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Businesses Hardware Hacking Space Build

A Space Junkyard 94

Today's Los Angeles Times has an article about a North Hollywood junkyard that stocks a huge quantity of used aerospace parts, from valves to rocket engines. Norton Sales Inc. got started in the early 1960s. The junkyard had fallen on hard times, with the collapse of the Los Angeles-area aerospace economy in the 1980s, but it's making something of a comeback now with NASA's new plans for moon and Mars missions. The customers used to be rich Hollywood types; nowadays they are as likely to be private space entrepreneurs. "It's dangerous coming to a place like this," said Dave Masten of Masten Space. "It's like shopping on an empty stomach."
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A Space Junkyard

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  • by Dasupalouie ( 1038538 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @02:44PM (#18480321)
    How much ISK would I need and how many jumps do I have to take to travel to this junkyard?
    • Well, it'd probably take at least 40 Million and maybe twenty, thirzzzzZZZZZZzz
    • article punchline (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @05:05PM (#18481241) Journal
      You got to love this bit

      Although Guzman said his business is doing well with the new commercial space boom, there are still challenges, especially since 9/11.Tougher export rules prevent him from selling much of his stock overseas. It's no longer easy to obtain old rocket parts, either. "This stuff is tough to get nowadays," he said.

      Even before the attacks on the twin towers in New York, Guzman said he had to be wary. He recalled getting a visit from the FBI after one of Norton's customers put a Peacekeeper missile motor up for sale on EBay.

      Where, the agents asked, did you get that particular piece of equipment?

      "We bought it from the government," came the reply.
      • Unlike taking away the country's right to freedom from unwarranted search and seizure, keeping North Korea and Iran and Iraq from learning how to build a missile is simply a no brainer: they don't know how to build missiles capable of hauling a nuke halfway across the world, but they sure might if they got a hold of these rocket parts.

        Even normal jet engines and gas turbines at GE can't be exported (source: friend who works at GE that I just asked online) for national security reasons: both the direct "don'
        • Unlike taking away the country's right to freedom from unwarranted search and seizure, keeping North Korea and Iran and Iraq from learning how to build a missile is simply a no brainer: they don't know how to build missiles capable of hauling a nuke halfway across the world,

          OK, that's probably not correct. "Knowing how" and "being able" are two different things, and the knowledge is already easily available.

          but they sure might if they got a hold of these rocket parts.

          Nope. I was pretty deeply involved

    • Man, it's in LA. That's 0.0 sec space!

      Chris Mattern
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      I just know that you have to cross 42 roads.
  • by cy_a253 ( 713262 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @02:49PM (#18480349)
    Watto: How are you going to pay for all this?
    Qui-Gon Jinn: I have twenty thousand Republic dataries.
    Watto: Republic credits? Republic credits are no good out here. I need something more real.
    Qui-Gon Jinn: I don't have anything else
    [waves hand]
    Qui-Gon Jinn: but credits will do fine.
    Watto: No, they won't-a.
    [Qui-Gon waves his hand more firmly]
    Qui-Gon Jinn: Credits will do fine.
    Watto: No, they won't-a. What? You think you're some kind of Jedi, waving your hand around like that? I'm a Toydarian, mind tricks don't work on me. Only money. No money, no parts, no deal!
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Just when I was starting to think the dialog in that movie couldn't have been as bad as I thought you come along and remind me it was.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CRCulver ( 715279 )

      I'm a Toydarian, mind tricks don't work on me.

      First draft of the script probably read, "I'm a lame and creepy stereotype of a dirty foreigner like other alien races in this film, in my case an Italian, mind tricks don't work on me."

      • I thought he was supposed to be like that stereo-typical middle-eastern electronics store owner? I guess I'm just going by the nose.
    • Stupid f**king movie!!!

      Lucas should be shot, hung, drawn and quartered for messing with our favorite fantasy world like that.
      Why couldn't he leave it dirty, nasty, gritty and fun like Empire was?

