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Space Science

SpaceShipOne Rockets To 68,000 Feet 390

ehartwell writes "According to, Scaled Composite's SpaceShipOne flew its first rocket-powered flight today, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' 12-second first flight. SpaceShipOne's engine burned for 15 seconds, pushing it to Mach 1.2 (930 mph) and a peak altitude of 68,000 feet. To win the X-Prize they need to reach 330,000 feet twice within 2 weeks."
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SpaceShipOne Rockets To 68,000 Feet

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  • by zeux ( 129034 ) * on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:42PM (#7749426)
    The headline should state that, according to XPrize [] website, this is the first manned supersonic flight onboard a plane designed by a small private company. That is really impressive and is a great achievement just 100 years after the Wright brothers first flight. Nice birthday present !

    100 years ago manned flight was a hot technology, today everybody can jump on a plane (as long as you have the money but its cheaper and cheaper). Today supersonic flight is a hot technology for the masses so it will maybe become commonplace in the years to come...

    The biggest point is not the altitude here because 68000 feet is quite 'easy' to reach (although its really impressive too) and going from 68000 to 330000 feet is gonna be way way way more difficult. But everything needs a beginning and that's a very nice one.

    Congratulations to the Scaled Composite team for this astonishing result... This plane is a very cool piece of engineering.

    This X-Prize is definitely becoming more and more interesting, I have to admit that I never though it was possible for a team to go so far !
    • 50 years from now... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:52PM (#7749496) Homepage Journal
      I did a quick Google on the first time humans passed the "sound barrier" in 1947 []. 50 years later, every school kid knows^W should know Chuck Yeager's name.

      50 years from now, will the class of 2060 recognize the name "Brian Binnie"? If this works out, they darn well should... especially if he's the one who gets to fly the craft "for real", twice in two weeks.

      * 1903: Orville & Wilbur Wright achieve controlled, manned flight (but birds fly on a regular basis)

      * 1947: Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier in a military aircraft (but ordinary people fly on a regular basis)

      * 2003: Brian Binnie breaks the sound barrier in a home-built spacecraft prototype (but ordinary people fly faster than sound on a regular basis)

      * 2050: What's the next big advance when ordinary people fly to space on a regular basis?

      I was sure rooting for the local boys (& girl) [], but I don't see how they can catch up to Scaled Composites' entry.
      • Sadly, I know a ton of people who have never heard of Chuck Yeager. He was not part of my academic curriculum. The only reason I heard of him at a young age was the video game named after him.
        • by Moofie ( 22272 ) <> on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:59PM (#7749549) Homepage
          I don't know the name of the first doctor to perform any number of amazingly useful surgeries. I don't think that makes me any less well-educated (particularly since I am totally confident I could find that data anytime I felt I needed it).

          The information is readily available for anybody with an interest. School shouldn't be about filling your head with facts, but about encouraging you to study things that you're interested in.

          For me, that's airplanes. For other people, maybe musical theater. It's all good.
          • by Gumshoe ( 191490 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:10PM (#7749627) Journal
            School shouldn't be about filling your head with facts, but about encouraging you to study things that you're interested in.

            I second that. Ultimately, school is worthless if it doesn't teach people how to learn. The ability to educate one's self should be the greatest lesson of a compulsary education.
            • by fiftyLou ( 472705 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:26PM (#7749737)
              The ability to educate one's self should be the greatest lesson of a compulsary education.

              Agreed. With the ability to dress one's self coming a close second.

            • I disagree, I'm all about fact retention.
              People can only gain my respect by beating me at Trivial Pursuit or shouting out answers before me while watching Jeopardy. I won't vote for someone whom I don't think can stand chance against me at TP which is why Bush is out in 04. That, and the fact I'm not a US citizen yet.
            • by orn ( 34773 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @10:21PM (#7750331)
              This isn't about facts though. This is about heroes.

              Look, Orville and Wilbur didn't do much out on those sand dunes. All they did was make a crappy little airplane not capable of flying in anything but a near direct headwind. It's a piece of crap as far as airplanes go and any kid today can make a better one with some balsa wood and a rubberband.

              But the point is that they did it before anyone else thought they could. Chuck Yeager did his trick when people thought the sound barrier was a brick wall in the sky that would kill everyone that tried to get close to it. These names are attached to people that did something or discovered something that everyone else thought couldn't be done. You don't remember the name for the sake of the name, you remember the name as something to attach the courage to.

