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Transportation Space Science

Armadillo Aerospace Flight Paves Way For Science Payloads 63

Posted by timothy
from the how-much-for-a-spacemail-stamp dept.
Matt_dk writes "Armadillo Aerospace conducted two groundbreaking atmospheric test flights this weekend with their 'Mod' vertical-takeoff-vertical-landing rocket, a vehicle familiar to anyone who has followed NASA's Lunar Lander Challenge competitions. Flying from their test facility in Caddo Mills, Texas, Armadillo Aerospace first completed a milestone flight under a NASA contract, using methane fuel and liquid oxygen as propellant. Later that same afternoon, a second successful low-altitude flight was performed using a 'boosted hop' trajectory of the same type that will be used for suborbital flights to space."
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Armadillo Aerospace Flight Paves Way For Science Payloads

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  • Hm (Score:4, Funny)

    by ChinggisK (1133009) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @01:15PM (#28797983)
    I didn't realize armadillo's could fly at all, much less suborbitally.
  • Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dan667 (564390) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @01:18PM (#28798013)
    Know that there is a lot of folks involved with Armadillo Aerospace, but at first glance it looks like Carmack just has a gold touch.
    • by Unending (1164935)

      If you ever get a chance to watch him present on Armadillo Aerospace you will understand why.
      This really is his baby now and he is really making sure that they build everything from the bottom up rather than trying to start at some mid point.
      The result of this is a very thorough knowledge of all of the systems, how to optimize them and their potential problems.

    • He has perseverance. Considering where they started from in the early days I'm amazed they have finally begun to have real prospects of success. Their electronics used to be an ramshackle mess of amateurish hacks held together with spit and duct tape. I would still never set foot on a manned spacecraft that they designed but congrats to them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by PitaBred (632671)
        I'd trust hacks from Carmack more than I'd trust some of the engineering that came from my classmates. He understands the whole system... many engineers get the math fine, but completely forget how it applies to the whole. And that makes some of the designs sub optimal at best, and highly dangerous at worst.
        • by Dan667 (564390)
          That reminds me of school. We would have these assignments in computer science and some folks would ace all of the theoretical stuff on the tests. Then when we would actually build programs, people would sometimes make fun of my code (I started later than others, many had several years more coding), but mine always worked and I had several theory aces come back later and ask how I figured the assignment out.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by GooberToo (74388)

            but mine always worked and I had several theory aces come back later and ask how I figured the assignment out.

            That's because they were told what the solution should look like. You actually figured it a solution without regard for what it "should" look like. That's the difference between knowledge and intelligence.

          • The idea is to get it all right - theory and practice - and producing good code is part of that.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by powerlord (28156)

            In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

        • many engineers get the math fine, but completely forget how it applies to the whole.

          I blame physics professors on this one. I started off my college career with an electronic technician program. I worked in the field a few years and did pretty well. Then I decided to go for an engineering degree, and got stalled in the electromagnetism part of the physics series.

          As far as I could tell, there was no connection to the stuff I knew and understood in electronics and the math I was learning in that class, and the professor made no attempt to bridge the gap. I could do the labs easily thanks to

    • Not if you've followed his blogs and read of the number of problems and failures he's faced over the years. (Not to mention quite a few outright screwups.) He's climbed a very steep learning curve learning the difference between software and hardware.

    • by Rei (128717)

      Yep -- several hundred m/s delta-V down, only ~9,000 more to go.

  • by EsJay (879629)
    How high? How far? What is a "boosted hop"? What is "closed loop throttle control"?
    • by foolish (46697) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @03:05PM (#28799457)

      From a post by Matthew Ross: http://spacefellowship.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?p=38466#p38466 [spacefellowship.com]

      "Both of those were "LLC-style" hops where the mod flies gently up to about 55 meters and then gently back down.
      Since both of those went well, we decided to do a "boosted hop," where instead of gently flying up and down, it goes full throttle for about three seconds, coasts to apogee at low throttle, falls quickly back down and then throttles up before touching down"

      A 5 second serch on Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_loop [wikipedia.org]

      "A closed-loop control system is one in which an input forcing function is determined in part by the system response. The measured response of a physical system is compared with a desired response. The difference between these two responses initiates actions that will result in the actual response of the system to approach the desired response."

      So, engine generates thrust X, desired target of which is X+Y. Throttle is increased until measured response is X+Y. At which point the throttle is maintained or decreased, depending on what part of the flight profile the vehicle is in.

    • A boosted hop, according to Carmack's previous work, is when you do a little hop, and then detonate something below you.
      The resulting detonation boosts your original hop.

