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SFS News: Microlaunchers Interview and Update - July 08

Posted by: Rob Goldsmith - Wed Jul 09, 2008 4:32 pm
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SFS News: Microlaunchers Interview and Update - July 08 
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Post SFS News: Microlaunchers Interview and Update - July 08   Posted on: Wed Jul 09, 2008 4:32 pm
Space Fellowship member Charles Pooley answered a series of questions regarding how Microlaunchers were progressing since we last heard from them.

Microlaunchers/Generation Space joined the Space Fellowship in June 2008 with an official forum. They are currently entered in the N-Prize, a prize to put a satellite in orbit.

Read an interview with N-Prize founder Dr Paul Deer at

The questions and answers follow below:

1. What new progress have you made towards claiming the N-Prize?
So far, only some preliminary estimates of requirements based on a study of the Rules, and on an earlier preliminary design for "ML-1" entry-level Cansat launcher, which was to be capable of a 350 gram satellite to LEO.

2. Have you got a schedule for progress?
Not yet. Too many steps to accomplish. First, I must relocate out of California due to a combination of restrictions with being at the Mojave Airport and California tax laws. I was making plans to move to the Las Vegas Nevada area, and incorporate Microlaunchers there (cannot while “doing business" in California).

Now, with the association with Blair, it looks as though relocating to Columbus Ohio area will work better. I hope to be settled there before November.

While those plans (and means to finance that) are under way, design work and some preliminary hardware work can begin while I'm still in Mojave. UPS is a very efficient service for shipping, and today's computers allow productive work to be done in geographically separate locations

3. Where do you plan on launching your test flights and your N-Prize satellite?
Test flights of portions can be done in Sheboygan Wisconsin, and initial discussions about this are underway. The initial launches can be done under a new set of FAA regulations covering amateur rockets.

The preliminary rulings were published last year and I know from a recent conference call with them that the final ruling will be out by Sept or Oct of this year. Amateur rockets can go as high as 150 km, a ceiling higher than needed for complete testing as vertically flown sub-orbital rockets.

Then for actual orbit attempts, a launch license will be needed, and that may require that the launches be from the east coast of US. Better for us would be if western Texas might be ok. I know someone whose family owns some unused oil property east of El Paso, and the land east of that has a population density so low that the FAA might allow very small orbit launches from there.

4. How has the news that you entered the N-Prize been taken by the media?
Very little notice. Both of the N-Prize itself, and of Microlaunchers and Generation S. Blair has some ideas for publicity and we are looking to recruit as members people interested and with expertise in public relations.

5. Are you currently working on any other projects other than the N-Prize?
If you Google "microlaunchers" you will see a 12+ year history. The notion has always been the development of means to launch into the space between the orbits of Earth and Mars, and to lunar surface very small spacecraft, then try to get large numbers of people involved, in a mannaer anagolous to what happened with microcomputers.

From September 2007, when GLXP was announced, I kept track of developments. Though there was no specific plan to enter. The plan was to be in a position to design an attempt if ever a financial means to do were to be found.

It was the notice of a posting on the GLXP forum by Blair Gordon that led to our combining efforts, his founding Generation Space as a tax exempt non-profit corporation later, I will be incorporating Microlaunchers as a for-profit.

The notice by us of the N Prize caused a change of plans--to, as quickly as possible, enter it. It created a well defined, structured format for a lower threshold entry point for getting hardware working.

So, in general, to answer the question directly, Microlaunchers is to be a continium of at first very small space launch means to whatever level of size we can manage.

6. What will Microlaunchers be able to offer potential customers and how do you plan on attracting customers to you and away from competitors?
First, I don't think there is any competition. No one is performing low cost flights of what is planned here.

Then, services may be marketed by forming a number of "application companies" each of which would seek venture financing to create a revenue stream.

Microlauncher development itself cannot do this--the response of potential investors is that the launcher development is perceived as "too speculative".

One of the "apco's" could be a space burial company like Celestis (or Space services inc), but with the difference that launch means will be part of it.

In the shorter term, souveniers etc could be flown vertically to 100 km or so by the first stage of an N Prize launcher.

7. Will a test satellite be flown before the N-Prize satellite launch?
Not sure. The N Prize satellites are to be so small, simple that the first LEO attempts might as well be actual prize attempts. The FAA licensing process may be tedious enough to limit the number or frequency of launches. We won't know till further into the licensing process.

8. Do you have any plans for human flight? If so, how are those plans progressing?
That's so far beyond this specific plans for that are just not reasonable. There was, in 1997, a co-operation as technical consultant in a screenplay about a small company developing a single seat orbiter, and the hero of the story saves the Shuttle from an accident involved with a MIR rendezvous (the first was planned but not done at the time).

The 2 stage launcher design might be written up and published as the "ULO", or Ultralight Orbiter. To weigh less than one ton on orbit, be flown manually by a single pilot, then evolve to a 2 seater to carry a single passenger.

For some years the first airplanes seated 2, and most taxicabs you see on the streets have only the driver and a single passenger. Back then I did enough study to believe it is physically possible.

However, it's unrealistic to the point of being silly to try to go directly for that without not first having a successful history with small unmanned spacecraft.

9. What are your estimated costs for launching a satellite into orbit?
Almost all the costs are with infrastructure--shop space, insurance, other fixed costs. The hardware itself will be only a small part of the total.
For me, I must relocate, and for Blair and me, secure a working shop location in which the design, constructing, and non-flight testing of parts can be done.

The costs are going to have to be a circular process of fundraising via donations (to the tax exempt Generation S inc), sale of services, memberships etc.

