Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Three launch announcements.

In the past few days, three 'launches' have been announced;

  • Space News is reporting that SpaceX is preparing for a possible November launch for the Falcon I.

  • Armadillo Aerospace

  • Congratulations are in order for John & Anna Carmack on the birth of their son Christopher Ryan Carmack.

  • Masten Space Systems

  • MSS has announced that it is open for business. They are concentrating on VTVL craft starting with a sounding rocket class launcher and plan to expand into the suborbital tourism market. They maintain a news/blog page here

Monday, August 16, 2004

An Arrow flies through the air...

Canadian News is reporting that the Canadian Arrow completed a successful drop test of their crew cabin Saturday. Further tests are planned, including a test of the launch escape system, and no launch date has yet been set. It's nice to see other teams forging ahead despite the wide lead currently enjoyed by Scaled Composites and their SpaceShip One.

Equally interesting is that Estes Rockets is coming out with a line of models based on the competitors for the X-Prize, including a model of the Arrow, and of the Rubicon. (From the link, click on 'new' to see a clickable list of models. Warning, the site is based on (quite annoying) Flash.)

Update: 10:30AM PST

This one has been kicking around in my bookmarks for a couple of weeks, and it's a good place to drop it in;
  • Just as Estes inspired many a budding rocketeer, so did the Tom Swift and Tom Swift Jr. books across the decades. Here Jim Lileks gives his own sarcastic spin to the cover art of those books. It's worth remembering that our common dream isn't always widely held or regarded one.

  • A Slashdot discussion of the Canadian Arrow project.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Weekend Update

More accurately, some updates on the events of last weekend.
    Armadillo Aerospace

  • Alan Boyle interviewed John Carmack via email regarding last weekends problems and the future of Armadillo Aerospace. (Summary, "we had some problems, learned some lessons, and are moving forward".)

  • John and I are also having a discussion on these issues on sci.space.policy.

  • My hat's off to John for his openness and willingness to talk. Though some might not believe it, I do wish him luck, and we are all working and thinking towards the same goals.

    Space Transport Corp

  • Eric Meier is reporting that potential investors are stepping forward in the wake of Rubicon 1's failure.

Designing a spaceship.

Wandering about the web today I found this basic (very basic) NASA-Langley guide to designing a spaceship. Well worth a quick read.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Two strikes.

Following up on yesterday's article on the problems with Armadillo and Space Transport's tests over the weekend, I came across an even more chilling report. According to an article on MSNBC, Space Transport also launched with a known anomalous condition.

To quote from the article:

Back at the launch site, Storm said the malfunction appeared to have been caused by a manufacturing flaw in the errant engine. Even before blastoff, he could feel a "bubble," or imperfection, in the shape of the solid propellant packed within the engine tube. Both of the engines were manufactured at Space Transport's shop in Forks, Wash., up the road from Queets.

"I had identified this problem before the launch," he said. "We were somewhat sure that it was going to work well, but it turns out that we need to isolate that problem and fix it."

Huh? I thought it was basic rocketeering that a 'funny' in a solid fuel grain was a warning not to launch.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Two up, two down (in pieces).

This was not a good weekend for two X-Prize contenders.

Armadillo's failure is particularly disheartening. Their engine was showing problems during setup for a hovering test, catalyst rings fell out during setup, and the proceeded with the tests anyhow. (On the basis that such problems had occurred before, and had not caused a failure. Sound familiar?) After a 'successful' hovering test, they proceeded with a flight test on the next day. While warming the engine up as part of the flight test, the engine behaved in an anomalous fashion (it warmed up slowly and 'blew' raw propellant from the nozzle), and they proceeded with the test anyhow. During flight, problems were encountered with the engine's throttle controls (the write-up is unclear on whether or not those problems were related to the engine failure), and it ran out of fuel in-flight, resulting in a crash rather than the planned landing under thrust.

John lists some valuable lessons learned during the flight and subsequent failure, but somehow misses the big one; when you have a test anomaly, stop and find out why.
(Slashdot discussion of these problems here .)

Thursday, August 05, 2004

May the best team win.

As expected, the da Vinci team have announced that their first flight will be 2 October, four days after the first planned flight for SpaceShip 1. If the da Vinci team hopes to win however, they will have only two days to turn around their craft and make a second flight before Rutan's second flight. The da Vinci Project has also announced that they will launch from the Kindersley Municipal Airport in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Sources and further information:
da Vinci's Wildfire IV is even further out the Rube Goldberg scale than SpaceShip 1, yet it does not have the ability for much in the way of incremental testing. Frankly this announcement concerns me, sixty days from roll out to the first operational flight leaves little time for testing and bug stomping.

On a side note; am I the only one that has noticed that the two top contenders have both chosen the same basic scheme (air launch)? Yet that is the very scheme that is often (that I have seen) derided as the least likely to yield affordable, scaleable, space access. This is a little discussed side effect of prizes; the temptation for entrants to seek solutions that will win the prize, yet may not be optimal for the notional goal of the contest.