Go 4 TLI

Blue Origin curtain of secrecy lifted

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Many of the private sector space companies like Scaled Composites / Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace spent years operating in secrecy before revealing any details of their design to the public. The last holdout was Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame. At last, they have made public some cool photos and videos of their first flight test conducted in Van Horn, Texas last November. The link is here.

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Having worked for Amazon for a few years, I have tremendous respect for Bezos' vision and drive. I don't know if he'll succeed, but I'd love to get a job there (which for now is not really an option as my skillset isn't in line with their needs - plus, I don't have a Green Card yet).

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Many of the private sector space companies like Scaled Composites / Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace spent years operating in secrecy before revealing any details of their design to the public. The last holdout was Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame. At last, they have made public some cool photos and videos of their first flight test conducted in Van Horn, Texas last November. The link is here.

All these pictures are marvelous, but the on-board landing gear and thruster video is especially awesome. I wish there was less dust on landing so we could see how the load gets absorbed.

It seems strange to me that they are actively hiring for lead positions at this point. I would have thought this would have been planned out in advance. Nevertheless, seems like a fun place to work.

Thanks for posting all this, Hannes.

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It is fascinating to see the different approaches to the problem, and watch the competition. It is much more exciting than having it all handed to you by the government--as much as I've always loved the space program. It gives one a peek at what would be possible if the government, and all the "special interest" clods and nannies . . . . Well, you know.

Thanks for sharing the information with us.

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That's just brilliant! The space craft looks utterly sci-fi. It looks like an artist's rendering of a space craft for some space adventure novel. I particularly enjoyed the last video on the page, the fisheye lens, low frame rate, high-res one. What a shot.

Btw, there is another outfit that was involved in X-Prize that is still working at the goal of manned suborbitals. This group was started by John Carmack, the computer graphics programmer who created the highly successful games Doom and Quake. What's neat about his site, is that he shows you the inner workings of what they are doing, including the successes and failures. In one of his videos he even takes a shot and environmentalists, because apparently they create lots of headaches for him via regulations.

ArmadilloAerospace.com

HERE is a 2004 video with examples of his successes and failures.

Here is one of their latest videos:Pixel

A recent interview with Carmack

Interview

A fascinating excerpt:

Can you describe your next-generation rocket?

Carmack: What we've got right now are the current quad vehicles, Pixel and Texel. They have four spherical propellant tanks and one engine in the center.

What we're going to be doing is reconfiguring the same basic systems, the same basic tank and engine, but making modules out of them. So you have two tanks and one engine as a discrete unit, and then you'll be able to bolt them together in any configuration you want, where you could start with four modules, which would look sort of like two quads stacked on top of each other with more engines on the bottom. That would be enough to take one person to 100 kilometers.

We'll mass-produce these modules and apply them in lots of different configurations. That's our focus in the coming year.

Modularizing for mass production!

What business are you aiming Armadillo at?

Carmack: We're looking at some ways to commercially exploit the current generation of vehicles, like vertical drag racing and space diving. The space diving record was set in the '50s by an Air Force colonel from 105,000 feet, and he needed to be in a full-pressure space suit. All the records have been set by riding in a helium balloon, which would take a few hours, and it's extremely weather dependent. But if you were in a rocket, it would only take you two minutes to get there.

One of the great aspects of our development process is that we've been doing this so cheaply that a few stunts can make the company profitable and pay for the development.

But we think the first really significant business opportunity is with the suborbital space tourism market, taking people up to 100 kilometers on a rocket. Virgin Galactic has really proved that that market exists by taking in over $20 million of hard-cash deposits. But it is worth noting that they do not have any kind of an exclusive arrangement with Burt Rutan's development company and that if somebody else comes up with a vehicle (with) worthwhile capability, they'll be more than happy to work with other companies. So it's not out of the question that we might wind up flying some of the Virgin passengers at some point.

But you're in the same boat. [as other companies that haven't flown, save for Rutan]

Carmack: But, we went into this knowing, with our eyes open, that we don't know everything about this. So instead, we incrementally tested, developed and learned all of these things. We've made 13 different flying vehicles in the last six years, and we've learned something different from each of them. We've explored just about every control authority system possible--altitude-control jets, differential throttling--and we've actually flown vehicles with this, not just studied them.

Don't be surprised if this guy sneaks into the scene.

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I just realized, my enthusiasm for John Carmack's work may have interfered with the fascinating topic of this thread. My apologies to Go 4 TLI :)

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Hannes:

Thanks for posting! Do you have any info as to the prospects and long-term future of the company? I'm seriously thinking of applying! From their hiring web page, it looks like they're very rigorous from a technical stand point; the fact that they are investing in the development of not just in a product, but also <i>development methodology</i> (notably engineering software) is impressive.

Stephen:

There's a severe shortage of experienced, knowledgeable aerospace engineers right now, which might explain why they have so many openings. Also, perhaps they were waiting for the success test flight of of this prototype before committing to a full development programme.

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This is a start up, which means that compensation is probably weighted heavily on stock grants, then salary, and very little benefits. I suspect this is a comp model which still gets very little response from seasoned aeronautic engineers who've done all their carrier in large companies with stable / safe compensation and pure gold benefits. I suspect that their comp package is at least 25% below market, with a nice option grant, which could make one rich or be worth nothing.

When I started at Amazon in 98, my salary was 30% below that of my classmates (Duke MBA) and we didn't even have a 401(k) in place (I'm not talking about contribution matching - we didn't have a 401(k) at all as far as I can remember). Our health benefits were a joke. We had sizeable option / stock grants though.

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Thanks for posting all this, Hannes.

Thanks for sharing the information with us.

Stephen and Janet, you are welcome. And to all other Forum members, I apologize for the delay in my response.

Hannes:

Thanks for posting! Do you have any info as to the prospects and long-term future of the company? I'm seriously thinking of applying! ...

Two things, Joe:

(1) I live the so-called "space tourism" industry. For the the last year, I have worked that problem to the point that I have literally taken it to my dreams at night. I have very definite ideas about a lot of companies in this business, including my own. My policy about those opinions boils down to, " I don't talk about Fight Club." :)

(2) I am willing to talk about my journey of how I got to my current job. After 14 years in aerospace, I was so disillusioned that I tried to make it in the entertainment industry. Call me a failure, but I couldn't get consistent paid work even as a grip. Then one day my savings ran out I applied for an aerospace "day job". A few weeks later I was on the SpaceShipOne flight line with Richard Branson, Paul Allen, and Buzz Aldrin. By accident, to be honest.

I had studied under an international authority in my field (celestial mechanics) who considered me to be one of his brightest students. I later cut my teeth at NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston, where I studied spacecraft operations at the feet of men like Gene Kranz. I left NASA to fly the Iridium Constellation and put 86 satellites into orbit on 19 launches in 19 months. Etc.

My point? My credentials are unremarkable in the aerospace business. It may be shrinking, but companies like Blue Origin have very specific ideas about who they hire. I should know. I spent a year and a half wooing Walt McCleery, Blue Origin's current recruiter, back when he worked for Andy Beal.

So...

In the meantime, enjoy a beautiful rocket test photo from XCOR here. That's my real point behind this post, after all.

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I had studied under an international authority in my field (celestial mechanics) who considered me to be one of his brightest students. I later cut my teeth at NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston, where I studied spacecraft operations at the feet of men like Gene Kranz. I left NASA to fly the Iridium Constellation and put 86 satellites into orbit on 19 launches in 19 months. Etc.

My point? My credentials are unremarkable in the aerospace business.

Sounds pretty *remarkable* to me, Hannes... :) There are all of the non-brightest students, surely the majority, for example, as well as those who studied under lesser qualified men.

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My point? My credentials are unremarkable in the aerospace business.

Sounds pretty *remarkable* to me, Hannes... :)

Thank you for saying so, Phil.

I realize that my initial sentence is poorly worded. It should have said that my credentials are unremarkable in the new aerospace industry. My point is that companies like Blue Origin attract some of the best and the brightest. I know this based on my experience at work, where credentials like mine are commonplace and non-performers actually get fired.

The flip side is that our HR and new business guys also get some real crackpots. I have learned that engineers at Scaled Composites and Lockheed's Skunk Works have a nickname for these guys: full-mooners. :)

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My point is that companies like Blue Origin attract some of the best and the brightest.

I second that.

Blue Origin interviews are pretty intense. I interviewed with them a year and half ago and unfortunately did not make the cut. I was interviewed by about 8 people in all areas such as propulsion, controls etc, though I had applied for a software position (my experience is in software but I have a degree in Aerospace).

For any one wanting to try, you have to be well prepared.

-Lakshmi

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Hannes - do you actually work for Blue Origin?

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Hannes - do you actually work for Blue Origin?

No, Joss, but I do work for a competitor called SpaceDev. We are working on a sub-orbital and orbital space plane called Dream Chaser. Our founding CEO just formed a new company, Benson Space Cpmany, to pursue funding since his pockets are not nearly as deep as those of people like Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk. Some good background from our effort to win a rather unique NASA contract last year is here, and the latest publicly available information from Benson Space is here. Although the Benson Space information is the most current, even some of it is aready obsolete. I can't elaborate further ... Fight Club ya know! ;)

But another nice aspect about working at SpaceDev is that we also work on other projects like micro-satellites for missile defense, the military and NASA. We also work on hybrid propulsion upper stages and kick motors. As a result, my work has ranged from mission design which is my background, other technical work that I would never get a chance to work on in a big aerospace company, to even producing videos! Small companies rock!

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Thanks. Boy, you give a lot of financial info on your site. I know that this is publicly available info for publicly traded companies, but it's still rare for public companies to make that available on their site.

I currently work in finance and corporate development (M&A) for Microsoft. I would like one day to work for one of those space ventures. At this point, I don't think the industry is at a stage where my skills would be valued much though. Plus, I need to get my green card first, since this industry pretty much requires a permanent residency.

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