Friday, November 21, 2008

A Quick update...

My next rocket project is to finish up some test stand work for a paying customer I can’t talk about.

As for the LLC projects :

I’ve been exploring a number of catalyst options for peroxide. I’m looking at silver plated nickel screens, and commercial catalysts from several different vendors. These include the commercial catalysts from CPILINK that John Carmack was kind enough to send me. If that catalyst is still commercially available then its high on my list. All of the parts and pieces to build an electrically pumped biprop peroxide test have been ordered. I have all the parts on hand to both convert the 90 Second vehicle to a solid catalyst and to build a biprop version of very similar design capable of doing 180 seconds.

The plans for next years LLC have stirred a bit of controversy and I’m not sure what side of the debate I agree with. The basic problem is this: The LLC is supposed to be an impartial contest, yet you have the head of the Xprize, Peter on video telling John Carmack that they will expedite the 2009 contest so Armadillo does not have to wait a full year to win the prize. That was an astonishingly ill conceived video. Peter has a personal business relationship with Armadillo, so even if there are a million legitimate reasons to accelerate the contest and change its format, that one video could be used by anyone with an axe to grind to trash both the concept of government prizes and the xprize organization in particular.

I’d really like to see the 2009 LLC be a first to demonstrate at any location like the original Xprize. This would simplify the contest for all competitors as you would only have to get permission to fly in one location, not both your testing base and the LLC venue. It would also reduce the financial burden on the xprize organization as the local logistics would be resolved by the team and not Xprize. From a personal stand point It would improve our odds of winning the 2nd place 90 second prize and enable us to then switch our focus to taking a shot at the 180 2nd place prize when we were ready rather than at some specific date. . Unfortunately I’ve personally received enough private E-mail from multiple people just steaming mad about this that I can’t see the possibility of any change in the LLC format without it ending up in court.

The sad part about this is that after spending two years working on this I have a feel for the difficulty level and I don’t see that any of the new not yet flown teams have a shot at getting a 180 second vehicle ready by October, its just too hard. Other than armadillo we are the only currently registered team that has fired a motor to thermal equilibrium with the necessary performance to do 180 seconds (Our Lox Ethanol motor) and we have chosen to take a different direction.


Jon Goff said...

"Other than armadillo we are the only currently registered team that has fired a motor to thermal equilibrium with the necessary performance to do 180 seconds (Our Lox Ethanol motor) and we have chosen to take a different direction."

It's good that you added that qualifier, because MSS demonstrated an engine with ample performance back in 2006. :-)

But I definitely agree with your take that Peter's comments are going to make it much harder to do a first to demonstrate rule change this year.

I saw a suggestion over on Hobbyspace that might give the same benefit though. I think the idea was that you could do the actual prize flight whenever this first year, but the prizes wouldn't be awarded till the regular XPC time in October. If nobody else can compete by that point, you walk away with the prize. If they can, it goes to tiebreaker mode. After that switching to first to demonstrate wouldn't be a big deal, since everyone would know in advance that that was what was going to happen.

I just think that TrueZer0 for instance might feel cheated if the rules were changed all of the sudden on them. If they had known that it was going to be switched to first to demonstrate right now, do you think they would've flown at the LLC this year? I know I'd feel a bit cheated.

I do like the whole "not having to get approvals to fly in two places" bit though.

Anyhow, those are my *personal* opinions, and not an official MSS statement.


Paul Breed said...

I hope to see MSS flying soon...
I realize its a business decision on weither or not to try fro the LLC, if you have paying customers then its less of a draw.

Jon Goff said...

"I hope to see MSS flying soon..."

Heh. You and me both. We're at least back into engine firing mode. And it looks like all those actuator/actuator control upgrades paid off. We're getting *much* better response now. I probably need to do an update soon.

"I realize its a business decision on whether or not to try for the LLC, if you have paying customers then its less of a draw."

We'd like to try and compete if we have something together in time. We've always liked the LLC, and feel bad that we haven't been able to make John sweat for his money as much as we had hoped. It lines up with our business and technology plans fairly well, but a lot this year probably depends on how they go with this rule change.


David said...

