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SpaceShipOne to Attempt Second Flight on Monday 314

Posted by michael
from the i-feel-lucky dept.
m_member writes "There is a very cool video of the recent SpaceShipOne flight (on the Scaled video page) as covered by Slashdot. It shows some angles not on the webcast and most impressively has internal footage from when the roll occurred in the ascent. There are no M&Ms this time but Melville takes a few holiday snaps!" Gogo Dodo writes "After a successful first flight for the X Prize, SpaceShipOne is a go for launch to claim the X Prize on Monday. Takeoff is at 7am Pacific, ignition at 8am." October 4 will be the anniversary of the Sputnik launch.
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SpaceShipOne to Attempt Second Flight on Monday

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  • Congrats! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grape jelly (193168) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:01PM (#10406633)
    Congrats the the Scaled Composites team! While I hope the $10M prize will give you guys a nice shot in the arm, why not put it toward developing space travel for high-speed human transport rather than tourism? It just strikes me as something that's much more financially viable than tourism....
    • Re:Congrats! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by grape jelly (193168)
      Come to think of it, high speed transport -- or any transport, for that matter -- has to be cheap (partly why Concorde failed, although I'm sure its crash in France also helped do it in). But people are content dropping $$$ into fun (as opposed to transport).... This is just a small step anyway, right?
      • Re:Congrats! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Romeozulu (248240) on Friday October 01, 2004 @03:13PM (#10407545)
        I'm not really sure I'd call Concorde a failure with 20+ years in service. Because of the cost, it's far from a huge success, but not exactly a failure.

        The biggest problem with Concorde was the noise issues that kept it some being deployed worldwide. Had it had been, economy of scale might have made it an economic success as well as a technical one.

        The 747 would have been a huge failure with so few planes only two routes.
        • Re:Congrats! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Friday October 01, 2004 @07:26PM (#10409911)
          A quick note here, but Boeing had a large part to do with Concorde not flying over the Continental US. The US administration and the FAA had no qualms about sonic booms or supersonic flight over the continental US until the Boeing supersonic aircraft project failed, some years after concorde was finalised. A Boeing aircraft would have had exactly the same issues with regards to sound, but the FAA decided to ban supersonic flights across the US citing noise to be the issue. Boeing had been assured that this wouldnt have been a problem when approached by the Kennedy administration with regards to building a Concorde competitor. From where Im standing it looks decidedly like a case of "Not invented here".
  • by Aceto3for5 (806224) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:01PM (#10406634)
    Does/Should the X-Prize Foundation get federal funding for the efforts they are making towards space travel? Certainly NASA could learn a thing or two about budgets from these space explorers. I think perhaps it is a better investment for the government to fund private groups like this, considering the results of the state-run programs.
    • by sql*kitten (1359) * on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:13PM (#10406775)
      Does/Should the X-Prize Foundation get federal funding for the efforts they are making towards space travel?

      Err, do you actually want to get into space or not?
    • by System.out.println() (755533) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:20PM (#10406878) Journal
      I think the entire purpose of the X-Prize is that it does NOT get government funding. commercial entities need to be self-sufficient here.
    • by robi2106 (464558) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:33PM (#10407037) Homepage Journal
      Gahhhhhhhhhh!!! Not everything needs government funding!

      It shouldn't be some big tit that someone can just suck on for a little extra juice to keep on going (please tell that to the airlines & railroads...)

      Besides as other posters have said, it was desigend to be privte avoid all the stupid red tape.

      But your point about the state run groups is good. I would much rather have the fed hand out a contract to "develop X for us" with exclusive rights to the Fed, than have the Fed create a department to do "X".

      Of course, national security concerns says that if the Fed ownes and wholely controlls the development of "X" then there is no company that could possible sue them for breach of contract, or accidentally leak data / information to the press, or other nations.

      jason
    • We got to the moon. And back. Multiple times.
      We sent probes to Mars. And Venus. And beyond. And some of them still work.
      We sent rovers to Mars. That still work.
      We built several working space vehicles.
      We space-walked.
      We build a space station. And then we built another one.
      We chased comets. And sent the collected materials back.
      We've populated our solar system with several probes that have performed beyond expectation.
      We have Tang.
      We have titanium hips, golf clubs, glass frames, laptops, and spyplanes.

