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Space Science

First Piloted Flight for Space Plane 8

jhittner writes " is reporting a reusable rocket plane designed by XCOR Aerospace to carry future travelers to space has succeeded in its first piloted flight test"
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First Piloted Flight for Space Plane

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  • by Christopher Thomas ( 11717 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2001 @06:13PM (#63244)
    Does that mean that someone has been actually sent to space using this vehicle?

    No. As described in the article, this test was a takeoff followed by a few hundred metres of flight near the ground followed by landing, to see if the craft was airworthy.

    *Also* as described in the article, this isn't a craft that can achieve stable orbit. It's intended for sub-orbital flight to orbital altitude, which is a *lot* easier to do. The company feels that tourists will still pay for it. This project also lets them fine-tune their reusable rocket technology.

    An impressive and useful engineering project.
  • by jheinen ( 82399 ) on Wednesday July 25, 2001 @12:21AM (#63245) Homepage
    I have a hard time believing *this* aircraft could ever achieve suborbital flight. It's a fiberglass homebuilt, and has no provision for things like pressurization. There's also no way it could carry enough fuel to get it that high. This is merely a testbed to see if they could build a rocket and attach it to a plane.


  • I'm not yet convinced that SSTO is they holy grail. It would certainly be cool, but I don't see why a two stage setup would be a problem, particularly if it was cheap and easy to use. The vehicle could be boosted by the first stage, then after it's return trip, fitted with a new first stage, potentially decreasing the turn-around time (as the first stage can be set up while the craft is in orbit).

    SSTO just means you have to carry around a bunch of empty fuel tanks after you get to orbit. Seems like there would be some advantage to dumping them and just taking with you what you need.
  • Guys, this is no big deal. If you read the actual press release [] at XCOR's website [] there is no mention whatsoever of space or space tourism.

    The total thrust of the engine on this rocketplane is 800lb (two 400 lb rockets). The maximum thrust on an F-15 Eagle is 50,000lb. The thrust on the space shuttle (at launch) is about 6 MILLION pounds.

    A rocket spaceplane operates on the principle that you can get more altitude out of your thrust/fuel by using wings and taking a ride up the atmosphere. But remember that once the atmosphere starts to crap out, you still have to get to orbit on pure rocket thrust. And the long-EZ plane weighs 890 lbs empty.

    Probably, this thing has about 2 minutes of fuel and can fly a couple of miles.

    It may be that we'll learn a few things about building refined rocket engines from these guys, but they're not going to space anytime soon. 400lbs is the biggest engine they make. Other groups actually looking at making space planes are designing much larger engines, or using existing ones designed for other purposes.

    I applaud these XCOR guys - it's pretty cool to fly a small kit plane with a miniature rocket engine. But Space.Com is making things up about the purpose...

  • Does that mean that someone has been actually sent to space using this vehicle?
  • The Long-EZ has a Vne (never-exceed speed) far below Mach 1, and no thermal protection system. Even if you can keep the speed down on the way up through the atmosphere (losing velocity to gravity every second), once you have boosted to space you are coming down again on a ballistic trajectory until there's enough air to make your aerodynamic devices effective again. It only takes a drop of about 3 miles to break Mach 1; the edge of space is considered to be at 50 miles. The Long-EZ airframe isn't going to cut it for that trip.
  • If anyone is going to successfully build a privately funded space plane, it's Dick Rutan.

    He continously accomplishes amazing things in the aerospace world... and without government megabuck$. The first non-stop around the world flight is just one of them.
  • by JavaPriest ( 467425 ) on Wednesday July 25, 2001 @12:27AM (#63251)
    An impressive and useful engineering project...

    Their goal is impressive, but the plane (or what would one call it) isn't really. There seems to be little space left in the vehicle for these tourists (one, maybe two very small seats), and from the size of this bird I wonder if its range will be more than a couple of miles. By the time it gets sub-orbital, all fuel will have been combusted.

    But maybe that's the (main) reason they only get sub-orbital.


I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky