads. Thus tank is also landing gear.

Steps to commercial vehicle. Some debate whether differential throttling will work for control. Recent experience indicates that it is sluggish to respond, because throttling can't be done fast enough on a peroxide engine, but a bi-prop engine may be more manageable.

Definitely disappointment after losing the cup. Thought they'd done everything they needed to prepare for. They'd done many test flights, including five 180 second flights (long enough to go to space). Had three vehicles, any one of which could do the ninety-second challenge. But they had five starts with three wrecked engines. Still not sure what the problem was, but think that (sorry, going to fast to capture it all), but think it had something to do with cooling jacket capacity and start-up processes that resulted in fuel entering the chamber prematurely. BIggest difference was that they turned the vehicles faster at the cup than during normal tests, and there could have been slight differences in chamber pressures or fuel ratios at a given point in time that had catastrophic results. May have had an assembly error (leaving out an O-ring that resulted in a fuel leak), but can't be sure.

Disheartening, but compared to all the other hardware at the airshow with thousands of flights, they couldn't have the statistical confidence as those military aircraft. Learned a lot of lessons. Don't expect it to work the first time. Even with modern engineering practice, it won't happen. Not arrogant enough to think they've solved all the problems, or even know what they are. Expect to lose several of the modules in flight testing. But once they find the problems, they're confident they can solve them. On propulsion, engine now starts and stops like a light switch. Expecting high-speed aero problems.

On business scale issues, things are accelerating. Half a million in contract work, NASA and a commercial customer not to be disclosed. Starting to talk more like Jeff Greason now--transitioning from hobby to business. Won't sell components, because integration is critical. Will sell functional systems (such as propulsion). Currently at around 5000 lbf thrust, will sell for a couple hundred thousand bucks. Will sell complete vehicle for half a million. Talking to Lunar Google X-Prize teams. Won't warrant that it will land on the moon, but if they want to buy one for testing, he'll sell it. Has very little confidence in Google Lunar X-Prize--doesn't think anyone has what it takes. Talking to aerospace companies about sensor suite testing and lunar simulations. Still thinks highly of suborbital passenger market. Thinks there's a market, and has all the pieces: propulsion, control, insurance, etc. Not worried about schedules, because SS2 continues to slip.

Had hoped that he was past the point where he didn't have to invest any more, but did recently. However, more of a float issue, or loan, until some other things come in. "Perseverance and determination will get us there."

Problem with LLC: once a year demonstration is the worst thing for a technical challenge. Adds pressure for tough decisions that can distract from main commercial goals. Afraid to do boosted hops at higher altitudes because they don't want to risk if for the challenge. Have three vehicles, but last year's experience shows that's not enough for redundancy. Ready to do it now, but have to wait until end of year and keep hardware available for it.

[Update a few minutes later]

Clark Lindsey has more on Armadillo, and a report on the previous talk on laser launch by Jordin Kare.


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philw1776 wrote:

Gotta say that I really respect Carmack's approach at Armadillo. Best of luck for their continued perserverance.

Steve wrote:

Armored-dildo? Shouldn't this be part of the story about the picnic table guy.

Josh Reiter wrote:

I gotta say I have had a good time in the past watching Armadillo's progress on their site. I hate to dog a fellow Mesquitian but I was disappointed with their showing at the latest challenge. To me it seemed like they took a big step back from the previous year. Now when I watch and read about the latest stuff I have been getting slightly agitated.

I'm in the midst of a project management course with a focus on information technologies and I am most certainly a neophyte in this regard. There were some sections I recently read about critical paths and project scheduling. I can only guess that after their 1st attempt they saw they were the only ones to show up and therefore they free up more slack on work breakdown structures along their critical path. I would certainly hate for another team that has been quietly tooling away to come out of nowhere and snatch this thing out from under their feet while Armadillo has been playing with rocket trucks on their test field.

Armadillo should be making every effort to keep this project on track according to the project charter. The scope statement should simply say "To design a rocket vehicle that will win the Lunar Lander Challenge". Get milestones done within the estimates generated by the program evaluation and review techniques. Let's get this thing won and done!

Anonymous wrote:

Josh, you have to understand that the LLC has been more of a distraction than a goal for Armadillo. The two million dollars would be nice, but it's not essential. They were doing this long before the LLC existed, and are still trying to focus on the primary goals. They don't have enough personal to focus on everything.

Josh Reiter wrote:

Well one could turn that on its head and say LLC is a distraction from their primary projects then. Either way, as a potential customer or investor I would have some thoughts in the back of my head as to how well Armadillo's boat is being steered. The work breakdown structures of primary projects should not be predicated on the completion rate of WBS's in other external projects. If they are then they need to become part of your primary project.

When formulating your dependencies to create WBS's for your Gantt chart one should work to make a accurate appraisal of resource costs and availability assigned to specific milestones along the critical path. If stakeholders assigned to a task are involved with other projects then MS Project 2007 allows that resource's schedule to be modified so as to provide an accurate estimate of completion for that task. Being able to accurately forecast projects, complete them on time/on budget, and provide the deliverables that were promised can do wonders for a companies image and bottom line for in the future.

Oh my god I'm starting to sound like a management monkey. Noooo!!!!

Robert Horning wrote:


When you talk about distractions from the primary projects, I wonder if you are even aware of the origin of Armadillo Aerospace and what they've been doing at all?

This started out mainly as a hobby, but a fairly serious attempt to try and win the original X-Prize for spaceflight. John Carmack is far and away better known for his software algorithms for video games, and if anything that is his "primary project" which he simply excels. And as a matter of fact ID software is still doing rather well, and Mr. Carmack has even been proposing some rather interesting standards concepts for 3D graphic manipulations and is seeking some industry support for implementation of those concepts by requesting Intel and Microsoft to pay attention to his suggestions. And they are listening too!

I've noticed an interesting transition which has been going on with Armadillo Aerospace where it has largely moved from being a mere hobby to something of a more serious for-profit company. Read some of the original "meeting minutes" on his blog for when he started the thing to his style that he has now. Along the way Mr. Carmack even got married... adding to the "distractions" that has impacted the company but IMHO has made it much more mature and serious.

Still, there is a bit of the original hobby group being financed by John Carmack's video game royalties. If you see a little bit of that playfulness, just know where it is coming from, and note that the whole company has been created with no outside financing (not even a bank mortgage from what I can tell)... in fact the only "investment" they are willing to accept is from those who are willing to buy "armadillo droppings", which are basically parts from their previous experiments that blew up or crashed. Oh, that and the Armadillo Aerospace T-shirts, hats, and mugs.

As for customers of their products, it is only recently that the concept has even surfaced at all. There have been several people who have seen the successes of the company and have wanted to have some of the working engine designs and other parts and pieces, and as indicated by Mr. Carmack they haven't wanted to get into that distraction.

The stated goal of the company is to apply software engineering methodology to rocket design, and frankly I think he has been wildly successful at the concept. Of any of the former X-prize contestants, I don't know of anybody who has more flight time in terms of actual hardware being used and doing things... including Scaled Composites. Applying for NASA grants has also forced the company and group to be a little more serious, and the level of the hardware is now getting expensive enough that even a multi-millionaire can no longer support the concept as a mere hobby. Hence the reason for a more serious tone within the company as well.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on March 28, 2008 2:46 PM.

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