Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The X Prize Foundation's LLC 2009 Statement

Moving forward, the concept of conducting a large common event at which all teams fly their vehicles is likely not financially sustainable for the Foundation. Additionally, the conduct of such an event imposes non-negligible expenses on our teams, who must not only transport themselves and their vehicles to the venue for the competition, but who also must complete their design process, their regulatory paperwork, and their procurement of insurance with not only their own "home facility" but also the competition venue in mind. As such, the fairest and most sustainable model may prove to be one where each team plays host to a crew of Judges and X PRIZE personnel at a facility of their choice.

Although the date of October is not written into the rules, we understand that there is an expectation among our teams that future attempts to win the prize will occur late in each calendar year. Accordingly, the X PRIZE Foundation is committed to providing all teams a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the 2009 contest, and to adjust to any changes made to the way the prize is offered.

The X PRIZE Foundation is committed to conducting the 2009 LLC in the fairest manner possible. The X PRIZE Foundation assures teams that all key decisions with regard to the timing, structure, and judging of this competition will be done in an open and fair manner by individuals with no conflicts of interest. As such, all final decisions about the 2009 event will be made by the Foundation's Senior Director for Space Projects, William Pomerantz, and Vice President for Prize Management, Cristin Lindsay, neither of whom have any financial relationship with any of the LLC teams. Additionally, any final decision will be made in conjunction with our partners at NASA. All X PRIZE and Judging staff who have an affiliation with any team, including secondary affiliations through financial investment in institutions who have business relationships with a team, will be recused from key decisions through the lifetime of the competition.

We look forward to working with all of our teams, and wish them all the best of luck as they pursue the remaining $1.65MM in prize money available as part of the Lunar Lander Challenge.

We look forward to working with the X Prize Foundation and will be watching for what the changes to the LLC will be. Will has always been a good guy to work with.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Little Update and Some Troubling News

We at Team Phoenicia got over our frustration with the manufacturing and funding issues and got back to work. We have more parts coming in. We're changing some of our suppliers and getting the parts from them reordered. We're also engaging some very helpful people for the fund raising. There's never ever enough money unless you're John Carmack. (Oh! Hi John!) We're looking for for October 2009.

Except...there may not be an October 2009.

We are hearing some disturbing rumors. In all probability this is a game of internet telephony and we are mishearing. However, what we are hearing is making us distinctly uncomfortable. The rumor is that the X Prize Foundation, due to the enormous cost of running the Lunar Lander Challenge in one fell swoop in October with all the teams is considering changing the format of the LLC to one like the original Anasari X Prize and the current Google Lunar X Prize: whoever does it first, wins. There's no big gathering. There's no big event. The X Prize Foundation and judges just show up at the team's locale for the flight and observe. Then they're done.

Which means any other team other than Armadillo is pretty much out of the running for taking the Level Two First Place. No one else is even close to ready for it. Period. Armadillo just has to sort out their valve issues and whambam they have the prize. If they don't get it by the first try, they have the money, the time and the experience to have it by next June.

It would make the Lunar Lander Challenge a success. A NewSpace start-up won the top slots and leveraged it into a real, honest to goodness space venture (suborbital tourism). That would make both the Anasari X XPrize and the subsequent Lunar Lander Challenge seeds for a completely new industry and prove the model for using prizes. However...and there is a however...it will not be the success that it could have been. Or rather it will be if the changes are not implemented.

Consider: the whole purpose of the LLC is to provide seeds for teams to grow from just building rockets for a competition and through that competition to gain credibility and experience to sprout into start-up space companies. This is what is happening Virgin Galactic. This is what is happening with the Armadillo-Rocket Racing League-New Mexico alliance. This is great. Let's make it better.

If that extra time for preparation, there is the chance - more than a chance! Has anyone been watching TrueZer0 and Unreasonable?! Or Masten? Or Speed Up!!! - that the other teams will catch up and be able to fly an exciting, interesting competition for the Level Two Lunar Lander Challenge. Then Paul et al and Todd & Scott et al, Bob and Dave - AND US!!! - will have time to build and fly a rocket in a sanctioned public arena with attention from media and the major players. This will build up their reputation as more than merely being tinkerers. Positive attention, especially for a start-up such as the NewSpace ones, with fresh blood - who is all of us here! - is especially hard to get.