I am in two minds on the rule change.
A) I like the build up, extra testing and activity as well as the show for the last event. It was exciting. This would not happen.

B) I would guess that it has made the prize harder as you would logically think Armidellio would have won both prizes by now based on test flights. So it does add an extra layer - which is important.

C) The fly off if two teams both achieved the profile would have been very interesting.

C) With time running out it would appear it is reasonable to move to the new arrangement. There are still the second prizes to win for the other teams.

D) It would lower the boundary - no need to worry about absolute accuracy on landing. Mind you the 180sec is difficult so this would not be a major advantage.

E) We are likely to see a sudden movement toward more tests as the mini-space race started again. Although it would put the nail in the coffin for a number of teams though as unlikely as it would be that they could go in a year anyway.

On balance I think it should be change to fly when your ready.

Timothy J. Massey said...

To be honest, nearly every action on the part of Mr. Diamandis has been disappointing, from the extreme over-sell and under-deliver of the entire Rocket Racing League to the fact that he is willing to rewrite the LLC rules to substantially favor an organization with whom he has a significant financial interest.

Disappointing at every level.

Even leaving Mr. Diamandis' behavior out of it, it seems to me that such a significant change to the rules is guaranteed to hurt *somebody*, no matter how much it helps most of the participants. Your example of TrueZer0 illustrates this. But when put against the above backdrop, I cannot imagine an impartial observer thinking that unethical--at the least--concerns did not play a significant role in changing the rules.

However, perceptions of such a change likely matter very little to Mr. Diamandis and company. Is there anything in the rules that prevent them from changing the rules as they see fit?

I hope, for your sake, that there are more super-secret clients in your future: I'm not sure that there will be prize money for anyone but Armadillo...

Paul Breed said...

The contest expires in 2010,
so there are only 2 more years for ALL the prizes to be won.

Paul Breed said...

The possibility to demonstrate when ready but not award until October with some sort of tie breaker for all teams that complete the task would be a good compromise.

A fair tiebreaker that did not favor the last one to fly would be tough. You would almost have to keep the video and measurements of the actual flights secret until October.....

The current accuracy tie breaker would be hard to keep secret if you released video. I've always preferred a hover time tiebreaker.

The other option is to let it run till October and split the $ evenly among all the people that complete the task. If only one completes the 180 task then they get first place, leaving 2nd place to be won.

Jon Goff said...

Yeah, I was worried a bit about the tie-breaker as well. Keeping the exact distances secret for a long time would be hard, not keeping it secret would give a benefit to the last one to fly.

If one were to go with this "fly early, but award in October" approach, I can think of four options for tiebreakers:

1) Split the prize like you suggest, evenly between the winners, or if only one completes they get the highest remaining prize.

2) If another team qualifies at least a certain time before the old XPCup date, require the qualified teams to have an in-person fly off.

3) Have each team do another "tie-breaker" flight at their own facilities on the date of the XPCup

4) Have each team do a long duration hover, and have it based on the time aloft. Either keep this number secret until October, or have this done at their sites in October.

I'm not sure if any of those would make much sense. What do you think?


Paul Breed said...

If it were 100% up to me I'd choose split the purse as the tie breaker.

My second choice would be over time.

Paul Breed said...

Arghhh "hover" time not over time.

Jon Goff said...

Yeah those were the two that seemed to make the most sense.


phillip said...

There are two things going on here--one is to foster an industry and another is to remember that this a compitation.

Does anyone really think that there will be 3 vicheals flying next Oct. that can do 180 seconds? I really do not think so.

For the competition part of the prize--1st to do 180 seconds and the same rules at any location wins the prize.

For the industry part--there is still the 2nd place prize. There can be a hovertime as a tie breaker done at your facility if there are two or more vicheals going for 2nd place.

This is a compromise of trying to get the best of both worlds. The new Google lunar prize is not held once a year. If you can land on the moon--go. Compitition once a year can be good--but it also can be bad. AA could have basically won level 2 by January 2008. What happened--they had to wait till October to try for the prize again. This mixed format--gets people building faster, and still knowing that the 2nd prize is out there.

Ask yourself--how is it good for the industry that AA can only compete once a year? If AA had not won the 90 second prize this year--how would that have helped anyone? There would be less news and media coverage, less money for development of RLV. This reminds me of companies willing not to let an industry grow since it does not personally help them. AA has done alot of work over the years to help this industry--and now some people may want to take the xprize to court since it wants to change the rules? Who does that help? Devils advocate--say there is no rule change who really benifits? Next Oct. there still may only be AA ready and able to fly. There would have been very little news coverage of the event for 8-12 months. The RLV industry needs to fly/test often and get in the news. When you are in the news--more people know about you, more chances of getting financing that you really need.

So change the rules---remember 2nd prize is still out there. :-)

Phillip said...

Thinking about it a little more. I think splitting the prize if you can do 180 seconds by 6/1 would be a great compromise. I do not think that AA would mind only getting 333-500K if someone else can fly by then. For these very small companies--a boost of at least 333K is alot of money to them. I would still be very suprised if we had 2 other teams capable of doing 180 seconds by 6/1. If there are 4 teams capable by 6/1, then it would be a VERY exciting xcup in Oct. If only 1 team has done the 180 by 6/1, then they win.

Anonymous said...

I know Carmack, and this doesn't surprise me at all. Just last year he was talking about how there will be competition the next year. He doesn't like competition. He wants everybody to follow him, even at the cost of doing this unethical behavior. When push comes to shove, he uses a rocket launcher. Very dissapointing that he can't stand competition so much that he has to change the rules as to stack the deck in his favor.

Paul Breed said...

I will have to strongly disagree with that last statement. John has done more to advance the small new space companies than any one else.

Armadillo was the first to be completely open and honest about their activities both sucess and failure. He and his team have gone out of their way to assist me in a
completely selfless way.

I've always thought that competitions should be open with the best performance winning and
the winners trying to raise the level of everyone's play. Armadillo has been very open in that way.

Anonymous said...

How do you know he was completely open and honest? Did you put him on a lie detector test? He only tells you what he wants you to know. He may help you, but he will only help you follow him.

Anonymous said...


not so big like the Google/NASA/OdysseyMoon/XPrize conflict-of-interest explained in this Space Fellowship Forum's thread:

"Odyssey Moon WINS the Odyssey Moon Lunar X Prize"


noel.wade said...

I think perhaps its time to turn off Anonymous comments, if that's the kind of juvenile response you're gonna get from folks, Paul... :-/

Paul Breed said...

Anonymous bothers me...
but I own a T-shirt that says:

"I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

This saying is incorrectly attributed to voltaire, but it is still a good saying.

Its easy not to censor speech you agree with, its much harder to resist the impulse to censor speech you don't agree with.

I'll leave it open for now.

Jerry in Tucson said...

Your reply to anonymous was well worded, and your defense of John Carmack is applauded. I do not know John Carmack, but I have followed his blog for a few years. I think John is only guilty of being competitive. Of course with this statement I now have to include everyone else in the private space race also guilty:) You and MSS have both been wanting to give John a run for his money. I have been cheering you both on behind the scenes for the sake of competition and interest. However, John had a head start. He broke ground where others had not ventured yet. He also shared that ground, especially with the lessons learned regarding their bouts with Hydrogen Peroxide, catalysts, and suppliers of parts. You, MSS, and AA have all openly shared how the other has helped out in a time of need. You have stayed on friendly terms while being in direct competition with each other. I realize that the above is obvious to LLC followers and has been said several times in several ways. It leads into my comment regarding anonymous. If I had the ability to compete against Unreasonable, AA, MSS, and Truezero, I would want the same terms - friendly, helpful, and regarding anonymous' comment - since it is a competition - I would want you to follow! It is a competition after all with money at stake. I would expect nothing less than the same attitude towards me from my competing peers and friends:)

John Carmack said...

I have always favored a split-the-prize-among-the-qualifiers approach.

I think basing it on hover time would be bad all around, because it encourages people to have their vehicles run out of propellant in the air and crash. I favor accuracy of landing over that.

I am a bit curious about the data points that lead Anonymous to his conclusions about me. Care to elaborate?

The push to allow rescheduling the LLC began last year, when it was clear that the X-Prize Cup was going to go away unless a big sponsor showed up. XPC was losing lots of money, but the X-Prize Foundation was still obligated to run the LLC.

John Carmack

Paul Breed said...

I agree I'd prefer the spit the prize money, but the accuracy/vs hover time. Accuracy is almost all about how much you want to spend on GPS, where hover time is almost a direct stand in for the performance of the vehicle. I do agree that a hover time tiebreaker encourages risky behavior.

John Carmack said...

You are required to have cameras transmitting from the vehicle, so landing accuracy can be arbitrarily good with bad GPS if you allow manual landing control.

John Carmack

alex said...

Hi All,

I have been following the XPC fairly closely and I can see all sides of the coin of changing the rules however......

Given that people in the XP foundation have a commercial involvement with one of teams, I plead that they leave the rules ALONE. This will be very bad for the future of prizes and I would be deeply saddened if the government stopped doing them if people complained about the XPC.

John, you are loaded in money and please don't ask for a rule change that could jeopardize prizes in the future. If you lost the contest there would be no qualitative difference in your company's future; however, it could destroy a future of prizes if you won with a rule change.

In purely my view, you have made some awesome technical achievements and I want to see you rewarded for it, though perhaps that reward can be the first commercial group to 100 km with a VTVL vehicle. FOCUS on that and good things will come.


Alex Bruccoleri

noel.wade said...

Hrm... Did Burt Rutan and Paul Allen get these sorts of "loaded with money" comments, or arguments about it being "unfair" that the original X-Prize was set up as first-to-demonstrate?

I agree that it was probably a bad idea for Diamandis to say what he said on-camera, as it makes him look bad. But he's an enthusiastic promoter/sales-guy type; I don't ascribe any evil intentions to it. I'm pretty sure that if there were two competitors who were close to completing Level 2, he'd coordinate with both to set up a mutually-agreeable time.

And if you look at the practical side of the situation: AA is clearly ahead of everyone, UR is a little ways behind in second or third (depending on how you score some teams' failed flights), and everyone else is WAY back. At this point, the odds of a "little guy" coming up with a winning vehicle prior to October 2009 are slim to none. The most likely candidate for a sudden victory would be one of the big traditional aerospace companies, OR someone else who's rich and "loaded with money" and can afford to drop a lot of it (as well as the time involved) between now and October.

We already have some competition in the suborbital industry (VG, AA, and one or two others). The current global/national economy isn't going to make it possible for many other people to enter the industry (via business loans or venture-capital) at this point. Look at all the struggling / bankrupt Very-Light-Jet manufacturers to see what over-competition can do to a burgeoning market!

I've got no stake in this, but I've always preferred the idea that the people who complete the same Level split the prize money. John and Paul have both made solid arguments regarding accuracy vs. hover-time.

Failing a money-split, I would make an argument that a true (but logistically difficult or impossible) tiebreaker would be some kind of fly-off where teams would have a limited time to make as many legs as possible. That tests reliability, redundancy, operational frequency, logistical difficulties in refueling / flight-prep, etc. Its a "total vehicle workout" and a truer measure of the vehicle's suitability for actual use in a commercial op or a NASA probe.


noel.wade said...

(Quick Clarification: My "little guy" comment was not intended to mean any of the established players like UR or TZ - but rather some unknown team that is vying for an "out of nowhere" victory)

alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alex said...

Noel, The point of what I was trying to say, was not so much the "reality" of changing the rules, but rather the perception. An outside viewer who might happen to be high up in the government could easily see this as collusion between an official and a team, which would be very very bad for the future of prizes.

Nobody complained about the X-Prize rules since they did not change them mid stream. Had they required the X-Prize happen on a specific date and they changed it once Scaled came along, people probably would have complained. Its CHANGING the rules, that is the problem.

John is "loaded in money" and the risk reward ratio of him pushing for a rule change is certainly negative.



ps-I am thrilled with what John has accomplished and I am more thrilled that millionaires are investing their money into space like he is. I just don't want to see him damage future prizes!

8:02 PM