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John Carmack's Test Liftoff a Success 384

brainstyle writes " is reporting that John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace (and who apparently has some game design hobby) has had a successful launch of the prototype of its entry in the X-Prize. From the article: 'I had tried several algorithms on the simulator before settling on this one, and it behaved exactly the same in reality, which is always a pleasant surprise.'"
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John Carmack's Test Liftoff a Success

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  • by gorim ( 700913 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @04:52AM (#9461041)
    If we can't shoot it or drive it, what good is it ?
    • by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @04:58AM (#9461068)
      If we can't shoot it or drive it, what good is it ?

      I bet I can guess who you're voting for this November.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Hardly, but if somebody said the X-Prize should automatically be given to the non-white colored spaceship, we'd all know who they'd be voting for.
    • Quote from Quake 2 - "You crazy rocket jumpers"
  • May we one day see a FOSS satellite in orbit?

    Seriously, I think that this demonstarates the new power given to the (relativly) little guy by computers. Thanks to simulation we can all tweak ideas without blowing up prototypes.

    I wish I had as much free time as some of these people.:E
    • Thanks to simulation we can all tweak ideas without blowing up prototypes.

      I think you'll find Armadillo Aerospace blew up a lot of prototypes.

    • I remember that Carmack released some early rocket simulator programs of his a few years ago. I can't remember where they are and whether the source code was included, though :/
    • Well, a fully amateur satellite effort, anyway. Here. []
    • Thanks to simulation we can all tweak ideas without blowing up prototypes.

      Look at the history of the combustion and steam engines. In the early days of the automobile there were something like 5000+ innovators all trying to become millionaires. With the steam engine, just about any ironsmith thought he could come up with a better system. In many cases, they would look at another competitor's design (Which would be thicker at some point than the rest of the system), assume that this was a manufacturing def
  • Simulator? (Score:5, Funny)

    by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @04:55AM (#9461054)
    'I had tried several algorithms on the simulator before settling on this one, and it behaved exactly the same in reality, which is always a pleasant surprise.'

    I hope he's not referring to the "simulator" about the space marine on Mars/Phobos/Deimos...

    (especially not if the simulation behaved exactly the same)
    • by j-pimp ( 177072 )
      (especially not if the simulation behaved exactly the same)
      I wouldn't mind if it includes the infinite respawns.

      I for one welcome our new BFG toting overlords!!! Of course I plan on being one of them.
  • It's always nice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zoloto ( 586738 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @04:56AM (#9461061)
    It really is nice to see some of your more favorite programmers involved in their hobbies. It makes them more real in a way that "sitting behind a computer screen and doing nothing else to stimulate your mind" can. Not to mention he probably wrote the simulator, lol.

    anyways, this is good news for J.C. congrats man
    • Re:It's always nice (Score:2, Informative)

      by zarkzervo ( 634677 )
      "Not to mention he probably wrote the simulator, lol."

      A simulator is just some code to stimulate input to your code. Simulator != a big box with a joystick and 3D-glasses and force feedback.

      People tend to think of MS Flight Simulator when they hear the word 'simulator'.

  • by kcorporation ( 653500 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @04:57AM (#9461063)
    he'll have a deadline more precise than "when it's done" if he wants to win the X-Prize.
    • by Goonie ( 8651 ) * <> on Friday June 18, 2004 @05:16AM (#9461133) Homepage
      Though Armadillo have made some progress lately, Carmack stated in his last diary entry that Scaled Composites are odds-on favourites to win the X-Prize:
      I think Space Ship One has good odds of success in the single-person-to-100km flight... At this point, I hope Burt has everything work out and he is able to make the X-Prize flights soon, because our prospects are pretty dim for getting everything working perfectly in the big vehicle in five months and having permission to fly it. I certainly don't want the insurance company to keep the prize money. If Space Ship One crashes, we will probably throw ourselves at an attempt, but it will be a long shot. No, I don't think any of the other teams are close.

