Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space

X Prize and John Carmack 340

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the lost-in-space dept.
Anonymous Coward writes "ABC News is running a story ostensibly about the X Prize but in reality they only talk about John Carmack and his teams efforts to win the prize (or at least compete). Quote: 'Some people have commented that I am trying very hard to make aerospace like software, and that's the truth," he says. "If we looked at what we do in software, if we could only compile and test our program once a year, we'd never get anything done. But that's the mode of aerospace.' "
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

X Prize and John Carmack

Comments Filter:
  • John Carmack may be great at software programming, but does that really apply to spacecraft design? Software is known to be buggy, but when you are being hurtled towards space faster then a speeding bullet you really don't have the luxury of being able to use a debugger. However, it is somewhat reassuring to know that he makes good, solid games, and not the type of software that comes out of Redmond. I do believe a lot of the ideas behind his methodology is sound. If rapid test driven development works
    • Then != Than (Score:2, Informative)

      by blunte (183182)
      Hate to be picky, but damn, please learn this.

      Then [reference.com] != Than [reference.com]

      And yeah, parent post is a troll.

    • by efuseekay (138418) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:56PM (#6816807)

      If you can afford to test your hardware as often as you can, do it. A test is worth a million analysis plots.

      Making mistakes in a test environment is the best way to learn about your design and your own limitations.
    • John Carmack may be great at software programming, but does that really apply to spacecraft design? Software is known to be buggy, but when you are being hurtled towards space faster then a speeding bullet you really don't have the luxury of being able to use a debugger.

      For spaceflight, we need people who think like the old school programmers. The ones that actually planned their programs before they wrote them. When it took twenty-four hours (or more) between when you submitted your card deck and when you got your output (or a core dump) you learned to be damned careful with your code. The modern attitude of "keep tweaking it until it compiles; we'll fix the bugs in 2.0" won't wash in spaceflight.

      • by timeOday (582209) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:51PM (#6817352)
        For spaceflight, we need people who think like the old school programmers. The ones that actually planned their programs before they wrote them. When it took twenty-four hours (or more) between when you submitted your card deck and when you got your output (or a core dump) you learned to be damned careful with your code. The modern attitude of "keep tweaking it until it compiles; we'll fix the bugs in 2.0" won't wash in spaceflight.
        Or maybe space exploration is bogged down precisely because it's too expensive, cumbersome, and exclusive just like computers in the 50s. Like programming with punch cards.

        Software developers have learned that the Waterfall model *doesn't work* because it's too slow, expensive, and inflexible. Sound like any space programs you know?

        There is a continum between experimentation and analysis. So long as space is dominated by risk-averse govt. bureaucracies, your vision of space exploration will continue to slowly plod along. But remember when the real progress happened: in the 60s, when rockets blew up quite often. The consequence of a failed unmanned flight is only financial, and that means failure can be justified by overall savings.

      • The modern attitude of "keep tweaking it until it compiles; we'll fix the bugs in 2.0" won't wash in spaceflight.

        Yes it will, if there are enough spaceflight companies.

      • You missed his point. John Carmack was preaching the importance of incremental development. You chisel away at the problem, bit by bit. There is never an integration of two large subsystems... instead there is a continuous mutation of the solution.
    • "I just hope that they value a quality assurance process more then the typical software engineer. In a game like this you would not be able to release version 2.0."

      utter nonsense, there are billions of people on earth, how many of them do you really think will fit in 1.0? If it crashes there's plenty of room for people to go on 2.0.
    • But software design would benefit from being more like aerospace design. Aerospace can't afford the test-patch-test-patch cycle that software goes through. Before we send our designs off to be built, we had better be damn sure they will work. We can't just decide to bolt a wing on later if the orginial doesn't work--it's too expensive and the consequences of a failure are too great. Accurate computer modeling is rapidly becoming the engineer's best friend.

      I fucking shudder to think of the average softw
      • Obviously, you never worked on the software portion of an aerospace project.

        I know from personal experience that the test-patch-test-patch cycle is alive and well in all the software products produced by the aerospace corporations that I have worked at.

        The design of the product like a airplane or ship or whatever itself might need alot of upfront resources, but I will tell you that there are multimillion dollar maintenance contracts on aerospace software maintenance. Fixing bugs that got by QA.

