Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Long overdue update Part 1

OK, so I'm finally going to write something worthwhile on here. It's been a while since I posted, but as I said before, things have been rather busy out here. First thing's first, we've got the rocket firing! Well, when I say rocket, I mean two out of four rocket engines. We're slowly going through them, ironing out the kinks and readying them for the eventual flights of our vehicle. Without going into details, progress is being made at a steady pace and we're seeing good results from our tests. I'm going to link this to the actual MSS blog that's got lots of pretty videos of the rockets, which should be much more exciting than just reading this.

Internship wise, this has certainly been a great experience. I maintain that Mojave is not the kind of place where I would like to live for more than three months, but the job's been worth it. Derek headed home last week, so it's just been me here. I've been working on various projects, from electrical wiring in our test trailer, to creating physical mockups of future rocket engines in order to test their feasability. Lately, I've been working with Ben on some new concepts for our blast deflectors. It turns out that supersonic jets of superheated gas likes to melt right through metals and quickly ablates concrete. This has left a couple of our blast deflectors rather unhappy. I've been hacking those up so that Ben can weld together at least one good frame from the remnants. We're also going to give bricks a shot. Hopefully, the ceramic substrate will last longer than the concrete paver blocks that we have currently been using.

Well, this will probably be my last post about stuff at MSS. As far as future rocket updates are concerned, I'm going to defer to the MSS blog (linked above) and, on occasion, Selenian Boondocks, by Jon Goff, which is a great blog in and of itself. This will become just a personal blog about my exploits, though I'll gladly talk more about rockets if people want me to! It's been a fun three months for sure, and I'll leave you with a parting picture:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wow, I suck at this updating thing...

Lots of things to talk about in the next few updates. Not going to post them tonight, because I'm off to get me some Taco Bell. However, a brief synopsis of what you can expect:

-Rocket firings
-ALMS at Laguna Seca
-Trips to Atlanta
-Trips to San Diego
-Pictures/video of the above (some by me/some by coworkers)

So yes, lots of fun things to talk about in the future. I've only got 10 more days out here, so I'd like to apologize to anyone who's been following this blog looking for rocket updates. To be fair, I don't believe Jon has posted any Masten updates recently either. Things have been nice and busy since we started making Mach diamonds. It's also tough to find things to find MSS related things to talk about. Not that they don't exist, but obviously, I can't reveal everything about this place.

Anyway, time to go. My stomach keeps asking for food, as does the front of my shirt. Therefore I must feed them. Cheesy Gordita Crunch FTW! Hooray for fake Mexican food with utterly gluttonous names!

Monday, October 6, 2008


So apparently this gets read by more people than I expected. Had to delete some content from the last post, so as not to upset anyone. Sincere apologies to the parties concerned. Who knew that getting this blog read would be the opposite of what I wanted??

No, I'm just kidding, keep reading, and please comment if you feel compelled!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Happy Sputnik Day!

Ok so it technically isn't anymore, since it was launched on October 4th UTC, and at this time, it is October 5th UTC. But it is still October 4th in the Antelope Valley, so I'm going to party if I want to! And by party, I mean write a blog post.

More progress on XA-0.1B this week. Ben has done a great job figuring out the noise issues and Dave's control code is good to go. Installing bandpass filters in the sensor lines reduced the amount of noise by an order of magnitude, and gave us the extra bits of resolution needed for a working rocket. Thus far the mods have been done to one engine, and we're working on finishing the others. We're redoing the wiring on the engine position actuators too, to try and reduce the noise there, along with putting EMI (ElectroMagnetic Interference) shielding on just about everything we can get our hands on.

We were initially planning on firing one of the four 500lb-thrust engines on the vehicle on Friday, but the airport staff were worried because our test stand looks like a piece of shit. It really isn't, but since it's a steel structure that's been sitting in the elements, it got all rusted. The blast deflectors are four angled steel frames, into which we put concrete tiles that ablate as the rather hot exhaust gasses hit them. However, on a couple of the pads, the hot gasses leaked around the edges of the tiles near the center and melted the frame slightly. This doesn't weaken the structure any, nor does it have any other adverse side effects, but it just looks a bit unsightly.

