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Space Transportation Science

Masten and Armadillo Perform First VTVL Restarts 94

Posted by kdawson
from the warp-oh-point-oh-one-mister-sulu dept.
FleaPlus writes "Recently Masten Aerospace, winner of NASA's 2009 Lunar Lander Challenge, demonstrated using its Xombie vehicle the first-ever mid-flight restart of a VTVL (vertical-takeoff vertical-landing) rocket, a critical capability for the emerging suborbital/microgravity science and passenger markets (video from ground). Not to be outdone, John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace (winner of the 2008 Lunar Lander Challenge) flew its Mod rocket to 2,000 feet (610m), deployed a drogue parachute, and then restarted the engine to land (multi-view video showing John Carmack at the controls)."
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Masten and Armadillo Perform First VTVL Restarts

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  • Awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Monday June 07, 2010 @06:50PM (#32490722) Homepage Journal

    I would venture to say that this is definitely a win for private-sector aerospace. (:

  • And now we know why he's doing this.

    • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <{taiki} {at} {cox.net}> on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:09PM (#32490854)

      to see if you can control a rocket with the WASD keys?

      This gives "Rocket Jumping" a whole new meaning.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by u17 (1730558)
      Because he likes to spend time debugging his creations?
    • And from a frigging laptop. That's what's interesting to me. NASA would have a huge control center with 300 people, contractors, sub-contractors, and sub-sub-contractors. Instead, it's him and a couple of guys on walkie-talkies and laptops. Part of this is the technological change, but largely its a mindset, an understanding of what the technology can do, how to use it properly, and a corporate attitude of risk / reward.

      Now, who's going to be the first person to put a person on one of these? I don't

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        Now, who's going to be the first person to put a person on one of these? I don't think that it will be approved by the authorities, and it's probably pretty stupid, but you know that someone is going to strap a lawn chair on their personal rockets, have a ballistic parachute (just in case) and go for a ride.

        Actually, Armadillo Aerospace did precisely that several years ago with a much-earlier predecessor to their current vehicle. One of their engineers volunteered to put on a helmet and protective clothing, and rode in a seat on the rocket while an ambulance waited nearby in case there were problems. It didn't go very far off the ground though, as they were much less certain about the rockets they had back then than the ones they have now.

        You can see a clip at around the 45 second mark in this video:

        http://www [youtube.com]

  • by durrr (1316311) on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:00PM (#32490792)
    Considering John Carmacks history of sucessfull rocket launcher designs we shouldn't really be suprised they managed a sucessfull rocket jump.
  • Very Impressive (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is incredibly impressive.. the craft is very unstable when the drogue chute deploys but Carmack's software is smart enough to level out just with thrust vectoring (*not* easy to do, especially when you are subject to the varying conditions of our atmosphere).

    • Re:Very Impressive (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nofx_3 (40519) on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:13PM (#32490890)

      I watched it twice. In the first video I was impressed by the same thing as you, the vectoring stabilizing the falling rocket. On the second watch I was even more impressed when I realized even after the drogue shoot and free fall, the rocket landed just a foot or two from it's original takeoff point. So the vectoring didn't just stabilize the rocket, it also steered it back to the takeoff point.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Teancum (67324)

        It didn't look like they even really tried to get back on the exact spot either... just to simply get the rocket onto the pad so it wouldn't sink into the mud was good enough. Still, you are correct that it landed within just a couple of feet of the original take off point.

        It will be very interesting to see what is going to happen when they try for high altitude flights. The next series is supposedly going to take them to about 100k feet, which is where the real fun is going to start. That still isn't in

        • by FleaPlus (6935)

          It didn't look like they even really tried to get back on the exact spot either... just to simply get the rocket onto the pad so it wouldn't sink into the mud was good enough. Still, you are correct that it landed within just a couple of feet of the original take off point.

          I'm not sure, but they may have actually specifically avoided landing in the same precise spot as they took off from, in case the surface was damaged at all from the rocket flames.

  • by MalHavoc (590724) on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:01PM (#32490798)
    John's new 3d engine looks sweet. Incredible detail! Are there plans for a rail gun?
    • Are there plans for a rail gun?

      If there are, I want to be the first to test fire it. :D

    • A simple one-shot kill weapon where you only have to aim and shoot to kill - in an instant of time, it reduces it to a 2D problem.

      I am waiting for the grenades. That's where it is at baby, 4D - you got to bounce AND time them.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Throw in a rocket halfway up and you are going to the moon baby!

