Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?

Rutan's SpaceshipOne Hits 200,000 Feet 292

An anonymous reader writes "Burt Rutan's privately-built SpaceshipOne is one step closer to winning the X-Prize after zooming to what witnesses say was somewhere around 200,000 feet on only its third powered flight. (See also the partial update from Scaled Composites.)"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Rutan's SpaceshipOne Hits 200,000 Feet

Comments Filter:
  • Um ah... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:13PM (#9143517)
    zooming to what witnesses say was somewhere around 200,000 feet...

    Can you even see Spaceship 1 at 200,000? If I recall, the engine cuts off and Spaceship 1 coasts up the rest of the way, so there is no trail to follow.
    • Re:Um ah... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Carnildo ( 712617 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:22PM (#9143636) Homepage Journal
      Can you even see Spaceship 1 at 200,000? If I recall, the engine cuts off and Spaceship 1 coasts up the rest of the way, so there is no trail to follow.

      True, there's no exhaust track. But you can follow it on radar, or through a telescope, or you can estimate the altitude based on altitude and velocity at engine cutoff.
  • by tinrobot ( 314936 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:13PM (#9143525)
    Isn't the goal 62.5 miles... that's about 330,000 feet.

    They're getting awfully close. I get the distinct feeling this one is going to win it very soon.
  • by brejc8 ( 223089 ) * on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:13PM (#9143526) Homepage Journal
    Rutan's SpaceshipOne Hits 200,000 Feet
    As it launched it turned 90 degrees and skimmed along an inch off the ground through the croud.
  • by StarWynd ( 751816 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:15PM (#9143535)
    Chalk up another booming flight of the privately-backed SpaceShipOne

    I don't know about everyone else, but I just hate it when my spaceship goes *boom*.
  • by ACNeal ( 595975 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:17PM (#9143571)
    Isn't that the name of the space ship Andy Griffith made to go get the garbage off the moon?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:20PM (#9143615)
    after zooming to what witnesses say was somewhere around 200,000 feet ...

    Witnesses looking up into the sky:
    "Wow, that looks like, what, about 100,000 ..."
    "Nah, looks more like, I'd say 200,000 feet to me."
    "Ya, about 200,000 feet looks right."
  • Re-launch? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gunfighter ( 1944 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:21PM (#9143622) Homepage
    I skimmed the article and didn't catch anything about the re-launch within the given time period. Are they going to try and reuse the vehicle anytime soon? This, IMHO, is one of the most interesting requirements of winning the X-Prize.

    Anyone who's ever been on the tours at Kennedy Space Center knows that the space shuttle launches don't begin with the countdown. Rather, they begin when the space shuttle touches down and the crews start preparing the shuttle for re-launch. Given that it takes (took?) NASA a helluva long time to get the shuttles prepped for re-launch, I'm wondering how these teams in pursuit of the X-Prize are doing with their plans to quickly refuel and relaunch the craft(s) within the alloted time period.

    • Re:Re-launch? (Score:3, Informative)

      by mahdi13 ( 660205 )
      They got the OK to run manned LEO (Low Earth Orbit) flights from the DOT (Department of Transportation) for the next year, so I'd say it's a safe bet that they will be doing this again a couple more times.
    • this isn't a part of the final attempt, just another one of their (very comprehensive) tests. I would guess, based off of their findings in this flight profile, that they will attempt a full or near full altitude test flight before offically attempting the 2 flights in 2 weeks test.

      My WAG would be another flight in early-mid June, barring any vehicle issues.

      Followed by the 2 flights on or near the 4th and the 17th/20th of July dates.

      But what do I know, I just spectate.
    • Re:Re-launch? (Score:5, Informative)

      by captain_craptacular ( 580116 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:29PM (#9143719)
      There is a lot of difference between spaceship one and a space shuttle. FOr example the entire exterior of the shuttle has to be examined and significant sections replaced due to the heat of re-entry. This is not an issue for spaceship one because it doesn't gain a fraction of the altitude or speed of the shuttle...
      • There is a difference but not that much. You must be confusing yourself with Apollo era propoganda. The delta V to get to the moon and back is much higher than your sub-orbital and orbital flights. Also there is a smaller mass to deccelerate hence less energy turned into heat. Pieces of rock survive derobital speeds and temperatures easily and they are much much faster compared to your average tin can spaceship returning back to earth.

