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STIG B-I Mission Report

STIG B-I Mission, Saturday October 6th 2012

Update by Neil Milburn, posted 02/22/2013

If you are having problems viewing photos in Internet Explorer, it appears to be resolved by updating to the IE10 Beta version. Firefox, Chrome and Safari all worked without issues.

This was our first licensed flight ever, all others has been under permit or a waiver of some description, even the three minute long Lunar Lander Challenge Level II flights. It had been a long time coming; our last mission was STIG A-II back on February 22nd, almost nine months ago. Building an entirely new vehicle from scratch in nine months would normally be considered stellar performance, but for us it was an eternity. This flight was significant on an industry front in that this was the first ever FAA/AST licensed commercial flight of a reusable launch vehicle!

We opted for a three day on the pad protocol being a virgin flight (sorry Sir Richard) and our first licensed flight. Given the distance from our home base in TX to Spaceport America, roughly 750-850 miles depending on southern or northern entrance, the crane truck with the GSE has to set off four days before launch day and the rocket trailer and crew van three days before. The commercially regulated crane truck can’t quite make the distance legally so Joseph usually camps up in glamorous Van Horn, TX. The rocket trailer and crew van can make it in one long day.

One other logistics problem that has now been resolved is getting through the NM port of entry just across the TX border. Some may remember our first eventful trip for the first X-Prize Cup when Joseph was held at the inspection point for trucking violations at this same port of entry. Peter Diamandis had to come to our rescue, and save the X-Prize Cup, by calling in assistance from Governor Bill Richardson who in turn had the Secretary of Transportation call a rather surprised state trooper who then escorted us to Las Cruces. It’s good to have friends in low places.

More recently I had been stopped for bypassing the port of entry with the pick-up drawn rocket trailer for a STIG A launch. Apparently ALL commercial (and rental!) vehicles that weigh more than a Smart Car have to stop and get a fuel sticker. This involves standing in line with the truckers for an indeterminate period of time to pay $12 for gas / diesel taxes that you might not pay if you don’t fill up in NM! That wasn’t the only problem though and my ticket cited another half dozen assorted offences … not having a CDL medical driver examination on file … even though it doesn’t require a CDL to drive the vehicle, and speaking with a funny English accent was another. This time we had our proverbial ducks in a row and other than a lengthy delay at the port of entry, we sailed through without issue.

We chose Las Cruces as our base of operations primarily for the better facilities (we need a hotel where I can park a 65-ft rig close by) and also to be close to the Spaceport America offices for the MRR. Thursday is our set-up day and we had a lot of new GSE to unload plus some modifications to the launch stool on the pad to accommodate the larger airframe of STIG B. We had also observed some “bounce back” of the launch stand arms on retraction and we had made some last-minute changes that we wanted to test out prior to flight. Preparations went so well that we actually had the vehicle on the launch stand for a dry run, including the pull-test to check the retraction mechanism, before the end of the day.

Read more: Armadillo Aerospace – News Archive — STIG B-I Mission Report.

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