      I'll give him a small thumbs up for making SW 3 actually work with the rest of the SW universe.

  • by NixieBunny ( 859050 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @02:59PM (#18480417) Homepage
    My current favorite surplus place in LA is Apex Electronics, which is the electronics version of Norton's. Same idea - so much stuff you can't wrap your head around it, and aisles that collapsed in the '94 earthquake and haven't yet been restored to a vertical condition.

    This place looks quite fun to visit. I'll have to check it out the next time I'm in the area.

    • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @03:17PM (#18480533) Journal
      Also, an hour out of town there's the junkyard associated with the Planes of Fame [planesoffame.org] aircraft museum. You walk around half-dismantled F-4's and F-14's and check out parts.

      The most LA part of the article, though, is "Some of its best customers have also been car customizers looking for cheap, spaceflight-grade hydraulic valves." LOW-RI-DER!

      • by mulu ( 811476 )
        But the junkyard you are talking about is NOT Planes of Fame itself,correct? Who and where and how do I get there?
        • by Otter ( 3800 )
          It's all the same place -- there's a continuous process of turning parts into display planes. If I lived out there, I'd love to volunteer on the restorations.

          If you're at all into planes (I'm hardly a huge buff and my wife couldn't care less, and we both loved it) it's definitely worth a stop the next tme you're out that way.

          • by mulu ( 811476 )
            The site doesn't look very "junky" or "scrappy". Almost like a themepark or something. I'm looking for BIG JUNK in LA or, upstate even! Santa Rosa! I have an interesting space that would accept large pieces, and old aircraft sections or such truly beckon! But,large could be anything. Any other clues to JUNK? Aircraft? Architectural maybe? thnx
    • Luky's Hardware [fotki.com]. This is another place for airplane and aerospace surplus stuff. Nurnies and greeblies galore. Everyone asks me where I got the aircraft aluminum mystery parts for my stunt lightsabres. They were obtained there.
    • My uncle owns a surplus business in LA. He would take advantage of cancelled DOD contracts and for penny's on the dollar by titanium and the like. Of course he is now a wealthy man.

    • APEX and C&H in Pasadena were my favorite places to hunt for robot parts in the 70s. Really miss it. Nothing comparable that I have seen in Singapore, where I now live.
      • Yeah there isn't really anything comparable here in Singapore.

        Not much military surplus / decommissioning going on.

        I'm assuming you've been to Sungei Road, and Kaichin Electronics on the 3rd Floor of Sim Lim Tower?
  • The junkyard had fallen on hard times, with the collapse of the Los Angeles-area aerospace economy in the 1980s, but it's making something of a comeback now with NASA's new plans for moon and Mars missions. Can't wait to take my first shuttle flight to Mars in that case.
  • Or is it just another Jettisoned Scrap and Salvage company? :)

    The seems almost like a story for the register, after all even they would love to see a vulture on the moon...
  • by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @03:06PM (#18480455) Homepage
    Is this the place where all of the Farmer's go to buy their parts?
  • Yeah right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 25, 2007 @03:07PM (#18480463)
    The guy buys the crap for a penny on the dollar and then asks for insane prices. The rocket engines are only worth scrap or as a museum piece as they have not been stored correctly to ensure they have not deteriorated or corroded.

    fallen on hard times means he has to start charging sane prices instead of his government prices.

    The apollo 1 command module engine he is trying to scam $1.5 mill out of is only worth 15 grand in scrap metal and is actually only worth that as it is not safe to use in it's current condition let alone relied upon for the safety of a crew or 22 million dollar sattelite.