  • Just a step... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:07PM (#32490836) Homepage Journal
    Very impressive, but these are just jump-jets for now - sort of rocket helicopters. Going from what we saw to something that can get to orbit, deposit a payload, and return to earth undamaged is going to take a lot more work. Good luck to both teams.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nofx_3 (40519)

      These aren't designed to be orbital designs. The VTVL ships are indented for sub-orbital flight.

      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        The VTVL ships are indented for sub-orbital flight.

        Or they will be, after the metric-to-English landing...

    • Yep, the fuel requirements alone just for getting into orbit are pretty steep. Adding in the requirements of refiring the motor and bringing the whole shebang to earth without a bang makes me think we're going to see even huger fuel cans flying up with even smaller payloads.

      Then again, with the ability to start the motor while in freefall, I wonder if they plan to launch these things by dropping them from a high-altitude jet first? Getting them up high before they even fire would save some on fuel.

      Cheer

      • by tibit (1762298) on Monday June 07, 2010 @09:34PM (#32491836)

        Given that most orbital rockets linger in the dense, friction-expensive atmosphere rather shortly and *slowly* there is very little benefit to be had by dropping them down from a plane. I suggest a simple calculation: express the orbital energy as a function of mass and height, and see how small the potential energy is compared to kinetic energy. Hypotethically, if you would lift a rocket up to orbital height without giving it orbital velocity, you'd still need pretty much all of the fuel just to reach the orbital velocity.

        The only benefit from launching higher up is for sub-orbital flights that do expend a significant amount of their fuel to overcome atmospheric friction and to gain potential energy. That's why SSOne launches up high.

        OTOH, LEO requires ~30 times more energy than sub-orbital. GEO/lunar requires ~60 times more. So, whatever you launch to GEO, the energy used to bring it up to 100km high is so small that you can ignore it and your error is within 2%!

        • by strack (1051390)
          another point, launching from hight altitude allows the use of high expansion vacuum nozzles on all stages, which leads to higher efficiency
        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It actually does make a big difference.

          High altitude air launch advantages:

          Lower air pressure at altitude means you can use higher expansion ratio vacuum optimised engines with greater exhaust velocity (ie more efficient), For example SpaceX's Merlin 1C engine ground fireable version gets 275kgs thrust for 1 sec from 1kg fuel (Isp=275s), in a vacuum it is 304s, but the vacuum optimised high expansion ratio engine gets 345s.

          You do save significant aero drag losses.

          You can save a lot of gravity losses that o

          • by tibit (1762298)

            You're comparing apples to oranges: it's obvious that if you don't have to drag all the fuel in the rocket, the rocket is smaller, and whatever ends up on the orbit is relatively a bigger % of your rocket's initial mass. But you did have to drag the fuel in the plane! Maybe it's cheaper to drag it around in an airplane, but here we are essentially arguing as to what your first stage should be: rocket vs. jet, and all that. You don't really "save" anything, you just shift the expense to a potentially more op

    • Re:Just a step... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by FleaPlus (6935) on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:21PM (#32490958) Journal

      Very impressive, but these are just jump-jets for now - sort of rocket helicopters. Going from what we saw to something that can get to orbit, deposit a payload, and return to earth undamaged is going to take a lot more work. Good luck to both teams.

      I don't think either Masten or Armadillo (or Virgin, XCOR, or Blue Origin) are planning on targeting the ground-to-orbit market any time soon. I think the general target markets for them for the next several years goes something like this:

      * testbeds for NASA autonomous lander tech, like autonomous hazard avoidance (NASA can just put their AI/vision equipment on existing lander to test them out)
      * suborbital science payloads: there's a lot of scientists who currently have to pay $1 million+ a launch to fly payloads on suborbital sounding rockets to the upper atmosphere and near-space that would love to pay the much-lower prices Masten and Armadillo charge to fly at much-higher flight rates
      * microgravity science payloads: getting amounts of microgravity time that can only currently be beaten by flying on the ISS
      * suborbital passenger payloads: both "tourists," scientists who want to be able to operate their experiments manually, and training for orbital astronauts. Armadillo just announced that they were planning on charging $102K per person, undercutting Virgin's price by half: http://www.space.com/news/space-tourism-new-deal-100430.html [space.com]
      * robotic landers for NEOs/Moon/Mars, boosted to the location by an expendable rocket
      * after making tons of money on the above, then maybe they'll start thinking about orbit. Once that happens, it'll probably be with something like pop-up boosters, where a reusable VTVL craft will boost an expendable secondary stage high/fast enough that it can reach orbit.

