A Week of Excitement for the Space World and the Rocket City Space Pioneers

Fri, 12/10/2010 – 19:54 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
After the nail-biting rocket launch of our Dynetics FASTSAT (Fast, Affordable Science and Technology SATellite), we were all ready for a little R&R. FASTSAT was Dynetics’ major investment into the world of satellite design and manufacturing. We had several experiments onboard from different customers. The launch and deployment have thus far been amazing.
We are now settled back in from the Thanksgiving holidays. It was good to get away for a few days to Chicago to visit friends and go shopping with family at the huge Macy’s downtown, despite the fact that I was sick. It gave me a lot of time to think about how tough of an economy we are in and the fact that new sponsorships will not come easy for our Google RCSP effort, and we will really have to be creative and effective to bring in funding. We have got some great talent at Dynetics working on the new RCSP website. It will offer all the bells and whistles. We will have much new content that so many folks from across the company have been contributing. We have been amazed at the interest this project has generated! Stay tuned!
Changing the Face of Space Access
Wednesday brought the amazing launch of Falcon 9, America’s first commercial launch vehicle capable of taking cargo and maybe even human passengers to orbit and ISS sooner rather than later. My hat is off to Elon Musk, Tom Mueller, and the entire SPaceX Team. Having worked in the periphery of the launch vehicle world over the last 16 years, and heavily in all areas of propulsion, I can assure you that this was no small feat for the money and time spent developing these incredible technical marvels. These guys are truly amazing, and their success is no fluke.
In case you have not heard, this is the rocket we are riding on to take our RCSP Google X PRIZE entry to the moon. We are offering to carry others as well to help pay for our ride.These guys are making America competitive again in the launch business! Congratulations, Team SpaceX!
Local Educational Outreach

http://twitpic.com/3ep8do

On another cool note, we had an amazing opportunity to go to the Boys & Girls Club in Triana, Alabama, which is on the outskirts of Huntsville. Several of the RCSP team members visited the Club, which has an after school program for students from elementary to high school. Alan Harmon of Dynetics, who volunteers with the Club through the Madison Rotary Club, asked us to share some experiences with the students. We loaded up our high-tech toys and set out to show the children what rocket science is all about. We have a portable venue, which includes a rocket engine that runs on laughing gas and plexiglass (fuel), a helicopter drone that is flown with the iPhone via a direct wifi connection, and a scooter with a real jet engine.
We started the day with the suitcase hybrid rocket engine test. We covered the basics of what makes sustained combustion possible, the three key ingredients. The kids answered the hard questions. They gave us a big countdown . . . and the igniter fizzled. Within two minutes, we had recycled back through, and the kids did another countdown which resulted in a loud engine firing that burned for about 10 seconds, producing a bright yellow flame with mach diamonds visible. The children really liked it. It was cool and loud! They asked us to do it again. We were out of fuel, so we went on to the next venue.
We decided it was time to show them a scooter that looks like one some of them have in their own homes, I am told, except on the back end, it has a jet engine mounted to it. It has an electric starter, and it took a while to get it going in the cold winter breeze. We finally did get it spooled up, and it was screaming! It produced about 28 pounds of thrust as I rode it down 6th Avenue in downtown Triana. The kids said they had heard jets passing over the town, but never on the street and in town.
Once I made a couple of 10-mile-per-hour passes in front of the Boys & Girls Club facilities, I shut the engine off and “safed” the system so the children could see it up close. Several of the kids climbed on deck as I pushed them up and down the road. It was fun.
After the cold outside activities, we all went in to the gym and I gave a presentation of who our RCSP team is and why we are going to the Moon with a Rover. We covered the Russian and American Space Race, and where we are today as far as manned missions are concerned. The children asked several questions, and it was obvious they knew a lot about space. We showed off the cool Lander model the Huntsville Center for Technology high school students built for us – students just like them.
I showed the youngsters cool videos from home projects from my daughter, friends, and other enthusiasts of space and rockets. They seemed to really enjoy the videos.
Once the presentation wrapped up, we flew my AR Drone Helicopter. It uses the iPhone as the camera display as well as the controller. It is just like flying a video game. Many of the children have video games, so I let some of them take control and fly the drone through the gymnasium. The children did an amazing job. They had no close calls or incidents. I was the only one in the almost empty gymnasium to land the drone in the Christmas tree! My hat is off to these youngsters!
All and all, I think all of us kids had a really good time, and hopefully we inspired and recruited some new future engineers, scientists, and technicians.

http://twitpic.com/3efsps
Tim Pickens, RCSP team leader, demonstrates his jet-powered scooter for the students at the Triana Boys & Girls Club during an educational visit this week.

