Bryan Campen: What are you doing in this shot, and what are you thinking?
Erik Anderson: I’m thinking, “man, that was a lot of sanding.” But what I’m doing there is finishing up the first (flight!) nose cap for Lynx, just trimming up the edge that mates with the vehicle. So I was really a lot happier than I look in that shot.
BC: What’s your title? What do you do at XCOR?
EA: Senior Engineer, so that means a little of everything: avionics, pilot interfaces, and let’s see, I’m in the electrical shop right now, and of course the ULA program. Whatever needs doing.
BC: And you were a C-130 pilot?
EA: Yep for 16 years.
BC: How many years have you been at XCOR?
EA: Three and a half. I started as the composites technician, though Senior Engineer was the title.
BC: What were you doing before XCOR?
EA: I was a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force, Delta 2 Engineer in the Delta 2 program, based in Los Angeles. Launched GPS satellites for the Air Force. I was an intern with the Aerospace Corp, the federally funded R&D center the Air Force keeps onhand. Trajectory analysis and vehicle design for advanced concepts. Sixteen years driving a Herc, of course, four operational tours in Arkansas, Japan and Alaska.
EA: I have a saintly wife and two adorable kids–a girl who’s seven and a boy, nine. The boy wants to be a spaceship pilot when he grows up and the girl wants to be a princess.
We’ve got it all covered.
BC: What are you reading right now?
EA: Just finished The Martian by Andy Weir, it is an awesome book. It’s an Amazon Indie special from an author nobody heard of before now. It’s excellent, about a guy who through a complete accident is believed dead and left behind after an early Mars landing. His survival is a real challenge and it’s a very gripping story.
BC: What’s your favorite space-themed movie?
EA: Apollo 13.
BC: Ok, but what’s your favorite movie?
EA: Still Apollo 13!
BC: Do you have a favorite saying?
EA: No I really don’t. I like ‘em all. Sometimes I’ll fasten on one, then it gets overused and I move on from it.
BC: Will you fly on Lynx?
EA: [Laughter] Several times a day. You can put that down.
Bryan Campen: What’s your title? What are you working on right now?
Mark Peck: Mechanical Engineer. My projects are the 3N22 (RCS thruster) and the control stick mount [note: we will post on the control stick mount in the near future]. Other than that I expedite all the machine shop parts being built, and I work with about 20 different shops.
Bryan Campen: What’s happening in this shot?
Mark Peck: There will be twelve thrusters on Lynx. And once we are flying, we need to be able to rapidly remove the whole thruster module from Lynx and test it. We are plumbing the thruster in a new way to make it easy to change between flights and for testing. We’ll be able to simply pull the thruster module for maintenance and find out what we need right on the test bench.
BC: So what’s your nickname?
MP: Dragster. I drag race.
BC: How long have you been at XCOR?
MP: About nine months, since January 2013.
BC: Background and hobbies?
MP: Drag racing was my profession before this, fishing is my hobby. My 12 year old boy was just asked to take the SAT at Duke University. Apparently he is in the top five percent of the nation for seventh-graders.
MP: Thank God he gets his smarts from his mom. [laughter]
Mark Peck with his son and daughter at the Veteran Memorial in Midland, Texas (2012)
BC: Stupid question, but do you still work on cars?
MP: We all three have dragster race cars, my two kids and me. I’m hoping by next season my kids and I will have our cars back together and go back racing again. We built all of our cars ourselves.
BC: What’s your favorite movie?
MP: Transformers. I always wanted to build one.
BC: What about your favorite space-themed movie?
MP: Just has to be Star Trek.
BC: Yeah but which one?
MP: The first one. I’m that old. [laughter]
BC: What are you working on right now, this very minute?
MP: I’m working on a dune buggy in my shop in Midland. Putting some new geometry on it to make the suspension work right (a new sand rail).
BC: Do you have a favorite saying?
MP: Everybody makes mistakes. It’s not the past, it’s the future that makes us who we are. That’s what shapes your character.
BC: Who said that?
MP: I did.
BC: Will you fly on Lynx?
MP: I will, yes. In a heartbeat. Hopefully next year I’ll also go over 200 miles per hour in my 1800 horsepower dragster as well!
Bryan Campen: What are you doing in this photo? What are you thinking?
Derek Nye: I think this was the first time we had the gear assembled, and I was going over and becoming more familiar with the gear. It was just introduced to me that day, and since I am an A&P and have knowledge of gear and pistons, I familiarized myself with the nose gear.
BC: What’s your title? What are your responsibilities?
DN: Composites Tech and A & P. Responsibilities include producing mockups of various parts of the Lynx, either in carbon fiber, fiberglass, or other composites materials we are interested in building for Lynx. For example I recently finished building a ladder (below) that one of our engineers designed so that we can test whether the design works or not.