      There are many, many, more [nasa.gov] places where our investment into NASA has benefitted us enormously.
      • I suppose the big question is ... if NASA instead were merely a contracting arm of the goverment which put together specs for tender, would we have gotten further, faster, and cheaper?

        And let's not forget the human cost: would we have lost similar or fewer people doing it (safety)?

        No, really. I'm serious. This is not intended as a slam against government waste or corporate cost/corner cutting. It's really a question for thought. Is there a middle ground available where we get the same safety, but furt

      • by dillon_rinker (17944) on Friday October 01, 2004 @03:04PM (#10407443) Homepage
        We sailed to England. And back. Multiple times.
        We sent messengers to Persia. And India. And beyond.
        We sent caravans to India. We still trade with them.
        We built several working sailing ships.
        We swam in the sea.
        We colonized a tiny island. And then we colonized another one.
        We chased whales. And sent the collected materials back.
        We've sent our driftwood around the world on the ocean's currents.
        We have spice.
        We have gunpowder, algeabra, paper, Arabic numerals, and modern surgery.

        THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO NEED FOR US TO FINANCE THIS FLEET OF YOURS, COLUMBUS!!!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:01PM (#10406635)
    I am glad they are a go! Best wishes to all involved.

    It is about time that we had someone other than Government make it to space. This should open up the market! Now, if they can just make this afforable to those of us who can't afford 100K or so...

    Hope they go for the $50M prize for a vehicle that will house 5 to/from orbit....

  • Other competitors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by UncleJam (786330) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:01PM (#10406636)
    If SpaceShipOne reaches the 100km mark on Monday, will the other competitors just give in, or will they too try to prove that they have the design and technology to reach space? Even if SpaceShipOne did not launch Oct. 4th, would anybody even be close enough to take advantage of this? (Hoping that any failure of the SSO mission would not result in casulties)
    • Re:Other competitors (Score:5, Interesting)

      by idontgno (624372) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:12PM (#10406770) Journal
      I've wondered about this myself. There are a lot of teams, full of talented folks and brilliant ideas. The spur of competition (and a big purse) has been excellent, but what happens when that goes away? Are the other efforts going to dry up, or will they perhaps find other funding in the attempt to survive as a commercially-viable endeavor?

      It's kind of a shame, isn't it, that money keeps coming into it. But this rocket science stuff gets expensive. I just hope some of the really cool technology being looked at now finds whatever it takes to keep going. I really don't want to get stuck with just one type of commercial spacecraft, the same way we (in the US) has been stuck with only one type of government manned spacecraft. (Which has been the case, with the recent exception of buying flight time from the Russians.)

      • by cmowire (254489)
        Well, the next one to get a launch vehicle working will be able to compete with SpaceShipOne for the real payoff -- commercial spaceline companies. Especially if they can do it for less money, safer, or better.
      • The prize and competition works to generate interest in the problem. Having a successful solution (especially one whose developer has gotten commercial contracts) to compete with should generate at least as much interest.
    • Re:Other competitors (Score:5, Informative)

      by zx75 (304335) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:13PM (#10406783) Homepage
      The Canadian DaVinci project has already stated that they are a couple weeks from launching, so if SpaceShipOne for some reason is unable to complete its bid for the X-prize in the next 2 weeks there is a possibility it could occur.

      In addition, they have stated that they will be proceeding with the launches regardless of whether the SpaceShipOne project succeeds in claiming the prize or not. Their goal is to prove that they can do it, even if they don't win the prize.
      • Canadian Arrow Team (Score:5, Informative)

        by uberdave (526529) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:42PM (#10407178) Homepage
        The Canadian Arrow [canadianarrow.com] team has put together the world's first private astronaut training centre [astronaut.ca]. If they were only in it for the X-Prize, they wouldn't have built the training centre. They are looking to space tourism, and are also hoping to start a new extreme sport: Space-diving (like sky-diving, except from space).
        • by CvD (94050)
          Space diving? Thats insane... I don't know if you've heard of Joe Kittinger [wikipedia.org], who jumped from a balloon at 102,800 ft. The first jump he had serious trouble stabilizing himself, as there was no air to work with. On later jumps he deployed a drogue as is used with tandem skydives these days. He had a special suit made and took oxygen along. It was all a rather complicated affair.

