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Lunar Lander Challenge Ends in Fire, Disappoinment

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the fire-go-boom-boom dept.

Moon 123

mikesd81 writes "The rocketeers at Armadillo Aerospace, thwarted by engine problems and other mechanical failures, left this year's X Prize Cup empty-handed after their spacecraft burst into flames on liftoff Sunday. An attempt on Sunday to hop from launch and landing pads ended with the MOD craft bursting in flames shortly after engine ignition. This is the team's second attempt at the challenge in New Mexico, they were the only entrant in last year's event, which they also lost. Brett Alexander, Executive Director of Space Prizes and the X Prize Cup relayed a comment from John Carmack, leader of the Armadillo team: "Today is officially a bad day when it comes to our vehicle." The last attempt to win the $350,000 Level 1 prize on Sunday ended when the MOD vehicle had an engine fire, with pieces coming off, including disconnected cabling. Clearly, there was a fire on the pad that burned for a while — but then went out. The Armadillo team called a safety emergency, requesting fire truck assistance, Alexander said."

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123 comments

Sorry to hear this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21157435)

That must have really sucked, when things went so well in preliminary testing. Glad that you guys are still in the game; keep at it. (Easy to say, of course, since it isn't my cash burning up out there on the pad. I wish it were!)

Re:Sorry to hear this (4, Interesting)

XenoPhage (242134) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157489)

I think these guys deserve all the credit they get. John and company spend a lot of time refining their approach and are kind enough to share that data with the rest of the rocketry community. They're helping push commercial rocketry into the mainstream and I wish them all the best. Can't wait to see how they do next year!

Re:Sorry to hear this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21158161)

next year, ha, I want to see how they do next month. These guys have drive and determination, they will figure out what went wrong, fix it, and be back on the pad doing launches before the other teams have finished their first launch.

Re:Sorry to hear this (2, Informative)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158387)

I've been following their news flashes also, and indeed they are very open about what they're doing (and how). The amount of testing they've done is staggering, but the landing has always been the weakest link of the vehicle IMHO. I think landing is at least as difficult as building the rest of the rocket, but most testing went toward engine testing.

Lately, they have been flying reliably, but then they had to change the graphite chambers suddenly because the company they bought them from had received a big order and could not supply them to Armadillo. Is that what caused the problems? In any case, making changes just before the big show is always an omen for troubles (not that they had a choice).

It's really too bad, I thought they had a fair chance. I just hope John will take some time to really focus on the landing, the engine troubles will have to be examined but I don't think it will turn out to be a major issue (again, they've been flying for a while now, the engine is quite stable).

The good thing is that, as a sofware engineer, he surely knows how to handle crashes emotionally.

Re:Sorry to hear this (3, Informative)

XenoPhage (242134) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158643)

I've been following their news flashes also, and indeed they are very open about what they're doing (and how). The amount of testing they've done is staggering, but the landing has always been the weakest link of the vehicle IMHO. I think landing is at least as difficult as building the rest of the rocket, but most testing went toward engine testing.
Yeah, it looks like landing is definitely a tough one.. My guess is that the upward thrust, combined with the sudden outward forces induced when getting closer to the ground, causes some problems with the vertical landing. Seems that as they approach, the vehicle starts tilting a bit..

Lately, they have been flying reliably, but then they had to change the graphite chambers suddenly because the company they bought them from had received a big order and could not supply them to Armadillo. Is that what caused the problems? In any case, making changes just before the big show is always an omen for troubles (not that they had a choice). That may have been it, though there has been some talk about the fuel mixture as well. I guess there's no "standard" for fuel mixtures, or at least, not the kind they use, and the supplier may have changed the mixture slightly? I'm sure John and the rest of the crew will dissect, diagnose, and post the findings..

It's really too bad, I thought they had a fair chance. I just hope John will take some time to really focus on the landing, the engine troubles will have to be examined but I don't think it will turn out to be a major issue (again, they've been flying for a while now, the engine is quite stable).
He sounded pretty disappointed... Went as far as saying that they felt worse than last year.. I think it was just a bad day.. Sure, improvement will definitely help, but there are always those days that nothing goes right.. That said, they did have some decent flights earlier.. And, the AST qualification flight went off without a hitch.. There's video here : http://media.armadilloaerospace.com/2007_10_21/modFreeFlight.mpg [armadilloaerospace.com]

The good thing is that, as a software engineer, he surely knows how to handle crashes emotionally.
Heh... There was a lot of discussion about how being a software engineer has impacted how he builds rockets.. Incremental improvements.. Build fast, fly often.. And it's worked.

Re:Sorry to hear this (1)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 6 years ago | (#21159693)

Yeah, it looks like landing is definitely a tough one.. My guess is that the upward thrust, combined with the sudden outward forces induced when getting closer to the ground, causes some problems with the vertical landing. Seems that as they approach, the vehicle starts tilting a bit..
Hmm.. I thought that, as the vehicle touches the ground, you get a pivotal point and the rocket just tends to top over.

