Business Model

As I am winding down operations for 2015 I decided to run some numbers.

Keep in mind that this time last year I was running the numbers for this first operating season which started in starting April.

I took all of my monthly expenses, hourly operational costs, and annual depreciation into consideration. I was trying to figure out what I needed to charge per hour in order to make it worth doing. In order to do that, I had to come up with a reasonable expectation of how many hours I planned to operate in 2015.

I am not sure all the in’s and out’s of how I arrived at 56 hours, but it had something to do with maybe a 2 hour engagement every other weekend expecting that sometimes I would do more than one in a day or longer engagements on occasion. It seemed like a conservative number but I was hoping to not overbook since I wasn’t sure how the simulator would hold up or how much energy I would have left.

So after all is said and done, with the last booking on the schedule for next week before Thanksgiving, we came to 57 hours operated this season. I thought that was remarkable how close my initial estimate was.

Overall the private engagement (Groupon, LivingSocial) was kind of disappointing, but we had a couple all-day runs that were successful (Maker Faire, KC Air Expo) and a few half day engagements around town for summer camps and the like.

It should be noted that no one paid the full retail price, so overall we are reporting a loss for 2015. Not sure what the plan is for 2016 but I think we have a solid baseline if we are giving it another go!


ClimateRight, Really?

Okay, the company’s recommendation based on cubic feet is absurd… you have to also take into account the number of occupants (600 BTU per person) and about 3.4 BTU per watt of electrical equipment in service inside the enclosure.

So we pretty quickly upgraded from the CR-2550 unit to the CR-5000ACH (being the largest that they have) late summer last year. They gave us a goodwill discount towards the new purchase but there was no trade-up or trade-in program so we resold the CR-2550 (which surprisingly retained its value pretty well).

As we got into autumn months where the evening temperatures were below 60 and the daytime temperatures were above 70 we noticed that the AUTO mode behavior was significantly different from the CR-2550 unit. The AUTO mode on the CR-5000ACH is essentially worthless.

Our first summer show (June 28 and 29) where we were taking rides all day we noticed that the avionics bay temperature crept up from 72 to 100 over the course of the day both days. The front seat in the cabin was comfortable but the back seat was starting to get toasty. Standing in back was miserable. It was clear that we needed another unit.

An additional CR-5000ACH (or so we thought) was ordered last week. However, when it arrived the unit was bigger and substantially heavier (20%) than the old unit. Amazing to me is that the model numbers are absolutely identical.  None of the bolt holes or the drain line up.


CR-5000ACH (2014?)


CR-5000ACH (2015?)

I will say so far I like some of the changes made to the “2015” CR-5000ACH unit. But why does the heat mode draw so much more power with no increase in BTU (almost 20% more amperage)? We will certainly be examining if the AUTO mode was corrected in this new model (contrary to statements made by their customer service and the manual). However, there was some damage discovered on arrival which I have already reached out to the company about.


Decomposing Carbon Dioxide

This article from earlier this week revealed something that I had no clue was possible – that the abundance of CO2 in the Cytherean atmosphere could actually be used as an oxidizer!

Combustion is the process of chain-reaction oxidation. Most combustion (for example, with organic materials) takes oxygen from the air and uses it to oxidize carbon atoms, producing CO2 (and H2O in organic compounds). However, with the correct substrate, it is possible to “burn” carbon dioxide by using it as the source of oxygen for oxidation (this reduces the carbon, and black carbon residue is a product of the combustion) through a process called decomposition.


This is frequently done in chemistry demonstrations where magnesium is ignited and surrounded with dry ice (solid state CO2). This produces Magnesium Oxide (MgO) and carbon (C). MgO has slightly less free energy than CO2, making the reaction exothermic (and hence combustion possible), but it has a very high activation energy, mostly involved in the dissociation of CO2. Burning magnesium is quite hot and provides the necessary activation energy and will “burn” the CO2 if there is no O2 available (this is done by piling the dry ice on top of the burning magnesium, or a similar method).