          Of course I'm not saying space travel is not complicated. Its just that skydiving becomes a lot more complicated when you travel hi
    • What I'd like to see is several of these teams going back to the drawing board to refine their plans. It seems that a couple of the X-prize teams made some sub-optimal design decisions purely because they wanted to get their product out the door as quickly as possible, and all of them would need improvements to work as safe commercial transportation. Even SpaceShipOne, while being leaps and bounds ahead of the other teams' vehicles, is clearly not ready for regular use.
    • Re:Other competitors (Score:2, Informative)

      by cly (457948)
      According to Wikipedia, da Vinci Project was planning to make its first competitive flight on Oct 2, but has to delay. So at least someone is close.
    • Re:Other competitors (Score:4, Informative)

      by Kallahar (227430) <kallahar@quickwired.com> on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:14PM (#10406802) Homepage
      At the last launch, the X-Prize Foundation announced that they will be continuing the $10 mil prize every year, which will allow other teams to win the prize and give several different designs to the world.
      • Re:Other competitors (Score:4, Informative)

        by foolish (46697) on Friday October 01, 2004 @04:39PM (#10408459)
        Can you find a reference? Because all I see is reference to the X-Prize Cup which is entirely different than a "X-Prize a year" concept.

        The X-Prize Cup is a bit more oriented towards "racing" team competition than as a stepping stone towards commercial space travel/tourism.

        Not that the racing concept isn't useful for publicity and development of parts of the playing field, but they aren't the same prizes.
    • by deathcloset (626704) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:15PM (#10406821) Journal
      surely the other teams will continue to test their spacecraft.

      Especially as we now have the 50mil prize being offered for orbital flight.

      Sadly, these flights won't nab them that nice 10mil, but futher tests will certainly yield data that will help those who wish to pursue orbit (and I'm certain at least some do) in the development of thier orbital spacecraft.

      Furthermore, just because Rutan wins the prize and is first doesn't mean that he's developed all the best technology for private spacecraft.

      It seems likely that just the effort should yield some valuble research and technologies (which they might just sell to virgin galactic or scaled composites).

      It's too big an investment to just toss a spaceship in the trashbin.
    • by TrippTDF (513419) <{hiland} {at} {gmail.com}> on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:27PM (#10406974)
      They had better keep going... Number 1: They have all thrown tons of time/money into it. Number 2: This is JUST the first step. The X Prize was to kick the Private sector into gear and start a competition... it's not like the X Prize guys said "Hey Burt! We'll give you, and only you, $10 Mil to get to space!" No, they wanted to see copmetition. And not that competition is going to move into the investor market... Virgin made their stake in Scaled, and now that's going to make others kick in to onto the other competitors... Like with any new market, people will throw a ton of money into it, there will be a ton of new companies trying to get their business off the ground (no pun intended)... Think Dot-Com bubble... only this one (hopefully) won't end up the same way. I hope that in 50 years, the X-Prize is remembered as well as Scaled and SSO will be.
      • I don't think it can be dot-com like. For one, there is a real product to deliver with measurable results. Not just hits and banner add revenue. You can't fake a space product, but you can fake a company whos deliverable is infinitely elastic in supply.

        jason
        • True- the Dot-com thing was a lot of stupid people throwing money at other stupid people... I was talking more in terms of the frenzy of investing that would be AMAZING to see happen because of this...
    • Considering the wackiness factor of many of the other "competitors", I think that many will take this opportunity to exit the competition. I don't really mean this as a troll, but honestly, people, but one of these rockets already blew up on launch, and from what I've seen, most if not all the other "competitors" just don't have the R and D resources to pull off anything but a semi-spectacular fatality.
  • by Neil Blender (555885) <neilblender@gmail.com> on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:03PM (#10406657)
    Damnit, where am I going to get 10 million dollars?
  • Improvements? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ppz003 (797487)
    I think it will be interesting to see how well they can repeat or even improve on the last flight. Or will they try to run an exact repeat?