He sounded pretty disappointed... Went as far as saying that they felt worse than last year.. I think it was just a bad day.. Sure, improvement will definitely help, but there are always those days that nothing goes right.. That said, they did have some decent flights earlier.. And, the AST qualification flight went off without a hitch.. There's video here : http://media.armadilloaerospace.com/2007_10_21/modFreeFlight.mpg [armadilloaerospace.com]
That's understandable. They were ready. They had done dress rehearsals of the flights, and it went flawlessly. Everybody is certain it will work. Then they go on stage, and everything goes wrong. Suddenly all that confidence is gone. There's nothing as frustrating as that... I just hope they get over it quickly, and will be back next year - with a vengeance :).

Re:Sorry to hear this (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#21161533)

as the vehicle touches the ground, you get a pivotal point and the rocket just tends to top over.

Yeah, I see the problem. The video you linked to shows that the engine is still firing when the first landing leg touches the ground, and the thing just bounces a bit before settling.

They could steal a trick from the Apollo Lunar Module, and attach contact probes to the landing legs. In the LM these extended a few feet down from each footpad, and as soon as any of them made contact with the lunar surface, that would kill the descent engine. The vehicle then just drops the remaining distance. Just make the probes a few inches for Earth gravity, and the thing would be less prone to jittery bouncing when it nears the ground. (I can also see where it might have guidance problems at that point -- one leg touches the ground, bounces a bit, and the guidance system sees that as an attitude change it needs to compensate for with the engine. It really needs an "okay, I'm close enough to the ground to just stop" sensor.)

Re:Sorry to hear this (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158467)

Todays QOD "Only through hard work and perseverance can one truly suffer" is rather appropriate. I grew up just south of Cape Canaveral in the early 1960's - saw lots of missiles go up and then go "boom". It's a rather difficult occupation with no leeway for error.

It took over a decade (50's to 60's) before NASA could routinely launch something successfully. Even then it was go up, go ballistic and come down. The fact that Armadillo was attempting to fly the thing in a damaged condition is really impressive. The fact that they succeed briefly is even more impressive. The design is getting past just being an extremely expensive pogo stick.

Can we stop making fun of NASA now? (4, Insightful)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21159471)

I mean, now that we know it's difficult to work with high-energy equipment, can we stop thinking NASA is a bunch of dunderheads for having the three very bad days (Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia) across half a century of otherwise amazing success?

Re:Can we stop making fun of NASA now? (1)

sgage (109086) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160143)

I agree, Quadraginta. This is very difficult stuff to do... this is actual reality, not virtual reality.

Bright side (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21157455)

He didn't destroy a spacecraft...he..um...simulated a real life BFG 10K.

It really is rocket science... (4, Insightful)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157461)

Shows just how tough it really is. Should get bonus money just for launching.

Eh? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21157993)

It looks like a giant butt plug to me.

"Officially a bad day..." (4, Funny)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158315)

I've checked with the league and while there are qualifications to rate this as a bad day, the league still has to check on several rulings.

League spokesman, Heilig Gdankazan, has cautioned members to avoid premature declarations of official calls, "We expect to be able to officially rule this as an official bad day in the near future."

Previous bad days that took league intervention were:

  • The sinking of the Titanic
  • The burning of the Hindenburg
  • Moira Gdankazan being caught in bed with Heilig's brother, Worly
  • Richard M. Stallman's 7th year bath, last occuring on October 1st, 2002, over stressing the Municipal Waste station and causing a boil water order for most of the eastern seaboard
  • The Courtney Love-Curt Cobain wedding
  • Britney Spears showing up without panties

Re:It really is rocket science... (2, Interesting)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158493)

Shows just how tough it really is.

Just caught a show the other day explaining how much harder the Soviets had it then they let on at the time. They had some really ugly launchpad accidents even as they were being characterized (by themselves, and the rest of the world) as being beyond that sort of thing. Other than the accidents - which aren't really surprising, especially with the 40+ engines they were trying to use on the N1! - the thing about their program that was the biggest surprise to me was their first manned flight. I had no idea that the way they got Yuri Gagarin back down from his first trip was to eject him from the spacecraft at 20,000 feet for a solo parachute ride down. His vehicle took its OWN ride down, but they didn't trust their ability to keep him alive all the way back down while in the vehicle. But they covered the event in terms of him "landing" the craft so that they could lay claim to a new record for manned flight that included consideration of whether or not the "pilot" survived and stayed with the craft all the way back to the ground. I had also forgotten about their three cosmonauts that died on re-entry when they opened their cabin's ventilation up to the atmosphere many thousands of feet too high (cabin air went out instead of fresh air coming in). Interesting show.

