Monday, February 28, 2011

How are you going to fund your GLXP entry: The Nanosat Launcher Challenge Contracting

This post originally appeared on our official GLXP blog.

Detailing the Contracting

In our previous post, we talked about how we are going to pay for our GLXP bid. One of the methods was through manufacturing rockets for teams that are working on the Nanosat Launcher Challenge. We have contracts with three teams (Vog Rockets, Seraphim Aerospace and Soneplanar Space Systems) to build them a series of rockets for fixed prices. When we did this, we made it plain that we would NOT be willing to build them a rocket right off the bat that would be orbital capable.

There were two reasons for that. The first is that it is a bridge too far for us just yet. Getting into orbit is hard and building a rocket with that capability is as yet beyond us. So, we needed to build up our expertise in manufacturing between Lunar Lander Challenge capable rockets and orbit shot capable ones. The second reason was that we were VERY concerned about the teams having enough responsibility and experience to handle an orbit shot rocket. That size rocket is big. It is mean. It could make a very nasty crater. It'd be less responsible to hand over a orbit shot rocket to an inexperienced client than handing over the keys to your Tesla Roadster to a kid that has never driven before.

So, given that we couldn't quite build the orbit shot rockets yet and the clients are not experienced enough to be trusted with such a powerful monster, was there some sort of intermediate step that we could take?

Yes, there was. Actually, there were two.

Enter the Zephyr Aurora

The rocket pictured above is called the Zephyr Aurora. It's the first of a series of rockets - the Zephyr series - that we are building for our three clients and others if they put down the deposit and happen to be US citizens ( does not mess with the ITAR). Each step in that series is meant to be a teaching tool. This is for us and this is also for the client.

The Zephyr Auroras are made from aluminum and steel with a 550 lb-f thrust graphite engine. They stand at seven feet in height. They mass in at 140 kg GLOW. Theoretically, it has a dV of 2 km/s. The engine uses RP-1 and LOX. Zephyr Auroras are the equivalent of a lunar lander challenge rocket. They are simpler than our own The Wind at Dawn, but are also meant to fly a lot faster. On the other hand, they are also hobbled contractually until the teams actually complete the LLC requirements: fly from pad to pad and back first following the prescribed flight pad that the X Prize Foundation laid out. We had to observe the flight, too. Until they did, we also required that they could not place an aeroshell on the rocket, not go faster than a few meters per second, and could go higher than a few hundred feet. Plus, they had to get insurance. Lots of insurance.

The whole point of the Zephyr Aurora is to teach the client how to fly a rocket in a controlled manner and how to interact with all the elements of the rocket beyond just the hardware: ground ops, air ops, working with sites for flights and above all else, the FAA. We are also doing this, it ought to be noted, for a fraction of the price that others have offered their equivalent rockets for. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars rather than half a million. Again, this money is intended NOT to paid for people time, but to pay for what we cannot get through sponsorship.

We expect to deliver the first Zephyr in the next 30 days. Knock on carbon-carbon composite.

However, a Zephyr Aurora only has about 1/5 the delta V needed to reach orbit. That's still a huge jump. There has to be an intermediate step between and there is. We mentioned that there were two steps before an orbit capable rocket.

The Next Step and the Step(s) After

The next step in the series to Zephyr Theone. The Zephyr Theone stands at seventeen feet. It is made from the composites we have developed. It masses in somewhat over 3 tons and has a theoretical dV of 5400 m/s. It too will use LOX/RP-1. The ZT, like the ZA, is also a single stage rocket. We're being a bit vague here because of the intellectual property that we are working with. Some of it is in the patent process. Other bits are industrial secrets. We are also being vague because the design process is still underway. We do not expect to start building the Zephyr Theone prior to July. We have a lot to do between now and then.

The reason for the Zephyr Theone though is to teach the clients how to operate a high delta-V, high altitude, multi-use rocket. This is a whole lot more complicated than a dealing merely with a LLC class vehicle. The regulatory requirements for a Zephyr Theone are at least an order of magnitude more than the Zephyr Aurora. It is a steep learning curve even after having done the LLC class vehicle and regulations.

This, too, is a learning process for us. That's why this sort of rocket, at least until its a proven technology, is still less expensive than an LLC class rocket sold by a 'competitor.' However, it is a lot more expensive than a ZA. Again, this money is going to our GLXP bid and pay for materials and whatnot, not our salaries. Had we done that, it'd be a lot more expensive. A LOT more expensive.