So now the question becomes which fuel to use? Magnesium isn’t the only fuel that will decompose CO2 (and liquids are simpler to use for propulsion than powders):

  • B2H6 Diborane cryo liquid at -165C
  • B5H9 Pentaborane liquid at room temperature -46C to 60C
  • SiH4 Silane or Silicon Hydride cryo liquid at -113C
  • LiBH4 Lithium Borohydride solid at room temperature melts at 268C, ignite at 180C!
  • Al(BH4)3 Aluminium Borohydride liquid at room temperature -64C to 44C
  • H2 Hydrogen cryo liquid hydrogen -253C WTF that sounds expensive
  • Mg Magnesium solid melts at 650C, auto-ignition at 473C?! WTF that won’t work
  • NH3 Ammonia cryo liquid at -34C
  • N2H4 Hydrazine  liquid at room temperature 2C to 114C
  • C2H2 Acetylene cryo liquid at -84C (not included in original research but found from a second source)

Chemicals that are higher density are more efficient to store, but need to result in a high specific impulse with  CO2 as the oxidizer. Not sure where to get those numbers as well as mixing ratio. Are any of these hypergolic? Or do we definitely need an ignition source now?



An environmental CAS message that I see all too often – this past weekend operating at the Maker Faire the avionics bay got up to almost 100°F and we actually had a part fail (possibly due to the temperature). The pilot seat stayed cool since the air was blowing directly on them but the gunner’s station was getting a little uncomfortable.

Last week I added a circulating fan for the avionics bay. Over lunch today I ordered a second AC unit. I am also working on upgrading the flexible ducts to an insulated, lighter colored solution like the image below.



Anatomy of Failure

So the title sounds a little foreboding – but we actually had a very successful run at the Maker Faire this past weekend! Over 50 people got to ride in the Dropship during the two-day event.

We had a situation where paying customers (one of who was autistic) were trapped for a couple minutes in the simulator, in the dark, with no AC, and no way to communicate, and no way to open the door. They handled the situation fine and gladly accepted a full refund but troubleshooting and responding to a potential emergency at the end of a long weekend is not something I ever want to deal with again.

Sequence of events:

  • 2015-06-27 18:24:24.732 – Simulator secured for the night, GNC on generator power
  • 2015-06-27 20:07:54.035 – Generator was manually switched off (unknown, unauthorized individual).  Event (“shore”) power was unavailable so GNC switched to internal battery
  • 2015-06-27 21:35:11.666 – Last entry before GNC was forced to shut down due to battery depletion (90 minutes later, as designed)
  • 2015-06-28 09:58:56.476 – GNC was force-ably* brought back online, internal battery now trickle-charging due to GNC operating load
  • 2015-06-28 17:16:28.796 – Last ride of the day started almost 20 minutes past the published operating hours
  • 2015-06-28 17:19:10.630 – Shore power was shut off, GNC switched to internal battery with only 4 minutes run-time estimated
  • 2015-06-28 17:19:28.063 – Last entry before GNC was forced to shut down due to battery depletion


  • Advise Maker Faire of the security incident at 2015-06-27 20:07:54.035 (complete)
  • Install some kind of shield or screen on the front of the generator to prevent unauthorized access (PENDING)
  • *Do not override the UPS “minimum charge” to restart (when I arrived ~9:15 AM there was very little condensation on the ground from the AC indicating that the power hadn’t been on for very long… I became impatient for GNC to boot so I actually forced the UPS to come back online). There was a discussion that a delayed start to the day was a possibility and actually wouldn’t have impacted our revenue since the event was slow to start on Sunday. The EEPROM setting for this is 15% battery charge by default.
  • Indicate the low remaining run-time in amber (15 minutes) and red (5 minutes) on the electrical synoptic page (complete)
  • Environmental CAS message regarding low remaining run-time (less than 15 minutes since the current scenario is never more than 10 minutes) (complete)
  • With 5 minutes or less run-time remaining and on battery backup we should initiate the shutdown (complete)
  • Advise Maker Faire that they disconnected power with paying customers still in the box (previous day they came around and made sure that it wouldn’t be a problem) (complete)
  • Do not operate the attraction after the published hours OR switch to generator power before operating outside of published hours