Headlines > News > A Q&A session with N-Prize contenders “Epsilon Vee”

A Q&A session with N-Prize contenders “Epsilon Vee”

Published by Rob on Sat Jun 28, 2008 10:13 am
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Epsilon Vee
Epsilon Vee is a small organization taking on the task of developing innovative ways to drastically reduce the costs of space access. This enterprise started with the appearance of the N-Prize, courtesy of Dr. Paul Dear of Cambridge, UK. In short, the N-Prize is a contest to launch a very tiny satellite into orbit on a bare minimum budget. Epsilon Vee is one of five teams (as of this date) working to achieve this goal.

I spoke with James (Space Fellowship member “JamesC.”) and asked him some questions about his team. The questions and answers follow:

How/when did you start Epsilon Vee?
As a concept, Epsilon Vee has existed in my head for many years. I was born in 1961, when only two astronauts and two cosmonauts had flown in space. I grew up along with the space age, watching Apollo 11 land on the moon when I was 8 years old. I was hooked. Ever since then I’ve felt a yearning to do something like this. The N-prize was just thing to finally set it in motion. So, Epsilon Vee is at once very new, and very old.

What’s in the name “Epsilon Vee”?
I’ve long thought of commercial space flight as the next step. Like the airplane, we have passed through the military use phase (and I have to consider the large players in space services as part of that) and are now entering the barnstorming phase, taking passengers up for a quick thrill. Now is the time to start building the foundation for something more substantial. A lot of names have wandered around in my head, too many to bother listing. Finally, I considered that the term for a change in velocity is delta vee. Since this is the ‘Next Step’, I took the next letter in the Greek alphabet and added it to vee. Hence, Epsilon Vee…the Next Step.

Do you think you can really win the N-Prize?
I wouldn’t be trying if I didn’t. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic manner, but I believe that if you are going to do something, give it everything you’ve got, or nothing at all. Having said that, I recognize the difficulty involved, and fully expect to find even more difficulties along the way. I think rocket science has been given a bad reputation. Yes, its not easy, but at the same time it is. If I may make use of a famous quote, If I see far, its because I stand on the shoulders of giants. Goddard, von Braun, Tsiolkovsky, and too many others to name, they’ve already done the hardest parts.

Where did you hear about the prize?
I ran across a post in the forum for the space flight simulator Orbiter, created by Martin Schweiger. It didn’t take long to run down the Halfbakery and N-prize sites. The rest, so they say, is history.

What is your long term goal?
Ultimately, I want to create a small company providing launch services for nanosatellites, cube-sats, and other very small payloads. If I can reach that point, I’ll be happy, anything beyond that will be icing.

How do you plan on achieving your goals?
The N-prize is providing an avenue to think outside the box regarding launches. The lessons I learn here will form the basis for building my own launch service.

What progress have you made already?
At this point progress consists of design analysis, spreadsheets and CAD drawings. I’m planning to have the preliminary design work on the launch vehicle done by the end of the summer. At that point I’ll start on fabrication of test hardware. I expect to start actual hardware testing in January 2009.

What has been your biggest hurdle so far and what do you see as the biggest hurdle as you progress?
Right now the biggest hurdles are time and money. I’m no Elon Musk or John Carmack, so keeping the mortgage paid and food on the table comes first. I’m hoping to have the preliminary design work for the launch vehicle to a point that will allow me to start looking for interested partners this Fall. Here in the U.S., especially living in a modestly populated area, finding test space, setting up shop and obtaining the proper licenses is going to take money. Actually building a launcher and satellite for under $2,000 is going to be hard, but I think its possible. Putting together my own infrastructure is another financial matter entirely. The actual development is the next hurdle. One thing I see coming out of the N-prize is people thinking not only about the satellites and launchers, but the entire process of getting into orbit. The bureaucracy, infrastructure and, lets face it, the size of the payrolls, are all items that keep costs high for launch services. We have to find ways to build launchers and launch them to industrial standards instead of white-room standards.

Have you got any media available for us to view?
Not yet. All that exists right now is a collection of analysis spreadsheets and CAD drawings. I expect to have some CAD images and animations available within the next month.

Do you plan on letting the public hear about your progress or will you be working “behind closed doors”?
I’m planning to follow the lead of organizations like Armadillo Aerospace. Images, news, video, animations, but without any real technical data. I will make sure that when tests are done, there will be some form of evidence (video, etc.) to show, for instance, that engine tests, pressure tests, etc. have actually been done. It hurts the commercial space community to put out a stream of claims without any evidence of progress.

What skills are you looking for in employees, and how can interested readers get in contact with you about helping your project?
This project is going to require a broad spectrum of skills and knowledge, far more than I could learn alone. Right now I’d like to find someone who could start working of satellite design, since I have no idea where to start. Eventually, I’ll need welding and fabrication experience, electronics, and frankly I don’t know what else at this point.

I’d be happy to hear from anyone out there. Please email me at epsilonvee@yahoo.com

James is also available to chat in the Space Fellowship Forum

N-Prize Discussion Group – http://groups.google.com/group/n-prize
N-Prize Home – http://www.n-prize.com/
Epsilon Vee – http://epsilonvee.wordpress.com/

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