Re:It really is rocket science... (3, Informative)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160509)

FYI, the Soyuz flight where the three cosmonauts died on re-entry was due to a mechanical malfunction of a valve that connected the re-entry capsule to the rest of the Soyuz spacecraft. It was not an error on the crew's part. In fact, one of the crewmen actually had just enough time to unbuckle, crawl beneath the seat and close the valve halfway before passing out. Rather tragic.

The Soviet space program is as full of accidents or more so than our own. It really is tough business:

Yuri Gagarin's Vostok 1 capsule remained inadvertantly connected to it's service module during re-entry due to a bundle of wires (I assume a pyro failed to fire). It caused the spacecraft to wobble marginally out-of-control until the wires burned through.

After a series of problems in-flight led to a decision to delay the Soyuz 2 launch (probably fortuitiously, since 2 would've had the same issues), the Soyuz 1 main chute didn't deploy and the backup chute tangled. The cosmonaut died when the capsule hit the ground. Interestingly, it launched under political pressure, and Gagarin had tried to get himself scheduled for the flight, believing the politburo would then listen to the engineer's concerns rather than risk losing a national hero.

All four N-1's (the Soviet's planned moon rocket) exploded during launch (unmanned).

A Cosmos rocket exploded on the pad in 1973, killing 9 engineers.

In 1975, Soyuz 18a went out of control 5 minutes into launch, causing the launch escape system to activate. This saved the crew, but barely. They experienced accellerations up to 21 g's, and the capsule landed in the mountains in NW China. One article claims the capsule would've tumbled off a cliff if the chute hadn't snagged on a tree, but I haven't seen that verified.

Soyuz 23 in 1976 crashed through a frozen lake and sank with the crew inside. Remarkably, the crew was saved after considerable effort when a diver attached a cable that allowed a helicopter to lift the capsule out.

A 1980 explosion of an unmanned Vostok rocket on the pad killed 48 people on the ground.

In 1983, Soyuz T-10 caught fire on the pad. Ground control triggered the launch escape system, pulling the two men and their capsule clear. The rocket exploded two seconds later, but the cosmonauts survived.

There was a fire aboard the Mir in 1997. The same year, a Progress cargo ship collided with the station and punctured one of the modules. The crew had to rush to close the hatch to the module.

In 2002, an unmanned Soyuz rocket exploded, killing a Russian soldier.

One thing few people realize is there have been nearly as many close-calls in the US space program. Everyone knows about Apollo 13, but the first shuttle launch had a near burn-through due to tiles that fell off during launch. Another shuttle flight had an engine shutdown due to a short circuit that left it in a low orbit. Apollo 12 was hit by lightning. One of the Gemini flights went out of control and tumbled violently, nearly killing Neil Armstrong and David Scott. The Mercury 4 capsule had a hatch blow prematurely on splash down and sank as Gus Grissom scrambled to escape.

All of these guys, US, Russian, and Chinese alike have a lot of guts.

let me be first to say... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21157463)

fp

Sad story. (5, Insightful)

JK_the_Slacker (1175625) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157487)

I for one welcome our new flaming deathtrap overlords.

But in all seriousness, I'm glad we found this out BEFORE trying it on the moon. I wish them better luck, and better engineering, in the next go-round.

History if full of these stories.... (4, Insightful)

StressGuy (472374) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157491)

It's a difficult challenge...initial failures are to be expected. Often times, breaking this kind of ground is more about tenacity than anything else.

They'll get it eventually, and when they do (given that they are ID), I hope the headline reads "EXCELLENT!....IMPRESSIVE!"

Re:History if full of these stories.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21157525)

> They'll get it eventually, and when they do (given that they are ID), I hope the headline reads "EXCELLENT!....IMPRESSIVE!"

Naaw, make a note of "Huge Success". Give Valve a run for their money :)

Re:History if full of these stories.... (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157683)

It's a difficult challenge...initial failures are to be expected. Often times, breaking this kind of ground is more about tenacity than anything else.

They'll get it eventually, and when they do (given that they are ID), I hope the headline reads "EXCELLENT!....IMPRESSIVE!"

So until then they got to hear "HOOOOLY SHIT!"?

(note to you non-CTF-playing weenies - it's the default sound in Quake 3 that plays when a flag carrier eats it within inches of capturing the thing).

/P

Re:History if full of these stories.... (1)

StressGuy (472374) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157785)

I think we're all happy that it's not the Unreal Tournament folks involved here ....SQUEAL BOY....SQUEAL!!!

"You Suck"......."Roger that"....

Re:History if full of these stories.... (1)

p0tat03 (985078) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158247)

I always thought the Q3 sound for killing someone within inches of capture is "DENIED!"... But my memory is hazy.

Re:History if full of these stories.... (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158669)

No, "Denied!" is for when someone swipes a power-up you were going for iirc; the "killed within spitting distance of your flag while carrying the enemy flag" is definitely a nice, meaty "Holy Shit!". You had to be *damn* close though, I only remember hearing it a handful of times.

