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Open Letter to Da Vinci

Posted by: bad_astra - Wed Sep 29, 2004 4:57 pm
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Open Letter to Da Vinci 
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Post Open Letter to Da Vinci   Posted on: Wed Sep 29, 2004 4:57 pm
(mailed this to bfeeney@davinciproject.com today)

Dear Da Vinci Project staff,

I've been a fan of your X-Prize project team for years, and I am sorry to hear about your recent problems securing a filament winder.

I thought I should mention, that there has been something of a hostile reaction to DVP lately, even on the X-Prize's own message board, from many who feel, perhaps justifiably, that you have been misleading to the public, by using, among other things, imagery of a diving suit prototype model suggestively as a space suit, images of a rocket firing that was not developed by your team, a scale test of a balloon that is not even made of the same material as the one to be used at launch.

I realize that a degree of secrecy is necessary in such a project, but it does begin to seem as if there isn't a lot of evidence to support that Wildfire Mk VI is anything more then a ploy on behalf of Golden Palace. I hope that isn't true. I for one, would like to be able to purchase a ticket on your craft in a few years. It's sometihng worth saving for, I think. At the same time, its improbable to believe that if this were a planned manned launch, that none of the major components have been tested to date. Was the Kindersly launch ever actually a serious concern?

My request may sound audacious, but I wonder if you would be able to take a minute out of your busy schedule and address current developements on the X-Prize message board. I know that John Carmack from Armadillo did this and it enlightened every reader.

Barring that, would it be possible to see some actuall images or at least reports on DaVinci testing to date? With Scaled's successful launch today, it doesn't appear that there would be anything to loose by doing so. I am posting this as an open letter at www.xprize.org/messageboard

Sincerely,

xxxxxxxx xxxxxx


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Post    Posted on: Wed Sep 29, 2004 9:39 pm
nice, they better at least reply to you......

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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 2:14 am
I have a reply from Brian Feeney. I realize that there may be some discrepency as to whether I wrote this or he did, so if sigurd would like me to forward the actual email to him, I would be happy to.

I do not give out my personal info on message boards. Also the company I work for is involved in manned spaceflight, and I do not want to be in a position of being seen as misreprenting my employer. With those two caveats, here is his reply:
____________________________________________________________________


General Comments to everyone on the X PRIZE discussion list from Brian
Feeney, Team Leader of The Golden Palace.Com Space Program Powered By
The da
Vinci Project.

Hello Everyone,

I would like to take a few minutes to describe the current state of our
program and launch initiative. One of the members of the list, Jonathan
Grimes was kind enough to bring some questions / observations to my
attention.

In general we are close to making a final commitment to a new launch
date.
The team had a lot of courage to go forward with a competitive bid with
our
funding from Golden Palcace.com having only been put into place the
first
week of August (the beginning of our 60 day notice). Specifically we
have
been tripped up by only a few long lead time parts that we were not
able to
get on time.

I'll make no apology for stepping out there. We new we had an uphill
battle
and almost everything went as we needed it to. Many companies have
stepped
up to help in the final effort. We are a tenacious team (all volunteer)
and
not afraid to step out there. We new we had to complete a monumental
effort
in a short period of time. That was and is being made. We came very
close. I
was the last one to be convinced that a temporary hold had to be
initiated.
As long as a race is on I'll give no ground and fight, inspire the team
to
overachieve, exceed there own limitations.

Some specifics:

The recent test launch of the scaled balloon. Someone said it was not
the
flight material we are going to use. Yes and no. The test balloon was
polyethylene at 0.75 mils thickness. The flight balloon is 4.5 mils
thick.
We deliberately went with the same material but much thinner to test
the
stresses. The surface area of the test balloon and the payload were
matched
to the larger balloon. The test was a complete success and gave us
increased
confidence knowing that the larger balloon was a thicker material.
Ground
testing of the material has stressed it to double the load of the
rocket
9000 lbs (test was 18,000 lbs of stress on 0.75 mil and it held
together!

Some people have suggested our throwing our hat in was a Golden Palace
media
ploy. Not in the least. This is a serious effort with a lot of
dedicated
people working long days, 7 days a week. We've come a long way in a
short
period of time. The folks at Golden Palace.com we're in the shop last
week
and are committed to the project through the 2 flights even if the X
Prize
is won. If Burt is successful in his second flight and wins the x prize
prior to us completing our flights, we will still fly and do so a soon
as
safely can be done. Our time frame is still inside October. A new date
will
not be posted until we have arrived in Kindersley. Internally we have a
target.