    Basically, how safe and sound are their methods?
    • Robust design (Score:5, Informative)

      by mdp1173 (815076) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:17PM (#10406843)
      Actually, the method SpaceShipOne uses to re-enter the atmosphere is pretty robust and safe. Most times, entry vehicles use a blunt end - think the bottom of the Apollo capsule - to slow down through a process called 'aerobraking'. If a vehicle starts to spin rapidly during that time, bad things happen. SSO can enter the atmosphere in any orientation - nose down, nose up, sideways - and it will be OK because of it's back wing surface. In an orientation the Scaled guys call "feathering" the back end flips up 90 degrees in a high drag configuration. This forces the nose into the atmosphere at the right angle, so spinning isn't a vehicle loss issue Still, you go a lot slower re-entering from a suborbital flight than an orbital speed re-entry a la Columbia circa 2003
  • Media Coverage (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Plocmstart (718110) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:05PM (#10406680)
    It'll be interesting to see how the media covers any potential problem that occurs this time. They hyped up the whole roll situation like it was the end of the world, even after he safely made it back down (a majority of the questions asked of him were about the unexpected roll). Gotta love how reporters constantly repeat nearly the same question when they don't really understand the situation....
    • Well, what was the situation with the rolls? Mr Rutan said that there was something special about his design that made the incident recoverable, and that the Shuttle would have been lost in the same situation. Based on that, it doesn't sound minor. But I have no idea what he really meant (maybe that Melville saved the craft by disengaging the rockets, which the shuttle's solid boosters cannot do?)

      So what was the scoop with the rolls, and why are they not problem enough to delay a retry?

      • But the shuttle can eject the two SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) at any time and the three main engines of the shuttle itself are powered by internel fuel and the big foam External Fuel tank, which ejects after the SRB's anyway.

        So in an emergency situation, the SRB's can be cut and the main engines shut down with out much hassle. Besides, it is all computer controlled anyway.

        What Rutan possibly was refering to is that the Shuttle has automatic "scrub the mission" software that would have noticed the extrem
    • Re:Media Coverage (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ctwxman (589366) <me@@@geofffox...com> on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:37PM (#10407099) Homepage
      The roll showed inherent design problems with this particular spacecraft. No one seriously believes Mike Melville mistakenly kicked it into the corkscrew. Now that they have commercial contracts to carry passengers (with Richard Branson) spinning is not good for business. Dick Rutan will find a way to have this craft go up once more, a new (modified) design will be built which fixes this instability and SpaceShipOne will go to the Smithsonian before it hurts anyone. I can't commend Rutan's team enough, but this is an experimental craft in a rush to fly. There will be problems - that's why a test pilot was at the controls. The press (where I work) has a right and obligation to question this part of the flight. Rutan already has PR specialists to slavishly praise.
      • Re:Media Coverage (Score:4, Interesting)

        by el-spectre (668104) on Friday October 01, 2004 @03:03PM (#10407437) Journal
        Question, and apparently draw conclusions based on knee-jerk analysis. MANY otherwise sound craft have experienced unexpected behavior (including rolls) because of pilot error or overcorrection.

        This is why they use test pilots. These guys know how to recover when things go bad.

        You are right that the press has an obligation to investigate. But BEFORE that, you need to make sure you know what the hell you are talking about. The ability to publish does not prove the ability to speak authoritatively on the subject.
      • by voidptr (609)
        Well, if you're in the press...

        Could you at least *try* to keep which of the Rutan brothers is responsible correct? Burt Rutan designed and built SSO.

        Dick Rutan is his brother who piloted Voyager around the world in 1986.

        Once you get the cast of characters correct, then you can start to think about explaining aerospace engineering and control envelopes.
      • Re:Media Coverage (Score:4, Insightful)

        by iabervon (1971) on Friday October 01, 2004 @05:21PM (#10408880) Homepage Journal
        It may also turn out that the corkscrew is not a problem and keeps the craft pointed in the right direction, similar to how rifling improves the accuracy of bullets. It might just look disturbing to the people on the ground, and not upset the pilot or passengers. If you recall, the test run had two instabilities at that point in the flight, and rolling was the less hazardous one. I wouldn't be surprised if Melvill let it spin, rather than correcting, to keep it from doing anything else.

