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Open Letter to Da Vinci/Brian Feeney Reply

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Thu Sep 30, 2004 6:14 am
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Thanks to Bad_Astra for contacting Feeney.

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

Reply from Feeney, Team Leader of The Golden Palace.Com Space Program:
Hello Everyone,

I would like to take a few minutes to describe the current state of our
program and launch initiative.

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
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

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

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 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

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 -

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.


Update: New Update Released, Click here

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