10. Have you looked at how much a human carrying space rocket would cost to build and launch?
After building a history of hundreds of unmanned launches and working revenue earning businesses, the evolution to man carrying might be just that--an evolution from whatever then exists.

The required experience will be a major factor in the likelihood of finding financing.

11. Are you working with any other organisations to better your chances of success?
Not yet. Presently we are fully preoccupied in getting Gen. S to reaching some "critical mass" of people, infrastructure to get started. Future collaborations will probably happen.

12. What is the maximum altitude you could reach with your previously developed rockets?
For myself, I designed the "Spacefarer X-80" (you can find a Wired Magazine article by googling "tired nasa wired amateurs). That was a funded project to make the first amateur rocket to "reach space".

50 miles, or 80 km with a 10 kg payload was settled on as the minimum requirement. It would have weighed about 650 pounds at takeoff, and have 2/3 of that the ethanol, liquid oxygen propellant. Calculations showed that it should have been able to exceed 100 km.

The parts of the rocket that got built by late 1994 did work in a static test in June 1995, but the Pacific Rocket Society had collapsed as an organization and it was not finished.

13. Do you have any footage of old test flights of such rockets?
I have a poor quality 3rd generation VHS tape of the 52 second 2000 pound thrust static test. I will someday convert it to MPG or some viewable form.

There are a few stills, one of which is in my website.

14. Are you keeping an eye on your N-Prize competitors?
Not closely. We check the Google groups forum, and occasionally post. We are now preoccupied with developing the organization, preparing to start with our entry.

15. What will be the big events in the Microlaunchers 2008 calendar?
Getting established in Ohio, setting up, starting on testing first of hardware portions. Right now, this is to be a 3rd stage engine prototype, so critically important performance parameters can allow scaling the size of the rest of the launcher.

Both Blair and Charles frequently use the Space Fellowship forums, so please feel free to post your own questions, comments and ideas here!

Please feel free to discuss this interview further...

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Post    Posted on: Wed Jul 09, 2008 5:28 pm
For myself, I designed the "Spacefarer X-80" (you can find a Wired Magazine article by googling "tired nasa wired amateurs).



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Post old rockets new hopes   Posted on: Thu Jul 10, 2008 1:25 am
Seeing the Wired article again recalls some unpleasant things--my failure to keep it "on track", to contain a level of bickering, dissension within Pacific Rocket Society through my tenure as president 1990 through '94. As important as rocket parts working together, people must.

What got built did work, and in total impulse, the 2000 pound for 52 sec test remained the highest total impulse value for amateurs till earlier this year when a 4000 pound thrust engine ran for 35 sec.

Some of the elements designed for that rocket will live again in the Microlauncher and N Prize vehicles.

The propellant feed system is to be in the form of a closed loop servo system using propellant level sensors and motor driven valves to control depletion of the propellants.

The tanks were to be based on irrigation tubing and be an independent functional unit that could be grouped in any reasonable number to make a first stage. The Spacefarer X-80 used 6--3 each of LOX and alcohol.

Various combinations of 2 or more fluids could be managed, for instance, for a larger booster 6 tubes of LOX, 4 of kerosene, one of water for engine cooling could be used. Being long and of equal length this was to make configuring the structure of larger boosters easier than usual.

For N Prize and the smaller of the entry level Microlaunchers, two tanks in tandem will be used, however, because small diameter tubing cannot be found with the walls thin enough for the parallel configurations. The parallel method would be for a launch mass over several hundred Kg to several tons.

If we were to enter GLXP, the liftoff mass (GLOW) would be 1 to 2 tons and parallel irrigation tubes might be used.

The really important thing is to build something more substantial than PowerPoint slides. This is why the N Prize looked so attractive to Blair and me as were discussing how to get Generation S going.

With this low profile vehicle as a start, it is hoped that scaling up in a series of steps will work. SpaceX started at 27,000 Kg and they are having problems.

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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 27, 2008 6:21 pm
Blair, Charles

Any more updates onhow you guys are doing? any progress towards the N-Prize?

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Post N Prize update   Posted on: Mon Jul 28, 2008 12:22 am
The plans for the N Prize is in a very preliminary state right now, but a little can be said now, then more later on a new page in the site.

We are thinking of building the satellite itself into a 10 ounce Styrofoam coffee cup, which weighs 2.4 grams and will be closed by a 1 to 2 cm disk of Styrofoam, for a total weight of 3.4 grams, and the battery and electronics will bring up the total mass to 18 to 19 grams.

The electronics and transmitter is to run at an average power of 10 to 20 mw, and there will be an internal temperature control.

Presently we might send 4 pieces of information, repeating every few seconds: Satellite ID, internal temperature, battery voltage, and propellant left in the third stage at cutoff. The last, to indicate the mass the launcher is actually capable of, and satellite ID because we may launch several on the same afternoon to improve the chances that one will succeed.

The battery will be enough to operate for 24 hours or so. Any detection after 14 hours (9 orbits) should provide the proof.

The launcher will be a three stage liquid rocket, and the first engine to be built and tested will be for the 3rd stage, so its performance will allow the size of the lower stages to be correctly scaled.

The preliminary guess for this indicates a GLOW (gross liftoff weight) of about 50 to 100 kg, and that it will be about 15 cm in diameter and about 4 meters long.

This is based on a scaled down version of what was to be the entry level Microlauncher, designated ML-1, which was to be able to orbit a 1 kg Cubesat or send 100 grams to escape. The N Prize vehicle is to be called ML-N and it will not be able to reach escape velocity even with no payload.

The actual construction, low altitude testing may take place in the Columbus Ohio area, as conditions here in California are not good for new business startups.

Time estimate? Not possible now as there are too many steps, including my relocation, shop acquisition, finding one or a few hands-on participants.

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