              We stand on the shoulders of giants. That's the average person for you. But occasionally, someone sees one of those giants and says, "I can do that too." You see those heroes and you realize that you don't have to be trapped by the preconceptions that hold the rest of the world back.

              Knowing the names Chuck Yeager, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Niel Armstrong, Einstein, Curie, Oppenheimer, Franklin, DaVinci, and so on gives you a sense of perspective. These things are done by people with a dream. And determination. A whole lot of determination.

              • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @11:12PM (#7750666)

                The Wrights contribution was controled flight, not flying before anyone said it couldn't be done. There were other dare-devils out there flying their homemade "airplanes" as much as 200 feet, before "crashing" to the ground, with no way to tell where they land, at best more or less a straight line. The Wright brothers not only flew, they were able to turn and perdict where they would go. Once that breakthrough was made other engineers could observe why their design worked, and make something better that also got around patents.

          • by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:29PM (#7750095) Journal
            The information is readily available for anybody with an interest.
            Exactly. Being educated doesn't mean you know everything; it means you know how to find out.
          • by thales ( 32660 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @12:42AM (#7751235) Homepage Journal
            "School shouldn't be about filling your head with facts, but about encouraging you to study things that you're interested in."

            If that were the case the majority of the students would be studying subjects like Football and there wouldn't be enough demand for Math and Scince to make it worth the effort of building classrooms to teach those subjects in.
        • Sadly, I know a ton of people who have never heard of Chuck Yeager. He was not part of my academic curriculum. The only reason I heard of him at a young age was the video game named after him.

          The only textbooks I recall running across that mentioned him would've been for AFJROTC []...and there's a fair chance most of the kids taking that would've learned of Chuck Yeager on their own anyway. About the only aerospace milestones you're likely to run across in the average haskrool history textbook are the Wri

      • by tc ( 93768 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:55PM (#7749524)
        * 2003: Brian Binnie breaks the sound barrier in a home-built spacecraft prototype (but ordinary people fly faster than sound on a regular basis)

        Except that, sadly, Brian Binnie breaks the sound barrier in a home-built spacecraft prototype the same year that commercial supersonic flights were discontinued.

        • by Spamalamadingdong ( 323207 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:15PM (#7749668) Homepage Journal
          Commercial supersonic flight (at least at Mach 2) does not make economic sense. This was known many years ago; Concorde broke even on operating costs, but never paid for its development. Shutting down the aging, deteriorating fleet makes sense.

          SpaceShipOne did more than break the sound barrier, it aimed toward altitudes and conditions unseen by private aviation. With those altitudes and conditions come possible markets, such as small-scale microgavity research on the cheap and even the mother of all roller-coaster rides. Here's hoping that it marks a realization that there are some things which don't work, and some things which do.

          • You make a good point about Concorde. It is also sobering to note that the development costs of Concorde ran to well over a billion 1973 dollars. The small number of scheduled flights could never hope to pay off these development cost.
        • by Julian Morrison ( 5575 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:27PM (#7749744)
          Concorde was a state funded project, almost exclusively flown by state subsidised airlines bearing national badges (Air France and British Airways).
      • by JT27278 ( 589969 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:12PM (#7749640)
        "Home-built" is quite a stretch. How about "not government funded" ? Their ship was built by professional aeronaughtical engineers who were working full time for a company who's mission is to do just this sort of thing. Scaled Composites is a far cry from a garage operation.
        • by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:16PM (#7749680)
          The joke is that most of the companies involved are getting their money from childhood "geeks" that made it big on toys or games and Still went to school to learn the "real work" we were all told in the 70's and 80's was so important. I find it more ironic that the very goverment that told kids to be astronauts and rocket scientists has a problem with them Actually being astronauts and rocket scientists WITHOUT govt help!
    • by Quarters ( 18322 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:15PM (#7749674)
      100 years ago manned flight was a hot technology

      Not quite. 100 years ago manned, controlled, and powered flight had just become a curiosity. It took the Wright brothers about 6-7 years before they could commercialize on their idea.

    • Supersonic Homebuilt (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CmdrTostado ( 653672 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:17PM (#7749682) Journal
      Bede Jet Corp.BD-10 may have been the first manned supersonic flight onboard a plane designed by a small private company It was a deadly, short lived, supersonic HOMEBUILT. Go supersonic, from your garage.
      a fan's page []
      Results so far
      The first one crashed, and the second one crashed as well. Each crash killed the then-president of the company developing the BD-10 for the market. Rights to the design were bounced around for a while, and I believe it's pretty much in limbo, now. At one point, a Canadian outfit was trying to develop it as a low-cost military trainer, but nothing came of it. I think there were four originally built... the Bede prototype, two crashed as noted above, and one constructed by a customer. There are two listed in the 2001 registration database. The prototype is still listed as being owned by Bede Jet Corporation, and the other one is registered to a man in California.(text from cid=3)
    • by Bagheera ( 71311 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:54PM (#7749898) Homepage Journal
      Today supersonic flight is a hot technology for the masses so it will maybe become commonplace in the years to come...