Damnit, now I'm getting all nostalgic for Q3...

Re:History if full of these stories.... (1)

TigerNut (718742) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157737)

That would be much better than anything resulting in "HOLY SHIT!" Props to John and the rest of the team at Armadillo. However hard it is to do these flights at any time, doing a command performance on a particular day has got to be an order of magnitude more difficult.

Re:History if full of these stories.... (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#21159977)

They'll get it eventually, and when they do (given that they are ID), I hope the headline reads "EXCELLENT!....IMPRESSIVE!"

At least the current headlines didn't read "HUMILIATION!" ;)

Re:History if full of these stories.... (1)

powerlord (28156) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160839)

Exactly.

The only team that competed last year, and the only team that came close to winning the Stage 1 this year, are led by a programmer and sponsored by nVidia, and people are complaining? :)

"The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. The Geek Shall Inherit the Stars"

Re:History if full of these stories.... (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160899)

NASA did it in the first try with the Surveyor. Think about computer technology available in 1966 and the fact that no one had done it before and it was one heck of an accomplishment.

Congrats anyway. (3, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157507)

A fire on the launch pad is still a hell of a lot further than most of us have gone.

Re:Congrats anyway. (2, Interesting)

lpangelrob (714473) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157551)

I agree, and give them a good amount of respect and props for getting as far as they did. This is serious science, after all.

But it's a little like NASCAR and ice skating — you're wondering when the crashes will start. And when people will have fun with the YouTube footage. [youtube.com]

Re:Congrats anyway. (2, Insightful)

OneSmartFellow (716217) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157959)

except NASCAR is pointless, trivial, and intellectually vapid. I might consider NASCAR worthy of something other than scorn if the course was something other than an oval, the automobiles were technologically sophisticated (who wants to drive a Monte Carlo?), and the drivers didn't all talk like Cletus Spuckler.

Brandine: "Dang, Cletus! Why'd you have to park so close to my parents?"
Cletus: "Now honey, they's mah parents too!"

Re:Congrats anyway. (1)

lpangelrob (714473) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158251)

I don't watch NASCAR, but the automobiles are technologically sophisticated. They cost $125,000 to build, and because there's so much money in it, are the result of the most expensive, top-notch engineering you can find in racing.[1] [foxsports.com]

The problem isn't the lack of engineering - nowadays it's the overengineering. NASCAR has issued millions in dollars in fines to teams that have cheated (to different extents) in order to gain performance enhancements on other teams. In some areas of racing, the equivalent of drag plates are required to be placed on cars so that they all can be slowed down (uniformly) for a more competitive race.

Re:Congrats anyway. (1)

ender- (42944) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158541)

I don't watch NASCAR, but the automobiles are technologically sophisticated. They cost $125,000 to build, and because there's so much money in it, are the result of the most expensive, top-notch engineering you can find in racing..

That's because it costs $125,000 to fix an American car so it doesn't blow up on the first lap. :)

Just had to take that shot.

I can't stand watching NASCAR. The only racing I care anything for is Moto GP and AMA Superbikes. Those are some crazy mofos!

Re:Congrats anyway. (4, Informative)

Zak3056 (69287) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158973)

I don't watch NASCAR, but the automobiles are technologically sophisticated. They cost $125,000 to build, and because there's so much money in it, are the result of the most expensive, top-notch engineering you can find in racing.

While I think that the idea that the GP post was modded "insightful" is downright sad, I have to disagree with the above as well. While the race teams strive to get the cars as fast as possible, NASCAR's engineering (at the circuit level) appears to be dedicated to "making the race more competitive." That means SLOWER cars (see "restrictor plate," "aero package,") and rigid specifications on how the cars can be engineered and set-up.

Contrast this with something like F1 where it really is all about the technology, and it's downright silly to describe NASCAR as the apex of automotive engineering.

Re:Congrats anyway. (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#21159721)

While the race teams strive to get the cars as fast as possible, NASCAR's engineering (at the circuit level) appears to be dedicated to "making the race more competitive." That means SLOWER cars (see "restrictor plate," "aero package,") and rigid specifications on how the cars can be engineered and set-up.

Contrast this with something like F1
Please do: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formula_One_car#Recent_FIA_performance_restrictions [wikipedia.org]

Re:Congrats anyway. (1)

Zak3056 (69287) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160305)


Point made.

However, I think my overall point--that NASCAR is not the state of the art in auto racing--is reinforced by your link, not diminished by it. For example, the new F1 engines are less than half the displacement, but put out the same amount of power at the engines NASCAR uses.

