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Little Monster Rocket Q&A with The Space Fellowship

Published by Rob on Thu Dec 4, 2008 5:38 pm
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I Recently got talking with the N-Prize entrant “Little Monster Rocket” I asked about their background, plans and ideas. Sage answered the questions, please read them below:

Who is ‘Little Monster Rocket’?
He’s our amazingly little, yet powerful, N-Prize entrant! Presently, he’s under construction by a unique, wonderfully ideological, and highly experienced development team.

What do you want to achieve?
Perhaps “Launch a Cybernetic Ant into Orbit” kit would be nice. Maybe eventually a “Lunar Explorer – Stage I” sounds pretty good, name’s a little stodgy though… Maybe “Green Cheese Confirmation Kit” instead?!

Seriously though, an expansion of social understanding and an enlightenment of global thought (along with putting a small satellite into orbit, of course!).

It’s important to note that the N-Prize is a hugely important endeavor, not just for the technical aspects, but also for the immense humanistic ones. This effort is both a catalyst and conduit whereby an incredible feat can be achieved in a fashion that very few think is possible. This awakening of mind and imagination is a critical aspect of sociocultural progress; it’s a storybook dream with immense positive benefits that go far beyond any one team or person.

How do you plan on achieving this?
Hopefully through leveraging our N-Prize efforts. In the fledging commercial space industry you now have two basic groups – the “practical” group and the “imaginative” group. The problem is, the “practical” group is nowhere near “imaginative” enough to spark interest or motivate thought, and the “imaginative” group is nowhere near “practical” enough to actually move forward! Commercial space (and nearly every other industry) has suffered greatly at the spear of regulations which drive a wedge between practicality and imagination, and force a status quo. Sure, there are also some lesser reasons for the developing gap, but government regulations are by far the biggest. As a result, this gap exists now but it wasn’t always there, and it doesn’t have to be there. In the early days of space travel, for instance, such concepts of imagination and practicality went hand in hand. The N-Prize represents a desperately needed bridge between these islands.

It takes a proper understanding of the N-Prize to comprehend its tremendous magnitude. Part of this is because of its constraints; you can’t just throw money at it and/or simply hack at it – it’s really a supreme intellectual challenge. And, another part is because of its grand scope within those constraints – this is not “Build a Tabletop Spacecraft Day.”

Now clearly, succeeding in the N-Prize is an almost impossible task. The constraints are so insanely rigorous that only the world’s most exceptional (or maybe the most exceptionally clueless) engineers and scientists would attempt it.

Right now, our specific N-Prize plans are mostly confidential, but they use a combination of known technologies and some very novel techniques. Current approaches center on expendable, rocket-based launch systems. There is certainly the potential for reusable components and other strategies as well, especially now that a second category of the N-Prize has opened up. This second category allows reusable components to be excluded from the budget; we are mostly interested in the original N-Prize category, but are examining this new category as well.

Our system will be partly classical in its approach, insofar as the high-level propulsion concepts are concerned, but in order to accomplish the task as specified, the actual machinery and electronics will be quite unique. For instance, the guidance, navigation, and control systems will need to be lightweight, robust, and inexpensive, something that hasn’t been done at this level and within this budget. Similarly, the engine designs will be unique, as the type of engines we are currently pursuing have not been accomplished at this scale.

The plan for the satellite, in principle, is not much different than the Sputnik I – however, it will be over 12,000x smaller in volume and over 4,000x less massive (that’s about 2.5cm(1”) in diameter and less than 20g(0.7oz); Sputnik I was 58cm (23”) in diameter and 83.6kg (184lbs)). It will of course use modern technology, but the concept will be generally similar.

What work have you done already, towards achieving your goals?
In addition to the background and experience we already possessed, and regarding the N-Prize specifically, we did feasibility investigations on several possible approaches prior to declaring ourselves an entrant. We wanted to ensure that there was a reasonable probability of success before entering the contest, and satisfied ourselves that such was the case. The real R&D hurdle is the supremely low cost which converts the N-Prize from the typical “spend and build” effort into a serious intellectual competition.

In actual development, one of the first tasks was to create a unique, high-fidelity simulator and analysis tool. Although this is an evolving effort, we have designed it in such a way as to interface with our future propulsion system, GNC/ACS (guidance, navigation, control/attitude control system), and other flight hardware and hardware simulators in a closed-loop fashion, to synthesize, analyze, and validate various launch scenarios. Our simulator can largely automate both trajectory synthesis and analysis under varying conditions, and has been validated to deliver reasonable accuracy via comparison with empirical data from existing launch systems – it is well poised to become an integral part of our development effort.

We have also developed several competitive designs and are currently doing additional trade studies and more detailed feasibility analyses. These are relatively involved investigations and have not been limited to just “drawing-board” studies; they have included both simulation and certain hardware testing to validate particular theoretical models with regard to items such as scaling effects and other aspects. The intent is to determine which approach (or combination thereof) we will pursue over the next few months. At this point, we may continue several of them in parallel, but we already have an emerging favorite.