        For that matter, if a part detatched from a spinning launch vehicle, it would be (slightly) more likely to fly clear of the vehicle, rather than hitting the vehicle further back.
    • by Tablizer (95088) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:39PM (#10407125) Homepage Journal
      a majority of the questions asked of him were about the unexpected roll

      Media: "Can you please comment on the repeated rolls in which you kept rolling around and around and around in a dizzying, girating, spiraling, stomach-spinning fashion as if it would never end?" (making spinning hand-gestures)

      Pilot: "Bwwaaaaarrrrrf" (splat)
    • Your lucky you got any media coverage. In the UK all it got was a blurb on a high teletext page, and a mention on the BBC website.

      It's weird because the media was all over Richard Branson's space-tourism companyjust a week earlier.
    • An uncontrolled roll is a serious problem. While rolling once every two seconds isn't an issue, if that rate increases you start to suffer severe aerodynamic problems (Mach Tuck) and eventually of course you disintegrate.

      Problems would have started at about 4 to 6 times the roll rate he was having, possibly sooner, depending on the aerodynamic effects of that particular design, and the strength of the wings (which have a lot of wieght on the ends with that design).

      So while it's possible your claim on the
  • Video mirrors (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rupan (723469) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:06PM (#10406684) Homepage
    I have to go out right now, but when I return (soon) I will have the videos mirrored on my website here: http://www.css-auth.com/ss1/ Perhaps within the hour.
  • by bludstone (103539) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:06PM (#10406686)
    Could be taken on a holiday.

    Photographs, ey? He asked him knowingly... ..but still.. WOOOAAAHHHhhh


  • ReliefBand [reliefband.com]: Nausea relief to go.
  • That is what I think. He even said he thought it was kinda cool.

    I think he just wanted to say "Yehaa...".
    • by Nick Driver (238034) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:24PM (#10406931)
      You're not the only one suspecting that he did intend to perform a one or two turn roll... and that the roll turned out to be vastly more intense than he bargained for... maybe due to the lack of atmospheric friction against the aircraft in the roll. A little control input perhaps goes a loooooong way in this craft, once beyond the point where there is no more atmospheric drag.
  • by MarcoAtWork (28889) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:11PM (#10406761)
    about what exactly caused the roll last time? Given that now they had time go to through the telemetry data one assumes they would know for sure exactly what happened: did they make the info public?
  • by hsmith (818216)
    Branson is only funding his Virgin space ship line becuase he wants 2 hour flights from Australia to london instead of 20+ hour flights :o
  • What goes up must come down... :) :) :)
  • Perhaps they could spend a few thousand to get a few new servers to handle the traffic.

    /. effect in T-minus 5....4....3....2....
  • I wonder... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@noSpaM.gmail.com> on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:15PM (#10406819) Homepage Journal
    Almost 50 years ago, the X-15 basically had the same capabilities as Spaceship One's.

    What were the development costs of the X-15 program???

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:40PM (#10407148) Homepage
      What were the development costs of the X-15 program???

      60 bucks and a couple of Jiffy-pop packages.

      it's a little known secret that when you expose a Jiffy-pop package to microwave energy it's resulting expansion act's like a very powerful rocket.

      The military took advantage of that side effect and used it to win a bar bet against the German V-II rocket engineers who said that they could not make it to space on popcorn power.

      It's amazing what you discover about history using the freedom of information Act.

      • 60 bucks and a couple of Jiffy-pop packages.

        it's a little known secret that when you expose a Jiffy-pop package to microwave energy it's resulting expansion act's like a very powerful rocket.

        The military took advantage of that side effect and used it to win a bar bet against the German V-II rocket engineers who said that they could not make it to space on popcorn power.

        It's amazing what you discover about history using the freedom of information Act.