By allowing the extra time to develop the rockets for the other teams and preventing the First Prize from being taken before October 2009, the X Prize Foundation allows the other seedlings, the other teams time to grow. They may or may not be grown enough to survive past October 2009, but at least they'll have had a creditable chance to have grown more credibly and be better prepared. The whole purpose of this competition is not just to give out the prize: it's to foster new development and sprout new companies. Let the LLC continue to do so. Let's not change the format.

Not yet.

Perhaps if no one gets in in October 2009, then change it to the first come, first serve, since the Prize will evaporate at the end of FY2010. John et al have had 8 years of metal bending to get to this point and Armadillo will still have its subortbital space tourism venture no matter what happens with the LLC, format change or no format change. Until its crunch time, let's grow the teams more and let's have the excitement build again for October. Then let's see the skies of Southern New Mexico flight up with the fires and smoke trails of not one, but several rockets. Let's see the scorch marks of not one, but many engines upon the launch pads. Then let's see, not one very hard working team be rewarded and acknowledged, but all of those that fly to the finish.

Impassioned speech over. Let's hope that its just internet rumor and we're just hearing a lot of dropped packets in our internet game of telephone. Rumors online are pretty strong stuff and in the blogosphere they pop up a lot. If it's not though, we sincerely hope the X Prize Foundation doesn't make this decision. From our point of view, it's a mistake. A pretty big one.

PS videos to come soon, we hope!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

NG LLC News Day Two

It seems that Armadillo took the Level One competition first place purse. Congratulations to them. They have been working on rockets for nearly a decade and it is great news that they are getting this recognition.

That said, they were unable to complete the Level Two flight. They have been having valve issues and the uber complication that has arisen due to the tethered flight rules change by the FAA were unable to trace down the problem. Their rocket took damage and you can see an image of the damage to the nozzle here. Better luck next time.

Since Level Two was what we were planning on participating in, they better expect some competition next time.

We'll get posts up with more information as we are ready. We should be starting the ground fires shortly.

Good luck to the next year's teams and commiseration to TruZer0: you guys were a lot of fun to talk to at Holloman. We'll get caught up soon. At least you have FAA clearance to do free flights. NOW you can do what you need to debug the flying.

Friday, October 24, 2008


If you are not watching the webcast of the Lunar Lander Challenge, you should be!

It's an exciting, if disappointing morning for the teams. We came in late because of unrelated issues, but made it just in time for TrueZer0's flight....which didn't end well, unfortunately. The vehicle had a stability problem - it seems - and crashed. There was a small peroxide fire. I am curious as to the status of the vehicle: was it totalled? I'd guess yes, but...

Apparently Armadillo made one leg of the flight this morning, but not the second. They are set to try again this afternoon at 3 pm mountain, if we understood correctly.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Best of Luck!

We at Team Phoenicia have been a little silent. We have had some serious manufacturing issues with our parts and as a consequence a funding issue as well. However, we're highly likely, almost guaranteed actually, to be out there flying next year. We will be continuing the team's quest for the X Prizes without pause, at least until someone takes the purses.

That said, we do wish Armadillo and TrueZer0 the best of luck tomorrow and on Saturday. We're not in LC do to other scheduling issues. Even our LC based folks are unable to make it, which is just a shame. Good luck, guys.

DON'T break a lander leg.

We'll be posting more soon. Promise. We have some exciting videos to share shortly.

PS: Guys, hit up La Posta while you're there.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Holloman AFB has some testing that has trumped the LLC this year. That means either a delay at the site or a change of venue (and probably another, longer delay).

There is a lot in play at the moment and we await seeing what happens. For our team, due to some manufacturing oopses, this actually plays well. A month will help. If its longer, as seems likely to us based on the info as we know it now, it will help us even more.

We had our suspicions something was up based on the interactions we had with Holloman (or at times, lack there-of). Something seemed off after the interested reception we received at the LLC Team Summit. This definitely explains it.

We'll wait and see. The X Prize Foundation has been pretty forth coming as to the status of this. We'll know more as they know more. The official XPF release is over on their blog, The Launch Pad.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Very Belated Update

We apologize for being so out of touch with those following our progress. There have been developments in our personal lives, especially for the team leader, that have taken us away from being everywhere all the time. The blogging for the team fell behind. We apologize. We're back!

