Saturday, April 04, 2009

Space Access 2009 - John Carmack - Armadillo Aerospace

John Carmack showed an entertaining video about Armadillo. It was about ten minutes and done as a new release. They had a profitable year in 2008.

Last year Armadillo changed from being a pseudo-volunteer group to a real business. John had been spending about half million a year, which came out of his pocket. John hasn't put anything into the company in the last twelve months! They have three full time employees. They are hoping to be the first company which pays its investors back, including John.

John has learned over the last nine years that the price can be much more than the cost. As they are providing services now they are on the other side, charging more that items cost.

For the last two years they have had six or eight customers indicate interest in hiring Armadillo, but only two came through. Financially it was enough. Armadillo is about a third the size of XCOR.

Armadillo is still very focused on getting people into space, first suborbital, and then orbital. They are also looking at providing services for taking up experiments into space for universities.

He talked about the problems with trying to fly out of an airport. Initially the estimated altitude was like twenty feet. Then they'll go to two thousand feet. It has been frustrating having it on hold. Think it will work out, soon.

They have been making progress. It has been slower than they wanted. If they are not able to get work from NASA and from rocket racing, they will still be OK, John can just write another track. They have learned from the jobs they have done.

They are planning on competing for the Level II challenge this year.

John said they have business dealings that are in process that he can't talk about.

They've been working with Lynn Fox and learned a lot from him. They are more formal about their checklists. Their items are timestamped. He plans to integrate the voice in with the checklists.

John reviewed rocket design and still thinks that rockets don't need wings.

Both Armadillo and XCOR are looking at building the smallest possible vehicle that gets them into the revenue stream.

It has been sobering working with Rocket plane and having a person in front of the rocket. They realized that someone could die.

The work with NASA has been really great. The project used methane. Armadillo had to go back and do some original design.

It was frustrating that they didn't get more time with testing before the challenge. They had hints, but didn't understand the cause of the problem. They have a watchdog process which shuts off the valves if it doesn't get a "keep alive" signal from the master control. They figured out that a rely was in a bad orientation and got lots of bouncing. They've fixed it, and are using a bigger rely.

As you add more safety systems, there are more opportunities for failure.

John says he is open about the mistakes. He asks that we be open, because it will help save lives.

John walked through one of their experiments which went bad. They have five points of failure and had a problem. They've learned a few lessons. They have more water tanks, and will fight any fires from upwind, if it happens again.

They new about two new vehicles a year. They trash about one vehicles a year. At one point they had four flight worthy rockets.

They have a line of sky divers who want to fly and parachute from the edge of the atmosphere.

Here's a video of John accepting the prize:

The full agenda

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