        You might need to adjust your tinfoil act if you re
  • BitTorrent download (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:21PM (#10406898) Homepage
    Download video via BitTorrent at X-Prize-flight-1.wmv.torrent [degreez.net]
  • wasn't the point of the x-prize to carry 3 people of similar body weight into space in a span of two weeks? I may be wrong but haven't they only been carrying one person all this time?
    • They are allowed to use a pilot and two dummies with the right size and weight, rather than actual passengers.
      • They are allowed to use a pilot and two dummies with the right size and weight, rather than actual passengers.

        Actually, the dummies are an ingenious safety strategy. If the pilot has to eject, he'll go real limp like the dummy and people will catch him 'cause hey, free dummy.
    • Read the X-Prize rules before making comments like that, weight equaling 3 adults is accepted in lieu of actual people :)

      Hence why the first flight was the pliot plus ~180kg of ballast.
    • by Thomas A. Anderson (114614) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:37PM (#10407105) Homepage
      They do have to carry 3 people, or the pilot and weight of 2 passangers (probably used sand bags).

      BTW, Burt Rutan mentioned just after the last flight that he might be a passenger in the next one.
  • by Black.Shuck (704538) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:28PM (#10406982)

    ...with FreeCache [freecache.org] or Coral [nyu.edu].

    Or just make it Slashdot-policy to use the past-tense when describing off-site content, like this:

    Before: "There is a very cool video..."

    After: "There was a very cool video..."

    Kind of pre-empts the whole /. effect, don't you think?

    It would be great to start moving away from the whole organised-DDOS attack thing...

  • Love the video! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JUSTONEMORELATTE (584508) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:31PM (#10407014) Homepage
    I watched the webcast, but the Scaled video has some of the in-cabin footage. After Mike cut the engines, you can see him working to stabilze the roll, then as he hit the zenith, he grabs a digi-cam and starts taking snapshots out the windows.
    Gotta love it!

    --
    Free gmail invites [slashdot.org]
  • by trilks (794531) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:34PM (#10407068)
    From the site:

    "(sorry slashdot.org visitors, overloaded...start a bittorrent feed?)"

    How did they know we were coming?
    • Re:./ed already (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:40PM (#10407147)
      because the webmaster reads slashdot. ;)

      And also when you try to load your own website and it takes 30 seconds to load the main page, this is the first place you look. Well, I'll post the torrent mirror link right now, that will help. There's three machines in a round robin, but the port only has so much bandwidth. :)

      --Mike the webmaster
  • by Matthew Angel (745568) on Friday October 01, 2004 @02:40PM (#10407146) Homepage
    - Videos -
    Oct 01 11am - VIDEOS TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE (sorry slashdot.org visitors, overloaded...start a bittorrent feed?)

    So instead of just everyone jumping all over their site directly, why not use FreeCache [freecache.org] first, especially when you know the video is 5.7 megs and it'll be popular...

    (sig)^-1 ... is that sag?
  • If you look at the video, as soon as the rocket is lit, the thing starts to roll one way then the other by about 30-4 degrees before finally hitting complete 360's.

    Makes you wonder if the tail fins need to the larger to give better stability when in a more vertical flight?????
  • Dead end hacks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Phil Karn (14620) <karn@ka 9 q . n et> on Friday October 01, 2004 @05:54PM (#10409184) Homepage
    I wish Rutan et al well, but this whole X-Prize thing bothers me.

    If these guys were investigating and developing a radical new technology that's orders of magnitude cheaper than the traditional ways of getting into space, then it would be really interesting. Even a stunt like the X-Prize shot would be worthwhile to help develop it. But it's not radical new technology. It's just the same old chemical rocket stuff all over again. With a lot of cut corners. (And, apparently, "unscripted maneuvers").

    And they're not even particularly good chemical rockets. Hybrid rockets burning plastic/rubber/etc and N2O have inherently poorer performance than, say, the hydrogen/oxygen engines that are common on the upper stages of orbital launchers. Hybrids are simpler, cheaper and safer, and they've become very popular among amateur high-power rocketeers for this reason. They're fun. But they just don't have the performance for a practical orbital launcher, as opposed to a suborbital "stunt" flight. Or is "commercial manned space" just about quickie zero-g joyrides for people with too much money? I can already experience zero-g on an airplane or Six Flags' Superman: The Escape a lot more cheaply.