        This is f
      • QA in the software community at large is sadly lacking

        or impossible

  • hm (Score:4, Funny)

    by EMH_Mark3 (305983) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:36PM (#6816562)
    Aerospace like software, eh?
    "Crap, the rocket is not ready and the deadline for launch is tomorrow!"
    "Bah, launch it anyways and we'll release a patch later!"
    • Re:hm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by G-funk (22712) <josh@gfunk007.com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:49PM (#6816727) Homepage Journal
      That's the first thing that sprang to my mind when I read that as well! :)

      But all jokes aside, this is what's going to push manking further. People like John Carmack who are smart, driven, and can afford to play in aerospace. Maybe Armadillo won't be the company that makes space travel cheap or even possible for the average successful joe shmoe, but somebody like him will. Given the tantrums thrown by nasa when somebody wants to go up to space who's not an "astronaut" even on another country's rockets, it's sure as hell not going to come from them, even in competition with the [russians|chinese|indians].
    • Re:hm (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shotgunefx (239460)
      I see alot of people pointing out buggy software releases but I don't think it's applicable.

      Making software to run on a platform that can have almost unfathomable perumutations is not the same as writing software for one set of components.

    • by morcheeba (260908) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:54PM (#6816782) Journal
      We were building a satellite with upload-code capability, and were facing a deadline, so we ran the numbers.

      We had a very slow uplink, maybe 300 baud (packet overhead and protocol turn-around time included). And we had a lot of code. The satellite was visible only for maybe 8 minutes out of every 90 minute orbit, so unless we had ground stations positioned all around the world and synchronized, we were effectively limited to about 30 baud long-term average. And we had a lot of code.

      What's worse is we figured that the radiation environment would reset the satellite every so often... this was fine in normal operation, but would kill an upload. It would be almost statistically impossible to upload the entire code without an upset.

      So, we all got back to work.

      Eventually, we got good code and launched the satellite. Unfortuantly, the rocket flew off-course and was blown up by the range safety officer -- the satellite ended up in the water. Our company also made bouys (functionally, they are similar concept satellites), so the debate was always whether we should load the regular code or the bouy code into the satellites. We didn't try to figure out the code-uplink case for "underwater".
    • Aerospace like software, eh?
      "Crap, the rocket is not ready and the deadline for launch is tomorrow!"
      "Bah, launch it anyways and we'll release a patch later!"


      Of course they are the same. Just ask the Challenger crew...

      Wow, that's a morbid joke. Sorry.
    • Re:hm (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GooberToo (74388)
      While I agree, that is funny, I do want to point something out. Software is NOT like the above statement. The software business is like the above statement. Real software is produced with a real process, including design, development and testing. It's just a sad state of affairs when most of the software industry doesn't even follow a minimal of best practises.

      Since most people are more than happy to pay for complete crap, including bugs, being incomplete, and any number of other odd problems, there is
    • Re:hm (Score:3, Funny)

      by El (94934)
      "If it crashes, just hit the reset button and run it again!" "Screw testing... if there are any problems, the end user will report them!"
    • by ansible (9585)

      Except, of course, that iD software is one of the few companies that doesn't like to do that.

      They tend not to release software until 'it is ready'. That's because they have enough money (and they control their own company) that they set the release schedule.

  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:37PM (#6816571) Homepage Journal

    "Effectively, I stopped buying Ferraris and turbo-charging them and started building rocket ships," Carmack says.

    Yeah, I hate it when I have to put off buying Ferraris.
  • Programmer: Ooops, wrong condition on the 'if' statement. I'll just reboot the rocket's computer and test again!
    Flight director (emerging from flaming debris): Errr ... what rocket?
  • Crashes (Score:4, Funny)

    by pipingguy (566974) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:37PM (#6816582) Homepage

    Carmack says: Some people have commented that I am trying very hard to make aerospace like software, and that's the truth

    Unfortunate analogy?
  • Cost (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Brahmastra (685988) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:38PM (#6816586)
    The team is spending between $1 million and $2 million to build its craft.
    How on earth do they intend to build a spacecraft carrying people for $1-2 million? Even an extremely used Learjet costs a few million! Am I missing something?
    • Re:Cost (Score:3, Interesting)

      by couch_potato (623264)
      Yes. Markup. Do you really think Bombardier spends $15 million building a new Learjet?

