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The X-Cup and Subcontracting

Posted by: Hazer - Sat Oct 02, 2004 8:04 am
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The X-Cup and Subcontracting 

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The X-Cup and Subcontracting 
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Post The X-Cup and Subcontracting   Posted on: Sat Oct 02, 2004 8:04 am
Subcontracting certain systems would seem like a good idea for some of the other teams. Life support systems for instance, would probably not be the strong point of some of the X-teams currently in existence unless I'm very wrong.

Quite a few of the teams highlight advances in propulsion, such as Starchaser, and others in vehicle guidance. I refer to Armadillo's advances made in controlling the attitude of their vehicle so that it may launch and land in the same place.

It would be a great boon to the X-Cup if the teams competing could use off-the-shelf systems in some places, and focus in improving and innovating in other subsystems of their vehicles.

Developing everything in-house is not a necessarily a good idea. If I'm correct, Starchaser tried that approach. They are irrevocably behind now barring two major disasters. The everything-in-house approach may work fine at Boeing or Lockheed Martin, but the companies involved in the X-cup are much smaller and are looking to do things on the cheap, while innovating.

What I'm saying is that some companies might want to specialize in life support systems, others in control systems, others in airframes, and still others in high-performance rocket engines.

Something I've noticed with the various X-teams is that they don't seem to subcontract out much. Sure, Scaled did have a third party build their engine, but did Scaled do any other subcontracting on SS1? Not really, they seem to have ordered the engine with their design requirements in mind. The result; a reliable engine that was developed by a company focusing on the engine, and the ability to concentrate their developement efforts on the other parts of SS1.

Reinventing the wheel all at once is hard. Reinventing it bit by bit is easy.

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Post    Posted on: Sat Oct 02, 2004 8:19 am
I think your idea isn't really great.

Most teams already use of the shelve parts and use other companies for things ONLY if it's cheaper (or in less time in a few cases), but nothing more..

If they would use other companies:
- For their engines
- for the life support systems
- Aerodynamics calculations
- etc etc

1) A LOT LOT LOT more paperwork
2) more paper work, more "diffrent" people, so a lot more costs in most cases
3) this isn't a fast way of working, working with multiple companies often slows down.
4) it's very difficult to change plan, to create a new next vehicle when you're not the creator of all those parts..

Really.. this is no the solution.

Most teams are doing research.. and research needs all the things toghetter.. and you have to understand all the things to find problems, and you have to change things very often.. and you can't know what will happen.. or what you'll need the next week or month..

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Post    Posted on: Sat Oct 02, 2004 7:47 pm
Thanks for the thoughts Sigurd. You're probably right.

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Post Re: The X-Cup and Subcontracting   Posted on: Sun Oct 03, 2004 5:16 am
Hazer wrote:
but did Scaled do any other subcontracting on SS1?


Subcontracting (define as purchasing off the shelf technology), yes. The flight control system used on the SS1 was purchased from Fundemental Technologies or Funtech which is another X-Prize contender. You can see it being advertised on Funtech's website.

You are right, reinventing the wheel is not exactly clever and Scaled had kept it simple by concentrating on the design and left the engine and flight control systems to others.

But it is really a luxury option and really depends on the team's funding as well as their requirements. Some have unique requirements that is not available off the shelve or require expensive customisation. Others choose to develop in-house because they believe that the overall cost, especially if and when they need to scale up production might be cheaper.


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Post    Posted on: Sun Oct 03, 2004 7:13 am
As partially already implicitly said in the other posts subcontracting is depending on economic situations including tcehnical and technological ressources.

One factor already listed are the financial ressources - another are the skills of the employees and another too are the access to machines required to produce something yourself.

This means that only randomly a team won't need no subcontracting or 100% subcontracting.

So what to subcontract and what to do yourself has to be decided based on the central competences of the team and its members and on the ressources.

Because of this no general judgement or recommendation concerning subcontracting is possible - it's an individual thing and each team, each company should do like it considers best for itself.

Doing so in most cases is the best way to success I suppose.



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Last edited by Ekkehard Augustin on Mon Oct 04, 2004 3:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Subcontracting   Posted on: Mon Oct 04, 2004 2:39 pm
Not only do Boeing and Lockheed Martin do a lot of subcontracting, but sometimes even the subcontracters subcontract. (For example, Pratt & Whitney subcontracts their jet engine fuel controllers to Hamilton Standard.)

In the case of SpaceShipOne, because the engine is the only major subsystem, once the engine was subcontracted there wasn't much left to subcontract out.


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Post Flight Control System   Posted on: Mon Oct 04, 2004 2:47 pm
In SpaceShipOne, the flight control system is the pilot.

A mechanical system of cables connects the pilot to the control surfaces during subsonic flight.

Electric wires connect the pilot to the electric motors used to move the control surfaces during supersonic flight.

Custom developed instruments provide the pilot with attitude control information.


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Post    Posted on: Mon Oct 04, 2004 3:13 pm
The term "subcontracting" itself includes numerous different possibilities what really is done.

One special extrem concrete version is the "Virtual Enterprise" which itself includes numerous possibilties too. I know a little firm producing computer chips without having production equipment - the firm designs the chips and orders production from another firm. But all customers believe that the first little firm produces the chips itself.

So really only different kind of subcontracting are discussed - this is a reason to continue the discussion. The teams and firms are very different as to be seen by Brian Feeney and Mojave Aerospace.



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Post    Posted on: Mon Oct 04, 2004 3:29 pm
If subcontractors and COTS parts would have reduced costs, I think we would have seen it done. Scaled subcontracted out engine development (and possibly one other team has done so as well), and American Astronautics tried to use off-the-shelf rocket motors (which were denied by the X-Prize foundation and basically scuttled their attempt). Most of these teams were volunteer efforts, and could never have afforded to hire traditional aerospace companies to do any work for them.

The Wright Brothers couldn't have afforded to hire Langley's operation to design an engine for them, either.

Were mistakes made? Yeah, I think so, but a lot of it was just a process of learning while doing what no small company had ever done before. For instance Armadillo hit on the jet vanes a little too late. When they knew they couldn't get 90% peroxide, they could have subcontracted engine design out ot XCOR, but they still would have had control issues to take care of.

I think things played out about as well as they could be expected. I'm just grinning ear to ear right now.


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Post Expectations   Posted on: Mon Oct 04, 2004 3:36 pm
Considering the X Prize was won without anyone getting killed in some underfunded underengineered attempt, things worked out BETTER than expected.


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Post    Posted on: Mon Oct 04, 2004 5:14 pm
Agreed. Even Stevie Austin has been brought back to life for the next STC flight.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Nov 27, 2004 4:33 pm
Well, in all the flights that we're even considering anytime in the near future not much is really needed beyond a pressurized, insulated cabin and a good engine. As the systems start getting more sophisticated we'll start seeing more specialization from different companies.


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