The next step after the Zephyr Theone is a branching point. We are not going to get into much of the way of details here. Each team has made some specific requests that we wish to honor their own differences of approach. When they are ready to talk about them, we will, too. However, there are two planforms being developed at this point for their orbital shot rockets. These are different between the two designs and their names reflect that fact: Zephyr Orestes and Zephyr Hydra. Both designs build heavily on the previous ones though. They are also rather expensive: significantly more than the Zephyr Theone. However, they will be orbital capable. We do NOT expect to start to build these for more than a year from now. The teams need time to work with what we are delivering.

A Wrap

Each of these contracts will bring in over $1.2 million if there are no replacement rockets ever built: hmm...think there might be one or two ordered? ;) We have other teams that are waiting in the wings to see how well the hardware works and if it meets their needs, they will be placing their own orders. These "maybe" orders are not counted to what we are expecting to pay for our GLXP entry, fwiw.

It is interesting to note that the FAA gave us a big thumbs up with regards to this approach (step by step with restrictions and hand holding). A stock rocket that has some customized bits appeals to them so that they can focus on the differences while already understanding the general design. It will also allow them to evaluate the individual teams, their safety plans and their procedures in direct comparison to ones that they approve of with very similar hardware.

As stated before, Team Phoenicia is something of a Boeing of the Bay (for rockets). We think in the longer run this is an excellent model for aerospace. Let people that build rockets well focus on that and let those fly rockets focus their business plans on that. Along the way, Team Phoenicia will be helping to foster NewSpace start-ups. This seems like a win all the way around. We get the moon. They get their startup business. Its a victory no matter how we cut it.

We have had a number of posts at the main team blog. Please take a look for the ones entitled "Zephyr Aurora: Taking Shape." The presentations such that we were allowed to post from the Team Phoenicia/TechShop Nanosat Launcher Seminar are also online.

As a note though, we will be having an unveiling party for the first Zephyr Aurora rocket for Vog Rockets. We are coordinating this with Vog and will let the public know where and when.

Happy friday, folks.

Ad astra per luna.

Will Baird
Team Leader
Team Phoenicia

Friday, February 25, 2011

We Haz Bin Podcasted

As mentioned, Michael Doornbos interviewed the team leader yesterday. Today he put up the podcast of that event.

The link is here.

How are you going to fund your GLXP entry?

Note: this post originally appeared on the Team Phoenicia official GLXP blog yesterday.


We often get asked the question: how are you going to pay for getting something to the moon? After all, space exploration is expensive. Traditionally, it's astronomical in price. A single launch can range in cost form $50 million to $250 million depending on the launcher selected. Space rated hardware is really, really expensive. People time is really, really, really expensive. So how is Team Phoenicia have a snowball's chance on Venus of getting it done? There are three different methods, actually, that we are using: sponsorship, contracting and tech development.


We jokingly call sponsorship "NASCAR rocketry." We offer up promotion of our sponsors in exchange for in-kind or monetary sponsorship. Truthfully, we have mostly secured in-kind sponsorship, but a lot (!) of it. Embedded computers, raw materials, access to machinery, software, LOX and more have all been kindly given to us, just to name a few. We promote, in turn, our sponsors through our presentations at conferences, through our website and blog, and through what we have been calling 'tank tattoos' on our lander. This will continue on our rover as well.

We have have had outstanding support from the sponsors that we have garnered already. Wind River and Airgas have been the largest of them, but we have several smaller ones. One of the most notable of those has been TechShop which has allowed the team to do our manufacturing, allowed us to network into Silicon Valley, and bounce ideas off its incredible community.

To get a sponsor, though, is a lot of work. Normally, we do around twenty presentations for every single sponsor we amass. Even then, it takes a lot of work to get that one sponsor. You are looking at hundreds of man-hours for one successful sponsorship. There are a lot of strike outs and sometimes long barren deserts of lacking even the fleeting mirage of hope. It can be very frustrating, but, truth be told, it just takes pounding the pavement and a fierce determination and indomitable will.

Sponsorship will cover the majority of our GLXP entry's costs. And we are getting very, very close to that.

We have more sponsorships in the making, but we - and they - are not quite ready to make the announcements just yet.


