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Scramjet Test Flight Less Than Successful 139

Sunthorn writes: "After much hype NASA was forced to destroy the X-43 prototype seconds into the flight after the launch rocket went out of control." The BBC has another story with some pre-flight pictures. Anybody have actual flight photos? Update: 06/02 8:28 PM by michael : Emperor writes "The official NASA take on the X-43 destruction." Update: 06/03 10:18 AM by michael : And someone else sent in this photo gallery, with some really nice close-ups.
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Scramjet Test Flight Less Than Successful

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Would you like to calculate the energy of a Mach 7 dive before getting back to us as to what you are expecting some piddly little explosive to destroy that the ocean won't already have?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's a good thought, but it requires a great deal of design to make something retrievable from the ocean. Not only do you need the thing to separate on command and deploy a parachute, you also need a way for it to float, be protected from seawater, and signal its location. All of these things require parts to be added to the experimental craft which increases complexity, increasing cost and potentially endangering its primary mission (e.g., there are that many more opportunities for someone to make a conversion error.) Add to that as well that fact that if a rocket engine goes awry, it is extremely likely that other onboard systems will be damaged. Even if the retrieval mechanisms function, the system as a whole will have to be recovered and carefully audited and the retrieval systems rebuilt before it can be tested again.

    So, it is not as simple a matter as it may seem. It is an involved high level decision that depends on a lot of numerical information that we on slashdot just don't have.
  • After the engine design is refined to the point of being operationally implementable - i.e. we can build them, and they work - I would imagine the next phase of the program would be better fuselage design to accomodate room for passengers, a pilot, missiles, satellites, etc.

    I think this stage of the testing is geared to study the engine dynamics more than anything else - i.e. how does the scramjet perform under specific controlled conditions. Looking at the current fuselage design, I believe it's current purpose is simply to give the engine what it needs to get started at hypersonic speeds, and run long enough for us to be doing telemetry on the *engine*, not the rest of the plane itself.

    So, we're only seeing a small part of the eventual (hopefully) implemented design of scramjet-based transportation systems.

    I'm sure we'll get to the rest of the plan once the engines have been proven and tested. It's all about the scramjet right now, in other words ...
  • Ummm, there's NOTHING stopping you from starting up your magical company, gathering venture capital, building your own launch vehicle (or hitching a ride on a Russian or ESA rocket) and going at it. Go on, I dare you. The reason governments are the only ones funding research is because businesses don't have the balls it takes to put up so much money up front. Building a moon base would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. American businesses are too short-sited and devoted to short term profits to commit to the 10-15 year life cycle such an undertaking would require. So where does that leave us? NASA. Unfortunately they're always at the beck and call of whatever political party is in office that year. It's become a game of cat and mouse just to keep your funding much less get anything useful done on the research frontier. Woops.. a Democrat started that program? Sorry, we're going to scrap that and start an equally expensive program to do the same thing under a different name but you have to start from ground zero again. What this country needs is a strong revitalization and push towards science. I would really like to see just a tiny bit of that 400 billion dollars we spend on defending ourselves from other nations be put to good use in cooperation with our allies to do something USEFUL rather than building bombs and tanks. Politics is the worst disease the human race has ever contracted and it has proved to be hereditary.
  • How long did it take you to find the flaw? Probably longer than the few seconds it took NASA...)

    Be fair... my bugs don't explode in a giant supersonic fireball and rain shrapnel on the test site. So it takes me a few minutes to notice 'em sometimes. ;)

  • You are wrong, and I'd love to correct you. However, don't take it personally; naming the sides of the moon "light," and "dark" is very misleading. In truth, the light side of the moon is lit 50% of the time and the dark side of the moon is lit 50% of the time. The so called "light" side always faces toward the Earth. This is due to a phenomenon known as tidal lock.

    At least the second part of your comment was better informed...

  • For the scram jet to actually work, the vehicle needs to be doing something like mach 2 or 3 as I recall.

  • Well, a little searching indicates it is, indeed, in excess of Mach 3 that a scramjet becomes functional. It is, in fact, Mach 4.7.

    Anyone know the benefits of a scramjet over a ramjet? I'm guessing a scramjet must be able to function in a much lighter atmosphere (read: "space", i.e. low-Earth orbit) or something.
  • Please recall that there *is* atmosphere as high as low-earth orbit. It's not very dense, but it is atmosphere. If NASA plans to use this for space launches, one might assume that there would be enough atmosphere low-earth orbit altitudes to sustain combustion for scramjets. Or, alternatively, they vehicle could build enough momentum to carry it into orbit after the atmosphere is too weak to support combustion.
  • by The Mayor ( 6048 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @04:10AM (#181431)
    Hmm. The SR-71 uses ramjets. The SR-71 was delivered (i.e. operational) in 1966. So, in fact, we've had operational ramjet engines for about 35 years now. Actually, it's a turbojet/ramjet--it operates as a turbojet at subsonic speeds, and as a ramjet at supersonic speeds.

    Scramjets are another issue altogether. They are closely related to ramjets, but the only alleged operational scramjet is on the Aurora, the successor to the SR-71. Of course, that is *pure* speculation, as the Aurora has not been officially confirmed.
  • by The Mayor ( 6048 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @03:25PM (#181432)
    From everyone's posts so far, it seems like there are some misconceptions about scramjets.

    People keep asking why they didn't separate the booster from the scramjet so they can gather as much information from the scramjet as possible. Others are asking why they didn't separate, then let the scramjet operate to gather information.

    Well, folks, a scramjet has to get to sufficient speed before it will even work. I am no supersonic aeronautical engineer, but my failing memory (too much LDS in college ;-) tells me it's something in excess of Mach 3.

    Well, in that case, if there's a failure with the booster rocket, there's absolutely nothing you can gather from the experiment. You can't fire the bloody scramjet engine. Separating the booster from the scramjet wouldn't do any good.

    Furthermore, we've all seen the damage caused when a 747 hits the water at ~250mph. It breaks apart in a spectacular fashion. It takes years for experts to piece together the reckage to determine what happens. Now, imagine what happens when an object hits the water at 700+mph. It would be pretty damn difficult to get any valuable information from it. Furthermore, the risks to public safety would be incredibly high if NASA let this thing go.

    In the end, that's the reason they blew it up. No information can be gathered about the scramjet, and it poses a risk to public safety.
  • The latest issue of Invention & Technology [] has a cover story on the X-15 program that ran during the 1960s. The program made possible, but was overshadowed by, the space program.

    They talk at the end about scramjet research that was scrapped at the end of the program and how we would be much farther ahead than we are now in developing a space plane if it had been completed.

    Another excellent research program brought to its knees by public ignorance and apathy.
  • I think they will have more traditional engines as well in order to get up to speed. In some plans I have seen, this is actually a seperate chamber within the same engine. You use the traditional jets and then close a flap to seal off the turbine and enable the scramjet. Still a tricky proposition.

    So why do we need to be able to fly from New York city to Tokyo in 2 hours anyway? Why can't people just learn to be hapy where they are?
  • Maybe NASA would do a bit better after listening to some pop music... "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger".... courtesy of Daft Punk of course...
  • The V1 was a pulsejet, not a ramjet. The two are very different. A pulsejet typically uses flapper valves to admit air into the combustion chamber and to force the combustion products out the back of the engine. They are very loud.
    • Most of what NASA has done since Apollo has been crap.
    Uhm, Yeah.. whatever you say. []

    I would have to rate going to space as being one of the most difficult things to do in human existence. You obviously have no understanding how NASA actually operates, as most their funding comes from private industry. For example, go find that really comfortable swedish pillow that costs about $90USD. That was a joint venture with NASA to provide that material.