Inspiring Young People to Dream and Achieve

Sat, 12/04/2010 – 23:07 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
Inspiring young people to dream and go after their dreams is so important. The Google Lunar X PRIZE gives us a venue to inspire and educate. I’m excited about the opportunity to visit a local Boys and Girls Club next week to talk about our mission and to have some fun.
I will be talking to the kids about our mission to the moon and firing a rocket engine. I will also show them the prototype lander that students at the Huntsville Center for Technology built as an example of what students just like them can do.
I want to let these young people know it doesn’t always take a lot of money – just imagination, dreams and some work to make something fly.
I also want them to get excited about a Huntsville team building a lander and rover to go to the moon. I want to remind them that with ambition and hard work, dreams can become reality.
Thanks to the X PRIZE Foundation for inspiring us to dream and achieve!
I am looking forward to sharing with the kids about my home projects such as my rocket bike and jet-powered scooter that I just might try to demo. Boy, is it loud and cool! It runs on kerosene and is a real jet engine that can push the scooter at speeds up to 30 mph. I demonstrated my scooter at Dynetics’ recent FASTSAT Launch Party, and “kids” of all ages had a blast. The kids always get a kick out of anything that makes noise, fire, smoke, and looks like stuff that they have at home, like bikes and scooters.
Relating to these students is important to me, and that is a huge part of challenging them to dream and build. I am a product of the local school system, including two years of tech school in the 11th and 12th grades. It is clear to me that you can do anything you put your mind to, and I want to make sure the kids leave with a sense of wonder and inspiration to stay focused and chase their dreams.
I sure hope the weather cooperates! We’ll post some videos of our visit to the Boys and Girls Club.

RCSP Dynetics Launches FASTSAT with Fun Party

Wed, 11/24/2010 – 15:57 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
Friday night, November 19th, at Dynetics was amazing! Our first satellite, known as FASTSAT (Fast, Affordable Science and Technology Satellite), was launched aboard a Minotaur IV rocket. FASTSAT was developed in-house with NASA and the Von Braun Center for Science and Innovation (VCSI), also one of the Rocket City Space Pioneers, as partners. The launch occurred at 7:25 p.m. CST from Kodiak Launch Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
FASTSAT separated from the Minotaur IV rocket approximately 22 minutes after launch, entering low-Earth orbit 406 miles above Earth and immediately began powering up the spacecraft.
To celebrate the launch, Dynetics employees had a huge launch party with plenty of good Mexican food. We had some down time between launch and waiting to hear the satellite wake up. I got to entertain the crowd with my TEDx talk on “Re-energizing Space through Innovation,” and even got to fire up my jet scooter in the parking lot. Boy was it loud! We kids loved it! I also let the kids help me fly my R/C electric helicopter indoors with my IPhone. It is really cool – it uses the gyros and accels in the phone to control the helicopter via wifi. The onboard video camera allows you to get a bird’s-eye view from the helicopter while in flight. That video is streamed to my IPhone, which is also used to control the helicopter. It is really cool. The kids had a ball with that one.
All and all, it was an amazing night of fun at Dynetics. I am sure our office party rocked it more than any other gig in Huntsville on a Friday night. Gotta love the Rocket City!