      Nevertheless, I wonder who would be willing to strap themselves into a space vehicle that cost 'only' $1 million to develop.
      • Re:Cost (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Brahmastra (685988) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:45PM (#6816666)
        While mass-producing a learjet probably doesn't cost much at all, building the first prototype probably cost many 10s of millions in development costs. If this team is building a prototype for $1-2 million and that includes all material, development and testing costs, I'm definitely not buying a house in its flight-path.
        • Because businesses have a financial stake in research and development. They have to pay both employees and contractors for labor.

          I bet a Lear Jet doesn't contain 10s of millions in raw material, most of the cost is in the salaries of researchers.

          I'm sure Photoshop and Outlook cost a ton of money of develop. Does that mean nobody should use Gimp and Evolution? It's the difference between a business and a hobby. And that difference is $$.
        • Re:Cost (Score:4, Informative)

          by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:21PM (#6817038) Homepage
          I'm definitely not buying a house in its flight-path.

          I don't think that FAA will let John launch if there is a house in the flight-path. Besides, John will be launching pretty much vertically- he's not going for orbit (which means going sideways very fast); he's only going for 100km (which means going straight-up very fast).

        • by l810c (551591) *
          They are hoping to use the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Houses will not be a problem, Very isolated.
      • I used to work in the Aerospace industry.

        Some of the guys down at the Cape used to say things like "You'd never get me to sit up top a rocket built by the lowest bidder!"

        Their astronaut buddies would just laugh at them. "You clearly don't have any idea," they'd say.

        I think I'd fall in the first camp, but there will always be people who fall in the latter camp.
    • Re:Cost (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jandrese (485) * <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:45PM (#6816671) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, there's a world of difference between buying a personal jet from a private company that must be flightworthy for dozens or hundreds of flights a year and comply with acres of FAA regulations before they even get off the ground. Not to mention the high markup on those jets.

      These rockets are being built with more or less volunteer time and by people who are willing to scrounge for parts and look long and hard for bargains. I think you'd find that the raw materials that go into a Learjet aren't all that expensive (steel by the pound, etc...), but the labor costs, health plans, salespeople comissions, buildings, paperclips, etc... add considerably to the cost of the final product.
      • Re:Cost (Score:3, Informative)

        by GooberToo (74388)
        Correct! Not only are markups on jets very high but anything that is regulated by the FAA is heavily insured for liability. This, in turn, is happily passed along to everything you purchase for planes.

        My father owns a small plane. Items which should cost $5-$10 for a car often cost $90 - $100 for a plane. You'd be amazed at the amount you pay for aviation insurance. My father pays something like $750.00/mo in insurance and he's been flying since before I was born.

        Long story short, insurance and espec
        • Back when my dad was learning to fly, before the cost of litigation and insurance had bankrupted most of the light aviation industry, a small plane wasn't much more expensive than a car.

          In fact when he bought a GTO, which is a nice but not especially expensive car, he considered buying a small plane instead as it only cost about 30% more.

          A small plane in this case would be something about the size of a four seat, fixed wheels, single engine Cessna. When you think about it there isn't that much differenc
      • One of the most common piston engines in general aviation is made by Lycoming.

        150 HP
        Carbed
        Magneto ignition
        Requires leaded gas
        50-year-old design
        Horrendous polluter that runs rough

        Cost: Approx $32,000 for a Lycosaurus

        Meanwhile, you can get a complete car with a superior engine in all aspects (performance, reliability, smoothness) for under $20,000
      • by natet (158905)
        These rockets are being built with more or less volunteer time and by people who are willing to scrounge for parts and look long and hard for bargains.

        This makes it sound like an episode of "Junkyard Wars"

    • Re:Cost (Score:4, Insightful)

      by The Lynxpro (657990) <lynxpro@g m a i l.com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:48PM (#6816713)
      The last time I checked, bottled water costs a whole lot more than water from the tap. And the markup is far more excessive than the cost of the plastic bottle. Brand name T-shirts may cost pennies to produce in a third-world country, but still will cost you $20 to purchase at the mall. Our world is full of inconsistencies.
      • My name is Jeremy and I have an I.Q. of 6,000; the same I.Q. as 6,000 P.E. teachers!

        Um, don't you mean your name is Holly? And wouldn't it be nice to give credit where it's due?

    • by blunte (183182)
      I dunno what the real costs are in making spacecraft, but I doubt they have to deal with the FAA [faa.gov], their costs should be reasonable.