  • Says it all, doesn't it?
  • While agreeing completely that private industry is frequently extremely shortsighted in their research, well...

    Government frequently shows no vision at all. Shortsighted can be an imporvement. NASA got into space because Kennedy was a visionary, and appointed visionaries. And because Johnson saw the opportunity for a tremendous political bonanza and the Houston Space Center. As soon as it was built, NASA support dropped like a plummet. Now it's back to being what the military needs (with a bit of support to telecommunications and the weather... but those are left to age, and only sporadically replaced). NASA engineers have to build things out of spit and bailing wire, and hope that they will hold together, while the bureaucrats fight turf battles. And NASA has claimed the status of a monopoly. The bureaucrats get to choose who is allowed to try a launch. (Guess what, only NASA launches have much of a chance.)

    So, yes. Rather than THIS NASA, I think private companies would do a better job. Or at least they'd have a chance. IF they weren't totally hamstrung. (This is assuming that the govt. would contract out the work that is currently being done in-house.)

    The real problem is that, at least for now, I don't see how the space program can get along without government support. And such support is always extremely dangerous. The one reason that it might be reasonable is, well...

    The California "power crisis" (as it is called) demonstrates the ability of a small group to manipulate an economic good through cohesive action. Cartel, I believe the term is. The space program also has those characteristics that would make it vulnerable to a cartel as soon as it became economically worth it. I.e., high barriers to entry for those outside. A small enough collection of entities that an agreement among them is feasible. A time lag before additional competition can enter, even after it becomes worthwhile to do so. They've even got a monopoly ... nearly all of the geostationary orbits are already in use, so the competition would have to create substitutes. This tends to imply that eventually governmental control would become necessary. But I still have my doubts that the space industry should be regulated very much at the moment.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • >>The plain fact is that we don't have the commitment any more; NASA knows this and is running scared.

    I'm not sure I'd take it that far. I'd say that they have political realities that they have to work within and are doing the best they can with the available resources.

    NASA has a completely different objective today of advancing space technology, evangelizing the heroics of space flight, and serving as a development platform for the nascent space industries. The shuttle does a wonderfull job of those items.

    The apollo mission was a no cost barred affair to put an american on the moon ahead of the russians and if you want to quibble, had a substantially worse safety record than the shuttle program at a much higher cost.

    The shuttle is plainly out of date but as with anything carrying meat cargo, the cost of initial engineering is so high that we have to design looking forward 20 years to justify the expense.

    The whole premise of the 'better, faster, cheaper' program is that we can use current technology to produce lower quality space exploration vehicles and advance robotic space exploration. Only by making mistakes do we prove our technology and I'd much rather slam a robot into mars than a person.

    The ISS is a boondoggle just like Mir and may come into full service only to be rendered irrelevant by robotic space industry and exploration. The simple math is that you can send 100x robotic payloads into orbit for the cost of one human when you include support costs.

    I believe in the dream of human space exploration myself but I'm a realist and know that it's going to take a lot of small steps to get us there and that we have to develop reasons for humans to be in space beyond just the glory.

  • Look...building hardware is just not all THAT hella expensive. If you don't design it such that it requires recovery, the physical hardware that goes slamming into the ocean need not be 'spensive. That's not to say that the PROGRAM is cheap...but the incremental cost of one more spaceplane prototype just isn't that crazy high.

    Nevertheless, I feel that air-breathing high-speed propulsion (that's to say hypersonic atmospheric travel) is a dead end. We'd be much better off developing air-augmented rockets and pure rockets for ferrying humans around Earth. The engineering requirements of hypersonic atmospeheric craft (specifically, the aerodynamic heating of the craft) are pretty staggering. Someday it'll be practical. For now, we'd be much better off figuring out that aerospike engine concept.
  • I'd go so far as to speculate that no unmanned space mission can EVER be classed as a "disaster", no matter what happens. A debacle, certainly. Very embarassing, sure. Space engineering gets an order of magnitude or three more rigorous when people are involved. The only tricky bit is that it also gets an order of magnitude or three more tricky, too.

    Reducing costs and increasing mission reliability and efficacy all at the same time is not possible. Effective, reliable and get to pick two. NASA does as good (or better) a job of this than anybody else on Earth. Their track record is, by and large, pretty damn impressive.

    That said, I think a) NASA is way too stodgy and b) they're FAR too interested in the (dead end) International Space Station. Exploration of space is worth the risk of life. Sign me up for the first seat out of Earth's gravity well.
  • OK, I'm not a particularly environmentally minded person, but I believe that large numbers of supersonic shock waves in the ocean is a catastrophically Bad Idea. These waves will be WAY more powerful (and destructive) than sonic booms are in air. I think far more study is required before we decide that high-speed underwater travel is a Good Idea.
  • I assume you're being sarcastic. Yes, in principle, the mechanism is very simple.

    Try designing one.
  • ...too much LDS in college...

    So it would seem :-)

  • That list of ingredients omits this planet's most significant greenhouse gas: water vapor.
  • It's a shame they didn't simply hit the TEST button and let the X-43 loose before they destroyed the rocket. Maybe the engine would have done something interesting.
  • I know what the theory says about the minimum speed. I don't know how fast the scramjet was moving when the problems started.

    My point is: What was there to lose? The ship was about to be destroyed, so let it loose and see what happens.

    These brief news reports don't mention such details. Maybe the destruction was automatic, maybe there was no manual separation ability, maybe the test area was linear -- thus going in the wrong direction might overly a populated area.

  • The simple version.

    At extremely high velocities, air enters a ramjet combustion chamber too fast for efficient thrust to be generated. In a scramjet, vanes slow the air down before it reaches the combustion chamber, allowing operation at higher velocities. This is the opposite of what a turbojet does, where the fan speeds the air up entering the combustion chamber.

  • I didn't realize how small it is. From the article [] mentioned in the parent post:
    The X-43A weighs in at approximately 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms). The craft is 12 feet (3.7 meters) long, with a width of 5 feet (1.5 meters), and measures 2 feet (.6 meters) in height.
    Somehow I just assumed it was the size of a normal airplane.
  • Making my dream of a Jet-powered oldsmobile a reality........

    Why bother with a jet when you can get a Rocket [] under the hood? :-)

  • For those sea trips, how about supersonic subs? 13.html []

    The russians have torpedos that use the principle

    IIRC, the Shkval (sp?) isn't supersonic. It's much faster than any conventional torpedo (somewhere on the order of 150-200 knots), but considering that Mach 1 underwater is considerably higher than Mach 1 in the air, it's not there just yet.

  • Since you are obviously so brilliant, why don't you post the mathematical equations of a mach-7 dive into the ocean?

    Or is your post simply a way to call someone a fuckhead and stroke your own ego?

  • I couldn't agree with you more. These things are not called prototypes because the word sounds cool. They fail. A lot. And the engineers learn something from every failure.

    (Remember that whole "scientific method" thing, all you Computer Science majors here? The bit about designing an experiment, and when it fails, feeding the results back into the next attempt? When was the last time any of you wrote a non-trivial program that didn't have a serious flaw? How long did it take you to find the flaw? Probably longer than the few seconds it took NASA...)

