Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 29, 2011, Update

Here follows various updates regarding various projects I have been pursuing. The list is not fully comprehensive.

Mars Mission / Paper Presentation at Mars Society Meeting August 2011

That project is completed. I stand by my earlier statements that we could put men safely on Mars and return them safely, for under something like $50 billion. It would take a space agency that we do not currently have, and a contractor base that we do not currently have, to accomplish this. The real take-home lesson is that the agency and contractor base we have built and maintained all these decades is the wrong setup.

I did revamp the program back-up to solid-core nuclear “slowboat” from the original VASIMR-based fast-trip. The baseline is still gas-core nuclear fast-trip. As it turns out, VASIMR is just another electric ion drive, no better than the others in terms of performance potential. None of those is suitable for fast manned trips to Mars. I did add some better orbit trajectory estimates. See the 9-6-11 posting “Mars Mission Second Thoughts Illustrated” for those details. The original posting of paper content was 7-25-11 “Going to Mars (or Anywhere Else Nearby) the posting version”.

Ethanol Vehicle and Engine Work

That is now completed. I have decided that it is easier and more effective for most people just to use stiff gasohol blends E-20 to E-35, than it is to come up with shade-tree conversions for still-higher blend ratios. For some vehicles and engines, conversions are easy, for others, not so much.

This work is documented well enough in postings 5-5-11 “Ethanol Does Not Hurt Engines” and 2-12-11 “”How-To” for Ethanol and Blend Vehicles” for others to use the information. Anyone can learn to make E-30-something blends in any vehicle. For me, this has become routine operation of an F-150, a Nissan Sentra, two lawnmowers, a wood chipper, and a garden tiller on E-30-something blend, all completely factory stock. I still run my slightly-modified Farmall tractor on straight E-85, but have re-mothballed the modified 1973 “ethanol VW” and the unmodified 1960 “blend VW” against future needs.

My two-stroke chain saw and weed eater seem to run just fine on the E-10 blend they now sell as regular unleaded gasoline, with one exception. The weed eater is having age-related fuel line replacement troubles, but also seems to suffer from some poor design choices, as well, regarding how these lines connect to the fuel tank and the other components.

I have never run stiffer blends in either the weed eater or the chain saw. Is there is a materials incompatibility problem with the weed eater? I don’t know yet. Is there a “bad design” issue with loosening connections? Yes, of that I am sure. Is there an overheat problem that stiffens fuel line hose? I think so, and it’s another “bad design” issue unrelated to fuel composition.

Ramjet Engineering

In June of 2010 I paid a visit to Jeff Greason and his crew at XCOR Aerospace, Mojave, California. This was in regard to a future space launch project of theirs that involves ramjet propulsion. They had been unable to locate an all-around ramjet expert, until they ran across me by accident. I had not done such engineering since the old rocket plant in McGregor closed, at which time I was laid off: November 1994. It was not very long after that layoff, that most serious military ramjet work simply dried up in this country (although, not overseas).

As it turns out, of the few of us that I considered to be all-around experts with significant real design and test experience, most (or maybe all) the others are now dead. I seem to have outlived them all, thus becoming pretty much this country’s last living expert in that kind of propulsion.

Over the last year or so, I dug out some of my old ramjet stuff and got back into the “swing of it”, in order to be “back up to speed” when XCOR needs my help, perhaps next year. I began by looking at high-speed systems for orbital launch, which aligns with their project. This took the form of pencil-and-paper stuff in the odd evenings, and eventually evolved into a two-stage horizontal takeoff/landing aircraft, the lower stage being parallel-burn rocket and ramjet. We paralleled each other in this.

As best I can figure, the ramjet strap-on assist idea for vertical-launch rocket vehicles is more of a low-speed design system. That idea is less worked-out than the high-speed two-stage airplane, which does seem both feasible and attractive. But I do believe that my top-level conclusions are correct. I do not yet have the software tools necessary to do this kind of work for XCOR or anybody else, seeing as how no computer folks still support the old DOS-based programming languages that I learned long ago.

I have put a lot of “typical” ramjet performance estimates up on this “exrocketman” site, in articles too numerous to catalog here. More will be forthcoming, as I develop stuff into results one can truly trust. I have put some efforts into converting my old “smarts” and programs into modern Excel spreadsheet format. I now have a sizing spreadsheet that works for the old lower-speed “stovepipe” designs, plus a performance mapping option verified to work as the nozzle unchokes. It has become clear that the nested iteration-loop character of these calculations demands a real computer code, not a manually-converged spreadsheet, which is simply too slow and labor-intensive to be practical.

I already had a sizing code in an advanced BASIC language that works for high-speed designs. The corresponding performance-mapping code does not yet work. The corresponding codes for low-speed designs are nowhere-near in working order at all. There is available to me only a single obsolete computer with an old Windows-98 operating system, that will even run the programming language. This is a real practical problem yet to be solved.

More recently, I made contact with Aerojet, who is the current inheritor of the gas generator-fed ramjet work I did long ago at the old McGregor missile propulsion plant. It seems there might be a need for my skills once again. We’ll see. I have heard nothing positive back since that initial contact, though.

Meanwhile, I have been documenting my old procedures and methods in a series of reports that I keep in a “ramjet how-to” notebook. It’s not complete, but I do have a document regarding the high-speed engine cycle analysis, and one giving estimated spike inlet performance, plus another one documenting low-speed engine cycle analysis, with flameholding and heat protection “how-to” for both speed regimes. I think eventually this notebook will become a book on the “how-to” of ramjets.

One thing I do know: it is very easy to document science, but it is very, very hard to document art. Most of ramjet engineering is art, not science! And the science is hard enough, being way more complicated than rocketry.

Cactus Tool Stuff

I get more email inquiries now, but still very few sales. Many folks seem to be finding the cactus page on the “txideafarm” site. These seem to be generally younger folks. But, as it was with the old ranchers looking at magazine ads, few seem willing to believe it really works.

But, it does work! My place, and everything my friend Dave Gross has done, proves it.

I build and sell about 1 or 2 tools a year, these days. I sell about 2-4 plans sets per year. The rigors of fabricating pieceparts is taking an increasing toll on my aging body. Steel is now about 3 times as expensive as when I started doing this, 6 years ago. This all makes me wonder if I should not give up fabrication in favor of just selling plans. Maybe it is time to license construction to a bigger company.

Dear readers, please weigh in on this: should I continue selling tools, or just plans? There’s comment buttons available; use them.

Reno Air Race Crash

I posted an article 9-23-11 about the fatal crash of the Galloping Ghost at the recent Reno air race. That article says the elevator trim tab failed, most likely due to aeroelastic or other structural divergence effects at high speed.

Tab failure in the P-51 at race speeds, modified or not, leads to a sudden pitch-up condition. That leads quickly to pilot gee-induced unconsciousness, at best. The cure for spectator fatalities is not to position any spectators under expected flight paths.

I still see no reason to revise this posting until the NTSB has a chance to report its findings, perhaps sometime in 2012. And I doubt there will be any need to revise it then.

Energy Resources

I had published an article here 3-14-10 “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less?” that dealt with a purported vast US oil resource named “the Bakken”. That resource is really shale tar, and is not (and will never be) “drillable oil”. Since then, I have become aware of the fact that not all of that rock unit is shale. There is a substantially-more porous dolomite layer in the Williston basin that actually does contain a light crude recoverable with hydro-fracturing technology.

In an article dated 9-5-11 “Surprise, Surprise: Oil Boom in the Williston Basin (“the Bakken”)”, I took on the size and recoverability of that resource. It is significant, but no “game-changer”, as some would have you believe. I concluded that yes, we should go get this oil. But, no, it will not save us from foreign oil dependence. I still see no reason to change those conclusions.

The fundamental economic problem is that our western economy was designed to run on cheap energy, primary of which is transportation fuel. Energy today, particularly transportation fuel, is no longer cheap. Therefore, we have economic recession/depression (choose your word). Government policies (from either side) have nothing to do with boom or bust conditions. Only energy prices really matter. The proof of this thesis is in the data posted 2-4-11 “Oil Prices, Recessions, and the War”.

It is hard to argue with data, is it not?

My most important point is that the best way to win this “war on terror” is to not need middle eastern oil any more. It’s not so much about the economics, it’s about victory. What is so damned hard to understand about that concept?

Concluding Remarks

Enough rambling. Please weigh-in by means of the various comment buttons. It is the only way I know that anyone even sees this stuff at all.


  1. What do you hear from XCOR these days? Are they still pursuing ramjet development for their Lynx vehicle?

    What company did you work for at the old McGregor plant?

    Just curious if you've heard of DOSBOX? I've been successful in using it in my current job to run some old FORTRAN code for predicting composite layup strengths. It might work for running your old BASIC codes on a current windows operating system.

  2. Jacob:

    The last data I had from XCOR is that they're still interested in a 2-stage orbital spaceplane, and that ramjet in the 1st stage is a definite candidate. They keep in contact because in about a year or so, they need my help with that ramjet.

    I also heard that, assuming everything goes right, they are moving their R&D operation from Mojave to Midland, TX. Mojave remains as an operational Lynx site, but engine and airframe development engineering and test activities move to Midland.