      A significant cost of aircraft (non-experimental) is having to deal with the FAA and all its requirements.

    • Re:Cost (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:00PM (#6816846)
      If you know how, and count your time as "valueless," you can build a hang glider for. . . nothing.

      You can build a sports car that rivals a Corvette and get it road certified for only a few grand, even though a new Corvette costs a damned sight more than that.

      Most of the expense of doing things, even making video games, comes from doing things in a standard way inside of a standardize buearacratic system.

      Throw out the red tape, open your mind to alternative ways of accomplishing the same goals, work for the joy of it and eliminate the market as motivator and you might surprised at how much you can accomplish with relatively little cash.

      Watch a few episodes of Rough Science.

      KFG
    • Re:Cost (Score:5, Informative)

      by John Carmack (101025) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:46PM (#6818036)
      Just building the vehicle costs less than $100k, most of the money is in building multiple iterations of everything as you figure out exactly how you actually need to spend the money:

      $ 6k 850 gallon fiberglass tank
      $ 2k High pressure carbon fiber pressurant tank and regulator
      $ 1k Honeycomb composite panels
      $ 5k Aluminum fabrication for cabin
      $15k Redundant parachutes, drogues, drogue cannons, releases
      $13k Fiber optic gyro based IMU
      $ 8k Unrestricted (supersonic / high altitude) GPS
      $ 2k PC104 systems
      $ 5k video, audio, and data communications
      $20k Engine machining, catalysts, laser cut plates
      $ 5k Plumbing, valves, etc
      $ 5k Fastblock external insulation

      For powered landings instead of parachute landings, delete the parachutes and add:

      $ 4k Laser altimeter
      $ 4k Wire rope isolator landing gear

      You could trivially spend an order of magnitude more by just using "space certified" versions of everything, but the important point is that standard industrial versions of many things are perfectly adequate. In many cases, todays standard industrial practice is far ahead of the best that could be done at any price in the early sixties.

      This is all with free labor for assembly and testing, but that is still only a couple hundred man hours for a full vehicle. We are expecting to destroy the first vehicle in some (unmanned) testing mishap along the way, and build another one mostly from scratch. That will take less than two months, depending on lead times for some items.

      John Carmack
  • Dual use... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Gefiltefish11 (611646)

    Why not develop and test their spaceship mostly via computer simluation. That's Carmack's strong suit anyway. Besides, I'd love to get my hands on that sort of simulator. Though I'd probably need a beowulf cluster...

    • There's a joke in engineering. When it doesn't work (which is often), you say, "Well, it worked in simulation." Everyone has a good laugh.
  • That quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) * <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:39PM (#6816605) Homepage Journal
    The quote about making rockets the same way we make software reminds me of another quote:
    "If we built houses the way we build software, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization."

    - U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary John J. Hamre, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, June, 1998 (Attr Gerald Weinberg)
    Unfortunatly, unlike software, you can't just reboot rockets that crash.
    • Modern (common) homebuilding is nothing to be proud of.

      We should be building Insulated Concrete Form [ucf.edu] homes. Instead we're still building them out of toothpicks. ICF homes are very much more energy efficient, and cost only slightly more to make. They also greatly reduce fire risk and wind damage risk.

      So offtopic as it is, this quote is invalid.
      • Yeah, and they're flippin' great in places where there's a lot of seismic activity.

        (Yeah, yeah, I know. Steel reinforced blah blah...)
        • I don't know about seismic issues, since I live in North Texas. But I do know about tornadoes.

          ICF homes are rated for 200mph winds. Toothpick homes are good to about 100mph.

          Having lived in Wichita Falls [noaa.gov] in 1979 [noaa.gov], tornadoes are something I pay attention [noaa.gov] to.
        • Re:That quote (Score:2, Informative)

          by DarkSarin (651985)
          Actually, having just worked on building one, they do just fine. The issue is NOT building in all out of concrete, if so CA would not allow any concrete buildings. The way to deal with seismic activity is rooted in your foundation and whatnot. If you handle that correctly, then you don't need to worry about the concrete, which has much better structural integrity than wood, even the manufactured tgi's.

          There are other advantages to ICF's though. You can build the entire walls and roof without any inside
        • Solution: Don't live in areas with a high probability of a sever earthquake occuring in the near future; especially if the area is sitting on something other than solid rock. I.E. silt, mud, clay, sand, etc.
  • by fmaxwell (249001) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:41PM (#6816621) Homepage Journal
    Some people have commented that I am trying very hard to make aerospace like software, and that's the truth

    Gives a whole new meaning to "blue screen of death", doesn't it?
    • ...wouldn't necessarily be a bad idea.