As a quick note on the viability of simulators, it must be said that in some cases, simulations can lead one astray, namely when there are many unknowns or suitably large error bars in parameters critical to the model’s predictive capability (climate prediction models are a notorious example of this). Luckily, given mostly constrained (or otherwise suitably predictable) physical systems, such as those required for trajectory calculations and well designed rocket systems, it is possible to create a reasonably good physical approximation, as most of the system variables are fairly well defined. This does not mean that just anyone can build an entire launch system on a spreadsheet (at least not yet!), but the calculative tools available to the competent scientist, namely the proper use of modern computing resources, is a huge benefit.

In addition to the above, our navigation system and guidance strategies have been largely designed and will soon be undergoing sub-unit testing; the nav system is similar across all top-level concepts. Obviously, we cannot use a commercial, full fledged IMU as they are far too expensive – as such, we have designed a lower-cost alternative that should be suitably accurate for our N-Prize attempt.

We have done considerably more, but I don’t want too give away too much this early in the competition, so keep watching the website for updates…

When do you plan on achieving your goals?
As far as the N-Prize itself is concerned, certainly before the prize expiration date(!), but we are obviously attempting to accelerate that. The problem with “hard and fast” public time-lines in R&D efforts is that such binds the team to sub-optimal schedules and priorities; this can feed negatively into development cycles and can sometimes generate wrong impressions. When an “event” date is announced, everyone waits for that date – if the date is kept, then it’s mostly business as usual. But, if the date is changed, rumors start flying – there’s no winning this little conundrum. So we are trying to avoid being drawn into a trap that can’t really help us much. Additionally, public dates telegraph a lot of detail regarding a team’s internal progress – too much, in fact, for a competition such as this.

How have you got your team together?
On the R&D side I’m basically the “Army of One” mentioned on the LMR site. However, I have quite a bit of external volunteer support; these are mostly “unofficial” members – business associates, friends, and colleagues. In essence, the majority of the team comprises people who want to contribute, but don’t want (as yet) to commit their entire lives to the project. This works out well because I can put together a fairly large part-time team of volunteer experts, specialists, and consultants without burdening people’s day-to-day lives. As such, Team LMR is generally complete at this stage of development, but we may add additional staff as both opportunity and demand presents themselves.

When/where did you hear about the N-Prize?
Sometime prior to this summer (2008) via a link from a discussion forum; afterwards I started seeing it as an oft topic of discussion. I was deeply involved in other projects at the time, but couldn’t resist doing a basic feasibility analysis; it seemed just barely possible with reasonably advanced engineering. We were actually planning on waiting a few more months before announcing our intent to compete, but a call from Charles Pooley (Microlaunchers) hastened our entry.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle in achieving your goals?
Government and regulations. And not just regulations pertaining to rockets and such, but all regulations in general. And, not only how regulations directly affect me, but also the amount of time I spend explaining the horribly negative consequences of regulations to others so that they may better understand such fallacies.

What is your long-term goal after the N-Prize is won?
Really, there are so many important goals that I can’t single any out. My focus is to disseminate knowledge, as such is the root of positive consequence, and part of this is the concept that true learning cannot be accomplished behind a false shield of supposed safety. Inherent, but reasonable risks exist for progress to occur. For instance, I created an innovative, fully-automatic airgun (think advanced BB “machine gun”) which is being developed and marketed by Liberty Airguns (www.libertyairguns.com); I am working with them to incorporate a simplified version of my design into a special set of plans which will enable an enthusiast to build their own unique device. This provides a tremendous opportunity for experimentation, and this sort of thing drives people towards innovative ideas and gives them an opportunity to experiment with technologies that are far too rare in our society. We need much, much more of that. Certainly, I would like to do similar things with the technologies I develop for the N-Prize; simplify them and make the concepts accessible to everyone. Even if such simplified constructs do not share the same performance characteristics as my original and/or nominal designs, or otherwise must be re-designed in a more primitive and lower-performing fashion to be implemented in consumer-level fabrications, such still conveys a huge swatch of knowledge that our society most desperately needs.

So, I would like to leverage our N-Prize efforts to spark an understanding and awareness in people; to drive and motivate their imaginations and quests for knowledge. In that light, there is one thing that becomes most mandatory along this path, and that is the removal of government regulations. I plan to campaign against governmental regulations of any sort, as they constitute some of the most destructive aspects of our very existence. I think that all regulations, regardless of scope, are part of a set comprising the worst human contrivances ever impaled upon man; they are both useless and a complete affront to freedom, liberty, progress, culture, responsibility, and society itself.

Will you share your progress with the Space Fellowship Community?
Absolutely! But, we obviously can’t provide all the details (this is a competition, after all!).

Updates will be posted at our website at http://littlemonsterrocket.webnode.com. The blog will include both general and specific information, typically relating directly to our N-Prize development efforts; the FAQ will contain ongoing general information in response to questions we’ve received. Other news, information, presentations and such will also be posted to the website as available.

As a note, we will certainly welcome sponsors and are actively seeking partners of all levels who can help make this dream a reality. For instance, individuals who want to contribute can get an LMR membership for just $20 (and, they can apply it to the future kit of their choice, including the eventual “Green Cheese Confirmation Kit!”). And, companies who want to sponsor our efforts can contact us through our website (http://littlemonsterrocket.webnode.com), or may choose any of our standard sponsorship packages.

Have you got any media or presentations that our community can view?
Not yet, but we will soon… So please keep watching and visiting the LMR site – more information is on the way… http://littlemonsterrocket.webnode.com

Please feel free to discuss this topic further in the forum or chat…

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