Rocket City Space Pioneers Announce Partnership with the Huntsville Center for Technology

Fri, 11/19/2010 – 23:28 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
Today was a real special event for me and the Rocket City Space Pioneers (RCSP). I returned to the Huntsville Center for Technology (HCT), my old stomping grounds from high school where back in 1981 and 1982, I attended tech school. It was cool then – and even cooler today.
I had come back not to go to school, but to unite with my brothers on a very special project. After revisiting the school a few weeks ago, I was impressed and hooked! After seeing the amazing projects they designed and built like hover crafts, battle ships, NASA hardware, and even moon buggies that students routinely beat out major colleges like MIT with, I knew I needed these guys as partners to help us win our Google X PRIZE!
We had an awesome day of cool students, live rocket engine testing, robots, and a whole lot of people enjoying a fun day at the Tech Center! Thanks to Dave Hewitt from Dynetics who fired “the little engine that could” after a couple of tries.
We had the mayor of Huntsville speak on the importance of technology and real hands on-engineering and building. And he pushed the button on one of our rockets! We also had Dr. Ann Roy Moore speak about what makes the HCT the great school it is. We had our team members joining us from Teledyne Brown Engineering, Draper Laboratory, the Von Braun Center for Science & Innovation (VCSI), and UAHuntsville. Tom Baumbach, Dynetics president, and Dr. Marc Bendickson, CEO, also came out.
Thanks to the team at HCT who helped with the activities; and Janet Felts, Public Outreach Liaison for RCSP, and Joy Dukimineer, the counselor at HCT, for doing such a great job coordinating this event.
I could not say enough about how honored I was to be back and actually working a project that will carry our generation to the moon. These students and faculty are amazing and second to none. They presented us with an incredible prototype of our lander! We are so excited about the momentum of this hardware rich team we are building. Huntsville is an amazing place to launch a team project to the moon! Welcome aboard, HCT, and thanks for your support, Huntsville!
Read about the event at www.rocketcityspacepioneers.com under “News.”

Catch a Ride on Our Mission

Thu, 10/07/2010 – 20:59 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
The Rocket City Space Pioneers are inviting you to “Catch a Ride on Our Mission.” Spaceflight Services, RCSP team member, is selling small payloads to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) and Low Lunar Orbit (LLO).
Spaceflight, as part of the Rocket City Space Pioneer Google Lunar X-Prize Team, is responsible for mission integration and providing space transportation services to Low Lunar Orbit. Spaceflight is providing flight opportunities for ESPA class spacecraft (spacecraft weighing less than 180 kg) interested in launch services to GTO and LLO.
Spaceflight, as part of the RCSP team, is responsible for mission integration and providing space transportation services to LLO. Spaceflight is providing flight opportunities for ESPA class spacecraft interested in launch services to GTO and LLO.
The proposed mission will deploy three ESPA payloads into a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit and two additional payloads in a Low Lunar Orbit. The mission is also open to smaller spacecraft looking for a low cost ride to either of these destinations.
For more information, go to www.rocketcityspacepioneers.com and click on “Catch a Ride on Our Mission.”

The Rocket City Space Pioneers Continue to Get Inquiries

Fri, 10/01/2010 – 20:09 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
The Rocket City Space Pioneers are excited about all the interest we are receiving in this competition! Huntsville, home of the Rocket City Space Pioneers, is known as “The Rocket City” for its impact on space exploration. Huntsville has been developing important space technologies since the 1950s when the German scientists headed by Dr. Wernher von Braun, brought to the United States at the end of World War II, arrived to develop rocketry for the U.S. Army. Huntsville lofted the first satellite into orbit – Explorer I – in 1958.
That’s where “Alabama Explorer II,” the name Alabama Governor Bob Riley offered us $1 million to name our lunar lander, came from.
Huntsville is home to Redstone Arsenal and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Saturn V used by the Apollo program manned Moon missions was developed. Huntsville continues to play a vital role in space exploration.
We are pumped about igniting a spark in this community that has such a strong space heritage with our Race to the Moon. Companies, individuals, schools and other organizations are contacting us to find out how they can be a part of our Race to the Moon.
Homer Hickam, the “Rocket Boy,” spoke at our media event announcing our entry into the competition. He is the author of “Rocket Boys/October Sky” and several other books. His latest is “My Dream of Stars,” the memoir of space-flyer Anousheh Ansari who funded the $10 million for the Ansari XPRIZE.
We are looking forward to finding out more about the other teams at the Isle of Man Summit!