    Junkyard owners always think their turds are gold plated rare. in fact there is a good reason why he was able to buy that crap for the few dollars here and there. It's not worth anything.
    • by Mercedes308 ( 832423 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @04:19PM (#18480899)
      I go to junkyards a fair bit to get bits and pieces and what you said is so bloody true. No matter how much they gloss that turd it is, at the end of the day, just a shiny piece of shit. Also when talking down a part I often say "It's not a bloody space shuttle part, it's just a [insert name here]" That could actually catch me out at Norton Sales and end up looking the complete Muppet.
    • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by The Breeze ( 140484 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @05:25PM (#18481391) Homepage
      All junkyards are like this. They charge prices higher than what they buy it for because it costs money to store that stuff, costs money to dismantle it, costs money to keep the lights on, costs money to insure it. They have a facility where stuff is stored for years gathering dust, bringing in no revenue. They most likely sell 1% of what they have. That 1% has to cover the cost of staying in business and putting food on the table.

      And, an Apollo engine is not worth $15 grand in scrap metal. It is worth whatever you would save on R & D if you were working on a similar project and needed to reverse engineer the thing. Even on a smaller scale, if you have an old rocket engine, and you're building another one, and spending $10000 on an old piece of junk to study leads you to ask, "hey, why is that like that, I should research it some more" and you discover something that prevents your shiny new engine from blowing itself up you're ahead of the game.

      Without junkyards and their "outrageous" markups, new parts would be much, much more.
    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      That engine is just an attraction. They make more off the tourists who gawk at the engine than they would if they sold it at market prices. They put a ridiculous price tag on it so it won't sell unless someone really eager comes by.

      Second, as another poster noted, these guys sit on some things for decades. Remember you're not pricing something to move out the door in the next week, but sometime in the next ten years. You can afford to price it high.
    • One mans junk is another man's treasure.

      Besides, that company was storing the stuff since the 1960s. It's no wonder they want to be compensated.
  • If Dave Masten of Masten Space is buying his parts at a junk yard, perhaps I'll avoid flying on his spacecraft...
    • Re:Danger (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @03:30PM (#18480597)
      On the other hand, a lot of those parts were probably built to specs that no commercial entity could afford. You might be better off with used mil-spec and NASA parts.
    • The materials we buy from Norton are used in test systems, not the final flight vehicles. The ones you see Jon climbing on are used on what we call XA 0.1 which is our first test platform that should be flying in a few weeks. The final commercial flight vehicles will have custom built tanks.
  • film industry (Score:5, Interesting)

    by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @03:30PM (#18480601)
    Norton has always been popular with the film industry. I think back in it's heyday a good share of the profits came from selling to film companies. Unfortunately they got a double hit because as the Aerospace industry cranked down the film industry got nailed with runaway production so most of that went out of country. C&H was another good surplus company. There used to be half a dozen good ones in the LA area but I know several have gone under. I haven't lived in LA for five years so I don't know who is still in business. People underestimate the film industry. I know of several dental houses and medical supply places that sold more product to the film industry than their regular doctors and dentists. I remember one company stopped selling to us becuase we were cleaning them out all the time and they weren't able to supply the hospitals.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fred_A ( 10934 )

      the film industry got nailed with runaway production so most of that went out of country.
      Not to mention that 3D rendering cycle prices went wayyy down. Much cheaper than building lifesize realistic looking stuff in lots of cases.
      • Re:film industry (Score:4, Informative)

        by Hans Lehmann ( 571625 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @05:40PM (#18481479)
        Not to mention that 3D rendering cycle prices went wayyy down. Much cheaper than building lifesize realistic looking stuff in lots of cases.

        From the film industry's standpoint, Norton Sales provides props and set decoration, not entire backdrops. Renting a three foot tall rocket engine for a few hundred dollars to place behind the actors will be cheaper than setting up a green-screen shot for quite some time. Heck, it's probably cheaper to rent the real thing than it is to build a realistic facsimile out of Styrofoam and vacuum-form plastic. If Norton Sales goes under any time soon, it won't be because of cheap CPU cycles.

