Rocket City Visits Isle of Man

Fri, 10/15/2010 – 14:10 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
I have been having a blast the last few weeks since we kicked off the Rocket City Space Pioneers Team (RCSP). We are on an amazing journey to race to the moon against other international teams to take a rover to the surface of the moon, and drive it around! We will send back video and images, and hopefully allow students and other folks to pan the camera! How cool is that?
We have been so busy! The phones have been ringing off the hook from companies, learning institutions, and individuals that want to know how they can join, sponsor, help, and get involved. I have really been amazed at the response. We were not prepared to respond to various requests. The formal mechanisms to process their inquiries were not in place yet. That, coupled with the annual Google X PRIZE Team Summit, has made for an interesting last few weeks.
In summary, here is where we are: We have a great team made up of small and large companies and institutions that have a proven history that supported the Apollo moon landing as well as recent space exploration. In addition, we are not a huge corporate giant; we are a mid-tier size team that represents innovation and lean thinking. We are a group of doers. We are not a thought experiment. We are not a social experiment or club, but we do know how to have fun and accomplish serious technical endeavors. We do have a combined corporate strength of over $1.2 billion of combined sales per year, which means we are established and have the resources to put into innovation and product development. In fact, just Dynetics alone has put over $8M of their profits into developing commercial satellites instead of giving that money to shareholders as is often done. That is what I like to see. We do our homework, we take calculated risks, we conquer, we reap the rewards.
We have set up a sponsorship program that includes a 501 (C)(3) foundation. We have kicked off an awesome education program called “Engineering Meets Education” with the Huntsville Center for Technology. This program is designed to bring traditional engineering into the classroom at the tech school level and produce real space hardware from students. We have one of the best schools in the country that have proven themselves capable over and over for the last few years in the “Moon Buggy Race,” where they have annually beat out colleges like MIT. These young people and instructors are amazing! Now we are going to design and build test/flight hardware together that will get us back to the moon! This program is off the hook and out of this world! We are combining fire, smoke, robots, science, technology, manufacturing, electronics, software, interactive handheld control and video, etc.
Tom Bambauch (my boss and Dynetics President) and I just got back from the coolest place on the planet, the Isle of Man, located off the coast of Ireland. The Isle of Man hosted the Google X PRIZE Summit this year. We were there with teams from many countries. We met some very creative and nice competitors. Some of them were full-time teams, and others were working hard to become full-time pending finances and other circumstances. All the folks we met were really nice and had a vision to make a difference in making space affordable and helping to inspire the young folks of planet earth.
We spent two days catching up on Google, team rules, the X-PRIZE, team reviews, company tours, castle tour (cool part-social) of 500 years old! I also got a free day to tour the island. We visited an optics company that made optics for satellites as wells as the Mars rovers. It was amazing to see how lens are made and quality assurance is measured/verified. We also visited the largest telecommunications company on the island and learned how they handled everything from emergency, Internet, to security. We talked to folks who managed economic development for the island, which is a huge deal! The island has some huge tax advantages for companies that are considering space commerce, and the Isle of Man understands how important space will be to all of our future. So that is why we all went to the Isle of Man! Not because of the cool castles, best ice cream, beaches, fairies, rich history and other cool stuff.
We also got to spend a lot of valuable face time with the great X PRIZE team and learned how to get people engaged in our teams and how we can raise our visibility. We learned all about social media, marketing, other X PRIZE secrets, lessons learned, etc. We got to meet Tiffany Montague, the manager of Google’s space initiatives. She was full of great ideas and was excited to have new teams signed up.
We probably represented one of the only teams that had been in previous X PRIZE events. For me, this was Number 3.
We offered to sell rides to the moon on the Falcon 9. We (three teams) would then race to the surface. Both X PRIZE and Google folks saw this as a very exciting potential venue to focus the world’s eyes on that one event in time that captivates us. This would be a huge deal!
Teams have been very receptive to our offer to sell rides to our competition. The way we figure, everybody pays to get to the moon, we all will have a challenge to get to the surface safely.
Internally, our team has been doing design trade studies on the lander and rover. We are trading green mono-propellant and hydrocarbon options with hydrazine. We have thruster options for either direction, but we really like the idea of terrestrial flying the systems we send to the moon. Hydrazine makes this option more challenging.
We are getting ready to test the second lander we have built with NASA. It utilizes our peroxide mono-propellant thrusters. It has been a great team lander exercise.
All and all, we are having a great time!
Tim Pickens, Team Leader