Rocket City Space Pioneers Representatives Participate in International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Spaceflight 2010

Fri, 10/29/2010 – 21:25 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
The Rocket City Space Pioneers had two representatives (Janet Felts, RCSP Project Coordinator, and I) from Huntsville, Ala., in New Mexico last week for a big event featuring commercial space talk/presentations and exhibits, to include the New Mexico Spaceport Runway dedication and Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo flyover.
I was invited out to New Mexico to be on a space panel with Robert Bigelow, Mark Sirangelo, and Grant Anderson to talk about “Establishing the Commercial Space Market/Ways to Match Private Capital Investment Strategies with Funding Sources.” The week was filled with awesome videos and stories of space company goals and technical accomplishments.
We got to meet folks from Virgin Galactic, not only those who are supporting and working in the organization, but also folks who have bought tickets to fly to space on SpaceShipTwo. They were really excited to see the flyover.
We even got to fire a rocket engine that we built and gave to Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace. The engine is an exact copy of what we designed/developed for the Bigelow Sundancer module over the last two years. Jay Ingham and Robert Bigelow brought the engine from Las Vegas, and we brought in the hydrogen and oxygen. Pat Hynes kicked off the firing with a two- to three-second continuous firing followed by a few pulses. It was loud, disruptive, and fun. This test firing took place in a small amphitheatre located behind the New Mexico Farm and Heritage Ranch Museum. I doubt any past concert ever sounded like this roaring rocket engine! We all loved it! The Bigelow team continued to fire it throughout the event.
You can watch a video of the firing on You Tube:

We got to spend some time with the Bigelow team talking about their interest in the moon and what their feelings are on robotics mission to the moon. Mr. Bigelow talked about his thoughts on mining Helium 3, and his plans to put habitats on the moon for long-term exploration.
We talked with Team Frednet’s lander provider Dave Masten of Masten Aerospace about our friendly competition to race to the moon. The fact is that Masten had won the Grumman Lander challenge and $1M last year, beating out Armadillo Aerospace. I made it clear to Dave that he is not welter weight and is in our team’s crosshairs.
All and all, it was a great week with commercial space doers who are making a difference. Now . . . we are back in Huntsville ready to do some design work.

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

Rocket City Space Pioneers Generate Excitement

Fri, 09/17/2010 – 00:05 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader
The Rocket City Space Pioneers have generated a lot of excitement in Huntsville and Alabama! We’re pumped about being in this race!
We announced our entry into the Google X PRIZE competition with a news conference at Dynetics’ corporate headquarters. Governor Bob Riley praised our efforts and offered the Space Pioneers $1 million to name the team’s lander the Alabama Explorer II.
All the Huntsville television stations gave the announcement heavy coverage, and The Huntsville Times newspaper gave the story top billing in the next day’s paper. CNN even mentioned the Rocket City Space Pioneers on air an online this week.
We’ve had interest from other companies, educational institutions, and individuals to join our team.
I’m looking forward to meeting some of the other team members at the Isle of Man Summit!

Rocket City Space Pioneers Enter the Competition

Tue, 09/07/2010 – 19:00 — Tim Pickens RCSP team leader.
Welcome to the Rocket City Space Pioneers Team blog. We are a Huntsville, Alabama-based team, and our team is comprised of several private businesses, an educational institution and two non-profit organizations. We are excited to enter the GLXP competition!
Huntsville is known as “The Rocket City” for its impact on space exploration, so it is only fitting that a Huntsville team should go after this prize. Huntsville has been developing important space technologies since the 1950s when the German scientists headed by Dr. Werner von Braun, brought to the United States at the end of World War II, arrived to develop rocketry for the U.S. Army. Huntsville lofted the first US satellite into orbit—Explorer I—in 1958
We are ready to go back to the moon . . . with new technology and innovation at an affordable cost. We’re ready for the race!
We may be a late comer, but we will be ready to win this race!

NASA Hallmark pays a visit to OPi

The folks from NASA Hallmark came out to visit OPi back in early 2009. This is that story!

NASAHallmarkVideos | February 11, 2009 |
Orion Propulsion is a small aerospace company in North Alabama that specializes in rocket propulsion design, fabrication and hot and cold testing of rocket systems. The company has extensive experience designing, fabricating, and operating propulsion systems and propulsion test facilities. In addition, the firm provides test stands, Ground Support Equipment (GSE), engineering and 3D modeling services, and launch operations support to a variety of customers.