    ``There's a reason we have three of these (prototypes),'' NASA spokesman Fred Johnson said. ``It's an experimental flight test. If we knew the outcome we wouldn't be learning anything.''

    Why do you think we refer to difficult tasks as rocket science? :-)

  • my bugs don't explode in a giant supersonic fireball and rain shrapnel on the test site.

    Clearly you're using the wrong programming language. I understand that this is perfectly normal in, say, Perl. :-)

  • Why does it have to be efficient? It just has to be doable.
  • by be-fan ( 61476 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @03:07PM (#181457)
    I'd be cautious of having an opinion about something like that without hedging a bit. While I can see the point that private industry would be more efficient in implementing space programs, but I'd argue that it would lead to short-sightedness in research. Corporations are notoriously short-sighted (ex. AT&T not recognizing until 1998 that the internet would put long-distance carriers out of business) and space research could go from focusing on projects that have little immediate returns (but long term potential gains) to focusing on projects that can make a quick buck. I'd argue that a blend of both public and private research would be ideal, with a public agency like NASA focusing on long-term research (like studying comets, deep space, etc), and private companies focusing on short-term projects (like a moon base).
  • That website is the best website I have read in a LONG TIME! I'll certainly think twice next time I come near one of so many DHMO infected foods and beverages.

    Ian Zink
  • Let's many times has a ValueJet crashed recently? I can remember one. How many times has a NASA project failed recently? I think it's safe to say more than once.

    Sure, no manned project in recent history has gone horribly wrong, but that isn't to say that they've had a perfect record; indeed, they've had their share of disasters.

    Of course, NASA ain't perfect, but it's still more to be trusted than companies that need to reduce costs

    There's part of the problem. NASA *does* need to reduce costs, because it's receiving less funding than it might have. Funding that once would have gone to space exploration is being spent elsewhere, as the American public's interests and focus change.
  • I am no supersonic aeronautical engineer, but my failing memory (too much LDS in college ;-)



  • Excerpt from a chat earlier in the day:

    jim_bowery: Final checks are being carried out on a jet designed to fly at a record-breaking seven times the speed of sound.

    It could beat the previous record for hypersonic flight, set in 1967.

    colleague: where is that from?

    jim_bowery: 364000/1364532.stm

    jim_bowery: ya gotta wonder what happened between the summer of love until now to delay progress in hypersonic flight -- must be those damn boomers not listening to their GI generation parents cuz they were too spoiled

    colleague: who is building the jet?

    jim_bowery: NASA

    colleague: funny how things start up again right when the boomers start to get a little power

    colleague: (and I do mean a "little")

    jim_bowery: well, you have to keep in mind the demographic inversion that took place in NASA during that period

    jim_bowery: fewer boomers in NASA than any other demographic group

    colleague: that is interesting. I've heard that NASA is mostly Indians and Chinese these days

    jim_bowery: probably is

    colleague: to the point that guys like are noticing.

    jim_bowery: but that's ok because he takes it up the ass from Goldin's tribe

    colleague: well, that may be why he notices now -- GT are starting to go and the Indians are still coming (quite literally)

    jim_bowery: B52 bomber will drop the x43a... same jet that dropped the x15

    jim_bowery: but neither the x15 nor the x43a are orbital, and the x15 wasn't an air breather, although it did carry an air-breathing engine for test purposes once

    colleague: so it sounds like they are starting to get close to orbital though


    colleague: seems likely that this will come true by 2020

    jim_bowery: why do you say that?

    colleague: seems like things are starting to pick up a little bit again, I can imagine that the Europeans, Russians, Chinese will want to get into the suborbital market.

    jim_bowery: well, it isn't so much a claim about whether a suborbital market will exist or not -- it assumes there will be -- it is about whether that market will be driven by systems like the x43a or not

    colleague: I see

    jim_bowery: you have to understand that the guy who I accidentally got in trouble at NASA Ames was the former head of the NASP program

    colleague: I remember something about this.

    jim_bowery: oblique flying wing supersonic wind tunnel tests were being blocked by HQ and I forced it from the congressional level -- and used something he told me to help accomplish that

    colleague: I see

    jim_bowery: RT Jones was the OFW SST guy

    colleague: ok

    jim_bowery: Jones told me that getting out of the atmosphere was the most important thing -- and RT Jones invented supersonic aerodynamic modeling back in 1940s that is still used today

    jim_bowery: the x43a doesn't get out of the atmosphere fast enough it tries to hang on to the atmosphere to use it for reaction mass

    colleague: that _is_ longevity

    jim_bowery: well they are pretty basic equations related to how swept wings interact with shock waves

    colleague: ok

    jim_bowery: btw: he never got a degree


    jim_bowery: NASP was Reagan's attempt to do an x43a type program in a big scale during the 80s -- so it all comes full circle

    colleague: so, it seems like the X craft are a way for GOP presidents to dole out some sugar.

    jim_bowery: he died recently never getting to see his oblique wing idea really given a good trial

    colleague: that may be why it is safe to do now

    jim_bowery: the oblique wing SST is a rational attempt to use air at high speed, but the last conversation I had with him (while working on the rocket engine) he had given up on it -- he died shortly thereafter

    colleague: sounds like Jones had his head on straight.

    jim_bowery: he pretty well did, but his body was pretty twisted from an accident -- the nature of which I don't recall

    jim_bowery: but he was ambulatory

    jim_bowery: just

    jim_bowery: what he told me just before he died was that the 747 was a really good system and that rather than trying to push things into the supersonic region, it made more sense to just make the long flights more comfortable for passengers

    colleague: I suspect that hypersonic will first be relevant to cargo-dhl and such, when you really need it there this afternoon.

    jim_bowery: well, the point of the SOrb claim is that hypersonic flight will be rendered irrelevant by sub orbital flight in precisely these cargo markets

    jim_bowery: (although I do allow for passenger markets to enter the equation but only as tonnage)

    colleague: that could be pretty devastating for NASA it would seem

    colleague: just might get NASA back to basic research/certification where they seem to belong.

    jim_bowery: well, yes, and that is why I discussed it with Rep. Rohrabacher as an example of a market that is waiting to take off if the government would just get out of the way -- big mistake on my part since months later his constituent aerospace company MD announced the DC-X with what sounded a lot like my rhetoric

    colleague: ah...

    jim_bowery: I was using Truax as an example of what could be done in this area with little capital if the capital gains taxes were relieved, etc.

    colleague: sounds good

    jim_bowery: yeah, it sure did... maybe a little too good for a pseudo-libertarian congressman from long beach

    colleague: here's the thing: once space starts to happen, a lot of these guys loose their nooky connections.

    colleague: I think they'll have to be facing some real trouble before they let up on the screws in a serious way.

    colleague: (i.e. when the kids from Idaho start figuring out how to build rockets and launch them at Federal buildings).

    jim_bowery: Do they have daycare centers in the Capitol building?

    colleague: don't know. Still, the US guvvies kill lots of civilians over seas.

    jim_bowery: it seems like the Idaho kids would be more likely to shoot there

    jim_bowery: yeah but the US guvvies have dominant genes so they can do whatever the fuck they want

    jim_bowery: the Idaho kids have to be more careful

    colleague: I suspect the Idaho kids will be hitting Federal buildings a bit closer to home

    colleague: Also, just the fact of rockets landing, is going to have an affect--even if noone is killled. Maybe _especially_ if noone is killed.