      I'm sure the Armadillo team would have loved to have won the X-Prize, but they don't seem to be too discouraged. They've built a rocket that flies and lands very neatly, and that uses a novel propellant mixture. I gather they're still going to try to build an X-Prize class vehicle over the next year or so. They've learned a lot about building rockets. And, judging by the celebration when they landed that test flight, they're still having fun. Sounds like a hell of a hobby to me, and I wish I had the cash to do something like it :)

      • X prize or not: If you get this to work, and if you get it to work relatively cheaply, then there is tons of money to be made. you could start a $Bn business out of that, or sell the tech for 100s of millions. The X-Prize is nice but chump change compared to that.
        And while JC would do it no matter what, just for the heck of it, or maybe just for the chance to strap the biggest possible engine to his butt, he must be well aware of that.
  • Awesome (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cackmobile ( 182667 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @05:01AM (#9461082) Journal
    but they look a little behind the ball. SpaceShipOne is already carrying people into space(the official limit) and they are launching a small rocket. Even if they don't win I hope they keep going.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2004 @05:04AM (#9461091)
    'I had tried several algorithms on the simulator before settling on this one, and it behaved exactly the same in reality, which is always a pleasant surprise.'

    I know not this reality which you speak of.
  • I wonder... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pivot ( 4465 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @05:04AM (#9461093)
    Is this the reason we still haven't seem Doom 3 yet?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    100 km is nothing! It just makes the thing a high altitude plane. You can't maintain a stable orbit a that altitude, and the planes that get up there are nowhere near escpae velocity.

    A rocket that can get up there will need more than just a few extra miles. It needs to travel at about 10 times the speed, have serious prtection for reentry, and have heavy shielding to protect it once it gets out of the Van Halen belt.
  • by lingqi ( 577227 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @05:14AM (#9461125) Journal
    I wonder how have the experiences of programming things like the DOOM / QUAKE engine helped in this project? I mean, I am very sure that it is a great asset to be an all-around great programmer for the armadillo project, but I cannot relate how being able to squeeze frames and triangles out of a graphics card helps when dealing with rocket related... stuff; Maybe writing the physics engine and the collision detection code and being able to debug well helped? was there any direct relationships between the day job and the hobby? How did they help eachother?

    dammit /. should do another interview with J.C...
    • Well, writing 3D games requires a lot of knowledge about 3D geometry (crossproducts, matrices, quaternions and so on), and so does writing rocket control software. So that certainly helped.

      But the most important thing is obviously the money from doom and quake.
    • Theres probably no direct realtionship between the two. He's obviously a very bright guy with a proven history of being able to solve problems, often using imaginative solutions.

      For myself I think many real world programming tasks are broadly quite similar, gather requirements, design, code, test. I'm sure many of us have coded for disparate industries in our time writing complex apps for telecoms, financials etc without fully understanding the entirety of the low down nitty gritty. The key is being able
    • In my 15 year programming career I've done all of the following, successfully (ie. been the lead programmer):
      1. CAD/CAM (and I do mean both)
      2. Medical Imaging
      3. Genetics
      4. B2B/Database
      5. Internet Security Applications
      A good programmer is good no matter what they do -- they just need a bit of time to ramp up on the problem domain.
  • Go Johnny! (Score:3, Funny)

    by SlashDread ( 38969 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @05:16AM (#9461138)
    Cant wait to see that BFG M-II, scaled up to blast some astroids.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I get a feeling that somebody will mod this as flamebait, but I really rather hear your reply (or ancedotes to the contrary): look at this video [] detailing the rocket flight and in the end the flock of people jumping out from the van cheering: it is scary that I see no hot chick (tm) within the bunch - Carmack should be considered the acme of geeks, and even in his stratospheric residence where most of us can only dream of, it would seem that "surrounded by adoring female fans" is not part of the description
    • by torpor ( 458 ) <ibisum@gm a i l . com> on Friday June 18, 2004 @05:48AM (#9461244) Homepage Journal
      Dude, when was the last time you saw hot chicks at the Cape?


