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Space Science

SpaceShipOne to Try for Space on Monday 282

Posted by michael
from the life-insurance-paid-up-i-hope dept.
CommanderData writes "The first piloted private space flight will occur Monday at 9:30AM ET. SpaceShipOne is planning to ascend to the 62 mile (100 Km) mark and return to land at its takeoff point over the course of 90 minutes. With only a pilot (unnamed at this time) on board this does not qualify as a run for the Ansari X-Prize. If the flight is successful they will likely try for the prize soon afterward..." An anonymous reader adds: "Scaled Composites also has this page about the event."
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SpaceShipOne to Try for Space on Monday

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  • I'll be there (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Friday June 18, 2004 @06:34PM (#9468097) Journal
    I loved the fact that the Scaled Composite site says that "especially kids" are welcome, they want to introduce the next generation to private space flight. I'm taking my 14 year old daughter and two of her friends.

    We're currently planning on camping at the Tehachapi glider park Sunday night, then driving to Mojave at 4:00 Monday morning. We'll see if that works -- there is so much publicity here and at other sites that it may be insanely crowded.

    I've been a fan of Rutan since the '79 Popular Science cover of the VariEze, and I've got a copy of the plans for his LongEZ (too big a job for me to complete, though...) I have been looking forward to this event for a long time, I can't wait!

    Thad
  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Friday June 18, 2004 @06:35PM (#9468123) Homepage
    As I understand it, this ship can't make orbit, couldn't come back from one if it did, and has no clear path to an orbital vehicle. It's designed to win the prize and nothing else. Not that it's not an important milestone, mind you, but it's just a dead-end.

    The real import of this is that people are trying to get to space without the government getting in their way, and willing to risk failure. They're doing things themselves instead of sitting on their hands waiting for somebody else to do something. It's this pioneering attitude that will take us into space to stay, not the NASA mindset of "risk nothing, even if it means nothing gets done."

  • I love it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheAdventurer (779556) on Friday June 18, 2004 @06:39PM (#9468156)
    It is great to see private individuals reach for achievements such as this. I hope it goes well for them. Personally, I find the private space race to be quite compelling and inspiring. It is a testament to ingenuity and individualism (i.e. we don't need a big collective or nebulous government agency to achieve somethign great. Rather, just the vision of an intelligent individual and his or her ability to organize and lead a talented team).
  • by noahbagels (177540) on Friday June 18, 2004 @06:43PM (#9468208)
    Dude - this is a pretty darn lame comment.

    Do you ever watch the discovery channel? Ever heard of the X-Planes? There were what, 15+ of them, and none of them could carry 3 people nor carry out a useful 'mission'. It's called research.

    The X-Prize is not about building a hypersonic airliner, nor about going to the moon. It's a prize that at this appropriate time in man-machine innovation encouraged some awesome engineers and pioneers to break the old mold of waiting for the government to 'do the big things'.

    Don't know about you, but I think 3 minutes of weightlessness in a super-efficient aircraft making sub-orbital flight, done by private individuals is not dead-end. The first (few) that accomplish this feat will likely prove to NASA and the ESA that single gigantic booster rockets are neither efficient nor as re-usable as we were all lead to believe.

    Rock on Scaled Composits!
  • by TrevorB (57780) on Friday June 18, 2004 @06:45PM (#9468223) Homepage
    It's designed to win the prize and nothing else. Not that it's not an important milestone, mind you, but it's just a dead-end.

    I agree with your first statement, but not your second. Just because a specific vehicle isn't designed to go into orbit, doesn't mean it's a dead end. Firstly, they're planning on sub-orbital flights, mostly for tourism. Secondly, the technologies used may be scalable to a larger, orbital model. Think of a smaller, design prototype. You have to demonstrate the smaller model works before you can scale up.

    The designs and business practices of ALL the X-Prize contestants will be monitored closely. Which designs work, which don't? Which are more expensive? More reliable. That's the whole point about the X-Prize, to get people (engineers, businessmen, and the public in general) thinking about spaceflight for the common man.

    So I would argue that SpaceShipOne is not a dead end in the sense that it is a requirement for a scaled up, orbital "SpaceShipTwo".

  • by cmowire (254489) on Friday June 18, 2004 @07:17PM (#9468518) Homepage
    It's merely a scaling problem. More propellant = more delta-V.

    The fuel is of the same level of efficency as most other common rocket fuels (solid / LOX+Kerosine).

