Setting Up At the X-Prize Cup

Well, I just wanted to drop a quick note, since I have the chance. Dave’s off at some VIP function tonight, and he let me use his laptop while he was gone.

The trip down went fairly well. Ian and I left Sunday night, and camped out under the stars at Needles, CA. We then drove the rest of the way to Las Cruces, arriving early in the evening on Monday. Las Cruces is a lot prettier than I had expected, and a lot more green. There was a bit of a SNAFU with the travel agency that the X-Prize Cup guys were using to get our rooms, but the ladies at the Best Western were able to get us a place to sleep.

Dave’s trip was a little more eventful. Dave headed out Monday morning with XA-0.1 sitting in the bed of his truck, and our FROTH rocket test trailer in tow. The tarps we used to protect XA-0.1 from the elements started coming off and taking parts with it by the time he reached Lancaster, so he almost had to go back and leave the vehicle there at the shop. Fortunately, he was able to find a way to get the vehicle here unscathed (basically involving taking the tarp off, and wrapping all the electrical wiring up with electrical tape). In Phoenix, while he was stopping for food somewhere, someone siphoned his truck’s fuel tank. Luckily they missed just enough that he was able to make it to a gas station before the fumes gave out. He finally arrived in Las Cruces around 4AM local time, Tuesday.

On Tuesday, we were just about the only team that was there and setting things up. We were told last week that we needed to be at the airport in Las Cruces at 9AM Tuesday for a safety briefing. It turns out that we were the only ones team there, and that the real team safety briefing was Wednesday morning. We put the rest of the day to good use, but had I known that we didn’t really have to be there by Tuesday morning, I probably could’ve driven with Tiff and the family. As it is, she won’t be able to make it this year.

After the safety briefing, we had a high-lift take XA-0.1 out of Dave’s truck, dropped our IPA drums off at the propellant depot, and got to work on getting the trailer ready for our firings. We decided that the best philosophy with the trailer was to trust absolutely nothing. We went back through tightening every single fitting in the trailer, and marking them all with a paint pen so we could visually inspect them for tightness in the future. We also cleaned the thing out, and ran a full click test. Tomorrow we’ll leak check the thing, run the PLC test cases (to verify that we didn’t do somehting with the code), and then hopefully do a short verification firing. While we were working there, Rocketplane/Kistler showed up with their vehicle mockup, and the Rocket Racing League’s “Pacing Plane” was practicing its routine for the show.

There are lots of cools displays there, including a complete SSME, and part of a Lunar Excursion Module Descent Stage. I was the first one in our group to figure out what the thing was, since it didn’t have its landing legs or MLI coverings on it. We thought it was a teststand till we got up close, and I noticed that one of the tanks said “Helium Descent Pressurant” or something like that. The LEM used a Supercritical Helium pressurization system that I had read a few papers about, and it’s about the only rocket vehicle out there that old with a “descent system”. All in all, it was rather fascinating looking over how they did the LEM and the SSME. You can learn a lot from looking at something like that when you have enough experience to know what you’re looking for. I must admit that I was sorely tempted to climb under the LEM and get some pictures from the inside (as the LEMDE engine appears to have been missing from what I could tell from where I was at). Maybe I can ask one of the Northrup guys for permission….

Today, when we arrived at the safety briefings, most of the teams were there. After the meeting, we had a chance to chat with some of the Armadillo guys, since their booth is right next to ours. They brought a lot of their vehicles with them, and we had a good chance to talk shop. It’s nice that our closest competitors in the VTVL world are also some of our best friends in the industry. They gave us some advice about keeping tethers from snagging on vehicle parts, while we showed off some of our engine hardware. Since our engines are regeneratively cooled (and rather robustly so), and since we use a higher chamber pressure, we can get much better performance over a much longer duration than their engines. All in all, I think both of our teams are learning a lot from each other, and we really look forward to seeing their flights. They should be a lot of fun.

After chatting with the Armadillo guys, we started trying to put the rest of XA-0.1 together for our static display. We had been waiting to reassemble the engines until we had a chance to qualify all of the subsystems, so we had a lot of parts taken off of the vehicle. Fortunately we were able to get most of them on, and the thing looks pretty good. When we’re 100% done, that vehicle is going to be a rather sweet little bird. Unfortunately right in the middle of assembling that thing, we started getting rained on rather hard. It wasn’t anything worse than what we’ve testfired our engines in (we had sleet one time, and snow another), but it really was annoying trying to work in blowing rain, and not get anything important too wet.

While we were working, we had several people come up to say hi, including George Tyson from the Orbital Commerce Project, Randall Clague from XCOR (who is safety officer on the pad for the Armadillo team this year), some of the Space Elevator guys, and several others. All in all, it was a lot of fun in spite of getting soaked through and frozen. Unfortunately Armadillo didn’t get a chance to fly yet this afternoon, since the rain didn’t let up yet by the time we left, but hopefully they will get a chance to do that flight tomorrow. Here’s to hoping.

Anyhow, this post has been rather random, but I just wanted to let people know how things are going.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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3 Responses to Setting Up At the X-Prize Cup

  1. Habitat Hermit says:

    That was a really good post showing some of the stuff going on behind the scenes. I’m green with envy – hope everything works out well for everybody 🙂

  2. redneck says:

    Interesting stuff going on. Hope to get in on it RSN. Good luck.

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