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Space The Almighty Buck Science

SpaceShipOne 100 km Attempt Slated for June 21 345

Posted by timothy
from the good-luck-to-the-crew dept.
apsmith writes "Scaled Composites has just announced their first attempt at breaking 100 km, scheduled for June 21. This would make it the first commercial manned vehicle to officially enter space. This is not quite an Ansari X prize attempt since it will carry only one person without the extra mass corresponding to the 3-person prize requirement; they have to give at least 30 days' notice for that. Past flight history is available from their site; the Discovery Channel is producing a documentary on the whole project, 'Rutan's Race For Space.'" Roger_Explosion adds "If successful, the craft - named Space Ship One - will become the world's first commercial manned space vehicle. Space Ship One will temporarily leave the earth's atmosphere, and the pilot (yet to be announced) will experience about three minutes of weightlessness."
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SpaceShipOne 100 km Attempt Slated for June 21

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  • by crow (16139) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:04PM (#9316350) Homepage Journal
    It's important to remember that going into space and being weightless are separate things. Weightlessness is the effect of free fall; not some magic thing that happens once you reach space. You're only weightless in orbit because orbit, by definition, means that you're in a continuous free fall. Since this flight won't go into orbit (or anywhere close to far enough from Earth to ignore it's gravity), the weightlessness effect is simply a result of the flight trajectory including free-fall on re-entry.
  • by jlcooke (50413) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:07PM (#9316391) Homepage
    To be 100% correct - it's not weightlessness, it's micro-gravity.
  • Re:Webcast? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thag (8436) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:09PM (#9316419) Homepage
    I'd look to the major news networks for live video coverage, and Scaled Composites will certainly put pictures of the burn up on their website.

    http://www.scaled.com/ [scaled.com]

    Jon Acheson
  • ...and the Q&A (Score:4, Informative)

    by xSquaredAdmin (725927) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:11PM (#9316444)
    Q: What date and time will the launch take place?
    A: The launch is planned for June 21, 2004. We plan for very early in the morning. Currently we are planning to taxi out for takeoff at 6:30 a.m.

    Q: Why so early?
    A: Mojave is a windy place. It is less likely to be windy very early in the morning. That makes for better flying and launch conditions, and the low sun angle allows better spectator viewing of the high-altitude boost to space.

    Q: Is there any chance that the flight would launch later in the day or be delayed a day or more?
    A: Yes. As with any flight test activity, weather is a very important factor. High winds or very cloudy conditions could change our flight plans. In addition, flights can be delayed for technical reasons.

    Q: What can we expect to see?
    A: White Knight with SpaceShipOne slung underneath will taxi by right in front of the public viewing area. A few minutes later, you will see it take off. For a few minutes early in the flight, you can see them circling overhead as they climb. It takes the pair of mated vehicles roughly one hour to reach 47,000 feet a few miles to the northeast. That is where White Knight releases SpaceShipOne. They are generally easy to follow visually since the White Knight and its chase planes usually make contrails. SpaceShipOne glides for a few seconds, then the pilot lights the rocket and you'll be able to see flames and a rocket exhaust trail for about 80 seconds. There will be a public address system in the viewing areas which will carry the radio transmissions between Mission Control, the White Knight pilot and the SpaceShipOne pilot, so you'll know what is happening.

    SpaceShipOne's flight lasts roughly 25 minutes. It will rocket to space, spend about three minutes weightless outside the atmosphere, then enter the earth's atmosphere in a high-drag configuration. It will glide back toward Mojave, circle overhead, then land directly in front of the public viewing area on the same runway on which it took off about 1 hour and 25 minutes earlier. SpaceShipOne's rocket is very loud but it can only be faintly heard on the ground in the best of conditions. If its reentry direction is aimed away from the airport, two soft sonic booms will be heard. After landing, SpaceShipOne will be towed by a truck to the media area for a brief photo opportunity, then moved to the adjacent public viewing area, then towed back to Scaled's facility. Thus, the media and the public will get to take their own close-up photos. White Knight takes longer to return. It usually lands a few minutes after SpaceShipOne.

    Other aircraft which you may see during the flight include:

    Robert Scherer's Starship (a Burt Rutan design). This plane flies high-altitude chase and carries our company photographer. This is a twin-engine turboprop airplane painted white with a canard near the nose.
    An Extra that belongs to Chuck Coleman, one of Scaled's Design Engineers. This aircraft has been used to train our pilots/astronauts. It is a single engine aerobatic plane painted red and black. It flies very close chase toward the end of the flight to assist the SpaceShipOne pilot in landing.
    The Alpha-Jet, a military-looking fighter aircraft painted olive green. The person in the back seat of this aircraft will have a video camera and will photograph the launch from a better position than we have on the ground. Some of this video footage will be used in preparing a documentary for the Discovery Channel.
    Q: What services are available in Mojave?
    A: Mojave is a small town with limited resources. Mojave's motels are listed below:

    Bel Air Motel - 661-824-2350
    Best Western Desert Winds - 661-824-3601
    City Center Motel - 661-824-4268
    Economy Motel - 661-824-2347
    Econo Lodge - 661-824-2463
    Friendship Inn - 661-824-4523
    Mariah Country Inn and Suites - 661-824-4980
    Mojave Travel Inn - 661-824-2441
    Motel 6 - 661-824-4571
    Twenty Mule Motel - 661-824-2214
    White's Motel - 661-824-2421
    Mojave also has several service stations, se
  • by aardwolf204 (630780) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:13PM (#9316465)
    Sounds like the vomit comet. Your post interested me so I've been reading WikiPedia's article on weightlessness, Microgravity, the Vomit Comet and more. Check it out here [wikipedia.org]

    Weightlessness is not due to an increased distance to the earth: the acceleration due to gravity at a height of, for example, 100 km is only 3% less than at the surface of the earth.

    Weightlessness means a zero g-force: acceleration is equal to gravity.
  • RTFA (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:16PM (#9316500)
    This flight doesn't qualify for the X-Prize, because they are only carrying one pilot and no extra weight in place of the other two people.

    They will have to make 2 more flights later to win the X-Prize.
  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:19PM (#9316550)

    To be 100% correct, it is free-fall.

    Gravity at 100km is ~0.97g - hardly "microgravity"

  • Re:Chutes? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tyler Eaves (344284) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:25PM (#9316643)
    Well, actually it would depend on the exact altitude and speed. Up above 100,000ft, there is so little air that the actual windblast would be fairly low, no worse than a conventional skydive. Being supersonic would make things interesting of course, but there's no reason that I can see why it wouldn't work. The biggest problem I would see is getting the parachute to deploy cleanly. Should be okay at 150k ft or below (round numbers), as there is still enough atmosphere for aerodynamic devices to function.
  • by Goldenhawk (242867) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:48PM (#9316934) Homepage
    Since this flight won't go into orbit (or anywhere close to far enough from Earth to ignore it's gravity), the weightlessness effect is simply a result of the flight trajectory including free-fall on re-entry.

    Yep, this is more or less correct, but let's clarify one point. The only significant difference between this attempt (or any similar 100km up-then-down mission) and an orbit mission is how far you fall.

    You can go a thousand kilometers straight up, and fall straight back down, and never go into orbit. You never can "ignore" gravity - even out at the lunar orbit distance, at hundreds of thousands of kilometers, gravity is still a factor. Fact is, that's what keeps the moon nearby.

    An orbit is, essentially, simply falling in an arc that never intersects the ground (or atmosphere). You have to get a whole lot more energy into the vehicle so that the trajectory falls past the planet's "edge" - at which point you end up "falling" forever around the earth. (And yes, for you rocket science purists, you also have to expend some additional energy to reshape the path through which you fall, usually at the highest point of your trajectory, to make the orbit more circular - that's called an "orbit injection maneuver".) So it's not a matter of HEIGHT, it's a matter of which DIRECTION you expend the energy.

    As a matter of fact, if the atmosphere and terrain were not an issue, you COULD do an orbit a hundred feet off the ground. And you could enter this orbit by going straight sideways. It just requires moving a lot faster than a higher orbit. Our current launch profiles are designed to minimize the fuel (and therefore change in energy, a.k.a. "delta-V") required.

