Headlines > News > Armadillo Aerospace News: Zero-G, Smooth monoprop, LOX engine work

Armadillo Aerospace News: Zero-G, Smooth monoprop, LOX engine work

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Mon Sep 27, 2004 1:29 pm
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chabot imageZero-G

Since I got involved with the X-Prize, Peter Diamandis has been talking to me about his other project, http://www.nogravity.com/ . Like most people, he was hitting me up to invest in his company, but I said that I would rather be a customer than an investor (where possible, this is a better way to support companies). It took two years for it to go from “We are going to be starting flights in a couple months!” to actually getting the airplane to Dallas, but today I took all of the Armadillo crew and some of my partners from Id Software up on a chartered flight, “beta testing” the experience.

It was awesome!

We had 14 people, so it was only a little over half the full capacity, giving us plenty of room to bounce around. Doing the martian (1/3) and lunar (1/6) gravity parabolas is a really good idea, as it lets people get a little used to the movement before completely floating around. Many people thought the lunar gravity parabolas were the best part.

We did a total of 17 parabolas, the normal 15 and two extras at the end. At least half the people thought that was plenty (or two too many), but a bunch of us were like “Ten more parabolas!”

Nobody puked, although we did have one person staring solemnly at his barf bag at one point, and a few people had to go sit down for a bit. They gave recommendations for prescription medication that a couple people went and got filled, but the rest of us just took over the counter dramamine pills that they provided. One of the crew mentioned a promotional flight they had recently flown with a bunch of unmedicated journalists that had been hitting the cocktail bar, resulting in fully one third of them losing it.

The time went by so quickly that you completely forgot half the things you planned on trying. A couple of us were doing low gravity judo throws, and I took a shot at the worlds first flying armbar in zero gravity (didn’t work out too well). Most of us that were doing fairly aggressive bouncing around landed on our heads at least once, so I have some concern that they will eventually have someone test the liability waiver.

The bottom line is that I highly recommend the experience, and I am almost certainly going to do it again at some point. Peter said most of their bookings are for corporate incentive programs, which is probably the most fun way to do it, but grabbing a friend and getting tickets for one of the passenger flights that will be starting soon out of Florida would still be memorable. The current individual price is $3k.

The take home lesson is that we need to add a lot of cabin volume to our first consumer suborbital spacecraft. Adding an extra 63″ by 12′ of cabin volume will only cost us about 250 pounds. You won’t get much more total zero-g than on the parabolas, but it will be contiguous, and combined with the view, the boost burn, the reentry acceleration, and the exclusivity, I do think it is going to be a ride worth $100k. Zero-G is almost certain to stir up a lot of excitement about manned space flight in general.



Smooth Monoprop

We tried two more engine configuration changes — adding 20 more screens above the cold pack monolith, and supporting the monolith with a cross of square bar stock above a heavy perf plate, which was the way we used to build them before getting the water jet cut support plates. Neither change made in difference, it was still rough at full throttle.

On the theory that the flameholder might be getting extinguished, we tried injecting hydrogen between the packs. No difference.

Finally, we tried an idea of John Carr’s — injecting nitrogen into the liquid above the spreading plate to give it some compressibility. I almost didn’t go for this, because I couldn’t imagine it helping, but, much to my surprise, we made two smooth runs at different pressures with this change. On Tuesday we will see if just making a gas accumulator at the engine inlet fixes it as well, and try the fix on one of the other engines we still have sitting around fully assembled. Years ago, we tried some accumulators on 90% peroxide engines and it seemed like they made things worse, but that just might be the key here.

James has all the jet vane hardware ready to go on the new 12″ motor, so if the experiments on Tuesday work out, we should be welding the big motor together next weekend. We got both new 450 gallon tanks fitted with cone mounts, so on Tuesday we will also be drilling and taping those for the cones. We are still waiting on our machined manway and a repaired differential pressure transducer before we can have everything in flight shape.

Lox Engine Work

We fired the lox engine with our water cooled chamber, but we really shouldn’t have. We tore an o-ring when we were putting it together, so it had a pretty big spray of water coming out the bottom. We fired it anyway, and it ran nicely for 30 seconds, but it did burn through on the side with the leak, at about the height where we usually see a hot spot. It was probably mostly due to the water leak, but it also made us want to fix our uneven combustion.


We built a new fuel injector that fit below the lox vaporizer, injecting fuel from the outside into a short tunnel twice the diameter of the oxygen sonic choke, so it would have a short area to mix very vigorously before expanding into the main chamber.

I have had a cryo ball valve on order for a while now, but we decided to just clean and use one of the vented stainless steel ball valves we have on hand so we could log valve position properly. We did a bunch of tests with liquid nitrogen, and sure enough, after throttling on and off a number of times, the ball valve did freeze closed. We wrapped some heat tape around it, but the kind I had on hand didn’t seem very aggressive. We also have a manual valve in line, so we went ahead and used it for our lox tests.

We only had time to do a chamberless test of the new fuel injector, but it looked very hot and symetric, so we expect the uncooled chamber run on Tuesday to work well. The ball valve did freeze closed again for a little while after starting and stopping it a few times. I’m going to change to a beefier actuator and try and find some fire-breathing heat tape.

Russ and I are machining a new cooled chamber that we may have ready for testing next Saturday. We are going to mill channels in the internal section instead of relying on an annular gap, and we are going to weld the entire thing together so it doesn’t need o-rings at all. Since the throat didn’t melt out on the test this week, we are going to try another one with straight sides before we worry about making a throat-fitting saddle.

We have started looking at all the things we need to do to build a lox vehicle. We are going to continue pursuing the lox work, but I’m glad we are finally seeing the monoprop engines running well again, because I still think that is a better combination for suborbital work. We’ll probably use lox for later orbital work now, because there hasn’t been any visible progress on the 98% peroxide availability front.

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