    jim_bowery: yeah... a bit more impressive than a private airplane crashing into the white house

    colleague: I can see these guys just announcing stuff a few minutes ahead of time--and the folks clearing out of the buildings REAL fast

    jim_bowery: I wonder if the guvvies actually have any anti-ballistic missile intercept technologies that really work -- I suspect they would try to claim that any rocket that didn't kill someone failed to do so because the government was able to neutralize it with ABM technology

    colleague: I tend to doubt that they have stuff that would work that well-especially against stuff that was occuring in any kind of reasonable quantity.

    jim_bowery: of course, im thinking here of the capitol building again... a Federal building wouldn't have any such protection -- they need to rely on the daycare center

    colleague: IMHO the right tactic is to somehow announce 5 minutes ahead of time that the missles are coming.

    colleague: if folks don't get out when warned then _they_ look bad.

    jim_bowery: so a public warning -- probably an internet-based warning

    colleague: could be something even more crude--a rocket that just drops a bunch of pamphlets ahead of time.

    jim_bowery: I wonder if your contacts with etc. have thought of that scenario. Maybe an idea futures claim is in order.

    colleague: What if McVeigh had gone for the building and left the kids alone?

    jim_bowery: it would have been a lot more effective

    colleague: it is pretty obvious isn't it?

    jim_bowery: that's what made me think it might have been an intelligence op

    jim_bowery: but after reading the thing by McVeigh, it seems he had a fairly narrow perspective -- something that is consistent with his military mentality

    colleague: McVeigh had been involved in similar missions it seems-screwed with his head.

    colleague: I don't think the Idaho kids will make quite the same mistake. Besides, blow up all the guvvie buildings and it means more jobs for construction workers.

    jim_bowery: exactly

    colleague: That is more the extended phenotypics that I tend to expect when things start happening for real -- that and Unabomber type attacks at carefully targeted people.

    jim_bowery: of course, construction workers these days are largely from mexico, but then the new generation of Idaho kids have a lot of mexican mothers among them

    jim_bowery: and some mexican fathers

    colleague: I hear that.

    colleague: that is why I tend to think that Black/Hispanic -- shallower culture dynamics are the real ones.

    colleague: Also, Mormon country and a revivied Dixie might make good buffer states if Hispanics and Blacks ever need to go independent.

    jim_bowery: I think they have enough fertile women to go around

    jim_bowery: probably won't need to go independent

    jim_bowery: need to take off for a while

    colleague: I think what will drive independence is the reaction when we see Black and Hispanics governments in the southern states.

    colleague: I don't think that the higher ups can _REALLY_ share power the way they'd have to really get along.

    colleague: take care

    colleague: bye


    colleague: how goes it there

    colleague: so on the suborbital stuff, what do you see as the technical options?

    jim_bowery: main one is just straight forward "blast it stright out of the atmosphere and let it reenter near destination" using rockets

    jim_bowery: there may be optimizations like low-atmospheric airbreathing turbofan jet engine platforms that act as the first stage, and "skipping" off the atmosphere to save fuel

    colleague: how much advantage does that give over using something like a 747?

    jim_bowery: also skipping off the atmosphere can be a way to bleed off heat more slowly and lower thermal stress

    jim_bowery: depends on reflight turnaround time

    jim_bowery: and cost of support infrastructure

    colleague: when you say "skipping" of the atmosphere, I have the image of skipping rocks on water

    jim_bowery: I suspect that with Truax's model (floating rockets) it wouldn't be too bad

    jim_bowery: yes that's the right image

    colleague: Truax's model is big, dumb boosters--that seems incompatible with skipping

    jim_bowery: you get out of the atmosphere but on long trips you are going to be close to tangential to the atmosphere, so rather than just hit the atmosphere all at once, you bleed off the energy by dipping down into it and popping back out -- this can also provide additional range under some scenarios

    colleague: I see

    jim_bowery: no the aerodynamic loads on Truax's boosters are about as bad as they are with the winged vehicles.

    colleague: ok

    jim_bowery: he bleeds energy by rotating the booster as it comes in, relying on its high surface area and low mass (empty tanks) to get rid of energy and slow the thing down

    jim_bowery: he might be able to get it to skip

    colleague: ok

    colleague: one thing about it, the whole process is pretty dang energy intensive. I can bet the Arabs might love this the next time they really need an oil price boost.

    jim_bowery: but that is really secondary -- the main thing is the turnaround time on the capital equipment -- more trips means more profits and faster amortization

    jim_bowery: well im not so sure it is all that bad energetically

    colleague: the point is that if Suborbital were to take of, it takes more energy per pound of transport than say a 747--and even if it didn't it would mean more pounds of transport because ofthe additional capability here.

    jim_bowery: I haven't run the numbers but with all that distance covered with no burn, you can afford a lot of burn at takeoff -- although it is also true that while cruising 747s burn a lot less than they do during takeoff and landing (concord is a monster in this regard -- 40% of its fuel eaten near the airports)

    jim_bowery: there have been sky hook proposals to get systems that just fly all the time and grab onto cargo that is being lifted from the ground by systems that are more efficient at take off and landing

    colleague: I see

    jim_bowery: but if you go hypersonic, the drag problems are at least polynomial -- so there appears to be no way for them to compete against rockets over long distances

    colleague: so the hypersonic stuff is pretty much noise

    jim_bowery: the way I see it, single stage rockets are really simple and cheap -- especially if you don't have to go single stage to orbit. since the immediate market is suborbital anyway, it makes sense to try to do what Truax has been doing

    jim_bowery: but you have to have a cost breakthrough

    colleague: I can see that. I can also see that this scares the shit out of some folks because lots of countries have the manufacturing base Truax assumes.

    jim_bowery: yeah -- you should have seen the guy from Sea Launch ( ch/) when I mentioned Truax's name at the Small Sat conference in Logan UT back in 93 -- he had a GT name and looked it too.

    jim_bowery: GT give me that look from time to time.

    colleague: I believe it

    jim_bowery: he was a Navy admiral -- little fuckin weasel

    colleague: I wonder how many folks these guys really have in position

    colleague: can't be that many

    jim_bowery: well this guy was positioned and he was filled with venom he dared not spit when I mentioned Truax

    jim_bowery: really endeared me to the concept of GT supremacy

    colleague: sounds like a Prussian general on the Russian front.

    colleague: Fighting a war he can't win.

    jim_bowery: well right now he is launching and Truax isn't.

    colleague: only because he has money.

    jim_bowery: Truax has money -- he has a navy pension!

    jim_bowery: and volunteers helping him that are trying to get other volunteers to spend time on nanotech instead of rockets.


    colleague: is the nanotech guy still there?

    jim_bowery: that was 10 years ago... probably not

    jim_bowery: I haven't visited Truax in a long time. I'll do so while im in his area if possible.

    jim_bowery: I keep visiting these guys who have these key technologies that are on their way out.

    colleague: I hate to think about what is going to be lost with Truax

  • You seem to be concentrating on their mistakes while ignoring their fabulous successes. We have been flying space shuttles for decades and only lost one. We put two men on the moon and brought them back safely, and the advancements made directly because of the development of the computers used in that mission are the reason why a sorry jealous idiot like you can even afford a computer.
  • I love how the BBC specifies that it was an "unmanned" aircraft. The picture of the X-43A mounted under the wing of an airplane looks like maybe a Barbie Doll could have flown it.

  • Would *you* fly a Scramjet-like test-plane designed by a company? I think I'd rather fly in a plane designed by Nasa then one designed by a company. Sure, this one blew-off, but it was unmanned.