The da Vinci Project has been a composite effort of hundreds of people
over
the past 8 years - more than 150,000 man hours of engineering. Capital
held
us back on turning most of that into final hardware. We initially we're
going to go with the Microcosm liquid engines, but in the end found it
to
expensive. I've never let money nor anything else be an excuse not to
get
the project done. Much of what is on the site now reflects the heritage
of
the project. Microcosm agreed to let the engines remain on the site as
a
background to where we were. Technical info on the site describes (in
general) the hybrid engine system we are using). One of the people that
has
been involved on a add hock consulting basis for the hybrid engine has
been
Korey Kline of eAc - competitive supplier (but lost) of Burt's engine.
The
entire engine system though has been developed internally from the
building
of nozzle tools, through ground thrust structure testing etc. Anthony
Cesaroni provided early advice as well, though that was over a year
ago.

Similarly the balloon team is a composite effort with expertise and
advice
from Raven, Per Lindstrand and Cameron balloons. At the end of the day,
we
chose also to build this on our own due to the limitations on available
funding. Expert consultants are applied where necessary. The entire
tether
system including back up releases etc is engineered and built by Barrie
Cordage of Montreal, one of the best in the industry.

Our RCS system is a combination of internal capability and one of our
competitor teams that stepped in to help us out.

Avionics. We had a flight simulator and altitude predictor operating
over a
year ago. An off the shelf integrated INS / GPS was not in the budget,
so we
purchased an off the shelf IMU, received 5 GPS units free (COCOM limits
removed) and engineered our own integrated system. Some last minute
work is
still in process to debug. Again, we've done this all internally -
volunteers.

The space suit - hard diving suit was an early idea and donation. It
was not
suitable in the end, but remained as it reflected the commitment of
what
people were prepared to do for the project. The flight suit is a soft
variety developed internally from an existing suit (heavily modified by
someone who worked in the field with DCIEM for 30 years.

On August we had a roll out and gave a glimpse of the rocket which was
still
under construction. At the moment all the thermal protection is on,
painted,
seats in etc with multiple systems still being installed. The all
important
parachute system is a combined effort of the folks at BRS and one of
the
most impressive people I've ever met in the field of high speed drogue
deployment chutes and rigging.

I could go on an on but have to run. What I will say though is we are
committed to fly. We have a very competitive effort that is out of sync
with
Burt by a relatively short period of time. We never had the financial
resources he had, but have matched him on technical prowess. We've
stayed
the course through incredible barriers - as have many of the teams and
will
hold that course until we fly - which should be this month. Until we
prove
ourselves, it is all concept to everyone on the outside.

The one thing which may add an element of credibility if you wish
though is
the process we went through to get the government approval and
insurance.
The approval process was finished on April 7 but could not be issued
until
the insurance was bought and in place. That has occurred. The insurance
for
the 2 flights is fully secured. Both the X Prize and government of
Canada
have received the proper docs and we should be in receipt of the flight
approval shortly. That process both government and Insurance is
extremely
thorough. No amount of promotion will get you through it. It was a
first for
us and a team that did not have the heritage Burt had, yet we
succeeded. Our
April 7th successful completion of the evaluation just 6 days after
Burt's
FAA approval says something. Money for the policy though was not
available
until Golden Palace cam e on board. The remaining time was insurance
doc
processing.

Thanks for your questions / observations.


Cheers,
Brian
-------------------------------


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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 6:04 am
Thanks Brian for answering bad_astra's questions here.

So, is everybody satisfied now?

See you in Kindersley ~ whenever!

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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 6:23 am
Hello, bad-astra,

by asking Brian Feeney you have given an example how to handle with insufficient knowledge or knowledge that isn't fixed yet.

Thank you for doing so. I myself partially was supposing the things being as Brian Feeney explained but partially have been wrong too.



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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 8:55 am
desertbadger wrote:
So, is everybody satisfied now?

Ok let's find out ... first of all I want to tip my hat to bad_astra ... smooth job there, well done. Now let's move on to Feeney's reply.

Feeney wrote:
The recent test launch of the scaled balloon. Someone said it was not the flight material we are going to use. Yes and no. The test balloon was polyethylene at 0.75 mils thickness. The flight balloon is 4.5 mils thick. ... etc.

Ok, I can actually buy his explanation here ... science and engineering has a long and honorable history of testing at small scale and then making confident extrapolation of the results to predict what happens at larger scale. As long as the assumptions are few and reasonable then one can reasonably expect to be successful.

