2008/08/02

AirVenture 2008: Jetpack, Google Lunar X Prize, Lynx,

Today was the last big day of EAA's AirVenture 2008, but there were still a wide range of interesting presentations and great people to listen to, meet and talk with.

But first, a summary of the cool people I met and interesting things I saw yesterday (Friday, 01 August). At 10 AM I listened to Glenn Martin, the developer of the Martin Jetpack, explain how the jetpack was designed and built over the past 27 years. He talked about interesting aspects of the jetpack's development, such as working with a reliability expert from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to design and manufacture the engine to power the unit because they couldn't find an off-the-shelf one which met their needs. For the early test runs of the jetpack, he would load it in the back of his vehicle, drive to a friend's isolated paddock, get it all set to start up, set up the video camera to record the test, then quickly run back and strap into the jetpack and start it up. He had a first aid kit in the vehicle, hoping that if he crashed he'd be able to crawl over to where the first aid kit was.

Glenn came up with some pretty cool innovations to make the jetpack work. The paired fanjets are designed to discharge the jets of air straight down without causing rotation of the jetpack. The central structural beam of the pack is carbon fiber and has a complex 22 piece mold. The central shock absorbing post is like a big pogo stick. The list of interesting features goes on and on...

After Glenn's presentation, several people talked with him, asking questions, giving marketing suggestions and offering to help him. I talked with him about potential investors in his company, and he suggested I ride back to the Martin display tent with him to meet Jenny Morel, chairman of Martin Aircraft Company. Jenny and I talked for a bit, and I gave her a list of some USA investors she might consider contacting. The New Zealand Martin team were all passionate about the jetpack and excited about all the media coverage, including the NY Times. They're looking forward to the next year of development and sales of the first ten jetpacks...after they recover from the long hours of work preparing for and participating in AirVenture.

On Saturday, I arrived at AirVenture a bit later than planned but managed to catch most of the
Google Lunar X PRIZE Competition talk. Representatives from two of the teams registered to compete, LunaTrex and Team FREDNET, spoke after Will Pomerantz from the X PRIZE Foundation gave an overview of the GLXP (Google Lunar X PRIZE). Margaret Ratcliff from the LunaTrex team talked about the background of their team, including members from Purdue University in the Midwest USA. The LunaTrex team includes only USA citizen to avoid the complicated issues related to USA technology going outside the countries borders. Team FREDNET was represented by Rich Core, and he explained that FREDNET is an international team which is 100% open source, both software and hardware. The international aspect of FREDNET has been a source of ongoing challenges for the team. They're trying to figure out how to work within the legal constraints as well as develop a collaborative and effective virtual team.

After the GLXP presentation, the Will, Margaret, Rich and a couple other people stayed around to discuss the prize competition. I suggested to Rich that he connect with the National Science Foundation's Office of CyberInfrastructure and some of the people who participated in the January 2008 workshop on "Building Effective Virtual Organizations" to get suggestions on good ways to work with an international team of scientists and engineers. Additionally I mentioned that Rich should consider connecting with some of the large open source hardware projects such as the German open source car, the OScar, or the Dutch open source car, the c,mm,n. We also talked a bit about barcamps, unconferences and FOOcamp. One of my goals is to get at least one representative from a GLXP team or from the X PRIZE Foundation to participate in BarCampMilwaukee during the weekend of 3 - 5 October 2008. A barcamp session GLXP would likely generate some interesting discussion amongst a crowd of enthusiastic geeks! I plan to keep in touch with Will and the others I talked with about GLXP and see how the Wisconsin tech community can get involved with that competition and other civilian aerospace ventures or adventures...

After the GLXP talk, I went to the Lynx Suborbital Vehicle presentation by Jeff Gleason, president of XCOR Aerospace. The Lynx is a rocket-powered horizontal take-off spaceship. Jeff showed videos of rockets developed by XCOR and explained the design of the Lynx. He explained that XCOR is a very entrepreneurial team. They do all the calculations and design reviews they need to, but the small size of the team means they can move quickly when they decide they want to try out new ideas. Jeff told us he has to wear flame retardant clothes with non-melting fibers every day at work because he never knows when he might have to pilot a test vehicle on short notice. What a job!

Jeff said he'd be happy to consider having an XCOR representative participate in an event in Wisconsin, but he also said the one thing space development has no shortage of, and that is conferences. If he wanted to and had the time and money, he said he could go to a different 'space' conference every week. What the private space sector needs is government regulations which encourage and enable space development, more private investor money, and more skilled, passionate engineers and scientists interested in working at the companies leading the way into private space development.

After spending quite a few hours at AirVenture 2008 on four days, my mind is spinning with ways to be involved with some of the great ideas and ventures I was exposed to in the displays and presentations. I've got lots of emails to write and follow-up work to do. And that's on top of all the activities and projects I was working on before AirVenture 2008 started...

There are certainly not enough hours in the day!

*****

There were

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