      "If we looked at what we do in software, if we could only compile and test our program once a year, we'd never get anything done."

      Yeah, but damn if that code wouldn't be perfect.

      Think to the bad old days of batch processing, where you handed your code to one of the engineer/sysadmin/priests, who would feed it to the system when the system was done doing its current work. You might not get the results of the build+run for 24 hours after submitting it. And you

  • TechTV (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cutriss (262920) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:42PM (#6816638) Homepage
    It should be noted that they're only carrying show notes, and that the interview with John Carmack was actually carried out by TechTV's Tech Live, and was run last night at 8 PM EST, and again twice this morning.

    It will air again tonight at 6 PM EST.
    • Oh...and it should also be noted that since ABC News is carrying a copy of the story and is currently getting hammered by Slashdot, the original story [techtv.com] is up on the TechTV website.

      A "mirror", if you will.
  • by luckyguesser (699385) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:43PM (#6816640)
    "We have liftoff!" == "Excellent!"
    "Our trajectory is acceptable for re-entry"=="Accuracy!"
    "Our rocket landed, and it's data storage is still intact"=="Perfect!"

    * luckyguesser almost dodged John_Cormack's rocket.
  • "Aerospace" (Score:2, Funny)

    by qat (637648)
    When he says Aerospace Software, he really means adding net jetpacks to Doom and allowing them to be used outside earth's atmosphere... you guys are interpreting this all wrong!
  • Indeed, conventional rocket design is pretty brute-force. Big engine, hunking mechanical control systems with minimal intelligence.

    Given the capabilities of modern IT, it makes much more sense to use software as the core of the system, in the same was as software is the core of a device like the Segway, or the stair-climbing robot, or the telescopes that consist of a thousand small mirrors, not one large one.

    Rocket science has not changed significantly since 1950, and needs a rethink. I believe this project is a solid approach that has good chances of succeeding, and if so, will redefine the way we conceive of this kind of engineering project in the future.
    • Counterpoint (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ThePyro (645161) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:15PM (#6816981)
      No matter how good your software is, you're going to need brute force to get the vehicle into space in the first place. Putting three men into space is going to require a significant amount of energy, and no amount of programming genius will change that fact. More importantly, you're going to need a good bit more brute force than Armadillo Aerospace has been testing with so far.

      The tricky part is that I don't think tests done with small rockets will necessarily give you a good idea of how the big rocket will perform. If that were the case, all we'd really need is to buy a model rocket kit from Wal-Mart and just build it 20x bigger.

      • No matter how good your software is, you're going to need brute force to get the vehicle into space in the first place. Putting three men into space is going to require a significant amount of energy, and no amount of programming genius will change that fact. More importantly, you're going to need a good bit more brute force than Armadillo Aerospace has been testing with so far.

        The challenge is to do it specifically for the lowest possible cost. That means running your rocket damn efficient. That means

    • The problem is that it does require brute force to get something into orbit, so there is so much that can be done. The most efficient might be a space teather elevator but the materials science isn't quite there yet.

      The idea of using lots of little engines has been done by the Soviets. I forget what problems they had.
    • Given the capabilities of modern IT, it makes much more sense to use software as the core of the system, in the same was as software is the core of a device like the Segway, or the stair-climbing robot, or the telescopes that consist of a thousand small mirrors, not one large one.

      Control system engineers as well as artificial intelligence scientists (where the two fields are slowly meeting at a point called "intelligent systems") might take offense at equating their entire fields to IT.
  • by Ducati_749S (646019) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:45PM (#6816670)
    If he wins, I wonder if the ships' lifecycle will resemble those of his games?
    I can see it allready:
    1) Carmack devises a ship that excells in performance, but requires very costly componenets in order to deliver on its full functionality.
    2) After a years' worth of excellent operational records, other countries license the engine design and build their own ships off of it
    3) 2 years after launch a thriving Spaceship MOD community is launching new ships into space every couple of months....
  • by blunte (183182) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:46PM (#6816685)
    ABC News is running a story ostensibly about the X Prize but in reality they only talk about John Carmack
    Yeah, the title of the article sort of hints that it's focused on Carmack... From Doom to Zoom Video - Game Creator Chases After Space Race Prize

    Duh.