      If there were more hot chicks at these places, I guarantee you we'd have moved all heavy industry and manufacturing into the Lagrange points by now ... but it appears hot chicks only like dudes with fast racey cars, and money. You ever heard of a "millionaire rocket scientist"? And no, Burt don't count, he's a full-on dork.
    • Clearly you don't stalk... er... research Carmack as well as an average id geek - He's married!
    • Well, he didnt have any chicks cause maybe he wasn't successful yet!

      You know what they say: "To get laid you have to be cute, be able to talk to women, or play an instrument... OR build a prototype for the X-Prize competition and have at least 1 successful launch"
  • The home page of Armadillo Aerospace says that the rocket is hydrogen peroxide fueled. But hydrogen peroxide (H_2 O_2) is just the oxidizer, right? What is the fuel, I wonder? The rocket produces almost no visible flames [].
  • If a spaceship is launched from an aircraft at altitude, does that remove the need to launch from the equator?

    Also is an equatorial launch even needed if it's going to be sub-orbital anyway?

    Is there any advantages from a high Polar launch have any advantages that an equatorial launch might lack?

    • by henley ( 29988 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @06:03AM (#9461291) Homepage

      There is no need to launch anything from the equator.

      The closer to the equator you launch from, and the closer to due-east your launches are pointed, the more benefit you gain from the Earth's rotation in making orbital velocity.

      This applies to Aircraft launches too, since the boost is then: aircraft velocity + earth rotation.

      The further your launch is from 0 degrees inclination, the less benefit you gain from earth's rotation, and the less the benefit from launching at the equator. This can actually be made up somewhat by launching from north/south of the equator due east (e.g. Kenedy launches are most efficient to 28 degree inclination launches, the same as the latitude of the launch site.

      Launches into polar orbit - 90 degree inclination - by definition get no benefit from Earth's rotation, so it doesn't matter where you launch from.

      Launches that are sub-orbital get no benefit from the earth's rotation other than - possibly - affecting the range achieved. For the specific case of the X-Prize, where most teams seem to want to land more-or-less where they launched from, there's no benefit from earth's rotation it's - at most - just another trajectory-affecting factor to take into consideration.

      • What I actually find interesting, is that while most everyone launches west-to-east to gain this boost from Earth's rotation, not everyone does.

        The one example I can think of to counter this is Israel. They actually launch east-to-west (probably in a similar fashion as Hebrew is written right-to-left, not left-to-right). Of course there is a very good reason they do this. To the west of them, is just the Mediterranean. To the right are a whole lot of countries they have traditionally considered hostile
  • by John Carmack ( 101025 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @06:04AM (#9461296)
    For those of you that are underwhelmed by the 310 pound vehicle, do note that the big vehicle (1500 lbs) that can actually carry people is also flying. Look back in the Armadillo updates around April 19 for testing video. We have since reworked the propulsion system to follow what has worked so well on the subscale vehicle, and should be testing it this weekend. If it works well, we will be repeating the boosted hop with the big vehicle next week.

    The flight time is currently limited by federal law to 15 seconds of rocket burn time. We have a waiver coming to extend that to 120 seconds, but beyond that we will need a full launch license.

    The significance of all this is that the vehicles are intended to fly up, come back down and land right where they took off from, all without ablating, expending, or seperating anything. It should be possible to have turn around times under one hour even for quite large vehicles.

    BTW, Doom beta testing is going very well.

    John Carmack
    • The weather appears to be holding for this next week's test hop, I wish ye gents the best of luck!
      The main driving factor will be the bloody wind tho.

      A question that's been itching in the back of my mind:

      I wonder if MASA is even taking the X-Prize seriously, or simply being a bobblehead, nodding and making agreeable noises, and when it's over with, goes back to their old, aincent, and dangerous trappings of the STS program and fighting for grant money?
    • Good luck, John, but Scaled's launch is three days away. Will you be attending and do you expect they will take the prize?

    • by dylan_- ( 1661 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @06:59AM (#9461446) Homepage
      ...where they took off from, all without ablating,...
      I want to see some form of "ablate" used in Doom3. As in, "you have been ablated by dylan_-'s rocket" or something...basically "First use of Ablate in a Computer Game".