  • Wow.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Nemus ( 639101 ) <astarchman@hotmail.com> on Sunday March 25, 2007 @03:40PM (#18480659) Journal
    I'm just surprised that some of this stuff is legal. I mean, I have no problem with the idea of a Saturn rocket engine being sold, or any of this other stuff, per se. But, one would figure that the same people who brought us bans on 20 oz. cokes and gel shoe inserts on planes would have freaked the @#%! out if they found out you could get workable rocket parts at some dive in California. I seem to recall a few years ago N. Korea trying very, very hard to figure out how to make their own version of the Saturn V work, and failing horribly. I guess they just didn't know how to shop around right =/

    I imagine this is just one of those quirky things that has managed to escape the notice of the hyper paranoid Homeland Security people. One would think though that since many of the parts NASA used that wound up in this junkyard are considered 'military grade' that this place would have wound up on some kind of list. Oh well. Someone pick me up a friggin' space laser while they're over there, please.

    • See the article where it mentions his inability to do overseas sales. Most of the interesting stuff is export controlled and falls under ITAR. I would imagine his yard is only open to US citizens and permanent residents. It's perfectly legal for him to own and sell. It's also legal for a US citizen or permanent resident to possess. What is not legal would be to transfer possession to a foreign citizen. Actually, depending on the type of gizmo you're talking about, technically it isn't legal to let a foreig
    • A rocket engine is just a glorified tube. Without the explosives that go inside, it's not going to hurt anybody. It's those explosives that are tightly controlled.
      • Incorrect. Everything from sensors, to valves to fuel tanks to engine parts are considered "dual use" items and fall under export control. The problem with rocket stuff is that it's really just missile stuff sans warhead. See "International Traffic in Arms Regulations" and "Missile Technology Control Regime" for more information.
        • by jonwil ( 467024 )
          Remember, the Mercury and Gemini capsules were launched on top of the same rockets that were sitting in silos carrying nuclear warheads.
        • It may be export controlled, but it's not nearly as tightly controlled as the actual explosives necessary to do something "fun" with it, which was my point.
    • by Secrity ( 742221 )
      The crap that would be in that junk yard would be way out of date and likely to have been poorly stored. Good enough for movies, and some of the parts may still be usable for their intended purpose, but they would be no more of a security or military threat than the stuff you can buy new at Grainger's and Fry's.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by linoleumcp ( 575039 )
        You can't buy a turbopump from a J-2 at Fry's. While you wouldn't want to use them, parts like that are very...instructional. I seem to recall SpaceX scoring a gimbal mechanism out of there that was an interesting reference piece.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Perhaps because there is NOBODY really trying to do the scary things your big brother is telling stories about. Its in your imagination only. Nobody is sneaking chemicals onto planes using coke bottles, it has simply never happened. Its just that since there really is nobody trying to hijack and blow up planes anymore, that the TSA needs to keep you thinking it is protecting you, so they come up with ridiculous new fears for our short attention spans.

      You know who "they" are? Your paranoid delusional fantasi
  • Now we're going to have a bunch of astronaut farmers building rockets in their barns, now that they know where to get parts .. thanks Hollywood.
    • by dintech ( 998802 )
      Of course the parts came from Holywood in the first place. Its like the circle of life. You don't really believe NASA did all that moonlanding stuff now do you? :)
  • footage? (The subject length limit seemed appropriate!)

    If the junkyard has junk from NASA facilities, wouldn't it be possible that the missing high-quality Apollo recordings could be there, stored in some seemingly insignificant crates? Judging from the images, stuff does not seem to be stored very orderly, nor do I get the impression that any inventory lists would be very precise. Probably far-fetched, but perhaps it could be worth a look.

    • Is there some place where Subject is mislabeled "Beginning of body"? Because I really don't get why you people do that stupid crap.
    • What, you think someone might have accidentally stored a batch of video tapes or film reels inside an old rocket expansion chamber? None of those records were ever anywhere near any of NASA's mechanical operations. NASA isn't just a little office all in one warehouse where they build rockets, review data, and plan missions at the same workbench in the corner.