Feeney wrote:
Some people have suggested our throwing our hat in was a Golden Palace media ploy. Not in the least. This is a serious effort with a lot of dedicated people working long days, 7 days a week.

Well ... it's really hard to place credence on assurances alone, but there wasn't much else Feeney could say. It's a no-win situation for him to try and convince (on this point) doubters like me with words alone, so we doubters should let this pass for now.

Feeney wrote:
. We initially we’re going to go with the Microcosm liquid engines, but in the end found it to expensive. I’ve never let money nor anything else be an excuse not to get the project done. Much of what is on the site now reflects the heritage of the project. Microcosm agreed to let the engines remain on the site as a background to where we were. Technical info on the site describes (in general) the hybrid engine system we are using). One of the people that has been involved on a add hoc consulting basis for the hybrid engine has been Korey Kline of eAc - competitive supplier (but lost) of Burt’s engine. The entire engine system though has been developed internally from the building of nozzle tools, through ground thrust structure testing etc. Anthony Cesaroni provided early advice as well, though that was over a year ago.

This part is probably a response to discussions some of us have had about the doctored images. It's good that they haven't stolen these images and it's nice to put that to rest. It seems that the companies from which the images derive don't mind the use they are being put. However he didn't say anything about why the images were doctored and to whom the credit for them should actually be given. But in the larger scheme of things those are relatively small issues (unless you're the actual photographer who is not given proper credit, then it becomes a legal issue).

Feeney wrote:
The space suit - hard diving suit was an early idea and donation. It was not suitable in the end, but remained as it reflected the commitment of what people were prepared to do for the project. The flight suit is a soft variety developed internally from an existing suit ...

Ok ... but as with the other images on da Vinci's site the picture of the diving suit is not put into the context that it should be. This sort of explanation is frequently omitted because of the negative spin it might yield on the project on the whole. All of the images represent a marketing strategy based on promise. "We promise to have something like this in place by (whenever)", unfortunately for us dumb consumers this is all too common in a business and is probably not looked upon negatively in business circles. So guilty only by ommission, leaves a bad taste in the mouth for fans but no more.

Feeney wrote:
The one thing which may add an element of credibility if you wish though is the process we went through to get the government approval and insurance. The approval process was finished on April 7 but could not be issued until the insurance was bought and in place. That has occurred. The insurance for the 2 flights is fully secured.

Hmmm ... well ok, but I thought if you can afford the premium you can get insurance for just about anything. If da Vinci used the same tactics with the insurance company that they are using on their webpage then perhaps they had no problem getting insurance, which would have been the litmus test the government was most counting on. It would be nice to have a look at that paper work (who is the insurer?).

So in the end what do we have here ... an incompetent web design which is inadvertently making da Vinci look sloppier than they are? Keep in mind what we got, thanks to bad_astra, was a long response from Feeney (a great thing to be sure).

But at this point it's just words ... lets see them put "their" images on the website into context they should be. Shouldn't be too difficult for a team that can get governmental approval.

So ... who wants to write a letter to Microcosm and/or eAc? I wonder what they think (in their own words).

Other comments? Specifically, what did you feel that Feeney did not address?

DKH

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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 9:25 am
We should know the truth by this October if and when they fly. If there is another postponement without any photos of their hardware then their credibility will go down the drain. For now, I guess i would give them the benefit of doubt.

Anyway, good work bad_astra! 8)


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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 1:42 pm
Thanks folks, and thanks to Brian Feeney for the responce.


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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 8:10 pm
bad_astra, it was a very good choise and idea to contact Feeney!

It answered many questions and ended also discussions related to them.

I posted it on xprizenews.org:
http://www.xprizenews.org/index.php?p=547

Hours later, space.com also took over the story:
http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/da ... 40930.html


Bad_Astra, you're a hero :wink:

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Post    Posted on: Thu Sep 30, 2004 8:51 pm
Gosh, that letter grew some legs.


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Post    Posted on: Fri Oct 01, 2004 12:45 am
"[quote="Sigurd"]bad_astra, it was a very good choise and idea to contact Feeney!
It answered many questions and ended also discussions related to them."

Wow! Incredibly fast response from Brian, Hummm. I did not see that comming. (sarcasm)
This letter is a master piece of Double talk.
Ultimately all that this letter did was verify that the rhetoric we keep hearing is still actually coming from him.
Sure lots of detail and moral lifting lines but it still dose not explain the lies. This is just 1 unexplained example:

"Much of what is on the site now reflects the heritage of
the project. Microcosm agreed to let the engines remain on the site as
a background to where we were."