      That's the kind of thing people really care about...

      (ps. Congrats on the rocket thing...)
    • Once you get this thing working, how much for a ticket to ride?
    • Oh my god! If I post right now, I can almost claim I've spoken to John Carmack. I'll be lying, but this is my only chance.

      Hi John!
    • by Obiwan Kenobi ( 32807 ) <evan&misterorange,com> on Friday June 18, 2004 @10:43AM (#9462922) Homepage
      preface: This is a joke

      John Carmack always gets +5 when he posts something. It's not even a question, moderators are drawn to give up those points like a heroin addict looking to shoot up when they see his name.

      I think one day JC is going to just put "I farted, it stanks" and hit OK by accident, and then see the following on the comment:

      +1 Insightful
      +1 Funny
      +1 Interesting
      +1 Informative
      • by El Camino SS ( 264212 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @12:41PM (#9464043)
        Carmack is a celebrity among geeks. We all have people we admire. Even geek tribes have leaders.

        Obviously, Joe Schmo is not going to know him, but we do. It is fine that you may resent him, but you should also respect the fact that living the geek dream is something that we all aspire to doing... but for one circumstance or another, we haven't been lucky enough to do it.

        So give Carmack some friggin' props for at least pressing a little bit of the envelope and being a pioneer. In a world where technology is everywhere, he is pushing the barrier. Respect that.

        Personally, I have always been dissappointed my whole life that I couldn't wake up, suit up, get in the airlock, and go out and weld space stations with my hands for a living. I think all of us geeks are upset for not being born in a more advanced civilization than we already are, or not having been born with enough money to get all the education we want.

        He is at least using his cash for a useful hobby. Some day there will be normal use space travel. Damn if I can't wait for those days. Think, modern commerce in space... instead of spy sattelites and weapons platforms. It sounds a whole lot better than what is going on now.

        Damn you innovators! Damn you all!
      • Re:The JC Factor (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MonkeyCookie ( 657433 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @01:57PM (#9464982)
        I went and looked at his post history. His posts almost all +5, and on inspection I saw that they deserved it.

        John Carmack has the "inside scoop" on a lot of issues we talk about on Slashdot, as he knows the people and technology we talk about, and is able to give a different perspective on it than a lot of us would. His posts containing his viewpoints and stories have a lot of stuff that is indeed interesting and insightful, much more so than the average Slashdot post. The posts where he is talking about his personal observations of Steve Jobs, or his rocket experiments, for example, is information that most Slashdotters would be unable to provide.
  • I have been following Carmack's progress since almost day one, but will they make it? Unless something horrific goes wrong with the Scaled Composites airplane, they will win the prize. They have already made a couple of high-altitude flights and are working towards a launch in THREE DAYS []!

    • I like this quote from Canadian Arrow's website []:

      "Although there are many different teams competing for the X PRIZE, we are all fundamentally on the same team. When one of us wins the X PRIZE, we will all become entrepreneurs and pioneers in the eyes of the world."

      I can't speak for the actual participants, but I know that if I were on one of the teams I wouldn't be doing it primarily for the prize, but because I want to go to space. After all, I suspect that most of the entrants that are getting somwhe

  • Impressive video! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Holy smokes! that was a really impressive video. How in the world did they make it so that the rocket stabilized so well? I mean, gyroscopes only provides a partial answer. When the said that it landed within 1 foot of the launch pad, I assumed they meant that it *fell* within one foot of the launch pad. That thing sailed up and came down as if it was landing on an egg shell. Impressive!
  • by Jerry ( 6400 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @07:34AM (#9461538)
    It apparently never dawned on them that their device could malfunction and explode, spraying them with shrapnel. Or, it could have gone off course and landed on them.

  • A few weeks ago they crashed a smaller prototype during testing when something went haywire. Then they show up a few weeks later with a bigger craft that performs perfectly.

    The guidance is impressive, it equivelent to having a computer balancing a broom stick in real time.