  • Light on the details (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sbeckstead (555647) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @02:06PM (#28798623) Homepage Journal
    There doesn't seem to be any type of accomplishment here except ~three or four paragraphs of an article about something that flies flying straight up and down then getting boosted by a hop while closing a control loop in microgravity?
    There are details lacking to those that have no idea what Armadillo Aerospace builds and/or why?
  • Seriously, if they have this down and working, could this be used on the moon? For the most part, I think that this craft will be limited here on earth. Though I could see it hoping from mountain top to mountain top to place weather instrumentation and perhaps even telescopes. It seems that the really useful place for this would be either the moon or even possibly mars.
    • by Bakkster (1529253)

      Seriously, if they have this down and working, could this be used on the moon? For the most part, I think that this craft will be limited here on earth. Though I could see it hoping from mountain top to mountain top to place weather instrumentation and perhaps even telescopes. It seems that the really useful place for this would be either the moon or even possibly mars.

      You're late by 40 years.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_Lunar_Module

      • So, we can use these and scale them up right now. Yes? What do you mean no. You mean that it had support for just 2 crew for VERY short periods, had no shielding, and could not hop around on the moon, and we pretty much do not have capability to build it right now (without lots of money)? Oh, Ok. NOW, I understand your comment.

        Here is armadillo's new ship and it has the ability to go up and down.
        • by Bakkster (1529253)
          GP said this kind of vertical take-off/landing rocket would be useful on the moon. I simply pointed out that it has already been done on the moon, if not nearly as sophisticated.
    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      Seriously, if they have this down and working, could this be used on the moon?

      I'm pretty sure it's on their mind, especially since they won part of the Northrop Grumman/NASA Lunar Lander Challenge [wikipedia.org] and anticipate winning the rest this year. Since it uses methane as its fuel, I imagine the system could also be quite handy for a Martian sample return or human mission, as you could harvest methane from the Martian atmosphere.

      A copy of a post by one of the Armadillo team members from this weekend:

      http://spacefellowship.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?p=38466#p38466 [spacefellowship.com]

      Still very much in the game. In the past week, we've done three free flights with the Methane mod for the NASA contract. Tuesday night was just to make sure everything was A-OK for Saturday's flight, which was in front of a bunch of NASA people and other folks. Both of those were "LLC-style" hops where the mod flies gently up to about 55 meters and then gently back down.

      Since both of those went well, we decided to do a "boosted hop," where instead of gently flying up and down, it goes full throttle for about three seconds, coasts to apogee at low throttle, falls quickly back down and then throttles up before touching down (this will be more like the flight profiles of the higher and higher altitude testing we're close to beginning). That flight went well too, except that in order to make sure to stay below the restrictions in the waiver for those flights, we put less pressure in the boosted-hop flight just to play it conservatively, and as a result it didn't go as high as we thought it might (only about 45 meters instead of twice that).

      Also, we've already internally decided on a date when we'll attempt LLC level 2; not sure when that gets publically announced. That will be with the high-pressure augmented Mod that we've been calling the Super Mod, not the Methane Mod.

      Oh, and alas... even though I say "we" in the above commentary, I was too busy at my "day job" so I missed ALL of the three free flights this week. So, I don't know what we'll have by way of video to show. I know Phil tried his best to capture some, but with all the other things he also had to worry about, I know the coverage will be limited.

  • How?? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by greywire (78262) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @02:28PM (#28798969) Homepage

    Can somebody explain to me how the hell they are going to pull this off?

    I mean, its hard enough just to get enough fuel into a rocket to just barely get it and a small (relatively speaking) payload into space or orbit and then just fall back to earth without burning up.

    And they want to do it and still have enough fuel left for a controlled, powered vertical landing?

    While I think its an awesome idea that potentially avoids the dangerous re-entry issues of all previous and existing technologies (remember that the last space shuttle accident was because of a few damaged heat tiles!) and solves the re-usability problem, making for a possibly very economical vehicle, I just dont see how they are going to pack that much fuel into it.

    Short of nuclear rockets, or things that make use of the air (either by flying up and/or using the atmosphere for the oxidizer instead of having it onboard), or some other new kind of amazing fuel, it doesnt seem possible.

    Rockets and other vehicles meant to go into space face all sorts of structural issues and guidance problems and such, but ultimately the real problem is that of the energy required to get something up there in an efficient way. Thats why you have airplanes that fly up as high as they can before going into rocket mode, or space elevators, etc.

    I am sure making a rocket go up and then come down without smashing itself or blowing up is incredibly hard, but that seems like a problem that doesnt need to be solved until we have some better fuel to put in it.

    Am I missing something?