  • 'Some people have commented that I am trying very hard to make aerospace like software, and that's the truth," he says. "If we looked at what we do in software, if we could only compile and test our program once a year, we'd never get anything done. But that's the mode of aerospace.' "

    Yes but if your test program fails, all you've lost is small amount of time associated with compiling and executing the program.

    If the test of your rocket on the other hand fails, you could lose more than just time but mat
  • by anzha (138288) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:49PM (#6816721) Homepage Journal

    The crew hopes to launch the real deal at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

    This, I have known for a while: I have a buddy that works in WSMR's flight safety group. I'm looking forward to it. I'm hoping that I'll get to watch. *crossed fingers*

    However, John's attitude of build a little, test a little isn't just a software attitude. It's the old Xplanes or NACA (pre NASA) attitude towards aeronautics.

    For those of you that still use usenet, go check out the sci.space.* heirarchy. You'll find that John's a contributor there, but he's empathetically not the first to espouse such views. However, I know of none that have compared it to software development like he did in this interview.

  • by FurryFeet (562847) <joudanx.yahoo@com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:49PM (#6816728)
    Somehow, "my software crashed" lacks that ominous feel that "my software crashed" has...
  • Two Words (Score:2, Informative)

    by tommasz (36259)
    Dick Rutan [dickrutan.com].
    • Re:Two Words (Score:5, Insightful)

      by John Carmack (101025) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:20PM (#6817712)
      You probably mean "Burt Rutan", the aircraft designer at Scaled. Dick Rutan is his brother, who piloted the voyager, and was the test pilot for XCOR's EZ-Rocket, but doesn't have anything to do with Space Ship One, the X-Prize vehicle.

      I have always maintained that Burt is the odds-on favorite to win the X-Prize, but it isn't over yet. His design requires a pilot on board for all tests, so there is a non-negligable chance that there could be a fatality, which would almost certainly end the effort in the X-Prize timeframe.

      John Carmack
      • by zwaffle (667535)
        Yes, yes, but keep in mind that there is also a non-negligable chance that you'll end up tripping over a cable, falling head first into a bucket of food grade peroxide... thank god the DOOM3 engine is done.
  • by mattgreen (701203) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @01:52PM (#6816762)
    Read the article for once people instead of knee-jerk reacting to an analogy.

    Carmack merely wants to improve the method by which rockets are constructed. He says he starts small and builds his way up, rather than constructing the rocket and control system and then working for six months to work out the problems.

    This is a well-known software development technique, and I don't see why it wouldn't be generalizable to other fields. If anything it should inspire more confidence in the creator at least.
    • I don't know if its a testing methodology instead of a design methodology - identify the pieces that are needed for the rocket and design, test, fix each one at a time until you have a complete rocket.

      This is an approach that seems to be completely counter-intuitive to the current methodology used to develop aerospace craft.

      Take for example the X-33. It was a testbed for an advanced thermal protection system, aluminum-lithium cryogenic tanks, aerospike engines and internal structures. Not to mention the
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What most of these articles tend to obscure is that NASA flights and X-Prize flights are really doing different things. NASA is directed almost entirely at orbital spaceflight and beyond. The X-Prize is directed at sub-orbital flight. The physics of orbital spaceflight effectively require the use of large, multi-stage rockets with very high speeds. Sub-orbital flight does not. The X-Prize appears to be aimed at opening up the sub-orbital domain, which has been largely neglected so far.
  • Regardless of who's doing it, and their chances/likelihood of needing an orbital reboot, I'm glad to see someone not stuck on 40 year old technology trying something new. Christ I remember watching the first space shuttle landing when I was like 4. They treat it like it's great and proven tech, but its performance/cost ratio is awful.

    Anything to get some new ideas floating around nasa.

    Just my opinion.
  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @02:40PM (#6817233) Journal
    I admire and respect Carmack's space program. He is doing a number of innovative things.

    His program of building control systems and then big rockets is mentioned in the article. It's unfortunate that so far whenever they've tried to launch a rocket the computer has immediately crashed -- but they seem to have a handle on why this is happening and the current computer construction and mounting system is far better than the previous ones. He also has a tremendous amount of telemetry, and analyzes the inevitable failures exhaustively.