Jon and I went to the site on Friday to start getting things set up for the testing regime. We moved our nice Toshiba 46" 1080p HDTV out to the site to act as our "Window to the World". The test trailer does actually have a couple windows, but those are all pointing away from the test site, for obvious reasons (this TV also happens to make a great screen to watch Mythbusters and other such awesome-ness on). So instead, we have a Canon Vixia HV30 that will be streaming (and recording) live 1080p video of the rocket to our lovely TV inside. We also have acquired a Casio Exilim EX-F1 high speed digital camera for other photography. This camera can do up to 1200fps video, along with 1080p at 60fps and a whole slew of speeds and resolutions in between. The 1200fps videos are just cool to watch, especially when you record something like water falling or igniting isopropyl alcohol. It should also provide some really cool engine start videos when we start testing the 750lb-thrust engine. There is a third camera, an Aiptek A-HD video camera will actually be affixed to the vehicle, and probably pointed straight down to provide some onboard footage of the flights. The Aiptek camera is cheap enough (<$200) that we won't be too terribly saddened if it somehow gets harmed in the line of duty.

The goal for this upcoming week is to actually get our vehicle firing. We have enough done to at least fire one of the thrusters, as stated before, and by the end of the week, the entire rocket should be fully functional and ready for ground tests. The first few tests are going to be static firings, to ensure that everything is working as it should be. After that, we are going to try and fly the vehicle. For all of these tests, the vehicle will be attached to a tether, going from the nose to what is essentially a very high forklift. Until earlier this year, these did not count as suborbital flights, according to the FAA. Recently, they changed their regulations, and all of the activities described above count as flights. Since we're "launching" from an airport, there's even more red tape to clear, what with getting launch waivers and what not. Just for reference, XA-0.1b is not going to be capable of anything near suborbital flight. It has an endurance of approximately 45 seconds and the thrusters are optimized for low-altitude flights (ie. small expansion ratio). As it stands now, XA-0.4 will be the first vehicle capable of breaking the 100km barrier. That vehicle, however, is still only conceptual.

In other news, life in Mojave is still, well, life. Last weekend, Ben, Ian, and I went to the Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) launch site to watch the Paul Breed's of Unreasonable Rocket test their latest vehicle. Unreasonable Rocket is a father and son team (both named Paul Breed) who are working on developing a hydrogen peroxide monopropellant rocket to compete in this year's Lunar Lander Challenge, out at Holloman AFB. The date is not certain at the moment, due to some top-secret activities going on at Holloman. The Paul's will be competing against eight other listed teams in the LLC. Their vehicle will be capable of competing in Level 1 of the competition (90 seconds+ of flight time). We went out there on Saturday to view their tests. Their first set of 3 tests were from about 3ft above the ground (the rocket was sitting on pylons) and they hovered for 5 seconds or so, till they throttled down for a soft "landing" where it was hanging on the tether. Their second set of flights included their first ever launch from the ground (and subsequent soft landing). Most of the tests were fully successful, but on one flight, they had a problem with their sodium permanganate catalyst feed, and flew only for a couple seconds. After fixing that problem, and having one more successful flight, they decided to call it a day. It was really cool to see what they're doing and how far they've come along, and I wish them the best of luck at the LLC competition!

Oh, and one last thing (geez, I'm getting to be almost as bad as Jon, with the length of these posts...). On Friday, as Jon and I were going out to the test site, I glanced back towards the flightline, and caught a few fleeting glances of this beautiful white twin-hulled aircraft. Scaled Composites Model 348 WhiteKnightTwo, A.K.A. VMS Eve, was sitting outside. Unfortunately, I didn't get a better view of the aircraft that day. Today though, as I was walking to the shop, I glanced over to my left and over the tops of the Scaled buildings, and two tails with "Virgin" emblazoned on them were visible. Between the buildings, you could see the wings, the PW308A turbofans without their cowlings, and the left-hand cockpit, with the "Galactic Girl" nose-art. Derek and I later went to Voyager for lunch, and from the restaurant, the aircraft was clearly visible. It's kind of weird, thinking that that is the aircraft that will be dropping SpaceShipTwo sometime in the future as it rockets off into space. Man, what a cool place this air/spaceport is!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Two weeks in...

Ok so I'm two weeks into this thing now. As far as the internship goes, things are going well. I've done a lot of electrical wiring and testing on XA-0.1B so far. We were supposed to have the rocket at least test-fired by today, but we weren't able. It turns out that the readouts from the various transducers that monitor the engines and pressures is rather noisy. Until we get that noise sorted out, we're stuck. Unfortunately, this is not something that I can really work on, which sucks, since I really want to help get this bird flying. However, I have another list of stuff to do with our test trailer, which currently houses the first revision of our 750lb-thrust engine. This will eventually be powering XA-0.1C and XA-0.2. Once all the requisite parts are in, I'll be able to do more work and get that rocket engine up and running. All in all, the internship goes well and I'm looking forward to getting to fire rockets at some point soon hopefully!