      Actually, supersonic flight was a hot technology 40 some-odd years ago, and was more or less abandoned as impractical, uneconomical, and inefficient. Even Boeing has dropped their recent Sonic Cruiser concept (high subsonic cruise) in favor of slower, bigger, more efficient aircraft.

      Now, I do NOT want to belittle the work of Scaled Composites. They do some incredible engineering there, and they deserve kudos for getting Spaceship One this far. As you say, they've still got a long way to go before reacing "Suborbital Flight" stage, but this is a nice step and every successful burn of the Hybrid engine gives them more data.

      The X-Prize contest is certainly seeing some interesting engineering and innovations - though it seems unlikely any of the systems explored to win it will lead to the ultimate goal of the prize. Namely: Putting spaceflight within reach of "mear mortals."

      Even these X-Prize craft are only suborbital birds, and that's a LONG way from putting people into orbit for a few quick laps around the equater.

  • by EmCeeHawking ( 720424 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:43PM (#7749436)
    Sounds like someone needs to stop spending so much time tweaking the Doom3 Engine and get on the stick. Sundays and Tuesdays aren't going to be enough to beat a fulltime effort.

  • by RickyRay ( 73033 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:43PM (#7749439)
    Privately Funded SpaceShipOne Breaks Sound Barrier

    A privately financed passenger-carrying sub-orbital rocket plane screamed its way through the sound barrier today, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers historic 12-second flight over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

    Privately built by Scaled Composites of Mojave, California, the SpaceShipOne cranked up its hybrid rocket motor after being released from the White Knight carrier plane high over Mojave, California.

    "This successful and historic flight is important because we are showing that the private sector can perform human space flight faster, safer and cheaper," said Jim Benson, founding chairman and chief executive of SpaceDev, the Poway, California-based company that built SpaceShipOne's engine.

    Test pilot Brian Binnie then put SpaceShipOne into a steep climb. Nine seconds later, SpaceShipOne broke the sound barrier and continued its steep powered ascent.

    At motor shutdown, 15 seconds after ignition, SpaceShipOne was climbing at a 60-degree angle and flying near 1.2 Mach (930 mph).

    Binnie continued the maneuver to a vertical climb, achieving zero speed at an altitude of 68,000 feet. He then configured the ship in its high-drag "feathered" shape to simulate the condition it will experience when it enters the atmosphere after a sub-orbital space flight.

    At apogee, SpaceShipOne was in near-weightless conditions, emulating the characteristics it will later encounter during the planned space flights in which it will be at zero-g for more than three minutes.

    After descending in feathered flight for about a minute, Binnie reconfigured the ship to its conventional glider shape and flew a 12-minute glide to landing at a landing strip in the Mojave.

    The landing was not without incident.

    On touchdown, the left landing gear retracted causing the rocket ship to veer to the left and leave the runway with its left wing down. Damage from the landing incident was minor and will easily be repaired. There were no injuries, according to a press release issued by Scaled Composites.

    The milestone flight of SpaceShipOne involved development of a new propulsion system, the first rocket motor fabricated for piloted space flight in several decades.

    The new hybrid motor was developed in-house at Scaled Composites. The motor uses an ablative nozzle supplied by AAE and operating components supplied by SpaceDev.

    This was the 8th flight of the SpaceShipOne completed this year -- the first done under powered flight.

  • And so it begins. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ActionPlant ( 721843 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:44PM (#7749449) Homepage
    How long before commercial spaceflight tickets are offered by competing commercial organizations and WE get to pick the craft?

    • How long before commercial spaceflight tickets are offered by competing commercial organizations and WE get to pick the craft?

      I choose the Millenium Falcon

    • Re:And so it begins. (Score:3, Informative)

      by mcelrath ( 8027 )
      That is exactly the point [] of the X-Prize.

      The real prize is not the 10M purse, but the tourists that will follow. Some estimates are that the global market is in the billions. Several studies [] have been done indicating that people would spend 10k-100k for a trip, among people financially able to pay that.