    • What you're missing is that they don't (yet ...) plan to go to orbit. Getting to the upper atmosphere and popping up above 100km (as SpaceShipOne did) is much easier; you need a speed of only about 1000 m/s versus 8000 m/s. I'm sure Carmack would love to blast into orbit, but he is being realistic.

      • Oops, replied to the wrong reply. Sorry.

      • by foolish (46697)

        And as a bonus, part of the group AA belongs (the Commercial Spaceflight Federation?) to is trying to establish multiple markets for commercial enterprise. If they can give away a couple science payloads, and then later have a relatively cheap offering (sub 7-figure) for one-off or repeat experiments in the same flight profile, they demonstrate a new market. It's actually rather difficult for universities to get payloads to near-space. Year(s) waiting times mean that sometimes students and staff never se

    • by Molochi (555357)

      My guess is that they'll use thrust just for the final landing after the grunt work of losing velocity is done by heat shields and parachutes. Armadillo's approach seems similar to iD's approach to games; it's like a tech demo that shows a facet of the technology that could be useful. Maybe you'd want something capable of softlanding at the spaceport for secure satellite/experiment/data recovery.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by samkass (174571)

      Single-Stage To Orbit [wikipedia.org] requires a mass-to-weight ratio in the range of 10-25. That is more than any current air or spacecraft, but recent advances in propellant storage and materials science has made it possible. Some existing rockets have been calculated to have a 10+ mass-to-weight first stage, but no one's ever tried to design the whole rocket around it. But there are certain economies of scale when you eliminate the staging as well... the rockets themselves are already heat-shielded and can lower the

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      From the linked story, the current focus isn't on orbital research but on microgravity and suborbital research, which current has to be done on things like sounding rockets which are quite a bit more expensive than what Armadillo Aerospace is offering:

      (it occurs to me that I'm pasting almost the entire link...)

      Later that same afternoon, a second successful low-altitude flight was performed using a âoeboosted hopâ trajectory of the same type that will be used for suborbital flights to space. The âoeboosted hopâ trajectory allowed the vehicle to maintain a reduced-g environment through closed loop throttle control, a technique that opens the door for future flights for microgravity science, technology development, and education missions. ... Professor Collicott has been leading a group of Purdue University students in developing a fluid-mechanics science payload that they plan to fly soon on board the Armadillo Aerospace vehicles under an agreement developed by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

      âoeSeeing the latest Armadillo Aerospace launches in person was a thrill. Weâ(TM)re very excited about the reduced-gravity experiment value of these innovative Armadillo rockets. In addition, there is nothing like seeing a launch live to get people and especially students excited about aerospace technology,â said Professor Collicott. âoeArmadilloâ(TM)s eager leadership in moving student sub-orbital rocket experiments from dreams to reality is already impacting the next generation of aerospace engineers in a uniquely powerful way,â Professor Collicott concluded.

      The work between Purdue University and Armadillo Aerospace is serving as a pathfinder effort for future integration of other science payloads on commercial suborbital vehicles. Large numbers of research flights on a variety of suborbital vehicles are envisioned under NASAâ(TM)s Commercial Suborbital Research Program, based at the NASA Ames Research Center, and scientists are eager to begin working with vehicle developers to get experience integrating science payloads with vehicles.

  • Video Link (Score:4, Informative)

    by malloc (30902) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @02:45PM (#28799209)

    From the Space Fellowship forum page: http://spacefellowship.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=396&start=1710 [spacefellowship.com]

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_rqVBhwx6I [youtube.com]

    Also on the SF page, a bit of commentary from Matthew Ross, including that they've internally decided on a date for LLC 2.

    -malloc

  • I'm still hoping one of these private companies will give the paraffin (candle wax) rockets a try:
    http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2003/28jan_envirorocket.htm [nasa.gov]
    http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2003/03images/paraffin/paraffin.html [nasa.gov]

    I assume these rockets still still have some serious engineering kinks to be worked out, but it would be incredibly slick if they could make it work.

    • by cmowire (254489)

      The problem is that just because it's paraffin and an oxidizer doesn't mean it's that much simpler or that much safer than a liquid fueled rocket. Instead of two sets of plumbing, you have one set, but that's still rocket plumbing and it's still awfully troublesome.

      Consider how Scaled Composites made a big deal about how safe their rubber+nitrous oxide hybrid engines were.... and then killed a few people in a nitrous oxide plumbing accident while working on SpaceShipTwo.

  • Is that what you wanted to write?

  • Beer? (Score:2, Funny)

    by sbeckstead (555647)
    A boosted hop (I guess genetically modified) may be useful for making beer? But why does it have a trajectory?

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