    Had it been a company in a bad financial situation, they could have been tempted to put a man there. "Hey, if we don't do it, we'll go bankrupt, so we should at least try a manned mission. If it works, we're rich and if it doesn't, we're bankrupt anyway". Of course, this is a bit exagerated, but you get the idea.

    Of course, NASA ain't perfect, but it's still more to be trusted than companies that need to reduce costs (read ValueJet).
  • ...that when one of their unmanned testbeds blows up for some stupid reason, it's an eternity before they can try again.

    When one of their hydrogen tanks decided to leak and destroy one of the (now canceled) research craft not so long ago, NASA said they would try again, once a new hydrogen tank arrived.

    In 10+ months!

    It takes them so freakin' long to do *anything*. 6 hours just to prepare the meals on the ISS.

    How can you possibly spend 6 hours reheating food!?!

    What is the hold-up here?
  • by eallison ( 105451 ) on Sunday June 03, 2001 @02:15AM (#181466)
    Ok, first of all, I am an aerospace engineer.

    The basic premise of a jet engine is that it essentially burns air! In a typical fuel/air ratio, the air far out-weighs the fuel, so a lot of air is needed. In a turbojet or a turbofan, there is something called a compressor stage that compresses the air coming in (and in the process slowing it down) which also increases the temperature of the air (remember chem 101?).

    As the free stream velocity (how fast the plane is going, becomes supersonic, this becomes more difficult, because the blades of the compressor aren't able to handle the flow. So, the solution is, get rid of the compressor - and use the shape of the nozzle to do the job for you. A normal shock wave is formed, which compresses the flow and reduces the air velocity to the subsonic range. In the process, the temperature in the flow goes way up, again. A normal shock wave always reduces the velocity of the flow to the subsonic range, so as the plane goes faster and faster, the temperature of the flow after the shock gets higher and higher (the energy in the velocity has to go somewhere). For example, if the free stream is at Mach 10, and the flow velocity at the combustor is Mach .2, the temperature increase in the flow is well over 4000 K. The pressure increase is 32 atm, which is not trivial. This is a big problem.

    The only way to solve this, if you still want to burn air at hypersonic (>Mach 5) speeds, is to inject the fuel in the combustor into a supersonic stream, and burn it in flight. This is not simple. In fact, it's never been done in an actual airplane (It's what was supposed to have happened today). That's also where the name SCRAMjet comes from. Supersonic Combustion RAM jet.

    The design of one of these things is so complex, that basically the whole vehicle becomes part of the engine - the exact shaping of the bottom of th plane is essential, and very difficult. That's why this has taken so long. Remeber, the X-15, and every other hypersonic vehicle to date has been rocket-powered, which does away with air all together.

  • Yes. But unfortunately we gathered valuable negative information on the Pegasus. No information was gathered on the scramjet they had spent most of the money on.

  • I wouldn't blame this one on NASA too much. How often to we hear about commercial sattelites and other sattelites for govornments getting destroyed by the launch vehicle f**king up?
  • Yes, the "Pegasus" rocket broke, but they still destroyed both the rocket and its payload (the plane).
    I didn't see it mentioned in the article, but I think they have already got a backup plane/rocket ready to test, hopefully sometime soon.
  • They're still learning from their mistakes, and I doubt it is your place to say that NASA doesn't know anything about what its doing. Sure, they make mistakes, but I'd bet that if news agencies focused on your daily activities, there would be people all over thinking "gee, he doesn't know what he's doing". And you're probably not handling $1/4 billion projects, or responsible for putting a man on the moon. I'm sorry, but your cynical view and lack of respect for NASA is appaling.
  • add something like a remote detachment and parachute attachment so that they can at least save the plane if something like this goes wrong?

    I know they didn't even wanted to retrieve the test planes, but if they added something like a parachute attachment, they may even actually be able to retrieve them as well. These things are pretty expensive, after all.

    But hey, IANANAE (I Am Not A NASA Aerospace Engineer), so what do I know, right?

  • when they ARE manned?

    I remember reading that this is suppose to revolutionize travel, meaning this is not just a military technology they are working on, but something geared towards civilian travel.

    I hope they are not going to continue to require rocket boosting to get fast enough for the scramjet engine to be operable. But then, how could they get up to that speed?

  • Yeah, I know they didn't want the plane to be retrievable (doesn't mean it could be though...)

    Were they planning to destroy it (using the same onboard explosives that they used this time) in the ocean after it dives in as well?

  • hey, depends on trajectory, the speed at which they were going to have the plane enter the ocean, and all that. Sure, even Mach 1 is enough to probably obliterate it, but I'd think that just in case that their little "planned destruction" of the plane didn't work, they'd still need to have the explosives anyhow.

    What if, for example, instead of the rocket veering off course, the plane veers off its death dive after it has been successful tested, and somehow it ended up skipping with a low angle of incident with respect to the ocean surface, and instead skipped like a stone on the ocean surface?

    not likely, but there is a slight possiblity, right?

  • never did I say I was brilliant. I'm merely saying that just like their test went wrong, so, too, could the expected destruction of the test plan via the mach 7 dive. What the hell do I care what the mathematical equations of a mach 7 dive is? nor did I think the person was wrong. I was just posing a "what if?" question. People are so easily offended around here.
  • We have been flying space shuttles for decades and only lost one.

    That's not something to be proud of - one too many shuttle destroyed and a bunch of people killed. Compare that to traditional rockets - they are the safest vehicle to space today, once people learned how to make them right (in both Russia and USA). The shuttle still doesn't have an emergency ejection system in case of disaster on launch. The design of shuttle's cabin can't accomodate that, and so astronauts just have to pray that everything works.

  • The just (fortunately) one Shuttle loss does not give you enough statistics to decide which system is more safe.

    True, if you count just few Shuttles that were made. Untrue, if you count number of launches or number of people launched.

    As I recall, nobody ever died using rockets - flying upward. Hundreds of people successfully went to space. Four died on the way back (1967 and 1971), but that was not the problem of the rocket - the rocket was long gone by then. We do have enough statistics on launches and on deaths, and so far the launch on a rocket is safer (0% of observed fatalities) than driving on a highway.

    One also can't directly compare number of catastrophic fires/explosions on rockets and on Shuttle. Fire of a rocket is not fatal or even dangerous, it happened once or twice, but the crew was saved by an independent hardware that was intentionally designed in, knowing that sooner or later a rocket will explode on launch. A single failure of a Shuttle killed everyone because the Shuttle was built with zero tolerance to a failure. Flexible systems bend, rigid systems break.

    A Shuttle service history is another data point. Many failures are caught after the flight, many failures are caught on pre-launch countdown, and lately every Shuttle flight gets its own, unique malfunction to entertain the crew. That's because the fleet gets older and older, and no upgrade can help. Rockets, on the other hand, are made practically on a conveyor, and every cosmonaut gets a shining, brand new vehicle to ride on.

    Yet another consideration is numbers of launches of rockets vs. Shuttles. Rockets are launched very frequently, but when they only carry a satellite it is not news any more. Every launch is an addition to the database of known successes and failures. Many manned flights were successful because similarly designed rockets carried a satellite earlier - and failed. The failure was analyzed and prevented in next rockets. Evolution in rockets progresses very fast, as in fruit flies, because they live fast lives. If some component can be improved it will be introduced in new rockets, very fast. Shuttle riders have to test all flaws on themselves because there are no unmanned launches, and there is no redesign of parts of the Shuttle. When such redesign is needed (after the explosion) the fleet was grounded for many, many years.