      I look forward to the day when a flight to space is a mundane vacation activity for rich people, right there next to hang-gliding rides and zorbing []. Of course orbital is much harder, but the X-prize la

  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:48PM (#7749472) Homepage
    This is looking worse and worse for Carmack and the crew at Armadillo Aerospace... Even though they've apparently solved their peroxide supply problems, they're nowhere near completing assembly of their full-size rocket and they have yet to have anything like a successful test flight on any scale (unless you count the hover tests).

    I wish the other X-prize hopefuls would take after Carmack's blogs, though -- reading about the little engineering challenges is the highlight of my Monday/Tuesday mornings.

    • by savuporo ( 658486 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:02PM (#7749568)
      they're nowhere near completing assembly of their full-size rocket

      On the [] contrary []

      IMO, they are quite far along, i'd expect a hover test in a week or two ( if not for the _damn_ holidays )
      BTW, as you probably know, official X-Prize flight attempt has to be announced at least two months in advance, so everybody still has a chance, as Rutan hasnt made such announcement yet.
  • Can't wait (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cybermace5 ( 446439 ) <> on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:48PM (#7749477) Homepage Journal
    When industry gets on the ball and starts developing space programs, we'll start seeing some real progress. Of course NASA's work is extremely valuable, but we need commercial support to really get things done. Satellites have been a huge success; now all we need is a very attractive financial reason to develop space commerce.

    It might start off slow, though; in the end it will probably require starting an entirely new economic sector. Why do we need to mine asteroids and build huge solar collectors? To supply energy and materials for other space structures, of course. A self-perpetuating system like that is going to take time to build up. Satellites plug in very well to Earth's existing economy, but where does manned space exploration fit in....
    • Re:Can't wait (Score:2, Interesting)

      by adrianbaugh ( 696007 )
      I was thinking about this recently. Of course we need corporations to bring inventions to mass markets, but how many really great inventions are made by corporations? Most of the defining inventions seem to be made, at least initially, by academics or driven private individuals rather than companies.
  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:49PM (#7749480) Homepage
    What, did it have the president on board? Please tell me it broke up upon re-entry...
  • by dnaboy ( 569188 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:52PM (#7749500)
    The fact that people are willing to take a shot at this takes some serious huevos. When you think about the amount of cash, for one that goes into the design phase alone, sooner or later someone must scratch their head and ask if this is really worth it. Pair that with the need for such nontrivial things as up rocket engines and rocket fuel. Then, last but not least, after you've designed something that seems like it ought to work, cooked up some engines, and a fuselage (not cheap either), you have to convince someone to get in it... Truely amazing. The absolute best of luck, and all my respect to all participating in the contest
    • Getting people into space -- no matter how you get there or who pays for it -- is of transcendent importance, so I'm not inclined to quibble about the efforts of the X-Prize competitors.

      But, let's not get carried away. Using a small rocket to power a small aircraft to a tad over Mach 1 and then coasting up to 68,000 feet is not amazing. That's been going on for 50 years or so.

      What happened today is important because it was the first time SpaceShipOne was powered up, if only for 15 seconds.

      I'm waiting f
  • This is big breakthrough for this team. As soon as I heard Rutan was in the mix, I figured these folks were the ones to watch. Even if they do win the X prize, however, what will the impact on manned space flight be? imho, manned space flight is never going to get anywhere until private companies discover a way to make a profit by putting people into space. Sattelites were pretty much a scientific curiousity, or for research, until the profit making possibilities with communications sat's became known.
  • Aerospace progress (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wrmrxxx ( 696969 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:57PM (#7749539)
    How about this for an impressive indicator of technological progress? In the earlier story about the 100 year anniversary of powered flight there were comments suggesting that progress in aerospace seemed slow lately. Maybe we're on the verge of another surge forward?

    It wasn't that long ago that the sound barrier was really considered a barrier - people involved in breaking the sound barrier are still around. Back then, it was a major effort that was incredibly risky and took the resources of a government to achieve. At the time, plenty of people wondered if it was really even possible.

    Now, however, we see a small private company break the sound barrier on their first major rocket powered test flight, as if it's no big deal. We've come a long way. Nice one, Scaled Composites!
    • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:12PM (#7749638)
      Progess in aviation and space has been slow. Humans flew in 1903. They broke the sound barrier in a small rocket plane in 1947, 44 years later. They landed on the moon in 1969, 66 years later.'s 2003, 31 years since the last lunar landing, people are getting excited about another small rocket plane that fired its engine for 15 seconds and coasted to 68,000 feet. What's different here is the funding mechanism, not the aviation technology.

