April 15 an 19, 2003 Meeting Notes
We finally got into our new facility this week, so most of
our time was spent moving and organizing all of our stuff. This gives us many times the space we
previously had, and conveniently, it is only 100 feet from our old space. We couldnt have asked for a better
Odd coincidence that both XCOR and Armadillo move to larger
facilities at the same time.
We have made a few half-hearted attempts at igniting
non-catalyzed peroxide at lower concentrations the last couple months with pyro
and glow plug systems, but now that we have run out of our 90% peroxide, it is
time to get serious about it as a fall-back plan if our negotiations with FMC
and Degussa continue to fail.
We were going to start working on a spark-torch igniter, so
I sent an email to Doug Jones at XCOR for some tips. I got back one of the familiar emails from Jeff Greason about how
it wouldnt be fair to the other investors in XCOR (I have made two moderately
significant investments in XCOR) if they gave away the information they have
developed, but that they could sell us a complete igniter system. We discussed buying engines a long time ago,
and the big sticking point is that if I want a system that I can take apart and
clone, they are obligated to charge enough to recoup their development
expenses. I didnt like that price
quote at all, so for the igniter, I agreed that it would be under
no-taking-apart rules. The price came
back quite reasonable, to the point where even serious amateur experimenters
might find it worthwhile to buy from them.
Because they knew we were in a hurry, they actually pulled a system from
one of their old engines and sent it off to me.
It has been a little interesting integrating work from
another team they use 24v solenoids due to their work with airplanes, and
they use tiny little 2 AN fittings for the igniter plumbing. We got all the electronics reworked to our
style of things, including a nice little computer program to sequence
everything, so we have sparks and clicking solenoids, but we still need to do
something to adapt the plumbing before we make any fire out of it.
Ok, everybody wants to know what we think about Burt Rutans
just-unveiled X-Prize vehicle. We dont
have any particular inside information, so this is just from the same media
everyone else has seen.
He is a bit farther along than we had hoped, but not as far
along as some people seem to be reading into it. Burt seems to have changed his mind from an earlier stance that
he wasnt going to work on it until the prize money was all there. I do not expect him to win the X-Prize this
The design is roughly on par with what I was expecting to
see an exotic airplane derived vehicle.
We think this is in our favor.
His team has far more experience and resources, but they have chosen a
much less straightforward design.
Our plans dont change a bit at this point. We are still pleased with our design and
timetable, and we feel we have a credible chance of coming in ahead of
Burt. A great many things can go wrong
between the rollout and repeatable 100km flights. If it turns out that he does take the X-Prize, we will make a few
modifications in our work:
Vehicle designs will drop from three man to one man, back
were we were going before the X-Prize was funded.
We will move to bipropellant engines (assuming we arent
forced to anyway, due to peroxide availability), because the monoprop-to-100km
is not very cost effective, although it is the fastest way for us to get there.
We will probably bump up the development priority on powered
vertical landing from altitude instead of parachutes. That is where we were planning on going from the beginning, but
parachutes are another X-Prize expediter.
Even if we dont win, we wont be too far behind, and our
approaches are different enough that we can quite likely coexist in slightly
different ecological niches.