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September 25, 2011

Tanks for the memories…


So many choices to make!  Industry chose to use contract employees, and made my resume a mess of short assignments.  I have had 30 employers in as many years.  I didn’t choose this situation.  General Motors had 90% of their workforce from contractors at one location.  This makes it hard to inspire employee loyalty or to build a meaningful resume.  But it gave me choices; where to work next!

A jack of all trades and a master of none does have some advantages though.  I got to travel, see the nation, and understand what is happening to industry.  I was the fair haired boy until I became the grey haired boy.  That has a different feel somehow.  Now I am being offered jobs that were appropriate when I was just out of high school.  I did get recognition at times though, and I also noticed some of the failures growing in industry.  We are seeing more shortcuts and lowering of standards, resulting in some market loss.

While jobs go with these markets, other jobs let me move into aerospace work.  I had already ventured in to support the CATS contest and the X-Prize in my spare time.  I was surprised to see the disdain held by some in aerospace for automotive designers.  The auto industry has made great contributions to manufacturing, (mass production?)  and in some areas they still lead aerospace.  This hard economy will reward those who make a contribution in spite of old establishment prejudices.  YOU DO KNOW WHAT AN EXPERT IS, RIGHT?  An EX is a has-been, and a SPURT is a drip who is under pressure.  Hey, I resemble that remark!

As a volunteer I got to meet many interesting innovators in rocketry.  My day jobs took me to Hamilton Sundstrand to work on the Joint Strike Fighter.  I also got to work at Aerojet.  There was a grandson of Herman Oberth still working at Aerojet then.  I met Lutz Kayser in Florida and contributed some artwork until my wife passed away.  He was a pioneer of private space ventures until the African facility of Otrag was seized by a rogue government.  Werner Von Braun joined his firm after he retired from NASA.  This Otrag system may be resurrected by Interorbital Systems.

Living in motels didn’t stop me from contributing to some X-Prize ventures, including some concepts for liquid fuel rocket engines.  Some of those ventures are still progressing towards their goals.  Experience gained with peroxide and kerosene systems may be used in our orbital vehicle designs.

I offered services to Mitchell Burnside Clapp, then founder of Pioneer Rocketplane.  My CAD skill did not include the software then being used by the firm.  Since then we are both looking at that venture from the outside.  Some ventures are best watched from the outside though.  Mr. Clapp is now working for DARPA, where innovation is better appreciated.

An amateur rocket project introduced me to Mark Blair, formerly of Australia’s AUSROC project.  He was employed here for a while, and left me a great full scale drawing of his rocket.  I thought it made a great wall paper for the long hall in my trailer!  Perhaps we may have a chance to get his bird under construction again one day.  NASA doesn’t seem to be drawing innovative talent to our shores as much lately though.

NOVA rocket

When I was at General Motors, I established a class for young computer designers at our community center,  “Millennium Academy”.  We didn’t last long before I was laid off by GM and had to move.  But I got some experience working with hybrid pioneer Bill Colburn.  We did several projects for small hardware and rockets.  Bill inspired me to keep looking at the horizontal launch ideas.  Hybrids seem ideal for manned operations.  Scaled Composites have demonstrated that hybrids can be made to be dangerous in some conditions though.

During the X-Prize contest I made several pilgrimages to Oshkosh for the AirVenture fly in.  I met the Xcor Team, including Aleta and Jeff a couple of times.  They demonstrate their engines in public with the confidence that liquid propulsion can be used safely.  At the Space Access conferences in Phoenix I continue to meet interesting propulsion developers.  Tim Pickens has had some commercial success after a long investment of effort.  Frontier Astronautics has peroxide / kerosene engines we may be able to use.  They have a great facility too.  The British Skylon project was represented, and shows promise for advanced morphing air breathing propulsion.With all the exciting work in propulsion I am left looking for a vehicle.  Buzz Aldrin ventured into reusable boosters, and the Air Force is following up on this.  The prototype was launched as a high power rocket by a university team.  NASA is investigating horizontal launch again, but only on a high tech propulsion rail launched version.  Sierra Nevada has a mini-shuttle that will be reusable for vertical launch.  Perhaps a Buzz-Nevada vehicle could be fully reusable.

Systems that require cryogenic or pressurized fuels lean towards big cylindrical tanks that are harder to package in our flying wing shape.  Tapered or conical tanks are seen on the Soyuz, and could be adapted better than cylinders.  Jet fuel is less challenging to package in wing tanks, and offers us a good package.  Turbines find their own oxidizer, so our fist stage looks to that conventional system.  Rockets that use hydrogen peroxide include hybrids and kerosene burners.  Hybrids are stable solid fuels, and attractive as big boosters for the first stage.  They may work in the second stage, but space is limited.  It may be possible to use jet fuel and peroxide.  The X-37 is said to use this system, and the British pioneered it in the 1960s.

Aero and space have not been communicating a lot lately.  Our wing bodies are influenced by packaging model airplane components for now.  I reflect some provision for the shape of the future, but must evolve with each prototype.  This is an advanced prototype, so we can bend with the winds of change.  I have not closed the door on any valid contributions.  If you see where your propulsion should offer a better solution, inform us early in our investigation.  Trade studies should provoke trade.

It was fun to hear presentations by Jeff Greason and Tim Pickens.  They remind us that the small ventures too can have some success.  Remember, Orbital Sciences was started by three college students.  It was fun to send my unimpressive resume and offers of free drafting to just about everyone in new space too.  I am a little short of credentials so I have to go long on product.  But then the captain of the Titanic has excellent credentials.  The big employers won’t have me for now, but I can go into competition with them.  If you can’t join ‘em, lick ‘em!

I don’t have enough cheese for any more whine, so let’s look at airframes now.  I have not approached any airframe manufacturers yet.  Our next prototype will leave the model airplane envelope.  We need to look at unrestricted test ranges and UAV type flight controls.  More composites and less wood will be used in construction.  This is a good time for volunteers and small ventures to bring fresh ideas.  Early innovation can add value to the next generation of vehicles.  If you have the UAV passion, help us walk towards the manned vehicles of tomorrow.

I don’t think we are ready for space yet, and basic aerodynamic stability is our first issue, and our first opportunity.  There are markets in the atmosphere.  Valid development could be done by a university or a small company.  With small investment we can contract control systems and airframe development.  Later more qualified teams may validate applications for space operations.  Perhaps a small sat launcher could be a first step in that direction.  We are looking for partnerships to develop the next small step for man.

Well I dropped a lot of names, but that’s all right because most of them have dropped me too.  God isn’t impressed by our efforts, but I am impressed by his.  I will take these few miraculous steps over genius any time.



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