      Progress in aviation and space travel has been stuck in the muck and mire for 30 years.
  • by anzha ( 138288 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @07:58PM (#7749544) Homepage Journal

    Here's another one [].

    With any luck we'll see regular manned access to space within the next ten years without a government involved. The X Prize and its follow-ons will be the equivalent of the barnstorming acts of yesteryear.

    With any luck at least...

  • by LeiGong ( 621856 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:02PM (#7749566) Homepage
    It's great that we're gonna finally be able eventually travel to the moon and all... but all of my frequent flyer miles are now freakin' useless... It took me forever save up these thousands of miles with Delta too. I'm still 230,000 miles sort. Dang.
  • First, I really want to cheer these guys on, this is a great achievement, and I hope the champagne corks are popping all over Scaled Composite's.
    On the other hand, I visited their site from a server running 800x600, and I really hope they hire a web-site designer someday. Ack! There's a huge static graphic in the top frame, and a tiny window for THE REST OF THE SITE. I mean, I can read like 3 lines of text! This graphic may be fine for a splash screen, but it makes it impossible to read the content! Th
  • Burt Rutan (Score:4, Insightful)

    by miracle69 ( 34841 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:06PM (#7749597)
    This dude is the M-A-N.

    He's the one that built the Voyager - the round-the-world-on-one-tank-of-gas turboprop plane. He used an Apple IIe to help make the plane as efficient as possible.

    Not only is he working on this, but his building a plane to try a round-the-world-on-one-tank-of-gas solo jet plane.

    This guy will get it done.
    • What altitude? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by zipwow ( 1695 ) <> on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:25PM (#7749734) Homepage Journal
      Just to be snarky, I wonder if there's a ceiling to how high you can go for the round-the-world attempt. If you've got a working suborbital spaceship, it would be amusing to make an orbital spaceship* and say, "Yeah, we went around ten or fifteen times on one tank of gas. It was a big tank, tho."


      * I know, I know, orbit is waaay different than straight up, straight back. Its just an amusing thought...
    • Voyager... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Spamalamadingdong ( 323207 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:29PM (#7749755) Homepage Journal
      ... was not a turboprop. Both the front and rear engines were rather conventional opposed piston types, though the rear one was liquid cooled. The IOL-200 (Injected, Opposed, Liquid-cooled, 200 cubic inch) engine from Voyager is in a display case at the Smithsonian; I have a picture of it.

      I think Rutan's experience with the Predator, the Global Hawk and the aeroshell of the DC-X are far more indicative of his talents than Voyager; a very slow unpressurized aircraft is not much experience for a space-skimming vehicle which has to endure substantial heat loads on return to earth, but the others are much closer.

  • Better stay away from those wormholes...
  • I'm keeping track of press coverage here [].
  • I'm serious. What's the big deal about rocket science? How hard can it be? You point your rocket the way you want it to go and have a reaction push it in that direction, with stabilising fins keeping it on course. End of story, one might think. So to this naive observer, rocket science basically looks like ballistics+chemistry, neither of which is exactly rocket-science. Er ... you know what I mean.

    So: why is it so hard to make rockets work?

    • yeah, except if you point it at a apot you want to go, it won't be there when you get there.
      You don't aim at the moon, you aim at where the moon is going to be.

      then there is the whole, not wanting it to explaode on the way there thing.

    • by Dr. Zowie ( 109983 ) * <slashdot@ d e f o r e s t .org> on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:56PM (#7749912)
      It's not hard in principle. As they say, ``the Devil's in the details''. You've got a very hot, combusting mixture under high pressure, right next to large tanks of explosive rocket fuel, and everything has to be light, light, light to fly well -- so you use the lightest, thinnest metal you think you can get away with. And, of course, the metal has to operate at much higher temperatures than you normally encounter, and still have enough strength to avoid blowing up during thrust.

      If the rocket didn't have to fly, you could just put loads of engineering margin into every part, and end up with something big and heavy but reliable. But you can't, because "big and heavy" won't get off the ground.

      The sheer amount of power that has to converted from chemical to mechanical energy is staggering. In a liquid-fueled rocket engine, you have to push fuel into the chamber against the pressure of combustion. That turns out to be very hard, since you have to move a LOT of fuel and the pressure has to be HIGH for good efficiency. Just the pumping requires a major engineering effort to handle the power required to drive the pumps.