Previous responsibilities also include serving on the 5K18 red team test crew, where I had fabricated pressure lines, and maintained the Lynx engine for testing.
BC: Do you have a nickname?
DN: D-Nye (“Dee-nigh”)
BC: How many years have you been at XCOR?
DN: I’ve been here about a year and a quarter now.
BC: I hear you also like video games. What are you currently playing?
Pictured: The Nye family on a recent evening stroll.
My wife and I have the Halo series as well, so we play that.
BC: What are you currently reading?
DN: I do a lot of audiobooks. When I read I tend to read more nonfiction than fiction—for instance science, politics, psychology. Currently reading Free Will by Sam Harris and a book called Quiet by Susan Kane.
Quiet is about people who are naturally more introverted, and how that skillset is eroded by a more imposed cultural norm of extroversion. I’m also reading How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, a pretty good neurology book.
BC: Favorite saying?
DN: “Nothing is more dangerous in all the world than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” –Martin Luther King
Every few weeks we break from technical posts and run a set of short interviews on the people behind Lynx. We want to make sure you hear the story of both Lynx development and those who are Lynx, the people who design and build it every day.
Welcome to the XCOR Crew series. And send your feedback in the comments or to bryan [at] xcor [dot] com.
First up, Test Engineer Geoffrey Licciardello…
From right to left: Geoffrey Licciardello and Jeremy Voigt during some of the first Lynx cold flow tests
Bryan Campen: So what are you up to in this shot, and what are you thinking?
Geoffrey Licciardello: This is during some of the first Lynx cold flows we ever did, well over a year ago now, if memory serves. I think we were doing LOX cold flows in prep for our first pump fed 5K18 hotfire. I don’t remember if a specific thought was going through my mind at that instant, but it was probably something along the lines of “I hope we can finish this test before midnight.”
BC: Did you finish before midnight?
GL: Yes we did, it was 9 something when we packed up that night.
BC: What’s your title, and what do you do?
GL: My title is Test Engineer. I work directly with senior engineer Mike Valant on all of our various pump programs, and my focus has been on propulsion rather than Lynx structure. I focus mostly on developing the piston pumps we use to run the 5K18 Lynx engines. I’ve also been the day-to-day engineer working on the ULA LH2 development program. It has been an incredibly exciting project.
BC: You have a nickname? GL: Geo
BC: How many years have you been at XCOR? GL: Three years–plus a six-month internship. I started as an intern with XCOR while at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, started full time after graduating school with a BS in Aerospace Engineering in 2010. The internship was spent mostly working on the X-Racer as ground support crew. I designed the heat exchanger for rapid helium refill on the X-Racer so that it could run seven flights in one day.
BC: On to more important things. What are your guilty pleasures and what video games are you currently playing?
GL: I’m playing Empire: Total War. It’s a strategy game set in the 1700’s, Revolutionary War era. My guilty pleasure is reading comic books, mostly Sonic the Hedgehog comics and DreamKeepers graphic novels.
BC: And you write? GL: Yes, SciFi, just for fun. It’s a series titled The Wayward Astronomer and it is a big hobby of mine.
BC: What’s your favorite movie? GL: Pulp Fiction.
BC: What’s your favorite space-themed movie? GL: Apollo 13.
Above is an image of of the Lynx supersonic wind tunnel model being photographed using the ‘schlieren’ technique. You may have seen this photo in a press release after some of our earlier supersonic wind tunnel tests.
‘But what is schlieren?’ you ask.
As it turns out, schlieren photography is the brain child of German physicist August Toepler, who in 1864 developed the technique to analyze and understand supersonic motion. “Schlieren” in German means streak “streaks.” As is visible in the image above, shock waves appear as streaks across the image emanating from the edges of the model. These streaks reveal changes in air density around our wind tunnel model, and this helps to determine where geometry changes will be needed for improved aerodynamic performance in a given environment.
A schlieren image is captured using a sharply focused collimated light that is reflected into a camera from a curved mirror on the other side of the model. Where airflow is affected by the model, the air density changes, causing the beam to refract differently in low pressure areas versus high pressure areas. Think of heat mirages during the summertime, these are an every day example of that same principle!
Next week we will take a break from the technical and introduce you to some XCOR’ians.
After topping off liquid oxygen, the Lynx propulsion test stand is wheeled into place for a cold flow test.
Lynx has been engineered from day one to be as efficient and cost effective as possible for daily, routine flight. The all-composite construction, 100% reusable engines, non-toxic liquid propellants, and piston pump technology all allow Lynx to achieve its flight objectives without the use of a carrier aircraft. This reduces the potential for failures and results in reduced overhead and turnaround time, lower cost per operation, and a safer flight.
Such efficiency and effectiveness also extends to our testing through seemingly small changes. Just about everything at XCOR is on wheels, including our test stands. With no fixed test facility we can test at our remote location in the morning, be comfortably back in the hangar the same afternoon, and working on modifications for another test the following day.