  • The Mayor [] wrote:
    ...too much LDS in college...

    To which G-funk [] replied:
    So it would seem :-)

    You (and lw54 []) call yourselves geeks, and you don't even recognize a Star Trek (specifically, ST4: The Voyage Home) reference? For shame!


  • No, my proposal to let the coporations do the technological work, let the academic institutions do the pure science work, and let the government stop taking my damn money.

    The only "intuitive" interface is the nipple. After that, it's all learned.
  • You're right, individual companies can be very short sighted. However, the private sector as a whole, rarely is. The companies with long term vision succeed, while those without fail.

    Short sighted govenments on the other hand, cause billions in taxpayer dollars to be flushed down the toilet. Take the Soviet Union. Aside from the various unworkabilities of their economic system, they had too strong of a focus on heavy industry. Whereas the collapse of steel caused places like Detroit in the US to experience heavy recessions, in the Soviet Union it caused the whole damn country to collapse.

    Also, why in God's name would you consider a moon base to be short sighted? I'd consider single shot probes to be far more short sighted. With a moon base, you can carry on moon-based research for decades, even centuries if you build it strong enough. A probe on the other hand, maybe will last 5-10 years, of which 1 or 2 years will actually produce worthwhile data, and then it will be lost.

    Finally, in case you're worried about a lack of "pure science" research, don't forget academic institutions. It's fairly well known, I think, that government projects are always more expensive than private industry. Sometimes they do a better job (I've heard that Air France has a pretty top notch safety record), sometimes not (the Post Office: 6 seconds without a lost parcel and counting). So, given that, why send the government out first? Why not get corporations to bring down the cost, then have academic institutions (which always recieve govenment subsidies anyway) then provide the research for a tiny fraction of the cost? I mean, it's not like Mars is GOING anywhere!

    The only "intuitive" interface is the nipple. After that, it's all learned.

  • >>(too much LDS in college ;-)

    Too many Mormon coeds wreck your memory?

  • The plane did not cost one hundred million dollars, and it did not fail. The research for the know-how cost tens of millions, the plane cost bupkis, and the Pegasus booster failed.

  • Failed on what criteria? How do you measure that? America's poor were in shitty shape before spending programs appeared after the Depression, and they are in much better shape now. If you had grown up poor, you would not be so glib.

    It's arguable that whatever programs "failed" did so because white affluent people wanted the poor warehoused in the inner city in tall buildings, and then white businesses fled away to the 'burbs and annihilated the employment and retail sectors. And because school funding is dependent alsmot totally on property taxes, the suburbs funded well-endowed schools, and the poor neighborhoods couldn't fund construction paper, much less good education.And the adequate teachers fled to the 'burbs in droves. And the drug war gave street gangs money and influence and destroyed what little stability was there to begin with.

    Rinse and repeat for five generations, then blame the poor and Guvmint for what people did en masse of their own free will.

    End of line.

  • I got word first hand from a friend who worked on this project that the X-43 got deployed from the B-52 safely but when the rocket ignited a piece of the X-43 tore off causing the whole thing to go into cart wheels. It's really too bad the program will likely now get killed since it would really be cool to fly from say London to Tokyo at Mach 10.
  • Daniel 2000 is right. Experiments are not the same as showpiece demonstrations. It's the fear of bad publicity for "failures" that has slowed aerospace progress to a crawl. Back in the 50s, when it was OK to fail, we made huge progress.
  • by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @02:58PM (#181487)
    there are images of this flight somewhere. you don't spend tens of millions on an X project without doing something as basic as taking video of it's launch. whether or not you will ever get to see them is another story, of course. here [] is an example of still images and an mpeg video from another pegasus launch.

  • by General_Corto ( 152906 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @02:16PM (#181488)
    If you believe the schedule at Nasa Television, there will be a press conference at 6:30 on Saturday, to be repeated at 1pm, 4pm, 7pm, and 10pm on Sunday (all times are EDT).
  • by ^MB^ ( 153039 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @02:15PM (#181489)
  • or you can just set up multiple inter-connected stations... like a beowulf cluster hahahaha. that way there will be a power plant exposed to the sun at mostly any given time of day (except when the Earth is blocking the Sun of course). though i guess the extension cords would get a bit lengthy... i guess we can just use mirrors to reflect the light to one central power station.
  • "I hope they are not going to continue to require rocket boosting to get fast enough for the scramjet engine to be operable. But then, how could they get up to that speed?"

    So what if they do use rockets? Rockets are very efficient (more efficient than jet engines, and can be much less polluting); and can be made reliable.

  • For those sea trips, how about supersonic subs? 48 13.html

    The russians have torpedos that use the principle, and apparently the US Navy has applied it to bullets that are able to penetrate about 12M of water to destroy mines.
  • Correct, it is not supersonic (although the article is not clear if by 'supersonic' they mean 'faster than the speed of sound in air at sea level' or 'faster than the speed of sound in water', I suspect the former).

    Also, the Shkval is more like an explosive bullet than a traditional torpedo, it cannot be steered.
  • I'm still waiting to hear what will fall off of Cassini before it reaches Saturn.

    I read somewhere that there is a known problem with the Huygens (sp) probe... not something fatal, but there's definitely something amiss with it.

    I still have a fair amount of confidence in Cassini. It was one of the very last Slower, More Expensive missions. It's a billion-dollar probe, the last of the NASA monsters... it will certainly have some problems, but I bet it will come through in the end.

    Incidentally, it's freaking HUGE... I saw it a few times from the assembly bay observation deck at JPL. Weird to think that something I saw is now so freaking far away.
  • ...and could eliminate fossil fuel needs by 2010...

    If we wanted to land a rock on the moon at 4000 MPH we couldn't get the PAPERWORK done by 2010.
  • So why do we need to be able to fly from New York city to Tokyo in 2 hours anyway? Why can't people just learn to be hapy where they are?

    Well it's less expensive because you don't need to bring liquid oxygen up with you. Normal jets burn fuel together with oxygen which needs to be compressed in order to be injected in the burning chamber. Because speeds are so high, the scramjet can simply take oxygen from outside because the pressure is allready high enough. The engine also doesn't need any rotors or moving parts because the need for a compressor is gone. On top of that, it's also faster. Wasn't technology supposed to increase comfort value?

    See this scramjet tech [] explanation for more info.

  • Super Dave Osborne already came up with this idea - garbane. Buy stock while you can!

  • Hate to break it to you, but the 'pollutant' you get when you combine Hydrogen and Oxygen is H20. Or water for those of you that skipped chemistry 101.

    Hydrogen fuel is the holy grail of the enviromentalist, if you could only make and store it in a cheap and safe manner.

  • by Some Dumbass... ( 192298 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @03:56PM (#181504)
    All (or at least most) tax-payer funded space research and missions should be privatized. A company can do things better, cheaper, and faster than a government can. NASA has been proving that for years...

    NASA may seem bad, but since there has not yet been anything comparable to compare them to, your comparison doesn't hold water. Also, think about electrical suppliers in California. PG&E has been "proving" the opposite of your claim for quite a while now...

    Besides, all NASA does is contract out to those same companies. It's not like they build the rockets themselves. "Privatization" just means that Congress is paying Boeing directly (instead of funding NASA, who then pay Boeing or whoever). That won't create more accountability - it'll create less! Congress can't be bothered with all the details of every spending bill. At best, they'll make a committee or create an organization to deal with space funding - which basically means they're recreating NASA.