Life out here is a bit different. Mojave is a very small town, only about 3836 people or so. As such, there is little to do here, which vexes me. We (me and Derek, the other fall intern) have found some things to do, such as going to Tehachapi or Lancaster and eating there or seeing a movie. However, there is very little to do in Mojave itself. The airport is about the same size as the town itself, if not slightly larger. Recreational activities include eating, sleeping, watching movies from Derek's Netflix account, looking at cool airplanes, and well, that's about it. I really miss autocrossing though. Nationals was last week (way to go Tim Smith with the STS win!), and I really wished I could have gone. I had a chance to drive Tim's Nationals-winning Civic, but oh well. That's what next year is for. I'm starting to save and plan now for the trip, and mark my words, I'm going to make a name for myself there. I want that National Championship and I'll beat out whoever I have to to earn it.

As far as food goes around here, the choice places are Voyager Restaurant, on the airport and In-n-Out Burger, a fast-ish burger joint. Voyager was, I believe, founded by Dick Rutan, brother of Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites and SpaceshipOne fame, and the first man to fly around the world non-stop without refuelling in an aircraft named Voyager (see where the restaurant name comes from??). It's a decent fly-in restaurant, where one can land his or her plane, taxi to the ramp outside the restaurant, grab a $100-hamburger, and fly out. It also happens to be a 2 minute walk from the Masten Space Systems shop. I must recommend their burgers. They are cooked very well (not to be confused with well done) and the toppings are of good quality (EDIT: Just found out on Friday that they serve bison burgers now! These are even better than their normal burgers, while being a more healthy choice, for those health-conscious hippies among us). The staff is very friendly, and quickly remember you if you're a repeat visitor. The views out the window are usually pretty cool too, for you're likely to see some manner of interesting flying machine, be it a small prop plane or Scaled's Proteus.

In-n-Out Burger is a strictly West-Coast innovation, and something that these damn hippies actually got right for once. In a state where everything and its mother can give you cancer, or so the warning labels state, In-n-Out is a lovely dose of liberal excess. They only serve burgers, and damn did they get them right. Their basic menu is simple, only a hamburger, cheeseburger, and the Double-Double (2x meat, 2x cheese), and various soft drinks. However, they have a delectable not-so-secret menu. These variations really add some extra kick to their burgers and fries. They will custom make your burger basically any way you see fit. One of the best things though is the price, which for just about everything, is very reasonable. Sorry to keep harping on and on about this place, but East-Coast folks, you're really missing out!

All right, well I guess that's enough for now, before I end up like Jon here at MSS and start writing 5000+ word posts. I'll be back soon enough, and next time, hopefully with news of a successful test-firing (or maybe even tethered flight if we're lucky!) of XA-0.1B.

Friday, September 12, 2008

So many rockets!

Well I made it to California, and have yet to be mugged by hippies. It is quite different from the eastern half of the US. Mojave itself is rather spartan. The town is basically dominated by the airport/spaceport. The MSS shop is situated directly behind Scaled Composites, so we face their hangar. We don't get the prime flightline real-estate, but we don't make manned vehicles anyway. In the couple of days I've been here, I've aready seen some good stuff. White Knight (the carrier aircraft for SpaceShipOne) was doing some flight tests with the Project CHLOE pod. Then we went over to XCOR and saw EZRocket and their XRacer, both very cool aircraft. XRacer is supposed to fly today at some point, but it hasn't yet. Today we pulled the rocket motors off of XA 0.1B to do some tests on the transducers and fix a solenoid issue. Yes, it is pretty simple to pull a rocket motor actually. Must go for now, but will post more updates later.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My First Autocross Win!

So it's a bit late, but whatever. The results aren't official yet, but it doesn't look like I'm getting protested, so I'm calling it. I WON MY CLASS! It was awesome. However, it's a bit hollow knowing that the only reason I won was because Tim Engle and Ken St. Pierre weren't there. I still have a long way to go before I'm at their level. But with this win, I have secured 2nd place this season, which I'm happy with. Now I've got to do better next year, with more class wins hopefully. I also want to go to Nationals next year, and hopefully show the world (or at least 800 people) what I can do. Oh, and Brittany is an amazing driver, especially considering it was her first time! I'm not going to bring her anymore, because she's going to beat me if I do!

In less than four hours, I'm going to be on a plane (one of two) heading to California. I still can't really believe I'm about to do this. On one hand, I'm very excited about what I'm going to be doing, and on the other hand, I'm really nervous. Either way, it is going to be a totally new experience and I'm so happy that I was given this opportunity. All right, I can't think of anything else to add to this. The next time I write will be from Mojave, CA, at some point in the future. Here we go!