      If you have cryogenic liquid propellants (the most efficient for tankage), you have all kinds of material-science problems from the temperature extremes. If you fly less exotic materials, like nitrous oxide, you have less mass margin because the tank is heavier.

      Then there are all kinds of weird pitfalls like uneven distribution within the combustion chamber; uneven fuel/oxidiser mixing; choked fuel flow; accumulation of large volumes of fuel mix (which have an alarming tendency to explode later if they don't burn instantly); quenching of the burn by the amazing volume of stuff flowing into the chamber; eddies and cavitation in the turbulent flow out the throat of the engine; detonation (makes your car engine knock, makes your rocket explode); things shaking loose because of the engine's vibration; the nozzle itself starting to combust, ablate, or burn-through; and making a poorly designed nozzle that limits your thrust.

      None of those things is unsurmountable -- it's having to get everything more or less right the first time that is the real kicker.

    • by Julian Morrison ( 5575 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:34PM (#7750115)
      You need fuel. You need fuel to push the fuel. You need fuel to push the tank that holds the fuel. And chemical fuels only give so much push-per-quantity. For a given fuel, the ratio of fuel-mass to rocket-mass is a constant, and the vast majority of it is fuel.

      That's why rockets drop pieces. Less tank to push. But dropped pieces are expensive and wasteful, meaning rockets are too expensive to be much use.

      The best chemical fuel, liquid hydrogen and oxygen, just barely scrapes the threshold at which it can launch a sensibly sized single staged rocket into orbit, maybe. It's so close that the difference between "will" and "won't" is lost inside the calculation's margin of error.

      That's the main reason rocket science is hard.
      • by twiddlingbits ( 707452 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @10:03PM (#7750253)
        Actually the "best" all-around fuel is LOX/Kerosense (RP-1), it's very high energy density, only 1 component is cryogenic, and the other is easily stored but is flammable. See The F1 Engines on the Saturn V are LOX/Kerosene. LOX/LH2 is the ideal fuel for sure but it is very expensive to make LH2 (cost is over 10X that of Kerosene) and you need two cyrogenic tanks which adds weight. The SSME's are LOX/LH2. I don't know which technology SpaceShip 1 uses.
        • by physicsnerd ( 607860 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @11:30PM (#7750755)
          SpaceShipOne uses a N2O/HTPB hybrid rocket motor. See _article.php?pid=411&subNav=11&subSel=3
        • Specific Impulse (Score:3, Informative)

          by krysith ( 648105 )
          Actually, I believe when the grandparent post was referring to LH2/LOX as being "best", "best" was defined as "having the highest specific impulse of any chemical fuel currently used". It is the specific impulse of the fuel which determines the fuel mass to rocket mass ratio. In this case, JM is right, as LH2/LOX has the highest specific impulse of any chemical fuel (550 seconds IIRC). However, you are correct that LOX/Kerosene is a much, much easier fuel to work with, which still has a decent specific i
  • by rufusdufus ( 450462 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:23PM (#7749723)
    Its great that this plane managed 920mph. It certainly possible that the spaceshipone team will win the X-Prize by achieveing 330,000 feet.

    But is this goal really a stepping stone to space?

    Altitude alone is not especially useful since the pull of gravity will still exert its force upon the craft. The hard part about space travel is achieving orbit, a state where the craft has effectively escaped the earth's gravity well.
    Escape velocity is 25,000 miles per hour. Geosynchronous orbit, the distance an object must reach to be in a stationary orbit above the ground is 117,427,200 feet.
    These numbers are better than order of magnitude higher than the X-prize requirements.

    So I wonder if the X-prize is really meaningful in the scale of realistic space flight?
    • by Spamalamadingdong ( 323207 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:44PM (#7749831) Homepage Journal
      Altitude alone is not especially useful since the pull of gravity will still exert its force upon the craft.
      Wrong. At a not-atypical 200 mile orbital altitude, Earth pulls with roughly 90% as much acceleration as at the surface. The difference between an orbital flight and a sub-orbital one is that an orbiting craft moves fast enough that the curve of the earth falls away below it as fast as it falls toward the earth.
      The hard part about space travel is achieving orbit, a state where the craft has effectively escaped the earth's gravity well.
      Wrong again. The gravitational binding energy per kilogram is given by the simple equation -GMe/r, where G is the gravitational constant, Me is the mass of the earth and r is the distance from the center of the earth (taking Earth as a uniform sphere, which is good to a first approximation). You can trivially compare this to the kinetic energy of a craft in a uniform circular orbit (v^2=GMe/r^2, ke = 0.5 m v^2 -> ke = .5 GMe/r^2) and prove that orbit is only halfway, energetically, to actually escaping Earth.
      Geosynchronous orbit...
      has what to do with this, exactly?
      These numbers are better than order of magnitude higher than the X-prize requirements.