Re:Congrats anyway. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160855)

"that NASCAR is not the state of the art in auto racing--is reinforced by your link, not diminished by it"
No racing series is "state of the art".
F1 is limited by displacement. NASCAR is limited by a restrictor plate and valve geometry. The both have weight restrictions and aerodynamic restrictions.
F1 and NASCAR are different domains. They each have technical limitations put on the cars to slow them down.
I would love to see a racing class with not technical limitations except that they cars are to be driven remotely. I don't need people to get hurt for my enjoyment. An unlimited class would just be way to dangerous for the drivers and frankly the spectators.
A more interesting technical restriction IMHO would be to require that the cars average 20 MPG. You could run what ever size or motor type you want as long as it got 20 MPG or better.

Re:Congrats anyway. (1)

TigerNut (718742) | more than 6 years ago | (#21161573)

That is (or used to be) part of the Indycar formula, and was also previously used in F1, in the turbo era. You got X amount of fuel based on the race distance to be covered, and it was up to you to manage how it was spent. For Indycar it was based on 4 MPG mileage (methanol has about 1/2 the energy density, by volume, of gasoline) I believe. Some races were mileage-fests and some (typically, if there were a few yellows) allowed the drivers to exercise the boost control vigorously.

In F1 the mileage thing was instituted as a power limiting measure but all it really ended up doing was to increase the cost of competition significantly. The teams with big research budgets figured out how to make their engines last on lean mixtures, and they were able to outrun and outlast everyone else.

Re:Congrats anyway. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21162177)

Okay then make it 20 MPG and pass emissions :)
If you are not going to do spec racing then one of the benefits of auto racing is to improve automotive technology. Right now we need to improve emissions and fuel economy.

Re:Congrats anyway. (1)

powerlord (28156) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160357)

Exactly. Every race will have specification and restrictions of some sort.

I for one hope we get to the point of implementing the full IGPX/IGN [wikipedia.org] ruleset sometime soon.

Re:Congrats anyway. (1)

kilo_foxtrot84 (1016017) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158257)

The Monte Carlo you see on the track has as much in common with the Monte Carlos you see on the road as a Cessna has with a kite. The name is there for marketing and branding, really.

Again? (2, Funny)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157575)

Again?? [slashdot.org] Damn.

OTOH, at least George Broussard isn't on the team, or we'd have "The rocketeers at Armadillo Aerospace 4ever"

It seems Armadillo is DOOMed. OW! OW! STOP HITTING ME!!

-mcgrew

First to mention this... (0)

timecop (16217) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157607)

But perhaps this should be a hint for Carmack to get out of rocket business and get back to coding 3d games?

Why? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160073)

do you think that his first work was successful? I am thankful that John is doing this. I would guess that if he runs out of money, then many other investors will come along. The truth is that he is in a GREAT place.

Overly negative (4, Informative)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157611)

That writeup is a bit misleading. It's not like they just showed up and their vehicle burst into flames. In a previous attempt this weekend they completed a 90+ second flight, then about 88 seconds of the second, potentially prizewinning flight before engine trouble brought them down.

It wasn't enough to win the prize, but they still had some impressive flights.

Re:Overly negative (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157699)

Yeah thats the difficult part when it comes to complex machines: figuring out the durability of the solution. Its difficult enough to get something like this to work once, its quite another to do it repeatedly. In many ways you learn more form failures like this than you do your successes. You learn where the weakest link is, figure out a way to strengthen it or predict its failure and replace it before it fails. Its a shame each one is so expensive, not like 3d coding where you just have a badly rendered object or at worst a crash.

Re:Overly negative (2, Informative)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158087)

They've actually had several flights on that vehicle. Aside from ignition problems, they seem to have an engine design that can reliably run for several minutes at very decent thrust, and they obviously have a solid handle on flight stability. But yeah, the contest conditions exposed some troubles for them.

I'm not quite sure of my sources on this, but they seem to have had fuel (oxidizer? igniter?) contamination issues, leading to a flaky igniter, leading on the second flight to a hard start that caused engine damage. This damage was clear to them, so they chose to sit in a low hover at the end of their second flight to mitigate a half-expected crash. It appears that as the engine progressively got worse the vehicle started oscillating, and eventually the legs contacted the ground causing a tipover and automatic engine shutdown.

They're doing really well, but they will have to clear up their ignition issues. I'm pretty sure their suborbital flight profile will demand that they be able to do reliable in-flight restarts, so I think ignition is going to be a big issue for the over the next year.

Re:Overly negative (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160913)

Yeah, getting rocket ignition right is hard. (Even with those little Estes rockets ;-)

You've got to get the fuel/oxidizer mix lit -- controllably -- before too much of either builds up in the combustion chamber (which can result in an explosion when it does light), but your ignition system is so much dead weight the rest of the time.