      Let me know if I forgot any. ;)

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by QuantumG (50515) *

        I vote this best comment of the article and the Orbital Factories one the worst comment of the article.

        Thanks.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by toastar (573882)

        No.... If this was intended for suborbital flight, Why not just land the whole shebang with parachutes?

        This is mainly for landing in places with low to no atmosphere like the moon or mars.

        • No, Armadillo's current rockets, drogue chute and all, are intended ultimately for suborbital flights here on Earth. These comments [armadilloaerospace.com] from John Carmack regarding parachutes are a few years old now, but they still apply to Armadillo Aerospace's current thinking.
          • by fewnorms (630720)
            Sounds to me like this would be perfect for the deployment method the Mars Science Lab [wikipedia.org] has planned. Only drawback I can think of is that Armadillo's rockets may not have been tested and built to full NASA specs?

            By the way, everyone's talking about Armadillo here. Now I'm not saying they didn't do an awesome job and yes, I think Carmack is at least a demi-god, but let's not forget it was two teams that made it. Congrats to both Masten Aerospace and Armadillo on achieving this pretty impressive milestone!
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Teancum (67324)

              The problem with the NASA specs is that they have been written in such a way that only the "selected contractors" can actually meet those specs. That is unfortunately something incredibly common in government procurement circles, where often the contractors themselves write their own procurement contracts (I know.... I've helped to write some of them!) If you write the regulations or specifications in such a way that there can only possibly be one bidder on the contract, you can hardly call it a competiti

    • Perhaps. But sometimes the most amazing discoveries are the lower ones on the tree.

      Rocket powered drug mules anyone?

      Wouldn't be too hard to jump over the border, drop a kg of cocaine in a discreet location, and run back before the police knew what hit them. With the price of cocaine, it might just be economical.

  • Seventh and eighth, sctually.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      > Seventh and eighth, sctually.

      If you're referring to the Apollo landers, that's actually a good point. I guess technically they could be considered lunar VLVT craft, though. ;)

      • Yes, perhaps it was a difference in atmospheric conditions (lack of one) that made the big difference...that and the damning gravity :)

        Anyways I second FleaPlus's "good point".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:28PM (#32491010)

      Nope, first with the same engine (hence "restart"). LM landings used two different engines and stages for landing and taking off.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by FleaPlus (6935)

        Nope, first with the same engine (hence "restart"). LM landings used two different engines and stages for landing and taking off.

        Thanks for the reminder about the separate ascent and descent stages on the Apollo LM. It's also worth noting that the Apollo LM used a hydrazine mix for fuel, which is quite handy if you want easy and reliable propellant (it spontaneously ignites when you mix it with the oxidizer), but is nasty and toxic, so you don't want to use it for an Earth-based launch where you have people nearby (or are planning on carrying people).

      • by Suzuran (163234)

        Correct, but still wrong. The LM DPS restarted during the missions. There was one burn for DOI and the second was the landing burn.

  • Orbital Factories? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday June 07, 2010 @07:34PM (#32491054) Homepage Journal

    So how long before a corporation launches a factory into (relatively) permanent orbit, for manufacturing in microgravity and near-vacuum? Will factories like that be able to dump their products back into the ocean for collection by delivery ships?

    I want to see if aerogels [wikipedia.org] can be made in orbit not just cheaply, but with their internal structure oriented so they can be regular windows. They're such good insulators, and have such small mass per surface area that they could probably be dropped from orbit into the ocean without any extra packaging. Or as packaging containing other, more fragile stuff made in orbit and then the aerogel reused for its own applications once it's collected at the surface.

    • MADE IN LEO

      I might pay extra for that... but only if the product was worth it.
      • by Teancum (67324)

        There are products like some kinds of aerogels, some metal alloy mixing, and certain biological processes (read pharmaceutical industries) where not only is it useful but actually necessary for those processes to take place in space or at least in micro-gravity conditions. In other cases you can also improve the quality of some of these products substantially... again due to the environment. Even at low-earth orbit the vacuum which is present is actually superior to anything which can be obtained in even

    • by clegrand (1082829)
      Kinda missing the original point of the article.. Armadillo & Masten just demonstrated the ability to do away with dropping things into the ocean. Available reaction mass in orbit notwithstanding, just land them back at the newly expanded inter-modal distribution center.
    • by Teancum (67324)

      The largest problem right now for orbital factories is the fact that nobody has a facility capable of "housing" such factories at the moment. There is, I suppose, the ISS.... but that monster of a fiscal black hole is something that no corporate entity would ever want to get stuck with in terms of trying to justify costs and would be worth staying clear of just for the bureaucratic red tape alone. With SpaceX and Orbital Sciences trying to simply provide raw cargo logistical capabilities to the ISS alone

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        I won't be surprised when a future US government privatizes the ISS or a successor in a giant subsidy to some corporation. I'd hope the American public would get a better return than just the usual honor of subsidizing someone else's private enterprise, but if the corporation were (at least mainly, as in taxes and jobs) American, it would probably be worth keeping American enterprise in the forefront instead of its usual tendency to lag behind any risk.