Wheels on test stands also have a positive impact on our “build a little, test a little” approach, including added effectiveness in work culture. With test stands on wheels, our people are able to operate inside the hangar and out of the elements, with all the benefits of cost, comfort and safety that entails.
Convenient access to the test stand also increases productivity. Engineers who design parts can work on the test stand alongside shop technicians, and machinists can be more involved with the integration of their parts. In our experience, everything works better, is completed faster, costs less money, and has fewer maintenance issues than more traditional organizations with less integrated teams.
Tomorrow you get to ask “what is a schlieren?” and yes, you will have an answer!
Testing the rocket engine on the firewall test stand includes a number of other sub-systems. Here in the XCOR test bunker, the Lynx Electronic Flight Information System, or EFIS, displays real-time engine data on temporary panels, just as they will in the final cockpit design.
We also collect and analyze significant data after each test. This includes thermocouple data for analysis of heat and cold in the tanks, engine, pump and other parts of the thermodynamic cycle, sensor data of the pressures in each system, timing signals to sync everything, valve actuation signals, and the list continues.
After a test, XCOR team members hold an “After Action Briefing” to review what went right and what could be improved.
Safety culture at XCOR is one where everyone, from the team member on their first day on the job, to the most senior level executives are actively encouraged to speak up and ask questions, challenge assumptions, and point out where they feel something could be done better, safer, or more efficiently. Every point raised is carefully documented, analyzed and the appropriate action taken.
The bunker is a great place to be on test day. It is an opportunity to see the professionalism of the XCOR test team and the “build a little, test a little” culture on the move.
Tomorrow, a few words on test efficiency and philosophy.
Engineer Jeremy Voigt tests the Lynx 3N22 Thruster prototype. This thruster has been fired hundreds of times, and its spark torch igniter tested thousands of times.
The Lynx reaction control thruster (the 3N22) is a non-toxic, high performance, bi-propellant thruster. Bi-propellant means that the thruster uses a fuel and an oxidizer to run. The 3N22 has many attributes that make it perfectly suited to Lynx operations, for future use on satellites, and human spaceflight vehicles in orbit.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin visits the XCOR hangar and fires the 3N22 thruster
The 3N22 has been fired hundreds of times. Its spark torch igniter, along with all of its predecessors has been tested tens of thousands of times.
Because XCOR uses nontoxic propellants, the thruster can be readily tested inside the XCOR hangar and handled without the need for more traditional and costly pressurized hazmat suits (commonly called SCAPE suits, for “Self Contained Atmospheric Protective Ensemble”).
SCAPE technicians ready for action
Overall savings in recurring and non-recurring costs for XCOR in using the non-toxic 3N22 is estimated to be over several million dollars, and a similar amount on an annual basis. Savings are derived from avoiding the following: costs associated with SCAPE suits, handling of toxic chemicals like hydrazine or nitrogen tetroxide, and the difference in cost savings between the fuel XCOR uses and hydrazine. These savings are passed on to our clients in the form of lower prices and safer flights.
As with the main propulsion systems discussed last week, the reaction control thrusters use liquid propellants. The 3N22 uses a combination of gaseous oxygen and our own proprietary fuel blend and can be considered “gas and go.” The thrusters require no touch labor between flights except for refueling from propellant storage tanks.
There are a total of twelve (12) 3N22 thrusters on the Lynx vehicle. They are mounted in six different locations, and are implemented with dual redundancy. Each thruster in a cluster of two runs off of separate feed systems to ensure operability even if we experience an anomalous condition with a thruster or feed system. The thrusters are located on the top side of the Lynx on the nose and the engine cowling (for nose up/down pitch control), on the two sides of the nose of the Lynx (for left/right yaw control) and on the two wing strakes (for roll control). You can see their position in the Lynx image (pairs of small black dots) and diagram (wherever RCS is mentioned) shown below.
Tomorrow we’ll hang out in the XCOR rocket engine test bunker.
Engineer Mike Valant drives an XCOR wind test truck back and forth on the taxiways of the Mojave Air and Space Port during a test series.
In 2009 XCOR built a highly precise sub-sonic wind tunnel test model of the Lynx. For some preliminary data before actual wind tunnel visits, we ran tests using our ‘DIY truck tunnel’ as shown above. The truck and its fixtures include precisely instrumented appendages, structures and bit of computing and data recording capability. We also used the truck tunnel after the sub-sonic wind tunnel tests to experiment with some additional design features before returning to the real tunnel a second time.
By the way, this is not the first time that this particular technique has been applied in Mojave and “other places” in the Antelope Valley for aerodynamic development. We wish we could say we invented this technique but we did not. It has been used for many years by both neighbors in Mojave and neighbors to the west and south of us.
Stay tuned tomorrow as we answer your questions and update you on where you can find us on the road!