Monday, March 31, 2008

Armadillo Aerospace - Space Access '08

John Carmack represented Armadillo Aerospace. He started with a summary of last year's work. He began with a picture of a rocket test where the point of view moves away to reveal a grid of surrounding pictures of rocket tests. There are so many tests that the test pictures, each 1 rectangle, turn into the Armadillo logo.

John shows a test that would have won the Lunar Lander Challenge 90 second level if the rules allowed a non-X PRIZE Cup win. He shows the quad and module variants. Engine access is easier on the modules, but it's harder to travel with them sideways. The quads are easier to transport with no cranes needed, but there are no propellant balance issues.

Paul Breed from Unreasonable Rocket helped during the '07 LLC attempts with his display hardware.

A fun episode: he shows a rocket-powered crane truck.

They have a contract with NASA for a methane engine with numerous horizontal startup/shutdown tests.

Now they're boosting the altitude. They have 4 mods now. They expect failures.

John described the disappointment at the XPC results in detail, plus and analysis of what happened.

On the business side, they have about $500K in contracts for the NASA methane engine and an anonymous commercial customer. They have gone through the business/contract cycle with its successes and failures. They are getting stock prices. They are willing to sell complete components or systems like a full vehicle or a propellant system, but not parts. For example, $500K might work for a flight system.

He was worried that someone would have finished the Lunar Lander Challenge quickly, but it didn't happen.

He's thought about the Google Lunar X PRIZE. He doesn't think anyone is in a position to come close to win it. He would be willing to sell systems to GLXP teams, but he isn't too confident about the whole effort.

They have lots of commercial prospects from big aerospace, testing sensors, suborbital tourism, etc.

He had to put in 1 last funding round into Armadillo. He was hoping it would have been self-sustaining by now. It is close. Maybe they will be bringing 2 more people on full-time soon.

They have a trailer now (crane truck). They have machine tools.

The Lunar Lander Challenge arrangement is unfortunate. They're stuck in a decision bind. They want to make improvements to the vehicles, but don't want to mess with configurations for the LLC. They have to do their R&D in front of a crowd. The fact that this particular competition is a once per year event is a problem for them. They're ready for the LLC now. They have to keep spares, etc, for the LLC.

They learned a lot from the mod and quad work that allows good design ideas for the "6-pack", for example, in the area of propellant load balancing.

They expect an inflection point where they "do something" commercial and they become the suborbital leader. They had a phase 1 SBIR, but XCOR won the phase 2 round.

Q: What's the burn rate for cash? A: In 8 years, about $0.5M/year.

Q: For 100 km, use an aeroshell? A: Lots of extra mass for that. There are pros and cons. They would rather squeeze more out of the propulsion system.

Neil is full time, and others have token fees like $10/hour at times. They hope to change this this year.

Here's more on John's talk at Transterrestrial Musings, RLV News, Why Homeschool, and the Space Review.