    Bids should be VERY open, so that there isn't any pork-belly pay-offs like are so common now, and there should be massive accountability with the funds (hey, thats MY money you just blew up...).

    Yeah, we all know how private corporations are historically good at being accoutable for their spending (Savings and Loan bailout, anyone?). Also, I'm sure they can run an honest "VERY open" auction without anyone checking up on them.

    The moon is 20 percent metal, 20 percent silicon, and 60 percent oxygen (not in an atmospere). It is the perfect place for solar harvesting. The panels could even be made in factories on the moon. It would be zero polution, as electricity is free on the moon, all you can eat.

    And we will be eating electricity, because there's no food on the moon :) Unless those panels are built by robots (powered by what?) we'll need a place for at least a few people. Sure, they can set up greenhouses, but they need to free that oxygen, mine that metal, set up power plants, make the actual greenhouses... don't you get the feeling that this project might take a while? I mean, it was only 32 years ago that we just barely made it to the moon, and as this article suggests, we're still at the "our equipment goes out of control sometimes" stage. And it's just a little harder to get oxygen from rocks than from water. Speaking of which, you'll need water too.

    It should be done, and it should be done immediately. Such an effort on the moon would change life as we know it here on earth, and could eliminate fossil fuel needs by 2010...

    How were we going to transmit that power back to Earth? Oh, I get it - this is the start of a new science fiction story!

    Seriously, I'm surprised that a post so full of speculation and conjecture got marked up so high. For example, replacing fossil fuels is a worthy goal, but really, why not just put more solar plants on Earth? Isn't putting them on the Moon just a bit of overkill? It's far easier to transmit power from sunny equatorial regions to the far reaches of the Earth than from the Moon to the same.
  • H2O! Oh no, isn't that dihydrogen monoxide []? I quote []:

    Some of the known perils of Dihydrogen Monoxide are:

    • Death due to accidental inhalation of DHMO, even in small quantities.
    • Prolonged exposure to solid DHMO causes severe tissue damage.
    • Excessive ingestion produces a number of unpleasant though not typically life-threatening side-effects.
    • DHMO is a major component of acid rain.
    • Gaseous DHMO can cause severe burns.
    • Contributes to soil erosion.
    • Leads to corrosion and oxidation of many metals.
    • Contamination of electrical systems often causes short-circuits.
    • Exposure decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes.
    • Found in biopsies of pre-cancerous tumors and lesions.
    • Often associated with killer cyclones in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere.
    • Thermal variations in DHMO are a suspected contributor to the El Nino weather effect.

    We must stop the use of DHMO-producing fuels in rocket engines IMMEDIATELY or we risk furthering the Earth's contamination with this DEADLY chemical!

    To clue-impaired moderators: this is a joke.

  • The flight plan for the X-43 involved a supersonic dive straight into the ocean, so that the unmanned prototype would be destroyed before the Chinese trawlers retrieved it.

    I shit you not... You can go to the Edwards AFB visitor center and read brochures about it. The line marking the planned trajectory dives straight to the ocean at a point marked "experiment termination." The point being that once they ran the test, they didn't want anyone to be able retrieve the plane.

  • There's another Article [] on []. From the article:

    NASA spokesperson Leslie Williams said a press conference would be held later today to discuss the failure. No details about the cause of the problem were immediately available, she said.

    On the bright side, at least it was unmanned. Hopefully we got a little data before we shot it down and it won't be a total loss.


  • by 3-State Bit ( 225583 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @02:51PM (#181512)
    From the article:
    NASA (news [] - web sites []) cameras aboard two F-18 chase planes showed the Pegasus rocket careening off course and tumbling out of the sky before controllers triggered on-board explosives to destroy it over the Pacific Ocean. (Bold added.)
    Given that it was destroyed over the ocean, dooes anyone know why NASA couldn't just have waited for the rocket to hit the water and "go out"? Then at least
    1. More of it might have been salvageable.
    2. More information might be gleaned from the rocket itself once it was retrieved.
    Does anyone who's close to such launches know whether it would it have been close enough to land that there was a risk it would veer back and "fall on someone", to put it mildly? I know solid-fuel rockets usually can't be turned off once activated, is this the case with this one also? If they could have just deactivated, it wouldn't have been better to just turn it off and let it fall into the ocean?

    Oh, new thought: environmental damage from all that fuel,, vs. if you blow it up it doesn't fall into the ocean. (These things burn fairly efficiently, no?) Am I way off-base?

    Second new thought:
    A prototype of an aircraft intended to make aviation history and shatter speed records was destroyed during its maiden flight on Saturday after a booster rocket carrying it aloft veered out of control. (Bold added.)
    If it's just the BOOSTER ROCKET carrying it aloft, couldn't they have forced separation, waited a few moments for the prototype of the aircraft itself to fall a little out of danger, and THEN exploded the "booster rocket"? Eventually there would be separation anyway, so obviously it's within design specs...and if you CAN'T separate prematurely, isn't that stupid design? If they put explosives on it for self-destruction, it means they were thinking of worst-case scenarios already...why not salvage some of that few dozen million dollars while you're at it?
    Thoughts, as always, are welcome.
  • I was refering to the fact that air quality is going to get worse and worse. At some point we wont have very much clean air to fly scram jets. Oh and yea it was a joke.

    The Lottery:
  • by rebelcool ( 247749 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @04:58PM (#181519)
    A Scramjet needs to be operating at supersonic speeds to operate. The SC in scram stands for supersonic combustion.

    scramjet's are very simple mechanically. No moving parts, just hydrogen injectors which combust supersonic oxygen to allow sustained hypersonic speeds.

    To get to supersonic speed you need to operate a scramjet, you need a booster rocket of some sort. The booster rocket is what failed in this experiment, careening the entire assembly off course. Rockets are tempermental beasts, unfortunately.

    Thankfully, this probably wouldnt set research back much. The mechanical simplicity of the test plane makes it pretty easy to build another. The 30 years of research went into the design of the airbox (and it really is just a box w/ injectors) to make it aerodynamically stable enough for use.

    What amuses me is the news stations assertions of "30 minute trip between los angeles and new york!".. well not really. You'd have to speed up to the hypersonic speed safely and then slow down safely. All in all you'd be in hypersonic mode for a couple of minutes, if that. Hardly worth it for the trip. Better for far away destinations. tm has a comparison of scramjets vs. ramjets.

  • by daniel2000 ( 247766 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @02:52PM (#181520)
    These these are *** experiments ***
    For some reason people seem to feel that experiments MUST reach their desired outcome first go or the project is a failure.

    If we were able to do this then we wouldn't ever need to do experiments - we would go straight to production every time. (and have no more accidental discoveries either- which fairly much everything started with at some time, even electrical energy)

    At the moment I am a bit down on marketing so I blame marketing for over hyping the immediate possiblities rather than presenting a longer term view.
  • Let's see, first they ran Mars Climate Orbiter into its destination. They lost Mars Polar Explorer and can't even find it with Mars Global Surveyor (which had a few odd problems of its own; one of the solar panels had a movement problem which radically lengthened the aerobraking stage of the mission). They dissed Tito, and by extension anyone else who wants casual space tourism to become a reality. The Canadarm has a bad bearing. And now the rocket blew up their fancy new airplane.