    So really all you need is more propellant, and a better heat shield, both of which are "solved" technology.

    The thing is, Pournelle tends to be of the opinion that TSTO was the better idea and I tend to agree with him. The neat thing about SS1/WK is that improvements in either craft mean better performance. One of Rutan's rumored projects is a turborocket [wikipedia.org],
    which would have WK able to reach a much higher altitude, which would therefore mean a heavier SS1 or a higher trajectory.

    It's also probably the case that a inexpensive WK-launched expendable booster might be able to give Pegasus a run for their money.
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Friday June 18, 2004 @07:19PM (#9468536)
    > As I understand it, this ship can't make orbit, couldn't come back from one if it did, and has no clear path to an orbital vehicle. It's designed to win the prize and nothing else. Not that it's not an important milestone, mind you, but it's just a dead-end.

    As I understand it, this ship is so laden down with fuel that it can barely make it off the runway, and with only a single engine and single pilot, has no clear path to being able to carry passengers or transatlantic mail. It's designed to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize and nothing else. Not that it's not an important milestone, mind you, but it's just a dead-end [charleslindbergh.com].

  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Friday June 18, 2004 @07:22PM (#9468565) Homepage
    No. Mercury-Redstone had a clear design path leading to the Moon: first single manned flights, then pairs of astronauts, then three together, until they had a capsule that could reach the moon, land and return. The fuel this ship uses simply isn't powerfull enough to reach orbit and it can't be changed to a different fuel without a complete redesign. Accept the fact that even though it's limited to sub-orbital flight it's an important milestone on the path to space.
  • by GileadGreene (539584) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:01PM (#9468881) Homepage
    NASA has accomplished amazing things in the present, too. I am amazed by the stuff coming back from Cassini and the rovers.

    Which is all well and good, but has very little to do with the manned spaceflight or launch issues that the parent post was concerned with. I'll note here that MER launched on a Delta II rocket, while Cassini launched on a Titan IV - neither of which, you will notice, is the much vaunted "reusable" shuttle.

    Ok, YOU design a cheaper space vehicle. How dare you call it "criminally poor"? Are you aware of how difficult of a task developing a reusable man-capable orbital launch vehicle is? Name someone else who has done it better and cheaper.

    Why make it reusable? The Russian Space Agency still uses expendable Soyuz capsules, and has a per-launch cost significantly below anything in the West. Reusability only makes sense if you have a high enough flight rate to make it cost-effective, and the sad fact is that right now we simply don't have anywhere near those kind of flight rates for manned launches.

    How would YOU have predicted the specific problems that would occur in a spacecraft with millions of parts reentering the atmosphere? How would YOU decide which ones would be troublemakers?

    Part of the problem is that NASA did predict the specific problems, but adopted a "well it's worked so far" policy, and did not bother to address what might happen if it didn't work. Given the cost of a shuttle (not to mention the lives of the crew) it seems silly to not have at least considered the possible failure scenarios, and what might be done about them (in contrast to the Apollo 13 mishap, in which the crew was saved due to recovery procedures that had been developed in the years preceding the actual lunar landings).

    Want to look at other nation's space agencies?

    Not really. The point is not to be "better than the other guy", the point is to do things right.

    So, please keep your criticisms to yourself.

    Criticism is part of good engineering. There's a reason that things like design reviews are held. If you can't objectively evaluate a system (be it a launch vehicle, or an organization), or take the time to consider alternative approaches, you will never improve. You will also be that much more likely to kill people.

  • by RayBender (525745) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:08PM (#9469304) Homepage
    1) is most of the work of 2) It gets you out of the atmosphere - now all you have to do is get going FAST while you're out there.[...]But once you've got a device capable of 1) it's a LOT less than doubling the engineering to upgrade it for 2).

    No. Most of the work is getting to a velocity of 8 km/sec. That's 90% of the required total energy. Getting to altitude is 10%. So SpaceShipOne is 10% of the way to orbit (in terms of energy). The additional difficulty of going into orbit is considerably greater than twice the effort: you have to carry 10 times the fuel fraction, and you have to be capable of re-entry, on-orbit maneuvering, etc etc.. It's a lot harder than just going up in a big arc for 5 minutes.

    SpaceShipOne is a lot closer to a Cessna than it is to a Space Shuttle. Seriously.

  • by RayBender (525745) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:21PM (#9469392) Homepage
    This is a good thing. You worry a lot less about breaking a Cessna.

