Friday, March 23, 2007

Space Access ‘07 - Late Friday afternoon - John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace

John Carmack made money from various computer games. He is self funding Armadillo Aerospace. Armadillo is largely staffed by volunteers.

John started off by showing a video which showed the progress over the last couple years for Armadillo Aerospace. They have down over a hundred lifts. They have gone through three different types of fuel. The video was pretty cool. It showed Pixel left off the ground. A couple people in the video made the comment that as it started coming towards them they started to run away.

John says the video will be up on their web site soon.

John provided some numbers: They have been doing this for about six years. He has spent about half a million, most of the people are volunteers. John feels they are making excellence progress.

Next time they compete for X-Prize the legs will not break. They have done several serious tests, and the legs will not break. They have a new permit in place. Probably starting next month they’ll go to Oklahoma and test it out. He is pretty confident that things will work.

He said that even though it is an odd looking system it has a lot of propulsion. Because it is modularized there are some economies of scale. They will fly with two modules and with four modules. The four module system might make it to the 100 kilometer level.

John said all of their testing is full burn.

They found the permit process wasn’t all that bad. He felt that amount of time was acceptable for a small company and would be minimal for a larger company.

They have some customers. The plan is to get a launch license by the end of the year. They have insurance. They plan to launch!

John quoted someone that “Amateurs talk about ISP while professions talk about insurance.” John would go farther, professions talk about manufacturing methods.

They are not trying to make things perfect along the way, but perfect when they are done. They are expecting some failures, but figure they’ll learn from them. Cheaper to plan on failures and work towards perfection at the end.

He does expect the X-Prize this year. Last year they gave it a good shot, but weren’t extra lucky.

John said he can keep this funding rate up, until the bottom drops out of the video game market. With more funding they could increase double their development rate. He is happy with the rate they are going now. He is optimistic. He is hoping to carry someone to space next year.

If none of the things they are looking at work out, they can still continue to develop at the rate they have been doing. John expects there will be pretty of room for multi supplies of space transportation. He feels like they have a pretty clear path to orbital.

The video showed a three stage module stage. They are going to try two stage first. If it works they will go with it. Their current rocket has a mass ratio of three, the next generation should be able to reach a mass ratio of four.

John likes the module approach. He feels putting together up to 64 should be safe. If they hit some limit they can upscale to another size.

If they win the X-Prize they’ll use the money to build improved versions. They are pretty good on building process now. It almost sounds like they could assembly line building dozen of modules.

Points raised and answered during the Q&A:

Their capsule will be a basic box, good for ten minutes.

Their insurance is good all the way to space.

In general John doesn't believe in pre-selling a capability they don't have. When they have some thing which works, they'll build three vehicles, do a bunch of tests. One of the good things about these modules are they are so cheap to fly. There isn't much labor involved in building the modules. John's estimate is each module will cost about $25,000 per module. If go to large numbers of modules there are different manufacturing processes they could use.

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Jim Muncy on PoliSpace
Next: Tim Bendel of Frontier Astronautics

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Unknown said...

all I can say is "if the quality of your journalistic writing is the standard that someone can expect of home schooling, then we better ensure that our kids go to regular schools"

Henry Cate said...

I don't make any claims to be a journalist. I got a BS in Physics and I've been a software engineer for most of my career. I am not a natural writer or a writer by training.

For the record, I did go through public schools. If you want to base any decisions on the quality of my writing, then you might want to reconsider homeschooling. :-)

I hope you found something useful about space in these postings.

Anonymous said...


This is not literature, we mostly focus on content. Henry, keep up the good work, I enjoy coming back from time to time.


Henry Cate said...

Thanks for the kind words and support.

Unknown said...

I was more referring to the spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structre and basic miss-use of words rather than the jounalistic intent.

The topic is one that fascinates me and you seemed to be the only indexed page of space access 07 info, so I applaud you for that.