    So to wrap up the thought here, weightless is BECAUSE the vehicle trajectory is a free fall (one that's not being modified by expending energy or using winged lift or drag). Doesn't matter whether it's a complete orbit or one that will hit the ground before going around one complete time.

    And here's the most relevant point to SpaceShip One - to achieve true orbit (a true free fall all the way around the earth), quite a bit more delta-V is required - which requires more fuel, which requires more vehicle structure, which increases vehicle weight, which requires more fuel to lift, which requires more structure... etc. (And let's not even THINK about reentry heating yet...) So as neat as this trick is, SpaceShip One and any other X-Prize vehicles are a LONG way from a viable orbital launch vehicle.

  • by lommer (566164) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:02PM (#9317134)
    They don't actually have to carry three passengers, they just have to carry the bulk, the weight, and the life support for two simulation passengers and then actually carry one pilot. The X-prize rules are pretty clear about this. I think they did it so that if something does fuck up, at least only one guy bites the dust rather than three. It also allows for a few flights to be made with one passenger to thoroughly test the system before flying with three.
  • Re:Flight Controller (Score:3, Informative)

    by Long-EZ (755920) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:28PM (#9317408)
    I had already read the warning of the airport closure. That just goes to show what a big event this is. Mojave is a public use airport. They don't just close those for a few days to hold a bake sale or something.

    I was planning on arriving a few days early and maybe seeing if I could get involved, even in a tiny way. If not, I could always soak up the environment. If you're an airplane nut, there's a lot of neat stuff in Mojave. For a canard aircraft enthusiast, it's sort of like Mecca.

    I'd probably find someplace to camp in a tiny bivy sack in the desert, because I like doing that sort of thing. And even if Mojave is closed, I could always fly into Tehachapi, about 20 miles away.

    Not most folks cup of tea, but a pretty good geek vacation.

  • by Teahouse (267087) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:37PM (#9317503)
    I was at a JPL happy hour about a month ago. One of the engineers I talked to was a friend of Rutan's. The cost to build White Knoght was about 2.2 mill. The cost of SS1 (not counting engine) was 2,1 mill. Throw in another mill for the cost of the engine and that's the figure I gave. I have no idea what the continuing operations cost on a monthly basis, but the fact that they got the bulk of this done for less than 6 mill is pretty impressive.
  • It is likely that before they accomplish that, the commercial industry will catch up and have a 4-man orbital vehicle by the end of this decade.

    That's great if so, I'm all for it. But I think you're underestimating the engineering difficulties involved.

    SS1 is a great little craft and a tremendous technical achievement, but it is not even close to being an orbital vehicle. They are achieving a great part of the height necessary, but very little of the horizontal velocity. Orbital velocity is "[...] approximately 17,000 mph (27,359 kph) at an altitude of 150 miles (242 km)." [howstuffworks.com] What's more, the lower you are, the the faster you have to go. [wcsscience.com]

    The added power and heat dissipation involved are not exactly trivial problems. Space really is hard.

    (On the bright side, it seems to me that people stopped laughing about the idea of a space elevator about two or three years ago. So maybe in 48 years, we'll be able to ride up the slow and easy way.)
  • by billtom (126004) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @04:32PM (#9318735)

    One thing I've always wondered about SS1, the other X-prize entries, and the X-prize itself is whether there is a clear series of steps which lead to some goal like regular space travel.

    By this I mean questions like: can the design used for SS1 (and the other X-prize teams) be scaled to orbital operations, more people/cargo, etc; or is it just a special purpose vehicle designed to win the X-prize?

    Sure, it's inevitable that we'll learn something when doing a complicated engineering project like this. But at times it feels like the X-prize is being treated like an end goal instead of an early step on a journey.
  • by joggle (594025) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @06:21PM (#9320021) Homepage Journal
    You're both correct. It is free-fall and microgravity. If you are in free-fall (say at about 0.97g acceleration), you don't feel the 0.97g. The space station is still well within earth's gravity well but experience microgravity.

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