    The problem is that there just don't seem to be any radical, new technologies promising to cut space access costs by orders of magnitude just waiting for entrepreneurs to commercialize them. And that means only a tiny handful of humans will ever be able to go into space in our lifetime, and for at least several more. I wish it were otherwise, but we have to face facts. In the meantime, we have to get the very most out of the expensive launchers we do have, and that means putting more and more capable robots into space to give us earthbound humans the best vicarious experience of space travel we can possibly get.

    I'm also really put off by all this "go private enterprise, rah rah rah" stuff, as if NASA is full of complete idiots. (It got so thick the other morning that I had to turn the TV volume down.) Who do they think builds the rockets that NASA has been flying for decades? What about the many space launchers that have already been fully commercialized? And where did the money for SpaceShipOne really come from? (Hint: what if the US Government were to actually enforce its antitrust laws against large software companies?)

    If you've got the money, you can already buy a launch from any of several commercial companies, and only some of them are American. And there are companies who routinely launch stuff and make money. Space is already big business.

    But when I look at SpaceShipOne and similar projects, I see a bunch of rich guys publicly stroking their egos. SpaceShipOne is a dead-end hack. I'd actually be completely okay with that if only they would be more honest with the public about what they're really doing.

    • Good hacks (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dr. Zowie (109983)
      Nah, you've got the emphasis all wrong. These guys are demonstrating that existing technology is sufficient to open a new niche. Hybrid rockets have been in serious use (by the amateur community) for a little over a decade, and are a very important development for safety.

      The big problem with liquid-fueled rockets is that they blow up so damned easily. You have to mix two (often cryogenic) fuels rapidly and efficiently, and ignite them rapidly and steadily enough that no pooling or major vortex shedding

      • Re:Good hacks (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Phil Karn (14620)
        You don't understand. Sure, it's easier to build low-performance rocket engines. Sure, they're much safer and cheaper. But they're simply not enough, not if you want to reach orbit instead of being limited to quickie suborbital stunts with no meaningful future. Why do you think NASA and its international counterparts work so hard on developing advanced rocket engines despite the enormous challenges? Just to waste money?

        The average man on the street doesn't understand that just achieving altitude, even 100

        • Re:Good hacks (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Teancum (67324) <{ten.orezten} {ta} {gninroh_trebor}> on Friday October 01, 2004 @10:11PM (#10410737) Homepage Journal
          *Sigh*

          The average person "on the street" frankly is totally clueless about what is even happening. Frankly, they are asking the average geek/nerd/astro guy they happen to know and ask them just what all this hoopla is really all about, and wondering why the geek is wetting his pants. (well, some of them at least)

          This is a cool thing, and credit should be given where credit is due. With the announcement of the "America's Prize" (I guess yet to be announced) a new round in the competition for going into space will soon be at hand. If you are correct about Space Ship One, that Burton Rutan can't get it (or a similar ship) into orbit, then it looks like Armadillo Aerospace and the Romanians are going to be much more in the running for that prize.

          The ships from those two groups appear to be more upgradeable to make it to orbit, although I would have to agree that reentry issues have not been fully explored. Still, there are a number of private groups now that have working propulsion systems going, and have been at least sending things up a few hundred feet, if not more, and are dealing with scalability issues as well.

          I appreciate the fact that the X-Prize has set the tone of the current attitude toward space exploration. While it is more than likely driving nails into the coffin of NASA, there is much more to what is happening in the space industry than even cute rocket stunts. And don't think the big aerospace companies aren't paying attention to what is going on either.

          Right now the rocket industry is in a renasannce that looks very much like the early days of the automobile industry or the early aviation industry. There are a couple of very well financed companies (like XCOR, for example) that I would be surprised if they went belly up, but still anything is possible. Boeing certainly struggled in their early days when they were first starting out, and it was a construction team smaller than Armadillo Aerospace, with far less financial backing.

          I predict that private commercial space enterprises (like Virgin Galactic) will be within 10 years bringing in more cashflow than the entire computer industry. One reason in particular is because there is much more room to grow into space than there is for the computer industry to penetrate into 3rd World nations. Private space companies "going public" will be the next darling on Wall Street, and will create the next round of Billionaires for those who are getting in right now.

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