    Not if your goal is actually getting into orbit, it isn't.

  • Re:Sign me up! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by l810c (551591) * on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:43PM (#9469545)
    Not much room on this thing, only 3 people.

    I wonder how much this design will scale considering it has to piggyback on an airplane before it takes off. Sure getting to space will be a nice feat, but how far along really does this propel the goal of commercial access to space. Will this thing be able to carry large payloads in the future? Dozens of people?

    I'm more interested in the teams that are going from the ground up utilizing new technologies and more innovative ideas.

    SpaceShipOne just seems like a bit of a hack to me.

  • by GileadGreene (539584) on Friday June 18, 2004 @11:09PM (#9470179) Homepage
    The parent targetted NASA in general. I responded about NASA in general.

    The parent targetted launch issues - specifically the debacle known as the shuttle, and the effects of shuttle subsidies on the commercial launch market - not NASA in general.

    They also have labor costs a tiny fraction of what our labor costs are.

    I won't argue that the labor cost issue helps significantly. However, they also benefit from using a robust, flight-proven design with an extremely good record of reliability, and a variety of features that make it cheap to manufacture. Russia is able to launch manned missions for less than it costs the US to launch an unmanned, small payload Pegasus rocket. There's more to it than just labor costs.

    For one, the US has plenty of space launches, military and commercial.

    [snort] No, they don't. The US averages around 20 launches per year, total. That isn't anywhere near a flight rate sufficient to support the costs of a reusable launch vehicle, even assuming that all 20 launches would be compatible with this hypothetical RLV. Even NASA knows this, which is why when it proposed the shuttle in the first place it (a) essentially demanded that every US payload launch on shuttle, and (b) inflated the flight rate estimate generated from (a) by a factor of (IIRC) 5-10 so that shuttle might actually appear cost-effective.

    Secondly, once you get below a certain threshold (usually cited as between 1-2k$/kg), a host of new space opportunies open up.

    No argument there. But shuttle clearly doesn't meet that cost target. The launch-cost issue is a classic chicken/egg problem: costs won't go down without flight rates sufficient to amortize the expense of developing the LV, and flight rates won't go up unless costs drop. Right now the most likely road forward appears to be to start by developing a cheap expendable (for example SpaceX's Falcon) that drags costs down enough to make higher flight rates feasible (and to prove that the flight rates actually will increase). Once that happens, it should be easier to justify the development of a more expensive RLV.

    Which problems are you referring to about this?

    The ice problems that caused Columbia's demise were specifically identified in several pre-accident studies. I've also heard (from friends who work directly with some of the original designers of the shuttle) that "we knew the RCC was fragile and wouldn't sustain an impact - that's why we deliberately designed the external tank to minimize icing" (note that the tank design was later changed). The O-ring issue is a little more uncertain, but it is clear that there were strong reasons to be careful with operating the shuttle in cold weather. Regardless of the specific failure modes, the lack of (in the case of Challenger) crew ejection/evacuation capabilities, or (in the case of Columbia) facilities for tile evaluation and repair, seems like poor preparation.

    NASA had no scenarios for what happened with Apollo 13.

    That was my point - they hadn't thought of the specific failure scenario for Apollo 13, but they had spent a lot of time thinking about how to recover if things did go wrong. Contrary to what the movie showed, they didn't (for example) just make up the method for using CM CO2 scrubbers in the LEM on the spot. That was something they'd already worked out ahead, and had in a "playbook" of responses to possible crises. Don't get me wrong, the Apollo 13 team did a fantastic job getting their crew home. But they did it by improvising based on a set of pre-prepared actions. Unlike shuttle, they had options available if things went south.

    If "the other guy" can't manage to do it either, it points out how hard the task is.

    Or it shows that they're just as screwed up as we are. Or that they are all sitting around saying "well, if the US can't do it, why would we be able to?"

  • Re:Sign me up! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IllForgetMyNickSoonA (748496) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @08:03AM (#9471710)
    Oh, come on - that's not fair! The only vehicle capable of carrying more than 3 people into space is the Space Shuttle. No vehicle so far was ever capable of carrying more than 7. What did you expect? These people are designing and building a first-of-a kind vehicle by only using their own money (as in "not tax-payer's money"). If they succeed, the funding for a larger scale vehicle will come along. It'll take quite some time before you can buy a ticket on a "USS Voyager" class ship.

    Give credit where credit is due, instead of whining.

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