      So I wonder if the X-prize is really meaningful in the scale of realistic space flight?

      Google for "Black Colt" or consider what the White Knight could do with a sub-vehicle like a Pegasus. That will let you ask better questions.
    • Nitpicks: Reaching orbit does not mean escaping the gravity well, nor does it require escape velocity. Many useful orbits exist well below geosynchronous; note that the space shuttle never gets above a couple hundred kilometers. Now that's out of the way, to your point:

      The X-prize is not about reaching space, so much as it is about spurring development. The prize for a solo nonstop flight over the Atlantic drove development of methods to reach the rather artificial goal, and those methods were useful in ac
    • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:50PM (#7749860) Homepage
      It's mainly a mindset thing. Right now there is an illusion that it costs billions of dollars and huge corporations to do anything in space.

      That's probably not true. Check out Space X [] for example. Or Armadillo []. The illusion needs shattering.

      There's nothing inherently expensive about space (the fuel costs for putting something into space are under $50 per kg of payload for example)- it's just that right now there are so few launches that it's cheapest to throw the whole rocket away after each launch. Because it's so expensive, practically nobody goes. Catch 22.

    • So I wonder if the X-prize is really meaningful in the scale of realistic space flight?

      Well, what about other applications, like suborbital rocket courier from the West Coast to Japan?

      USPS Rocket Priority: When it absolutely, positively, has to be there in an hour. Only $100/lb.
    • by johnjay ( 230559 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @11:39PM (#7750799)
      Building a vehicle that's guaranteed to come back to Earth is a good first goal. Carmack's team is basically building a huge rocket to go up, and a parachute to make the coming down part survivable. Consider the extra math, physics, and computer processing that would have to go into getting back to Earth once you are in orbit. Sure it can be done, but wouldn't you want to test the other parts of the process first?

      As far as I can understand, this contests involves building larger than commercially available rocket engines, managing small-scale life support, dealing with simple launch paths, and surviving re-entry stress that doesn't involve serious heat. (I might be wrong on some of these, and I might not have realized other essential things involved) You can see how all of those pieces are simpler aspects of a full-blown orbital launch.
  • by Woutepout ( 733700 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:24PM (#7749731)
    It appears that White Knight had a landing gear problem [] on the previous flight as well. Knowing that most systems on the two craft are identical, this could mean that there is a (serious?) problem with the landing gear design. So they're probably in for a very thorough re-examination of the relevant systems. But they're probably on top of things and it's hard to say anything sensible about it without inside-information.
  • by frohike ( 32045 ) <bard.allusion@net> on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:31PM (#7749769) Homepage

    Am I the only one that had Magic Carpet Ride [] going through my head while reading this article? :D

    I kept reading "hybrid rocket motor" as "hyperspace motor"... ack... too much Asimov :)

  • It won't be long before Scaled Composites is flying to 100km and the X-Prize is theirs.

    Meanwhile, NASA/Boeing have just announced that the X-37, part of the Orbital Space Plane program, will "deemphasize" actual space operations. Story at Great timing! Really highlights the differences between the good ol' government contractor way of doing things. Get the billions of dollars, build something that looks good for propaganda purposes, forget about flying into space.

    I hope civilian s
  • Anyone know. . . (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:46PM (#7749835) Homepage
    what they're doing in terms of ground-tracking, telemetry, airspace and frequency reservation, etc.
    This is a not insignificant portion of costs conventional spacelaunch - for the Russians, and the Americans. - you can't just light a fuse, stand back and cheer. Not safely, anyway. And at some point, it's not just the pilot's life and property at stake. Public infrastructure, or even private property (in the case of the crashes on 9/11) can be a significant liability as well.

    I mean, sure, it's probably a trivial thing to file a flight path with the FAA to reserve airspace and sit on a radio frequency below 50,000 feet.

    But what happens when they get into space? How are they going to tie in with existing safety and space infrastructure? Will their cost savings be the same with that integration? And if they don't how are they going to avoid collisions with existing satellites, etc once regular commercial access is established?
    • This craft doesn't really fly 'downrange' very far as an orbital flight would, the only 'downrange' stages are when It's attached to their carrier plane and when It's pulling up.

      If the worst was to happen (Im not sure if their rocket gimballs) and the craft went off course, the chances are that the out-of-envelope stresses would do a better job of self-destruction than any range safety officer.

      Question: Does anyone know (I've searched whether the rocket nozzle is gimballed or whether they us
    • Re:Anyone know. . . (Score:3, Informative)

      by delcielo ( 217760 )
      As for ground tracking, I'm not sure how big a deal it has to be. A gps unit inside the craft could do the job for post-flight work, and the FAA's ARTCC radar tapes could show a ground track if there were an in-flight failure.

      They must have the airspace thing sorted out, as Class A airspace goes from 18,000ft to 60,000ft, where the airspace reverts to class E. Class A airspace requires an IFR (instrument flight rules) flight plan. I can't imagine them actually giving him an IFR clearance, though. They
      • Re:Anyone know. . . (Score:3, Informative)

        by transient ( 232842 )
        I'm almost positive there are more specific exceptions for these sorts of operations, but this is the best I could find. 14 CFR Sec. 91.135 [] covers operations in Class A airspace, and paragraph (d) reads:

        ATC authorizations.

        An operator may deviate from any provision of this section under the provisions of an ATC authorization issued by the ATC facility having jurisdiction of the airspace concerned. [emphasis added] In the case of an inoperative transponder, ATC may immediately approve an operation within a

  • by Spacemannn ( 733729 ) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @11:21PM (#7750709)
    December 17, 2003


    Allen Sponsors Scaled Composites' Cutting-Edge X-Prize Entry, Attends Today's Successful Test Flight of the First Manned Privately Funded Supersonic Aircraft

    MOJAVE, CA and SEATTLE - Dec. 17, 2003 - Investor Paul G. Allen today confirmed international speculation that he is the long-rumored sponsor behind the innovative SpaceShipOne project, which broke the sound barrier today during its first manned test flight. SpaceShipOne and its White Knight turbojet launch aircraft represent the first private non-government effort to demonstrate a low-cost manned space effort. SpaceShipOne is a contender for the coveted X-prize.

    "Being able to watch today's successful test flight in person was really an overwhelming and awe-inspiring experience. I'm so proud to be able to support the work of Burt Rutan and his pioneering team at Scaled Composites," said Paul G. Allen, who has funded the effort since he and Rutan joined forces in March of 2001. "As we celebrate the centennial of flight, it's wonderful to be able to capture the spirit of innovation and exploration in aviation. SpaceShipOne is a tangible example of continuing humankind's efforts to travel into space, and effectively demonstrating that private, non-government resources can make a big difference in this field of discovery and invention."

    "Today's milestone and the SpaceShipOne project would never have been possible without Paul's tremendous support," said Burt Rutan, the acclaimed inventor and aerospace engineer who leads the project along with his research and development team at Scaled Composites, which Rutan founded. "Paul shares our energy and passion for not only supporting one-of-a-kind research, but also a vision of how this kind of space program can shape the future and inspire people around the world."

    For details about today's test flight, including specifications on speed, altitude, etc., visit

    For details about the X-prize visit


    Paul G. Allen owns and invests in a suite of companies exploring the potential of digital communications. Allen's business strategy includes encouraging communication and synergy between his portfolio companies for mutual benefit in the areas of technology, new media, biotechnology, entertainment, telecommunications and entertainment. His primary companies include Vulcan Inc. of Seattle and Charter Communications of St. Louis, the nation's fourth-largest cable provider. Allen is owner of the Portland Trail Blazers NBA team and the Seattle Seahawks NFL franchise, and a partner in the entertainment studio DreamWorks SKG. Allen co-founded Microsoft Corporation with Bill Gates in 1975 and served as the company's executive vice president of research and new product development, the company's senior technology post, until 1983. Allen gives back to the community through the six Paul G. Allen Charitable Foundations, which support arts, health and human services, medical research, and forest protection in the Pacific Northwest. He is also the founder of Experience Music Project, Seattle's critically-acclaimed interactive music museum, the forthcoming Experience Science Fiction Museum and Vulcan Productions, the independent film production company. For more information about Paul G. Allen visit

  • by The Grassy Knoll ( 112931 ) on Thursday December 18, 2003 @07:21AM (#7752747) Homepage

    At apogee, SpaceShipOne was in near-weightless conditions, emulating the characteristics it will later encounter during the planned space flights in which it will be at zero-g for more than three minutes

    I can get the same effect by jumping in the air, can't I?. Just for a shorter time?

    Well, I'm off to emulate the characteristics I will later encounter during the planned space flights now.


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