    Remember the govt's VTOL spacecraft that tipped over and blew up on the pad?

    I bet if John was funded by paul allens millions he would be as far along as the scaled composits team. The fact that he has gotten this far with far less money
  • Lame attempt (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amightywind ( 691887 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:07AM (#9462020) Journal

    This is a surprisingly lame attempt at the X-Prize. A hydrogen peroxide engine is a terrible choice for propulsion. The propellant is dangerous and and has low specific impulse. It has been mainly used for thrusters in the past. It is not even the best choice for that. Bipropellant thrusters now predominate. Any high power rocket modeller can show better than this. One wonders why he chose to publicize the event, considering the upcoming flight of Burt Rutan's vehicle. That is what I call a serious attempt.

    • Re:Lame attempt (Score:3, Informative)

      by silentbozo ( 542534 )
      Read the website. Although this test was conducted with a monopropellant engine, they have been testing bi-propellant mixtures for some time, exactly for the reasons you specify (although, what kinds of propellant with sufficent energy to give you a good weight to lift ratio AREN'T dangerous to some degree?)

      BTW, he publicizes what his group does every week on the website. I think the only difference is that, in the week leading up to the SpaceShipOne launch, there's been more commercial media coverage o
  • by Ilan Volow ( 539597 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @12:27PM (#9463866) Homepage
    A theoretical conversation between John Carmack the astronaut and ambassador Zarvox of Omicron Persei 8

    Zarvox: Greetings earthling. We come in peace. What is it that you do on your planet?

    Carmack: I make computer games where you run around and kill aliens.

  • by Greg@RageNet ( 39860 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @01:06PM (#9464345) Homepage
    In related news, the Mesquite Sheriff's department took a report from Little Billy Shumacker who's model rocket was stolen by a man with glasses who tried to offer him the cheat codes for 'god mode' for doom 3 in exchange.

    -- Greg
  • Various responses (Score:5, Informative)

    by John Carmack ( 101025 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @03:09PM (#9465755)
    A variety of responses:

    We don't expect to win the X-Prize, both because Burt probably has it in the bag, and we are behind schedule. We still plan on continuing our development, because our designs are nearly an order of magnitude cheaper to fabricate and operate than Space Ship One, and orders of magnitude matter. If SS1 crashes on Monday, we will throw more time and resources at an attempt, because there really is no other contender, but it will be a long shot.

    We could have flown an unguided rocket to very high altitudes a long time ago, but we have instead concentrated on control systems, which is where the important work needs to be done. A team that was busy flying rockets to hundreds of thousands of feet altitude, then decided to add a guidance and control system to their rockets would be in for many rude surprises at high energy levels.

    This isn't immediately obvious, but an X-Prize class vehicle pretty much requires an active control system (a trained pilot with appropriate controls is also an active control system). A short burn time rocket, like the recent CSXT 100 km shot, can live with just aerodynamic stabilization (note that it also landed 20 miles away), but the G forces are far too high for people. As the burn time lengthens with lower acceleration forces, the vehicle will gravity turn away from vertical, making it almost impossible to keep a 60 second burn time even accelerating upwards.

    People that harp on about propellant specific impulse in the context of suborbital rockets are like programmers that obsessively optimize a function that isn't a hot spot. The goal of a rocket ship is not to deliver specific impulse, it is to move a payload reliably and cost effectively. Isp can always be traded away for mass fraction, and quite often you can improve operability or reliability by doing so. With our new vehicle designs using a single engine and jet vanes instead of four differentially throttled engines we are more likely to consider trading some engine and system complexity for performance, but issues like the requirement for deep throttling still make it a complex decision.

    I do Armadillo work on Tuesdays, weekends, and late at night. At Id lately I have been working on next-generation rendering technology while the rest of the company manages the Doom beta process.

    I don't issue press releases. I just publicly write about what I am working on, and other people find it noteworthy enough to talk about. All of our development work, including the dead ends and mistakes, is fairly well documented on the Armadillo Aerospace website.

    John Carmack

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.