      No, you need to be looking for a place that sells NASA surplus office furniture if you're looking for old mislaid records.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @04:21PM (#18480931) Homepage

    Here in Silicon Valley, surplus is not what it used to be. The military stuff is gone. No more satellite parts. No beautiful little electromechanical units. It's mostly failed computer brands. Lots of older Sun and SGI gear. Older rackmount networking gear too bulky to use any more. Endless piles of old PC motherboards. Unsuccessful consumer products.

    Several of the surplus stores have gone out of business. Anything good goes on eBay now. What remains is scrap.

  • Heh.

    I've been playing around with the idea of fitting a light rocket engine to my mountainbike. Not enough to reach takeoff velocity, but a steady 30 kph would be nice.
    Anyone have any experience in this?

    • by CBob ( 722532 )
      Chk out Lockwood-Hiller or X-Jet as search phrases...And warn the neighbors if you do try it.
    • A quick calculation of the forces required to accelerate your mountain bike, presumably with you on it, to 30kph will probably put something of a damper on your plans. It will be difficult for you as a regular consumer without specialized knowledge to find for sale or build yourself any rocket motor with more than about 20 Newtons (and probably much less than that) of impulse sustained over about say 5 seconds. Recall that 1 Newton is the amount of force required to accelerate 1 kg of mass at 1 meter per se
    • I suggest you consult a Mr Wile E. Coyote, who has experience in these matters.

    • 30 kph is easy to maintain on a road bike. If you're in shape to do it, the hard thing is fitting in pants. Fucking vanity sizing.
  • JATO (Score:4, Funny)

    by Greg Lindahl ( 37568 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @04:50PM (#18481145) Homepage
    I wonder if they have any JATO rockets?
    • by schwit1 ( 797399 )
      JATO rocket? It's right next to the 3 legged bipod.
    • Heh, I doubt it. The Mythbusters guys were looking for JATO's for one of their first myths, and found that no one in California had them. They had the use model rocket engines instead.
    • It also would be nice if they had an extra bone-white 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertible with the red interior on some jack stands in the back...and oh! don't forgot the old railroad wheels too! yeah...I wonder if they Myth Busters shop at this place?
  • by catdevnull ( 531283 ) on Sunday March 25, 2007 @05:57PM (#18481595)
    I betchya Joel could build a bad-ass robot out of all that!

    Tom Servo 2.0! :D
  • With the exception of Weird Stuff in Sunnyvale or Santa Clara, I havn't found any good surplus stores. Action Computers on Lawrence is okay if you need a cheap desktop for one of the kids, but Weird Stuff is the only place I enjoy shopping. So where ARE the good surplus stores in the valley? And with the Mythbusters so close by... where is that junkyard they went to on the show?
    • Close to extinction :-( Halted Specialties (now called HSC Electronics and located on Ryder, Lawrence/Central) is still in business but a shadow of what it was in the good old days. There's a surplus materials place on E Bayshore at Whipple in RWC but I don't recall the name. I too would like to know where that mythbusters place is, I think it may be Oakland somewhere.
  • Oh that looks like it'd be a very fun place to visit. I've been to a number of military surplus auctions and always came away with some cool electronics gear, including a RADAR unit that was functional and a microwave comms system that was also functional.

    But that place takes the cake. I have to say I'm thrilled by all the private attempts to launch stuff. I hope they get into orbit sooner than later.
  • In fact, I spent an entire day there on a short film shoot including back in their warehouse and calling it a junkyard is not very fair to a place so amazingly well-organized. There aren't many other places in the world where you will see orderly shelved nose cones of various sizes.
  • This is where the Titan V/Phoenix rocket will come from.
  • Does the owner look like Andy Griffith [imdb.com], perchance?
  • Places like that are a boon to stranded hitchhikers who need cheap replacement parts while trying to see the Universe for less than 30 Altairian dollars a day.
  • by d_p ( 63654 )
    I thought the headline was referring to low earth orbit. DNRTFA.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead