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Space Science

The Rutan SpaceShipOne Revealed 404

Posted by michael
from the look-out-below dept.
smartalix writes "Burt Rutan's company, Scaled Composites, announced that they have been developing a commercial manned space program in secret for the past two years. The system consists of a carrier vehicle called the White Knight and a piggyback (actually underslung) orbital spaceplane called SpaceShipOne. My money is on this effort capturing the X Prize." Well, it's pretty, whatever it is. Space.com has a story with pictures for those of you who weren't quick enough to hit scaled.com before it melted.
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The Rutan SpaceShipOne Revealed

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  • In Secret? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ItWasThem (458689) on Friday April 18, 2003 @02:49PM (#5760997)
    What surprises me is that they went for 2 years developing this project "in secret"... why would they want to do that? It's neat to see that they've already done some rocket testing and all, but why announce now after two years when they don't even have a full scale version done? What did they get by waiting to announce?

    I could understand the secrecy if they wanted to develop the whole thing first to avoid the vaporware critiques, and then bam they come out with a ready-to-use orbiter, man that'd be sweet huh? But why announce in the middle of it? Need funding? Sick of keeping it quiet? Poor planning? Any ideas?
  • by MyNameIsFred (543994) on Friday April 18, 2003 @02:51PM (#5761014)
    The thing I like about Rutan designs is that they show some imagination. They don't look like everybody elses design. And this spacecraft design is no different. It reminds me of those futuristic designs in magazines of the 40s and 50s. Very off the wall.
  • Re:Flamebait... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by B3ryllium (571199) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:11PM (#5761172) Homepage
    Hey, we have the resources and the technology. But the only real reason to go in to space is to colonize, and there aren't enough Canadians for that. :)

    I mean, we have millions of square kilometers of uninhabited land (and some of it is even liveable!), we don't really need to colonize.
  • Back Into Hiding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tackhead (54550) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:14PM (#5761198)
    > "We are not seeking funding and are not selling anything. We are in the middle of an important research program - to see if manned space access can be done by other than the expensive government programs," Rutan explained.
    >
    >Rutan said that after today, plans call for his group to go "back into hiding," to complete the flight tests and conduct the space flights.

    I don't blame him. If I threatened doom for six billion dollars a year of NASA Shuttle Pork, I'd want to be in hiding, too! :)

    Burt - you rock. You rock in the way that NASA used to rock. You rock in the way most NASA engineers would love to be allowed to rock.

    No matter what NASA does to try and shut you down, please don't stop.

  • by silentbozo (542534) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:16PM (#5761216) Journal
    True, there's a retro-future feeling that combines the organic styling of the present with the rocket designs of the late 50's and 60's. Ironic that a basic design first proposed by private enterprise for the government (a manned booster/spaceplane competitor/forerunner of the US shuttle system), needed to wait for half a century before it could be built - not by government, but by private enterprise.

    Tom Swift would no doubt be proud of the resumption of US (and other world) efforts to open up space to everyman.
  • Text of main page (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MsWillow (17812) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:19PM (#5761237) Homepage Journal
    Mojave, California, April 18, 2003:
    Scaled Composites today unveiled the existence of a commercial manned space program. This previously hidden, active research program has been in the works at its facility for two years. This program includes an airborne launcher (the White Knight), a space ship (SpaceShipOne), rocket propulsion, avionics, simulator and ground support elements.
    Master of Ceremonies, Cliff Robertson, introduced Burt Rutan who explained the history and the components of the program. Other dignitaries who attended the event were Dr. Maxim Faget (pioneer configuratioin designer of the early NASA space program from the Mercury through the Apollo programs), Erik Lindbergh (grandson of Charles Lindbergh and President of the Lindbergh Foundation), and Dennis Tito (Soyuz space tourist).
    Further information about the space program and high-resolution photographs are available at the Scaled Composites website: www.scaled.com.
  • by payndz (589033) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:38PM (#5761348)
    Come on, /.ers! While we're waiting for Rutan's (yes, I instantly saw the Doctor Who connection too) server to stop trembling in fear, let's spend the time coming up with some more interesting names to pitch to him.

    I mean, 'SpaceShip One'? Guy, intercaps are *so* dotcom-era...

  • Re:Flamebait... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Konowl (223655) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:40PM (#5761362)
    Population is irrelavant. Look at how much of the world was once controlled by Great Britian and then look at their population during those times.
  • by Opiuman (172825) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <draebder>> on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:46PM (#5761396) Homepage
    The Firestar saga is about a billinaire industrialist who starts her own space program. However, her main motive is fear of killer astroids, not scientific curiosity.
  • by Analog Squirrel (547794) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:48PM (#5761417) Homepage
    I know that their design [xcor.com] is a long way off, but they have been spending lots of time on a their motor designs. They've even been testing them on a Rutan designed Long EZ [xcor.com](modified, of course). Does anyone know if XCOR is officially an X-prize [xprize.org] team? They're not on the list [xprize.org]...
  • Rutan history (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuntius (92696) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:49PM (#5761428)
    Burt Rutan designed an airplane for Beech Aircraft (now Raytheon) a few years back - the Starship.

    It too looked futuristic, like nothing else.
    It was a disaster. Overpriced, noisy, slow, fuel hog...
    Only like 60 were ever built, half of them never sold, and most of the rest were quickly returned. If you walk around the plant airport, you can find them hidden in clusters of 3 (so it doesn't look as bad as a boneyard of 50 ;).

    Burt made off with a small fortune before the failure became apparent.

    Rutan's brother was involved in several failed balloon-around-the-world attempts.

    Considering their past "successes", I expect this project to be "pretty" but totally unsuccessful. Good looks don't outweigh good physics.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 18, 2003 @04:01PM (#5761516)
    ... this [scaled.com] image appears to have been fiddled with. Look at the red engine exhaust nozzle. Clearly been image-manip'ed.
  • by FWMiller (9925) on Friday April 18, 2003 @04:07PM (#5761553) Homepage

    Note that Max Faget is involved in this endeavor. He is widely recognized as being responsible for the basic configuration of the Space Shuttle when he was with NASA. I met him once years ago when I was working on the Space Station. He was involved in the then termed Assured Crew Return Vehicle (ACRV), the lifeboat, I don't know what they are calling it now. You could really sense the frustration in him in the system and how he really wanted to have another oppurtunity to build something. Looks like he found another chance!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 18, 2003 @04:25PM (#5761687)
    repeat after me people: the x-prize is for SUB-orbital flights. rutan's system (e.g. the "spacecraft one") is not intended to go into orbit. just into space (to an altitude of 180 km) in a ballistic trajectory. no satellite recovery or repair. although the carrier vehicle (which btw does not leave the atmosphere) CAN launch microsatellites which do go into orbit.
  • Re:Back Into Hiding (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Syncdata (596941) <syncdata71NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday April 18, 2003 @04:36PM (#5761771) Journal
    Burt - you rock. You rock in the way that NASA used to rock. You rock in the way most NASA engineers would love to be allowed to rock.
    Classic. I'm sure there's a nasa engineer out there somewhere paraphrasing the words of Homer Simpson
    "I used to rock and roll all night, and party every day, then it was every other day, and now I'm lucky if I can find one night per week with which to get funky."
    The quote that thrilled me the most in the article though was that Mssr. Rutan and co. were not looking for additional funding. This organization seems to be as unlike NASA's current leadership as is possible.
  • Photos Doctored? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 18, 2003 @04:47PM (#5761854)
    Check out the pictures of Space Ship One. The rocket nozzle on all of the pictures look "funny".
  • by CDS (143158) on Friday April 18, 2003 @05:29PM (#5762117)
    In typical Rutan style (and the Rutans DEFINATELY have a style all their own) this bird doesn't look like it should even EXIST outside an Anime cartoon, much less FLY -- and only Burt Rutan could come up with a working prototype powered by LAUGHING GAS AND OLD TIRES!

    And in typical Rutan fashion, it'll probably work perfectly the first flight, and cost less than 1/10th what NASA could do it for :) By the way, Burt pronounces NASA as "Nay-Say". Kinda tells ya something...

    Interesting story:
    I attended a lecture Burt gave last year (at Oshkosh Airventure 2002) and he was talking about the Proteus. They were involved in an air quality experiment. There were several layers of airplanes in a vertical stack -- the Proteus was assigned the 65,000ft layer, and a NASA U2 was given the 68,000ft assignment. The U2 (which was only flying 3000ft above the Proteus) had a full maintenance crew of 40. The Proteus came with a crew of 2! Rutan stated that they spent most of their day on the ground, playing cards and waiting for the U2 crew to finish maintenance....
  • by TheHawke (237817) <rchapin@peli[ ]coast.net ['can' in gap]> on Friday April 18, 2003 @05:43PM (#5762199)
    You gotta consider that the U2/TR1 is a old bird and requires alot of TLC to get it up that high.

    As I recall when the U2 was on the boards, they had to practially reinvent the wheel just to keep it from bursting at their mission altitude.
    Rutan simply capitalized on the work that Lockheed's Skunk Works team did and took it a step higher and further, with fewer nuts to take care of the bird..

    Of course, you gotta remember, the U2 IS a government aircraft so there is some beraucracy behind it..

    If it was still Lockheed's bird they would have had 10 men, doing each others work and knowing dammed full well what was happening at each moment in the preflight process. Not to mention one or two of their engineers working alongside them.

    The U2 is a very specialized aircraft, with alot of components that you would not see on a regular bird these days.
  • Re:That's some fuel! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Friday April 18, 2003 @06:06PM (#5762351)
    Burning rubber to orbit, laughing all the way?

    Amusing, but on a more serious note, didn't anyone find the following just the least bit suspicious?

    "Benson said the company's motor design is thought to be the largest of its type in the world. It uses clean and inexpensive propellants, namely Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas) and HTPB (tire rubber)."

    Burning rubber is -incredibly- toxic. Note the pictures of the rocket firing? Lots of yellow flame(meaning low-temperature, incomplete combustion- watch the shuttle some time, you -can't- really see the flame out of the liquid fuel motors, it's so damn hot) and TONS of thick, thick black smoke?

    I tried googling around, and found out that HTPB stands for "hydroxy terminated polybutadiene"- it's commonly used as a binder in normal solid rocket motors, and...oddly enough, it seems Saddam liked HTPB too [tompaine.com]. Okay, so I'm getting the sense that Space.com grossly oversimplified HTPB as "tire rubber."

    The only thing I could find on the "how clean is it?" question was a page detailing various solid rocket fuels [astronautix.com]. Interesting to note that HTPB is NOT listed under the section titled "fuels that meet clean air requirements", but then again, the whole nitrous bit isn't mentioned either. I'm no rocket scientist :-), so maybe the nitrous oxide gets things goin' enough that everything burns cleanly; it is, afterall, a pretty sweet oxidizer.

    I'd personally like to know more about this, as I think the space shuttle needs to be put through some emissions testing. Lots of states require on-dyno testing; imagine dyno-testing that puppy. Maybe NASA can just slip the guy two twenties(it is the space shuttle after all, one twenty probably wouldn't be enough) and get the sticker...

  • Re:Fuel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gojira Shipi-Taro (465802) on Friday April 18, 2003 @08:49PM (#5763017) Homepage
    The impression that I got was that the Nitrous Oxide was used instead of pure O2 because it's stable and easy to store, and won't oxidize with the solid fuel until sufficient heat is present to start the reaction. The Nitrogen might also impart additional energy, but it really seemed to me from the documentation on the site that stability of storage was the important reason for the choice of that particular chemical for use in the hybrid motor.
  • by hubble29 (548626) on Friday April 18, 2003 @11:44PM (#5763667)
    Rutan has always been one of thos engineers who thinks outside of the box and has quite a few successes and here is another one. The current approach and basically unchanged since rocketry's infancy has been to avoid drag as much as possible in hopes of fuel economy and vehicle efficiency. Conventional wisdom has always said," go straight up and pass through the least amount of atmosphere and get to were you want to be as fast as possible and you will save the most fuel". The current wisdom has always treated drag as an enemy which it is but drag also has a sibling called lift. Now in a rocket going straight up, lift from an airfoil is to be avoided since the lift vector is in an axis perpendicular to the main direction of travel and all it will do is cause extra drag. Rutan's approach, way out of the box when it comes to rockets, is to use an effecient airfoil which will give minimal drag and maximum lift and travel to a high altitude with a minimum amount of fuel. By doing this he is: 1. Drastically reducing the fuel requirements just to get were the air is thin for the high speed portion of the launch. 2.Reducing the size of the launch vehicle system drastically just by not having to carry all that extra fuel. 3.Using smaller propulsion units because of decreased launch vehicle mass. These not only will weigh less but be cheaper to manufacture and be more durable. 4.By using smaller and more conventional propulsion units, he is also gaining a significant level of safety. A moderate sized jet or rocket engine is much easier to control technically. You can always just turn off the fuel and the fire goes out. One of the big safety issuse with the shuttle program has been the solid fuel booster engines. Once they are lit, there is no turning them off until they are consumed. Also because a rocket has no lift, there are limited options of launch abortal in the early moments of launch. Actually as the launch proceeds and gains altitude, the emergency procedure options increase dramatically with conventional launches. By using a quasi-conventional aircraft design, the complete launch vehicle will always have the ability to do an engine out glide return to earth up to vehicle seperation and actual high altitude launch sequence begins. Even this will be at a very great altitude giving many emergency options and this space vehicle is also a lifting body so it will be capable of gliding also. Rutan has had a huge influence on winged aviation for the military and civilian side. It appears that he is leaving his mark on the space program also. As a side note, Rutan and Nasa and the Air Force are on very friendly terms. It wouldn't surprise me if they have not been helping fund some of this research. I can't waqit to see this actually fly and reach orbit.

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