That's one reason the Apollo spacecraft went with a hypergolic propellant combination -- just open the valves and the two components ignite as soon as they come in contact with each other (same with the Shuttle maneuvering system, for that matter). But nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine are nasty chemicals to work with. LOX and kerosene (or alcohol or whatever fuel Armadillo is using) are much easier and safer to handle -- but then you need an ignition system. This is even tougher when you're designing the engines to be in-flight restartable ("in-flight" here includes "after landing somewhere other than the launch pad"), otherwise you can build some of the ignition system into the launch pad, or at least prep it manually prior to launch.

Re:Overly negative (1)

Solra Bizna (716281) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158129)

not like 3d coding where you just have a badly rendered object or at worst a crash.

Oh, man, obviously you've never coded a software renderer on an OS that doesn't have memory protection. *shudder*

-:sigma.SB

Re:Overly negative (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158691)

Actually.... I have. I left that out cause I thought it dated me too much and it would scare the children. I haven't done any modern work in the field, but I would assume that most would have that at this point. I have gpf nightmares every now and then.

Re:Overly negative (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 6 years ago | (#21159935)

I have gpf nightmares every now and then.

GPF? On a system without memory protection?

On a system without memory protection, you'd not get a general protection(!) fault, you'd e.g. get the timer interrupt redirected at some random location.

Re:Overly negative (3, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157963)

then about 88 seconds of the second, potentially prizewinning flight before engine trouble brought them down

I think it was 83 seconds (7 seconds short!), but it's also worth noting that they did the return flight with a fist-sized hole in the graphite engine. John decided to try the return flight by flying it over really fast, then hovering above the ground a few meters so if the engine finally quit, it would only fall a short distance. Flying with that much damage is amazing enough, but I also find it interesting how easily the rocket is programmed to do whatever Carmack wants, with such control.

Re:Overly negative (1)

KefabiMe (730997) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160473)

Awesome! I just see this image of Carmack sitting out in the middle of the desert, steering tons real life explosives costing who-know-show-much money, using a first person view GUI... which happens to be a Quake 3 Mod.

Re:Overly negative (1)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160697)

I just see this image of Carmack sitting out in the middle of the desert, steering tons real life explosives costing who-know-show-much money, using a first person view GUI... which happens to be a Quake 3 Mod.

Actually, that's not far from the truth... he sits in a van with a laptop, and does steer the vehicle using a remote camera view when it gets close to the landing pad (prior to that, it's on automatic control). He doesn't even look at the real thing, he depends on other people to watch it. :)

Re:Overly negative (4, Informative)

brian.stinar (1104135) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158313)

Hey,

I went to Alamogordo to watch the competition. As a graduate student in Albuquerque, the 3.5 hour drive was worth it. As the previous poster commented, the Saturday flight was ALMOST successful. The first transition from pad to pad did not have any problems at all. The hovering lander was a very interesting sight to see above the desert. Due to safety issues, the viewing area was too far away to get a good look when the lander was close to the ground. However, a large video screen broadcast the images.

When I was standing there, watching, it was unclear what actually caused them to fail to meet the objectives. I thought the lander actually made the time limit on the return trip but did not land successfully. I thought it tipped over, or something broke off when it came down. However, I was unable to clearly see and my experience was based on a what people were saying over a loud speaker and the images of lander in a dusty cloud on a giant screen. It is interesting to read that they actually did not meet the time limit. I wasn't able to see the Sunday launch.

Overall, I will probably continue to support the competitions. Many people in New Mexico are excited about developing a consumer space industry, myself included. The air show had about the same excitement pattern as a baseball game, very exciting for a small portion of the time and a lot of waiting. I hope that the guys at Armadillo Aerospace know that everyone is rooting for them.

When I get ready to graduate, I will bring a STACK of resumes to the XPrize contests, there were a lot of really cool companies with booths set up.

      -Brian-

And yet we learn, from our Brother, Fire... (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157615)

"O delicate walker, babbler, dialectician Fire,
O enemy and image of ourselves,"

- Louis MacNeice

Hah-Hah! The X-Wing performed better! (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21157641)

Obviously these guys aren't engineers, either!

Said in jest since Slashdot seemed so ready to poo-poo the X-Wing builders, but are soooo sympathetic for these guys.

That said...

Yeah, this stuff is hard to pull off. It's not called rocket science for nothing!

Re:Hah-Hah! The X-Wing performed better! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21157861)

Now there's a point of view you don't see on the Internet every day. Tell me, how does it feel to be a complete idiot?

Parts is parts. (3, Funny)

UncHellMatt (790153) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157651)

Afterward, Brett Alexander was heard to lament "Perhaps using those parts from my mom's old Pinto wasn't the best idea..."

"robust"? (2, Insightful)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157663)

Pete Worden, a Lunar Lander Challenge judge - and director of NASA's Ames Research Center, told SPACE.com that the engine blew up, with the rocket's engine chamber tossing out pieces onto the pad. "It's over for them for this X Prize Cup," Worden said. But he added: "I do think they are getting there...it's a robust design.

That's one exciting definition of robust :-)

Re:"robust"? (1)

Panaflex (13191) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157743)

Well, to be fair - they team didn't have the engine they wanted and the parts were sub-quality. They went ahead with the challenge knowing this. Their previous attempts have shown very impressive engineering - but had software glitches in the abort system. Testing that system is incredibly difficult - as you only get to test it when something goes really bad.

diagram to help you (1, Redundant)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157855)

Joke------> *           !
           /            !
          /             !
         /              !
        /               !
                        !
                        !
You------>X             #  <---- Team Armadillo

Re:"robust"? (1)

Dmala (752610) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157751)

Well, it was robust, now it's robusted.

Bada-bing, I'll be here all week, tip your waitresses, etc. etc.

Re:"robust"? (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158235)

Why don't they just make a solid engine burning APC? I will never understand the fascination with complicated liquid fuel systems.

Re:"robust"? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158401)

Why don't they just make a solid engine burning APC? I will never understand the fascination with complicated liquid fuel systems.

I am not a rocket engineer, but I believe the answer to that is restart capability. Solid boosters go off once. If you're trying to start and stop the craft, it's a problem.

Re:"robust"? (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158455)

I don't see much starting and stopping going on to get to the moon. Granted you will need some throttling capability but on a much smaller scale.

Re:"robust"? (1)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 6 years ago | (#21159093)

Solid engines can't throttle. They've got two settings: off, and full power. And once they're lit, they're at full power basically until they run out of fuel to burn. There's a few things you can do to throttle them, but all of them are really hairy and complex. Basically, solid rockets are good for getting you up, not so good for getting you back down in a controlled manner.

Re:"robust"? (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158451)

While at first I hesitated to reply to "P3NIS_CLEAVER", there are a few reasons why:

1. the competition is to launch up, pitch over and translate, and land on another pad. Refuel and repeat. Good luck getting a solid engine to throttle nicely. Yes, the Army does it with pintle engines. But it is a far cry from uncomplicated.
2. Mechanics of a solid: thrust is (for a zeroth order analysis) proportional to the surface area burning. While you can make a flat burning solid (by having a cylinder with a moon or star shape cut out) and thus have a flat profile, it ain't easy - and if there is a crack in the grain, you have a thrust spike.
3. When you are trying to land by thrust vector you need precise control. Points 1 and 2, hopefully, help illuminate the reasons why it ain't easy and why the control just isn't there.

Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21157755)

they were the only entrant in last year's event, which they also lost.

With all due respect, you know things aren't going so well when you are the only player to compete and you still lose :)

Frankenstein was heard to comment (3, Funny)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157761)

Frankenstein, on hand to witness the event, was heard to comment "Fire...burn!"

Re:Frankenstein was heard to comment (1)

rholland356 (466635) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158281)

Doctor Frankenstein said that!? Or his nameless monster?

The good doctor seemed somewhat more erudite than his murderous creation.

Points to make (5, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 6 years ago | (#21157919)

Inevitably, some "real" engineers will comment on this story and make snide armchair hindsight comments, with the overall point that it really does take a billion dollars to do rocketry.

Some points:

1) These are R&D vehicles. They are not production vehicles. Don't judge what production reliability will be like based on R&D.

2) They may not have made it over the finish line, but they are the only ones who entered the race among ten or so teams. Many of the teams said they were "close" last year, yet still couldn't make it work a year later.

The real measure of how successful Armadillo is going is the how easy they're making it look in their videos. But it's not easy, and the fact that they're the only one that's flying hoverable rockets on a weekly basis proves it.

One of the things that bugs me the most is when Aerospace engineers tear down what they're doing, implying they could do it better, if they only had Armadillo's money. Lots of people have money, but lots of people are also not making Armadillo's progress -- with volunteers, working two days a week.

Give Carmack the credit for being the genius that he is.

Re:Points to make (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21158033)

Let me second this.

So far I've seen a lot of snide remarks from users who's biggest achievements this weekend probably involved leveling in WoW/EQ2/Whatever and "their" teaming winning the game. These are the same people who like to act like their progressive members of some community. Most likely they're computer geeks who haven't written a line of code since some Java or C++ class in junior college. If you're lucky they may even have a web page that hasn't been updated in 4-5 years.

Not to say that humor can not be found here but if you're one of the doubtlessly many Slashdotters who felt that you could be doing a better job than why aren't we reading about you're success here?

Re:Points to make (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21158183)

So far I've seen a lot of snide remarks from users who's biggest achievements this weekend probably involved leveling in WoW/EQ2/Whatever and "their" teaming winning the game. These are the same people who like to act like their progressive members of some community. Most likely they're computer geeks who haven't written a line of code since some Java or C++ class in junior college. If you're lucky they may even have a web page that hasn't been updated in 4-5 years.

Not to say that humor can not be found here but if you're one of the doubtlessly many Slashdotters who felt that you could be doing a better job than why aren't we reading about you're success here?
Well AC, it might be because we don't have 100 million dollars to piss away? Not everyone is an (in)famous game developer, the world needs ditch diggers (or database admins, either way)

Re:Points to make (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21158301)

Well AC, it might be because we don't have 100 million dollars to piss away? Not everyone is an (in)famous game developer, the world needs ditch diggers (or database admins, either way)

You obviously missed the point. It's one thing not to do it but it's another to act like you're king shit and these guys who are actually putting in the hours are morons and asshats.

Or are you saying that if you were funded you would have done better?

Re:Points to make (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21158191)

Give Carmack the credit for being the genius that he is.


uhh this is /., everyone here gives Carmack his due props. and im not saying anything bad about the guy but as ive been saying for the past few months, i think he was overly zealous in regards to implementing quad damage as such a early stage in development.

Re:Points to make (1)

Straussberg (1152607) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158569)

I agree. Just imagine the steps it would have taken to get from Goddard's rocket experiments to the Titan/Atlas if we didn't take advantage of a sudden influx of German rocket scientists and technology after WWII.

Re:Points to make (2, Insightful)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160051)

Their problem is that they are (mostly) a bunch of software guys that think they can cobble some hardware together and make it work with a complete lack of engineering rigor. You can't deny their persistence and the amount of success they have earned over the years. If you take a look through their weblog, though, you will see tons of shoddy workmanship, even on elementary, low-tech stuff like wiring. They've got the engines themselves to a reasonably advanced stage of development but everything else is crap save for the software.

Re:Points to make (2, Interesting)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#21161119)

2) They may not have made it over the finish line, but they are the only ones who entered the race among ten or so teams. Many of the teams said they were "close" last year, yet still couldn't make it work a year later.

There's a local (Colorado) team that has a vehicle and they felt it ready to enter, but (per the newspaper report) couldn't get the requisite FAA flight approval. (Sorry, don't recall whether it was Paragon or Micro-Space).

I would have thought that some kind of contest like this would have a blanket FAA waiver to cover the sight for the time involved. Apparently each vehicle also needs some kind of FAA documentation. Anyone know the details? Were any of the other teams that didn't enter in the same boat?
 

Re:Points to make (1)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21161777)

Well, as I understand it each of the vehicles would have needed an FAA waiver to do free flights over a certain altitude or duration anywhere in the US. (I don't recall the limits, but I think it's in the Armadillo news archive somewhere.) So if they didn't have an FAA waiver, that (presumably) means they had never done a free flight of anything close to LLC1 parameters.

That makes it seem pretty unlikely (to me) that they stood a realistic chance of a prizewinning day at the XPC, or that the paperwork was the only holdup.

Requested fire truck assistance, *after* the fire? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21157943)

I'd think they'd be better served by having a fire truck or ten standing by when the activity involves untested objects that have considerable amounts of extremely flammable materials on board and fly through the air shooting fire.

And that's when they're operating properly.

Re:Requested fire truck assistance, *after* the fi (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21158403)

They did. Else it'd have taken a long time for the firefighters to respond. And you don't want your firefighters standing anywhere near an active rocket. It makes sense how it was done. The Armadillo Aerospace crew safes the rocket (shuts down as much as possible), then the fire fighters put out the fire or even let it burn for a while if the rocket can't be controlled for a bit.

Where's the video?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21158589)

Not to be morbid, but hey.

Just Like The Cleveland Browns... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21158661)

they were the only entrant in last year's event, which they also lost

spelling in title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21158789)

man, i hate disappoinment (sp.)

it's not rocket SCIENCE (2, Insightful)

Jim Morash (20750) | more than 6 years ago | (#21159419)

"Once again, it proves that rocket science is hard."

Gaaah! Rocket science is not hard, you can pretty much sum it up with Newton's Laws.

Rocket engineering is hard. But engineers get no respect.

The humor here (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#21160355)

is that last year, everybody was commenting that there would be multiple players and that SOMEBODY WOULD win this year. It is possible that next year, there will be less than 4 entries on this and again nobody will win. I am guessing that it will be 2. And next year, Armadillo will be the team to beat. Do note that I am not saying Carmack. It is possible that he is no longer willing to keep plugging the money, but will bring onboard another investor (somebody like allen who is a visionary).

BTW, one thing that surprises me, is that he keeps his engines close together. It strikes me that any rocket for the moon will be doing mostly orbit to surface tugs, with lightweight launches As such, it seems that this will be used to place cargo on the surface and then leave. To do this, it will need to wrap itself around the cargo, or blast at the side and then lower it without landing (i.e. mars phoenix style). I was also thinking that by doing this, it might stabilize the rocket. But then again, I am not an Rocket Engineer.

YUnO FAIL iT (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21160609)

obtain a copy of well-known About who can rant Intentions and Indecision and give BSD credit sales 4nd so on, maintained that too won't be shouting
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