    Maybe that casual space tourism thing should wait until we have a better ... but then, he didn't take the shuttle up he got some people who knew what they were doing to do the job.

  • So really, this was a private-industry screwup.

    Everything fielded by NASA is really from private industry, let out by contracts. NASA does the specification and QC and flight prep and flight but they don't actually manufacture anything. So this really doesn't change anything; it's like saying Apollo 13 was really a North American Rockwell problem because they built the Command Module.

  • (without an atmosphere the moon is a VERY efficient place for solar power and harvesting)

    Except that you will also have to store 14 days worth of power somehow to get through the night. We really don't have any efficient ways of doing that yet.

  • You seem to be concentrating on their mistakes while ignoring their fabulous successes.

    I am more than aware of their successes sonny. In fact right now I am going through the fabulous Apollo Lunar Surface Journal [], a great record of a time when NASA managed to do a bunch of stuff I'm sure it couldn't do today with all the funding in the world.

    Most of what NASA has done since Apollo has been crap.

    We only lost one Shuttle -- of four we could afford to build. It was the wrong vehicle for no particular job at all, tries to be everything and isn't very good at anything. With the same money spent on proven Big Dumb Boosters like the SV we'd have had a space station by 1985 and still be making trips to Luna.

    The early planetary probes were incredible, holding together far beyond their life expectancies (even if they did leave the parking brakes on in the Pioneers, that was a joke). But we almost lost Pathfinder because of a computer glitch, and then had the string of failures I mentioned in my first post. Again, space travel is about the QC, but the QC has been supplemented by overachieving goals, tight budgets, and an unwillingness to let schedules slip so things can be done right. "Faster, Better, Cheaper" should have been named "Faster, Better, Cheaper -- Pick Two." Haste and thrift are a poor combination.

    This is not a troll. I really believe in space exploration; I am sick to this day that Apollo was killed as ignominiously as it was, and that we are stuck with an albatross like the Shuttle and planetary probes whose computers crash, bearings seize, transmitters fail, and can't even manage to navigate past the planet without hitting it. We've had some successes since Apollo, like the Voyagers, Pathfinder, and NEAR. But even Galileo is crippled. I'm still waiting to hear what will fall off of Cassini before it reaches Saturn.

    In 1969 we mobilized a force of about 1/2 million people to put two men on the Moon. We could probably do that (right) with today's technology with 50,000 or 100,000 people, a relatively small proportion of our economy -- and support more and more frequent missions. But we are trying to do it with more like 50 or 100 people. All the people who worked on NEAR could fit in a modest banquet hall. The plain fact is that we don't have the commitment any more; NASA knows this and is running scared. And when you run scared, you're looking over your shoulder instead of at your feet. That's why you trip.

  • In 1969 we had a highly charismatic president say "Put men on the Moon.

    That was 1963. In 1969, Richard Nixon was Prez and I don't know anybody who would describe him as "highly charismatic" or even as a believer in space exploration.

  • Well, first once a rocket is lit, it will consume all fuel, period. By the time a parachute could survive opening, the fuel would be expended. In order to stop the rocket immeditaly, all fuel must be consumed at once..BOOM All rockets that have a severe malfunction are ultimatly destroyed during flight, if the X43 had separted it could have been recovered, the rocket would be destroyed on impact anyway.
  • The expense of the project is the engineering that goes into the design of the craft. The cost of the actual hardware is very small in comparison. The additional cost of designing a parachute system (one that could work for most failure modes) would probably be more expensive then mission failure.

    Anyway with the pegasus booster itself costing around 10 million, not that much is going to be saved by recovering the aircraft. (see for example for cost of launch

    The interesting thing to do is of course stress analyses on the aircraft after its flight, but appernetly NASA dicided that was not important.
  • The good ole' reliable rocket they built it on failed before they could test the scramjet.

    Pretty sad...
  • by CathodeJack ( 412098 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @03:26PM (#181539)

    Why did they destroy this thing? I'll give you three reasons:

    1. The X-43 that was destroyed wasn't all that expensive to build. It was expensive to design, but that's not the same thing. It was intended to be destroyed in the test anyways, and we have more of them.
    2. The last thing they want to happen is for even the detached X-43 to come down on someone's head. Even in the Pacific, there'e a non zero chance of this happening because ...
    3. During every U.S. launch there are always planty of Chinese, Russian, and more recently Korean and Indian "fishing boats" out in the ocean observing the launch. They would be quite happy to collect our still intact experimental hardware. Do we really want them to be able to retreive our experimental hardware for free? U.S. technology should only go to them in exchange for illegal campaign donations.

    Hope this answers your questions.

  • by CathodeJack ( 412098 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @03:11PM (#181540)

    Sure the thing tanked before it could complete its mission and NASA didn't get nearly as much data from it as they wanted. They did get some data though. If nothing else, they learned to make damn sure their reasonably reliable Pegasus boosters are thoroughly extra checked over before ignition.

    Additionally, they intended to slam this thing into the ocean at the end of the run anyways. The test hardware that was destroyed wasn't all that expensive to begin with (compared to most other things at NASA). Most of the X-43 budget was spent on designing the space plane, not actually building the functioning single use model (not prototype; the eventual space plane is going to be MUCH bigger) that was destroyed today. Given my experience with NASA, I suspect the largest lost cost in today's failure was the Pegasus missile and all the red tape involved in scheduling the launch itself.

    NASA still has two or three more X-43's to try again with. And they will try again, and next time it will probably work. Despite what some people here might say, they're not complete fools over at NASA.

    I have to wonder just how many people out there were even aware this test was going on today before they saw this news article? How many people would have noticed or cared if it hadn't failed?

  • by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @02:17PM (#181542)
    I am reminded of a report of the words of Robert Goddard when one of his early liquid fuel rockets exploded. Someone asked him how he felt about his latest failure. He said it was not a failure, "we have gathered valuable negative information!"
  • by GnulixRulz ( 453448 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @02:29PM (#181549) Homepage
    Here's a link at NASA where their side of the story will probably be posted:- nts.html

    Currently, there is no information on the destruction of the vehicle there yet, but will probably be posted soon.

  • A couple of people have mentioned the UQ Scramjet project... I think the interesting thing is that UQ's budget is $1.25 million, as compared to NASA's somewhat more ($400 million?). And the UQ tests are coming along fairly well, see this story [].
    Makes you wonder just how hard NASA are trying for the "cheaper" bit of their new motto.
  • by eFlashDash ( 456962 ) on Saturday June 02, 2001 @02:38PM (#181557) Homepage
    All (or at least most) tax-payer funded space research and missions should be privatized. A company can do things better, cheaper, and faster than a government can. NASA has been proving that for years...

    Bids should be VERY open, so that there isn't any pork-belly pay-offs like are so common now, and there should be massive accountability with the funds (hey, thats MY money you just blew up...).

    With all of the money NASA has spent, there is NO reason we should have a station on the moon, entirely self-contained, solar powered (without an atmosphere the moon is a VERY efficient place for solar power and harvesting).

    The moon is 20 percent metal, 20 percent silicon, and 60 percent oxygen (not in an atmospere). It is the perfect place for solar harvesting []. The panels could even be made in factories on the moon. It would be zero polution, as electricity is free on the moon, all you can eat.

    It should be done, and it should be done immediately. Such an effort on the moon would change life as we know it here on earth, and could eliminate fossil fuel needs by 2010...

  • See Reuters [] and ABC 7:30 report [] and slashdot []

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.