Archive for the ‘Suborbital’ Category

Watch in high res at youtube. White Knight Two doesn’t look so large span after all. Spaceship Two is pretty wide with its outset elevons and the WK2 outer wings need to have the engines so there’s not much wing outside with the single purpose of lifting (or stopping the tip vortex). It seems both planes are really light too. Carbon fiber throughout. SS2:s wheels are really tiny. They have gone for minimum dry mass. The landing speed doesn’t seem huge even with its low aspect ratio. Maybe the size misleads. The landing is very smooth.

Of course the couple climbs out very fast even with gear out since SS2:s tank is empty and it doesn’t have the solid fuel onboard either.

I’m reminded of the lifting body research of the sixties. Who says we aren’t experiencing the golden age of aerospace right now? There’s happening interesting stuff left and right now, most of it in the more modest programs.

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Inspired by Michel Van (not Scott Lowther as mentioned earlier) at Secret Projects, who ran into the Gemini inflatable Rogallo wing test videos that are now available (not embeddable so linked only). There are parafoil systems for airdropping stuff, though they don’t seem to be doing flares or line pulls to soften the impact:

And if somebody says parafoils are not maneuverable, I give you a Russian self built RC parafoil:

Speaking of rocketry, a member from the local hybrid group said they have found out the probable cause of roll control problems: the forward fins that were put on the rocket for roll control cause huge vortices when deflected, so that they effect the main fins far aft and the effect might be the opposite from intended.

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In a patent by the famous Barnaby Wainfan. EDIT: corrected the link. This patent was filed in 2006 and granted in 2008.

Enter, turn, boost, glide

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Well, scaling seems to be my pet issue. I recently wrote something not entirely well reasoned in a comment at Paul Breed’s. (For some reason Chrome complains about blogrolling.com malware there so continue if you’re sure you’re safe.)
So let’s make it better. (A word of caution though, I’m quite sleep deprived now.)
For those who like to jump into conclusions, it’s going to be like this all over again.

Assume a pressure fed rocket first stage has a certain propellant chemistry, tank and thus chamber pressure and must operate in the atmosphere, hence has a certain exit pressure (0.1 MPa or 1 bar or 15 psi is the optimal). Then it has certain thrust per nozzle area.

Now, the rocket needs thrust to lift off. If we assume a constantly scalable shape, its mass will be base area times length times density.

Since the maximum fittable nozzle exit plane also depends on the base area, we find that for a certain area, the rocket can only have so much mass – or that the rocket has a maximum density times length parameter. If we assume the propellants have been picked early on, density is set and the rocket only has a height constraint.  Each pressure and propellant chemistry basically has a “characteristic length” that can’t be exceeded. Otherwise it can’t lift off.

The higher the exhaust velocity, the smaller the nozzle, so raising chamber pressure reduces the needed nozzle size per thrust and the rocket can be lengthened.

For small rockets, I’d hunch that they have little length and thus they don’t really have to worry about this. They can be as thin (and thus long) as practical, to try to avoid drag losses.

For upper stages, the thrust to weight needed is less and the weight even less so it’s even less of a problem – except that the expansion ratios can be huge since there’s no back pressure anymore. Still, with small rockets, pretty huge expansions might be possible without having much problems because the second stage is very small (=also short) anyway and thus there’s little mass per nozzle exit plane area.

On really tall rockets like Saturn V, the thrust per base area has to be huge, hence it had to have those base extensions for the corner engines (note how the N-1 had a conical shape with a wider base, the engines had a bit higher pressure but the upper stages were kerosene – these cancel out a bit but the base of the rocket had some empty space) . Similarly with STS, putting so much thurst on the tiny orbiter’s tail required high chamber pressures and some tail shaping

I don’t have any numbers handy, but if we assume a 10 m tall 1000 kg/m^3 density (water) rocket, then it has 10,000 kg per m^2 or the thrust required for a 20 m/s² acceleration is 200,000 N/m^2. This is easily achievable. With an exhaust velocity of 2000 m/s, the mass flow needs to be 100 kg/(s*m²) to produce that thrust. Again with the exhaust velocity that mass flow means a density of 0.05 kg/m^3. Air’s density is 1.2 kg/m^3 at 300 K, so that’s 20 times less dense which means hotter, the density is like hot air at 6000 K. Though the molecules might be mostly lighter OH instead of N2 and O2, making that rocket exhaust at 3000 K for the density. Rocket exhaust isn’t that hot – it’s cooler and denser and thus more thrust per unit area.

For a second stage we can look at the pressure fed AJ-10 from Delta 2: 1.7 meters diameter (certainly constrained), 40 kN of thrust. For a T/W of 1, density of 1000 kg/m^3, we get 4 tonnes and 1.7 meters of depth. Quite a stubby stage with a roughly spherical tank! Isp is 321 s. The real Delta II second stage weighs 7 tons and the payload is some too, but reusable rockets won’t have such high performance first stages (nevermind solids!), so they might need more T/W.

Oh, BTW, I assume three stages to orbit for pressure feds though I haven’t looked it that closely.  Mass ratios and ISP:s I’ve only hunched.

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EDIT2 Video is online now. END EDIT

(I haven’t worked with the rocket, I just know the people who did this!)

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Altitude was 2222 m. Apparently the backup timer shot the drag chute out while the rocket was still ascending. The team said they have video and will upload it later, if asked nicely enough. 🙂
Meanwhile, some launch photos.
You can see the small roll control vanes in the forward fuselage.

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A Finnish largish amateur hybrid rocket project, Iso-Haisu (Large Stinky or Big Skunk, the successor of the smaller Haisunäätä, Skunk, the first Finnish hybrid) was flown today at a military artillery range. Reports say it disappeared into the clouds but it has not yet been located. The flight computer logger was onboard so the altitude is unverified. And no onboard video / pictures yet either!

The rocket radioed furiously after landing but failed to get found. It apparently landed about a kilometer from the launch site when the GPS data was deciphered.

It’s a heavy rocket with considerable overbuilding and lots of electronics. Better not try to reach all the goals at the same time.
Hope it gets found tomorrow!

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Clark Lindsey comments on how Arianespace just raised prices instead of lessening costs. I’m reminded of Rob Coppinger’s recent visit to Kourou, their launch site. It just costs a lot to keep a city going in the middle of jungle, and when that cost must be paid by the monthly rocket flight customers only, it gets expensive per flight.

A lot of ideas have beend expounded on expendable rocket manufacturing and reusable refurbishment costs. But it seems the integration before launch is terribly expensive as well, if not the most expensive part. And the launch control costs as well, as does mission control.

Airports are expensive facilities as well, but they are still cheap per trip since the throughput is large. Though I don’t know how smaller airports manage, if they still need radars, passenger and aircraft services etc…

Anyway, this should be a very important focus. It’s less sexy than the sleek fast machines, but lays the important ground work for space access.

The suborbital trips might be good training and experimentation for this. Virgin galactic seems to opt for grandeur with huge custom facilities, making it into something like a theme park. I do wonder if XCOR’s working on something more modest. This might make a huge difference to their profit margin per flight…

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Someone was asking on ARocket about where to start with building a differentially throttled hovering vehicle. Lots of advice were given by various people. I’ll show some stuff I quickly sketched back in 2007 with Simulink. It’s such an easy to use and awesome software (especially compared to a recent short battling with LabView), that whipping up any control system or any process or system models are really quick jobs.

This is just some really trivial basics, it doesn’t take into account nearly enough things to produce a real hovering vehicle. I guess it’s just a way to show how things could be started.

So, here’s a pic of a simple one-dimensional rotational feedback system. Just tested some feedback coefficient values for the PD controller.

1) You can see the placeholder “guidance algorithm” output at the top left “scope” graph. This is the reference or target value of the angle where we want the vehicle to be. At the start it’s giving a desired angle of zero radians, then from 4 seconds onwards it suddenly wants 0.5 radians, then again zero after 6 seconds. This could be holding a tilt for a while for getting up some lateral velocity for a transverse move.

2)  Below that, you see Theta, the angle that the vehicle actually had during the simulation. It follows the desired angle quite nicely. Below Theta, there’s omega, the angular velocity.

3) The tilting is done by throttling the two thrusters. At top center and top right you can see the values of the throttles. Since this thing only concerns tilt and not stationary hovering, the throttles are at zero when the vehicle is at the right attitude (reference=Theta) and there’s no angular velocity. When the refence is moved, at 4 seconds, throttle 1 shoots up for a while and the vehicle starts tilting. At around 4.8 seconds the other thruster, throttle 2 shoots up to stop the rotation, since the vehicle is nearing the desired angle.

You can see from the block diagram how the error value, E = theta – reference is calculated. And also omega is used. From these the throttle values are calculated, simply by Throttle1 = E*Kp1 + omega*Kd1 and so on. By fiddling with the Kp and Kd values, called gains, one can tune the system. The values currently are just some I quickly tried back then.  This Simulink model actually has a bug, a sign error. The error signal’s difference calculation is backwards, hence Kp1 and Kd1 are negative. It should be the other way around.

You can tune the model. Basically, raising the proportional values makes the system faster (reach desired values quicker) but gives overshooting and can make the system oscillate unstably. Higher derivative gains remove the tendency to oscillate, but the system becomes more sensitive to noise (noise can after all have large derivatives). If the vehicle had problems of always staying some amount off from the final required attitude value, an error integrator could be added that would fine tune the vehicle a little (making it a PID controller). This is probably not needed here though – the guidance system could notice if the vehicle travels somewhere it doesn’t want it to go.

The MDL file for the above is available here.

This is just a very quick first brush analysis, there are much much more things to take into account. The other tilt axis, roll, the need  to actually stay airborne (altitude or vertical velocity feedback loop) that ties into the throttle values too. One could abstract this tilt in one axis to a single control block, and produce another similar block for altitude holding, then couple these blocks into a whole system of altitude and tilt holding (by mixing the throttle values). This should avoid clutter and enable one to isolate problems.

Also, one should add some noise to the sensed angle vs real angle as gyro noise seems to be a real issue for VTVL vehicles. One wouldn’t want to tune a PD controller’s values in a noiseless simulator and then find out it gets wildly out of control in the real world. Even when not simulating noise, one can be quite conservative with the tuning values, and that helps too. The throttles probably would be another source of errors as well, if one used ball valves like here. One could also use pulse width modulated solenoids (John Carmack is fond of those for quick work) and those should be modeled. Digital valves (for liquids) have also improved lately, and hydraulics uses are emerging.

I’ve only done real world PID stuff on lab experiments. But it’s still very cool to see it work. It can balance a ball on an unsteady position on a moving cart, which humans have trouble with using a joystick, and the math in the controller is not complex since linear approximations can be used for that problem.

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Armadillo finally won L2 already.

Masten and Unreasonable are still flying for second place I think (I’m not 100% clear on the rules) today!

Spacetransportnews is the place to watch all this. (Or it has the links collected.)

It’s historical in a sense. These rockets will serve as the basis for reusable sounding rockets, possibly high altitude tourist vehicles and later orbital system lower or upper stages. When the operations are routine and landings safe, the cost per flight goes down orders of magnitude, compared to ordinary rockets.

A new era for rocketry is dawning.


Update: This is the twitter account to follow: http://twitter.com/mastenspace

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