Team Phoenicia has been taking deliveries of the parts for our rocket, The Wind at Dawn. One of the ones that came in that is more photogenic is the thrust chamber for our rocket. The thrust chamber that is pictured is a prototype. Therefore, don't assume that its the final product that will be flying, hopefully, in the October competition.

Without further goofiness, let us introduce our protypical thrust chamber from the days of its clean state:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Thank Yous

As you might guess from our on going "Thank You" posts that we have been accepting donations to help pay with the team effort. It's a nontrivial amount of money to do testing. As you may have noted, we have a donation button - hint, hint - but we also have a Cafe Press Store. If you have a desire for some team paraphernalia and want to help the team with our enormous testing bill, by all means, check it out!

That said, we wish to thank Theodore Baird and Karen Davis for their contributions towards helping us reach our goals. Thank you both of you.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Spin off Idea, son of the LLC Team Summit

We are back from the LLC Team Summit. Our blogging has been a little behind schedule. We're going to try to get caught up. Life's been a little complicated. That said, we have to agree with the X Prize Foundation that the event was definitely a success, even if we would have worded it a bit different. There were some brilliant people there and we found their designs absolutely fascinating. There were things we never thought of. One team, a new one under wraps still, really impressed us. We hope that the team makes it to the launch pad this year.

We, ourselves, are rushing as fast as we can to get our ducks in a row. It's going to be a harrowing journey, no matter what, but we came away with something from the summit that really needs to be brought to a larger audience. Perhaps our blog might be a vehicle (ha! we kill ourselves...errrmmm...bad choice of words) to see if that idea might gain soem traction. We have already bounced this off our FAA contact and we'll see if it gets anywhere.

That idea is what we light heartedly calling the "So You Want to Build a Rocket" conference. The suggestion that we made was that the the FAA would present the requirements for their paperwork and the reasoning behind that paperwork. We think that this should be the the opening conference for the next Lunar Lander Challenge, a required conference, that would preceed registration as to give teams an idea of what they are getting into and why.

This would greatly improve what the teams for the LLC - or any other group that wants to build rockets without much prior experience - generate and reduce the time that the FAA would need to hand hold each and every group that comes to them. It would also help the X Prize Foundation as well.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Flight Safety Zones

From Inner Most to Outer Most:

Safety Clear Zone (domes on the launch and landing pads): Where the team works without any other personnel within that zone while the rocket is grounded.

Soft Abort Zone (inner most yellow polygon): This is where the rocket has the pilot override and try to get it to teh landing pad mnually.

Hard Abort Zone (inner most blue polygon): This is where the Primary Dead Man's Switch is triggered because it has deviated from the planned flight path in such a manner as to be dangerous.

Operating Area (outer most yellow polygon): This is the area large enough to contain all the potential debris from the instanteous impact point analysis.

Flight Hazard Zone (out most blue polygon): The outer bubble for safety based on FAA regulations.

There's a lot of detail we are leaving out, okay a massive amount, but this ought to give you some eye candy and some insight into what and why the paperwork is so hefty to fly even a bitty rocket like our own.

Monday, August 18, 2008

More Thank Yous

1. Robert Baird
2, Thomas Langley

Thank you, gentlemen!

Briefing Holloman: Instantaneous Impact Point

As a team, we have been preparing for briefings we have to give at Holloman AFB on Tuesday and Wednesday. We're excited and a little daunted by the task. There will be teams there that have been doing this for a few years. There will be people from Holloman and FAA that are experts in this and want to make sure we're not crazy as a loon with a rocket pack.

One of the single most important aspects of this presentation is that of safety. How are our procedures on the ground going to be? If your rocket goes nuts, what will happen? How will we react? This is actually probably as important as anything else, if not more so, than what you do for the rest of the project. We're not going to run through the whole of what we did to prepare for this, but we would like to talk about the instantaneous impact point.

The instantaneous impact point (IIP) is the spot where the rocket will crash land based on the position and trajectory of the vehicle when things go wrong. This is really crucial to know at any given time during a rocket's flight because that will dictate where the public and uninvolved should be cleared from and what property may be damaged. IIP is actually more important to track than the position of the vehicle since what the rocket may damage is of more concern to the flight safety folks than the rocket itself.

We of Team Phoenicia, with the advise of some friends that work in the flight safety business for a test range, did a quick analysis of The Wind at Dawn. It turned out that the back of envelope calculations we had done for an estimate for our safety zones fit pretty closely to our first order model. With the help of our graphics powerhouse friend up in the cold, cold north, we produced a video for the presentation.