Back then they claimed that they had already built and tested their own engines (it was on front page of the Da Vinci site until recently) , showing the Microcosm pics that were photoshoped (No explanation for that either)
National Geographic News Dec 16 2003. "The da Vinci Project conducts engine tests at an undisclosed location." http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... .html#main

So what makes you think the facts are really on the table? Then again what else do we expect Brian to say anyways.
In light of the facts it should be very clear.
And if you don't get it by now, no amount of proff will convince you.

I have nothing more to say.


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Post    Posted on: Fri Oct 01, 2004 1:25 am
Brian Feeney has done the Xprize and us enthusiasts a service. Without him, there would
be less drama, and less public attention, this coming Monday. A race with only one competitor
holds less excitement and interest. For all he hasn't done (or at least failed to demonstrate), Brian
has been able to present an image that gives the appearance of another contender besides
Scaled. My suspicion is that he'll delay and eventually quitely cancel his launch effort after
the attention is off. Then for ever more, he will trumpet the fact that he was in second place
in the X-prize race. So good for him, no harm done. He does remind me a bit of that guy
in highschool who would make incredible claims of his 'prowess', but somehow never
seemed to have a date at the dance. That's just how it seems to me though. Sounds kind
of mean... Good luck to you Brian! I always wanted to build my own space ship too!


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Post    Posted on: Fri Oct 01, 2004 1:46 am
Sigurd wrote:
It answered many questions and ended also discussions related to them.


As indicated above -- providing a response to questions is an entirely different thing than providing answers. Bad_Astra requested evidence, Feeney provided explanations/excuses. They are not interchangeable.

DVP may have a rocket a few weeks from launch. I have no evidence that they do not have one. However, I have no evidence that they do, and I do have evidence that they play fast and loose with their hardware claims.

If Microcosm and DVP were buddy-buddy about the engines. Why was this not public knowledge? Small aerospace firms like this *love* to be able to reference each other, and by doing do bolster each other's credibility. Davinci would have been able to say they were planning to use engines that *had* already lifted a rocket to suborbital heights (from ground level no less) -- and thereby improve their credibility. Microcosm would have been able to show that someone was planning to use their engines for a highly publicized contest. It's a win-win -- so why the coverup?

I would really like to believe that DVP has a rocket that's a few weeks away from launch. Despite a lot of thought on the subject, I can't come up with a logical reason why they would be pretending they do if they really don't. I can't see any benefits whatsoever -- it's crazy.

However -- I can't understand why they would not have provided evidence of their progress before now if some existed. They work from donations and any evidence would have allowed them to procure more bucks. The only thing I can think of that makes a glimmer of sense is that prior to the GP.COM money, they had zero hardware beyond their shell. Since getting the money, they've been frantically trying to convert their ideas from CAD to reality. However, if they truly thought that 60 days (or 90, or 180 for that matter) would be enough to develop everything... well that's crazy too.


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Post    Posted on: Fri Oct 01, 2004 8:20 am
koxinga wrote:
We should know the truth by this October if and when they fly. If there is another postponement without any photos of their hardware then their credibility will go down the drain. For now, I guess i would give them the benefit of doubt.

I agree koxinga, with an absence of sufficient information one can only honestly say that it's difficult to confidently verify one way or the other whether Feeney means what he says or not.

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Post    Posted on: Fri Oct 01, 2004 9:01 am
mrmorris wrote:
Since getting the money, they've been frantically trying to convert their ideas from CAD to reality. However, if they truly thought that 60 days (or 90, or 180 for that matter) would be enough to develop everything... well that's crazy too.


To me, that's the answer. I believe they've mentioned that they didn't need to test too many things, because they'd accurately modelled it. And they may well have some good engineers who are great with things like FEA (Finite Element Analysis) fluid flow analysis, and other modelling techniques, to a point where they feel fairly confident that it'll work, which you do see more these days at vehicle manufacturers - they solve most of the issues on a virtual car first. However, as we all know, spacecraft are a less-understood phenomenon, and I would bank on testing being needed.

So I guess they haven't got visual evidence, because there never has been any visual evidence. They're great on modelling tools, and now they're frantically trying to convert their models to reality.

Again, Brian Feeney's letter sounds like something Tony Blair would say. Full of encouraging words, a few facts, but not really tonnes of substance. It doesn't answer any of the questions that we have had really, but I want to think the best of him too.

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