        What would be really cool would be an American Moon bas

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        Orbital aerogel manufacture seems like a great win on so many levels. Growing it in vacuum means when its surface is sealed it insulates at something like R-13, even with the internal structure ("haywire") we get at Earth's surface. If orbit's microgravity and micropressure means we can make it even less dense, it could possibly deliver closer to R-20. And without directly powering any evacuation process. Possibly a micro deposition coating, in which case thick sheets could be so not-dense (we'd have to fin

        • by Teancum (67324)

          If you think you have a really good idea here, you might want to talk to Richard Gariott.... seriously! He has the money and is looking for an enterprise that can get himself back in orbit, but this time he can only justify the cost if he can turn a profit on the whole thing.

          I'd agree that aerogels sound like an amazing investment opportunity, and is one of the few ideas I've heard that really makes sense for commercial spaceflight in the short term. There are some really interesting ideas but I would ima

    • by M3lf.cz (983459)
      Arent aerogels hydrophilic ? Well, it seems, that they can be made hydrophobic...never mind. :)
  • Apogee code word--did you get it?
    I like the Motorola GMRS radios, too.

    • by NNKK (218503)

      "Code word"? "Apogee" was the term for point of greatest distance from Earth long before the company ever existed.

      • by kriston (7886)

        I see that you did *not* get it.
        Thanks for failing to let us know how smart you think you are.

  • I'm reminded of the Lander game [chello.at] while watching these videos. They should try testing this thing out on non-flat terrain with limited fuel :)
    • Oh, so kinda like what BOTH had to do to win the Lunar Lander Challenge?

      Fly up to a predetermined altitude (varied depending on competition level), translate horizontally a specific distance (again, how far depended on the competition level), stay airborne for a certain amount of time (length depended, again, on competition level) land on a simulated lunar surface complete with boulders, then fly back with the same flight altitude, time and distance requirements within the allotted time.

      Oh, and bring
  • Fracking No Way

    I could see half the people puking as it stabilized and the other half thinking they were about to crash..

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The instability was due to the dynamics of the drogue parachute, which was intended to ensure that the vehicle didn't turn upside down due to air drag before the engine lit. It did that but the length of the parachute harness ended up being such that the vehicle moved unsteadily at that descent rate.

      That's a minor problem and easy to fix, with a different length harness or other aerodynamics.

      With a vehicle which was aerodynamically stable going down base first, it wouldn't be a problem either. That partic

      • by Teancum (67324)

        In this particular case, I don't think the drogue parachute was really necessary for vehicle control before re-light, but it might be something more critical if Armadillo goes for a much higher altitude attempt. What they were testing was the overall flight profile, which for higher altitude flights will certainly involve a parachute of some kind for multiple reasons.

        If anything, the drogue chute in this case actually added instability to the vehicle and to me proved the test all that more in terms of the

        • I'm sure the Drogue chute also made sure that the vehicle did not take a nose down attitude, which would have been very hard to recover from! Their freefall time was much longer than the Maston flights!
          • by Teancum (67324)

            Yes, I'll admit that may have been a concern, but it wasn't really all that much longer of a free fall time than what Maston did. It is hard to say "what if the chute had never been there in the first place" as it was there, but as I said.... it was a part of the overall flight profile.

            Other reasons to include a parachute include safety, saving some reaction mass (aka propellant) during the descent phase of the profile on much higher flights, and as has been stated to also help with attitude control when t

  • It's nice and easy seeing physics works in games and simulations but RL is just so damn sweet. 1up for John and team :)

  • I read it as "Marston in Armadillo Performs..." Guess I've been playing Red Dead Redemption just a tiny bit too much.
  • I remember playing that on the Apple ][ a long long time ago. And I did it with only a side-view too.

    so what's so hard about that?

  • Did anybody else besides me wonder what got knocked off the Maston rocket on the semi-hard landing? Just prior to the end of the Video you can see a circular piece of metal falling through the scene and making a Kaaching sound on hitting the landing pad!

That does not compute.

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