There are a few things to note about this. One, it's not a perfect representation. It's a first order model and therefore needs some fine tuning. Second, you ought to realize that the higher you go, the greater the radius is when the rocket loses its marbles and crashes - if it does at all! Our job is to make sure this is unnecessary. However, the flight folks, Holloman and FAA, really need this. We'll, of course, give them the numbers too if they ask, but we'll wait and see.

IIP: know it or no flying.

More another time. There's a plane to catch!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mountains of Paperwork

One of the things we keep going on about is the amount of paperwork that needs to be done. It really is enormous. There are two sets of paperwork that any team that wishes to compete need to be aware of. The first is that of the X Prize Foundation's and the second is the FAA. Neither is nontrivial. However, the latter is emphatetically the heftier of the two.

The X Prize Foundation's requirements are not too bad. They require the team to register, make some presentations, and keep them up to date each month on the team's progress. Our registration came in at approximately 24 pages. The presentations are approximately twice that in PDF form. The monthly updates are about two pages in length. Again, still nontrivial.

Other the other hand, there's the FAA requirements. oy. They require a burn time waiver, a tethered flight waiver, and a permit for flying your vehicle. These overlap, but they are not the same. The example permit application that the FAA places up on their webpage is 75 pages long and omitts some big "attached documents." Ours came out to be 92 pages long. The burn time waiver comes out to be around fifteen pages. The tethered waiver, which we haven't yet submitted, is around ten pages so far and growing, but we're holding off on submitting this as yet.

This has all been generated since the X Prize Foundation said go in mid June...and based on what we have been told there will be some revisions and growth needed in the FAA application. We don't have a dedicated paper generator and it has been causing us some problems as far as resource contention. It has impacted our testing and coding. As a consequence, we will be pushed to the limits in order to make our deadlines. Sleep is not an option. At least until the papers have been served.

That is why we are strongly recommending any participating teams in the future have a dedicated writer/paper generator/human printer. This person is someone that needs to be more than jsut a technical writer. This must be a person that grasps everything that will be covered in the writing. This person also has to have very good people skills as well: they have to interact with the FAA, XPF, and the whole team seamlessly and flawlessly. Making enemies of any of the above causes the cart to lose its wheels, folks.

Switching gears, we have some more thank yous to put out. These go out to the following people:

1. Andrew Gray
2. Pascal le Rudulier
3. Rachael Moore

That's a wrap for today and we hope you will join us again soon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Update

First up, there has been a a little more publicity for the team. Will Baird's, the Team Leader, has a day job that has taken note of his participation in the Lunar Lander Challenge and, with the successful completion of the LLC, the Google Lunar X Prize. No, he wasn't interviewed.

We keep getting a lot of questions about the information on the team page. Specifically about the thrust of our rocket. Everyone else as far as the team 's profiles go on the 'matchup' tool have a thrust to weight ratio that is at least one. Why don't The Wind at Dawn? There's a good reason. It's not because have a typo in our page. It is not because we don't have a clue about what we are designing. Rather it is because the information we provided is the ignition thrust, not the maximum thrust at full throttle. That's about a third more than what's listed. Just a small clarification there.

Our FAA application is progressing and its now in the hands of the engineers there. We have hopes we'll make it in time, but that Tethered Flight ruling has thrown more than a few wrenches into our plans. Paperwork really does eat a lot of our time.

That wraps it up for today! Happy Monday!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Little More of The Wind at Dawn

This is a frame from the previous Travel Cam video. You can see the relation to the drawing in the post below.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Wind at Dawn Drawing

This is a very simplified version of The Wind at Dawn. It was put together from the CAD drawings we did and then 'cleaned' so that it would actually look like something instead of billions of holes and micro details. Note, there are missing details: no wiring or plumbing for example. There are other omissions as well, but it works for what it was intended for. We thought we would share it as a way of showing what we have been up to.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Bit of Progress and Some Quick Thank You's

Our post today is going to be a little bit short and not as interesting. The team is working on coding up the last of the data acquisition that is needed for The Wind at Dawn and finishing out the paperwork for the FAA. We need to write up a quick report for the X Prize Foundation and get that to them ASAP too. There's a briefing at Holloman we're prepping for as well. Like we said, get someone on your team for the paperwork alone. Make sure they like it!