One of the interesting things that happened to us while we were working on our GLXP entry was the episode that we have called "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Launch Pad." This is where we were asked to team to enter into NASA's Nanosatellite Launcher Challenge. We declined to participate, but ended up bending metal for three teams so far. Those contracts come in phases (lunar lander challenge equivalent rocket, high altitude/high speed rocket. and two orbital shot rockets per contract). We are not taking salaries for this, but rather funneling the funds into our efforts for the GLXP.

We have remarked that we have become the Boeing of the Bay, so to speak and our clients are the airlines, erm, nanosat spacelines. We do have more capacity and are seeking out more clients. We do have some significant requirements though for those that may be interested. Contact us via our website. Rockets are NOT for the faint of hear though.

We expect around 15% to 20% of our ultimate budget will come from this sort of work.

Spin-outs and Licensing

Team Phoenicia started out by working on our technologies that we thought we would need to get to the Moon. We have delved successfully into composites, for example, and we are taking this to market. It turns out that - *gasp*shock* - that if you develop technologies or other things that others want, they will pay for them. While this isn't contracting directly, others will pay a lot for things that you have put a lot of brow sweat into. Investors and venture capitalists in the SF Bay Area are skeptical - to say the least! - of the GLXP directly, but are more than willing to invest in companies that deal with the intellectual property that the team has developed if it is properly insulated from the risk that the GLXP represents. We have done so and now are working through those deals.

We expect that the amount brought in through licensing and the technology spin-outs will cover approximately the same amount as contracting work.


Unfortunately, it is very hard to just sell the dream. Companies and investors want to get back an order of magnitude more than they put in. You need to make what investors want to put their money into before they will hand over that cash. A lunar business may be doable. However, the spin-outs and technology development can be made to pay. Make what people want and the money will come. Whether its a new composite with enormous potential or rockets that allow others to pursue their own ambitions or power subsystems that will make an huge "green" difference or marketable promotions, all of it has direct applicability to our GLXP bid and all of it has potential beyond our bid.

So how are we going to pay for our lunar gig? By hard work, some innovation, and deft handling of funding sources is how.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Interviewed by Evadot

Michael Doornbos of Evadot conducted an interview with Will Baird, the Team Leader of Team Phoenicia this morning. The podcast will be put up in the next 48 hours. However, he is also the maintainer of the unofficial GLXP scorecard.

How did we rank?

Look here.

That ought to turn a few heads!!!

Link to podcast when it becomes available.

Zephyr Aurora: Taking Shape [38]

Monday, February 21, 2011

Zephyr Aurora: Taking Shape [35]

This is the final step in cutting the nozzle and thrust chambers for the engines for the Zephyr Aurora class rockets. We have three such rockets to build, but have cut the engines for two at this point. More to come. However, there are a small number of short videos we just uploaded looking at the tail end of cutting these thrust chambers. Check them out on our youtube channel.

Final Rendering

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Okay, Now We Can Comment: WE ARE OFFICIAL!!!

Team Phoenicia is officially a Google Lunar X Prize Team. After 3 years of pursuing the funding goal, we got achieved. It was a very, very close thing.

We will have an official blog on the GLXP website. We will continue both here and there. The scopes will be a bit different as that we would like to keep the photos and lighter posts here. We will be putting up some big and serious posts up on the GLXP main blog as well as our team's progress.

You cannot believe the elation and level of excitement that this brings to the team. We have been working towards this for some time and, now, we have met a gating event successfully.

More soon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Worcester Polytechnic Institute Becomes Allied Organization for SRRC

NASA has signed an agreement with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) of Worcester, Mass., to manage the Sample Return Robot Challenge, one of the agency’s new Centennial Challenges prize competitions.

The challenge will demonstrate how a robot can locate and retrieve geologic samples from varied terrain without human control. This challenge has a prize purse of $1.5 million. The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies.

Innovations stemming from this challenge are intended to improve NASA’s capability to explore a variety of destinations in space and enhance the nation’s robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth.

“WPI has significant experience managing robotic competitions and brings extensive subject matter expertise to the partnership, making them a great choice to manage the Sample Return Robot Challenge,” said Larry Cooper, program executive for NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program at agency headquarters in Washington. “We look forward to WPI overseeing the competition and bringing together innovative teams with creative problem-solving ideas.”

Now we eagerly await the Allied Org selections for the Nanosat Launcher Challenge and the Night Rover Challenge.

The link for WPI's challenge site is here.