    They is now using a fairly innovative mix of medium-strength hydrogen peroxide and some fuel to power the rocket. Other people (and Armadillo, previously) have used highly purified hydrogen peroxide, but that is hard to get (and expensive) in the quantities that they need. This mixed monopropellant has a higher specific impulse, too.

    They are using a innovative final recovery system -- the ship lands nose first on a long aluminum cone that crushes to absorb energy. Unique, cheap, and innovative -- if funny-looking.

    The thing I like the most, though, is his website http://www.armadilloaerospace.com [armadilloaerospace.com] (it will surely be slashdotted for the next couple of days.) Carmack is religious about posting the results of the last weeks efforts, warts and all. It appears that he receives substantial insight from people responding to these progress reports (apparently the mixed monopropellant research was instigated by somebody posting results of German WW2 torpedo experiments.) This kind of openness is quite rare in aerospace research.

    Anyway, all the best to Carmack et al. I think that Rutan's Spaceship One project may win the X prize, but maybe not -- his system depends on a lot of planning and simulation being accurate, whe re Armadillo can respin the project many ways if things don't work out the first (or second) try.

    thad
    • I think the concept of build, test, build again is pretty sound. Most of the groups involved in space don't use this concept, and I think it really fits this industry to a tee. Good for John. Eventually, geeks will rule the world, and the universe with John's help.

  • by heroine (1220) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:49PM (#6818065) Homepage
    Most historians think the Russian model of aerospace development was more successful than the American model. The Russians built fully functional rockets and did virtually no testing. That led to very fast improvements and now they're the only nation still launching humans into space. The Americans did incremental testing, only building full test flights in the final stages and you know where their human space flight ended up.

    Aerospace problems are a lot harder than software problems, but unlike software, you can't share aerospace. You can't make a web page, have your achievements downloaded, and leave a lasting impression on people by building a rocket prototype. It ends up being done for yourself, isolated. Except for one or two blog articles no-one thinks about it.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday August 28, 2003 @03:51PM (#6818079) Homepage Journal
    never let John Carmak write systems that peoples lived depend on.
  • by Stu Charlton (1311) on Thursday August 28, 2003 @04:03PM (#6818228) Homepage
    I see a lot of skeptics replying, "Carmack is wrong headed, if you screw up a rocket, it crashes, it's not just a compile bug". Many of these comments seem to be suggesting that we should go back to the "old school" style of programmer that thought & planned his code before submitting, instead of relying on the feedback of a compiler.

    This is based on the completely false assertion that code will be better / more bug free if you "think harder". It ignores that in the past 30 years of programming we have learned the value of feedback in the software development thought process.

    The idea that somehow if I spend more time in a chair planning the solution that the solution will be better if I evolve my way to it is some sort of romantic vision of how solutions to tough problems are actually solved. This could be seen as a version the "prove the code works" vs. "test the code" debate. Or that proofs follow from the axioms. I counter that usually it's a process of some rather messy creativity, trial, and error.

    In programming in the large, we have generally learned that "phased" approaches to software development (known as waterfall) tend not to work very well because they de-emphasize the feedback that occurs downstream in the development process. To contrast, an incremental approach enables smaller steps to be delivered , and minimizes the impact of erroneous assumptions discovered downstream in the development.

    In programming in the small, development is a form of communication between the computer and the developer. The computer is designed to tell us where we are wrong, we just need to tell it exactly what to expect: for this we have compilers and test cases. Compilers can't catch everything.

    Now, this is not suggesting that today's style of "let's see if it compiles!" development is appropriate for aerospace. That is the unfortunate effect of feedback & incremental approaches - it makes programming easier, even for people that shouldn't be doing it. These people "program by accident", and just meander through their code until it does the job, sort of. This is not a reflection of the incremental approach in the hands of an experienced developer that "programs on purpose", that understands what he or she is doing at every step of the way.

    Aerospace development isn't "amateur hour", and the incremental approach will just make professionals all the more productive.
    • The problem is that doing a compile/test run only costs processor cycles. Launching a rocket costs hardware.

      That said, the good old days of test flight in the 50's and early 60's saw a lot of build-test-build programs that built capability incrementally. More recently, the DC-X program did the same thing (until it was killed), and Surrey Satellites in the UK has been very successful at incrementally developing better and better spacecraft. But most modern aerospace efforts get mired in bureaucracy that

I have not yet begun to byte!

Working...