The actual fun part of our entry happens in a couple weeks.

Now we'd like to have a quick moment to do some thank yous to those that have donated to the team. We already have mentioned our main sponsors already. However, we've had several people outright donate money without so much as a thank you. We're rectifying that now. A big thank you goes out to:

1. Amanda Northrop
2. Ola Nordhus
3. Marilee Layman
4. Carlos Yu
5. Micheal Hellwig
6. Julia Heathcote (and her Ethical Husband)
7. Suzanne & Greg Lee

More to come!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Wind at Dawn Flight Simulations

When we set out to enter the Lunar Lander Challenge, we had to do a lot of work to design The Wind at Dawn. There was a whole month spent working out some of the really basic equations and then translating them into some simulations of the flight based on changing mass, throttling, thrust profiles, wind, and several other factors. It was interesting work because it was all tied together. If you consume propellant, the amount of thrust needed to flight at a given height decreases which causes throttling changes which changes the amount of propellant that is to be used. etc. In the end, we had a series of numbers for given time frame snapshots. These were heights, lateral displacements, throttling requirements, thrust, etc. We took these to the ever talented Scott E of Coherent Lighthouse and his nice little IRIX cluster. He did a crazy bang up job and produced the following visualizations of the event.

The first visualization is if you had a 'travel camera' that was back about 3m or so that would allow you to focus on the vehicle as it lifted off and keep altitudal pace with it. Unfortunately, the viz machines choked part way through and we had a deadline, so the video is incomplete. Since the flight isn't really that interesting from this POV, we asked if he'd just give us what he had.

The second visualization is from the point of view of an observer 250m away from the flight path of The Wind at Dawn. This video shows the whole flight.

Let's say that we strongly recommend the work of Scott Elyard. He's a hard worker, able to get work done on short notice, and a good guy all around.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

We are LIVE!

Welcome to Team Phoenicia's blog!

We're dusting everything off for our fun and games PR wise. Multiple people have probably paid call on our oh-so-quiet blog. It's not because we wanted to be quiet. it is merely because we had to. There are some rules with regards publicity and announcements by the X Prize Foundation. This is merely so that everyone is coordinated with regards to the talking heads, etc.

So what are we doing?

We are attempting to aim for the Google Lunar X Prize.

Hold the phone/block on that socket! You are announced by the X Prize Foundation as participating in the Lunar Lander Challenge NOT the Google Lunar X Prize.

That's right! We're working on the LLC as a demonstration phase for our backers. The LLC vehicle, The Wind at Dawn, is not a direct prototype for the GLXP landing stage. It is, however, a step in that direction. We are only entering into the Second Level of the LLC where our lander must fly for 180 seconds and put down on a lunar simulant landing pad.

Once we have completed our demonstration here for our backers, we will be moving on to register for the GLXP.

Who are we?

We are a team of techno types from mostly government lab/test range day jobs.

The Team Leader, William Baird, works in the supercomputing field. Wes Pickens works in specialized antenna development. Brandon Rohrer works in advanced human-robotics interfacing, namely prosthetics. Shane Thomas works in programming for a test range. Lyudmila Baird is a former government accountant and currently a student. That's a little vague, but we're very well known in our respective fields. This isn't wholly inclusive of everyone in Team Phoenicia for the GLXP effort. It is inclusive of everyone in the LLC effort.

Who are your backers?

This is a bit of a pitch and thank you to the companies that are backing us.

First up is Wind River. These guys have provided us with software and persuasive support in a big, big way. They really have been there for us. They're software is top notch and their people have been very, very responsive.

Secondly we have Ansoft. Their help has been invaluable. Their software is the big hammer of RF/Microwave design.

Finally, of our public backers, we do not want to leave out Emachineshop. Without their expertise and support, we would not have been able to build The Wind at Dawn.

We hope to announce a handful more backers very, very soon.

So where are you now?

We are a little behind schedule, but our design is complete. Our parts are on order and will arrive very shortly. We are planning on doing our first test fires of the prototype engine shortly. Our software is humming along. We have done simulations and plenty of analyses. If anything, we'd have to say we've done more paperwork in support of licenses and participation than we've needed to do rocket science. (o.O)

Our recommendation for any team in the future is that they have a person dedicated to just doing the paperwork. We are not kidding about that at all.

We will try to have an update daily.