        The reason they have to examine&replace bits of Shuttles everythime i

    • Re:Re-launch? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by at_kernel_99 ( 659988 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:29PM (#9143720) Homepage

      The technology of WhiteKnight / SpaceshipOne is radically different from that of the shuttle. Largely due to 2 things: 1) Burt et al are only going for 100,000 meters rather than orbit. 2) Advances in technology since the 70s, when the shuttle was designed.

      Personally I expect that they'll be capable of relaunching within hours - well below the two weeks allowed by the contest organizers.

      • Re:Re-launch? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rorschach1 ( 174480 )
        The fact that they're staying suborbital is the big difference. Still, any time you're messing with powerful rockets and huge aerodynamic stresses, it's best to take your time and check things out.

        As for the claim that improvements in technology since the time the shuttle was designed have reduced processing time... well, I'm not so sure about that. I only deal with unmanned expendable vehicles, but there is a LOT that goes into getting them ready for launch. Of course, a large part of that is administr
    • Re:Re-launch? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by robbymet ( 732292 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:32PM (#9143748)
      It takes the Shuttle to so long to relaunch because the entire craft needs to be recertified before relaunch. That is because the design has virtually no margin, so under normal operating conditions there are components that are on the verge of failure. These components must all be inspected and potentially replaced before another flight can occur. A small, reasonably designed vehicle should be able to hit a two week turn around no problem. DARPA's RASCAL and FALCON programs require a 24-hour turnaround.
    • I hope you understand that getting a very small, very lightweight object up to 330 thousand feet and the reusing it is vastly different than getting a very large, extremely heavy object up to 1 million feet.

      There are a ton of other differences (purpose, flexibility, etc) but the main problem I suspect is that the shuttles are essentially 1970's technology. Now we can do so much more with so much less (replace much of the mechanical stuff with electronic systems, etc). There is a tradeoff between reliab
      • Now we can do so much more with so much less (replace much of the mechanical stuff with electronic systems, etc).

        Wasn't there an article some time back which said that the combined computing power of all the shuttle computers system could be handled by a single laptop?
    • SS1 is completely reusable, just refill the rockets (liquid fuel) and you're set. The space shuttle uses solid fuel, which is a lot harder to handle/replace. It's also substantially larger and heavier, and it's reentry heat tiles need more maintenance.

      My guess is that SS1 could fly twice in one day if they wanted it to.
      • Re:Re-launch? (Score:3, Insightful)

        The space shuttle uses solid fuel, which is a lot harder to handle/replace

        Well, no. Solid Fuel is much easier to handle and replace than crygenic fuels.

        And SS1 is a hybrid, so it may require replacement of the solid fuel portion of its engine. It is designed for quick replacement though, so I don't imagine that it will be much of an issue.

        Biggest difference between the two (not counting size) is that SS1 will never approach the nearly 8000 m/s required to put a Shuttle into orbit. Which dramatically

  • and I couldn't help but be impressed that Bhutan [] had produced a rocket that capable in a country that small.

    Oh, well.

  • Packing (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Don't forget to bring a towel!
  • Third Flight (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:26PM (#9143682) Journal
    Well, that's two flights more than most spacecraft achieve.
    • Re:Third Flight (Score:2, Informative)

      by jan de bont ( 702726 )
      It was approx. the 54th flight of the carrier aircraft and the 14th flight of the spacecraft. 'Third flight' refers to the third time they fired the rocket on the spacecraft.

      Source: The "Test Updates" page on the scaled composites web site (link in article).


  • Videos (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HeghmoH ( 13204 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:28PM (#9143710) Homepage Journal
    I really, really want some videos of this or any other of SS1's test flights. Does anybody know if such things are out there to be downloaded?
  • Does anyone know? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Crazieeman ( 610662 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:33PM (#9143764) Journal
    How is John Carmack progressing with Armadillo Aerospace? The only major flights I keep hearing about are Rutan's.

    Personally I've been rooting for Carmack, but thats probably because I've just been a long fan of all of his work..
    • Re:Does anyone know? (Score:5, Informative)

      by foolish ( 46697 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:46PM (#9143899)
      You can follow the full progress of the Armadillo team at me [].

      They're making some really neat progress with the jet vane concept, but until they get site and vehicle clearance they won't be coming close to catching up with the Scaled Team.

      That's ok though, each team: Scaled, Armadillo, XCor, DaVinci, etc. is approaching things differently, so who knows we might end up with a heterogenous and competitive rocket industry.

      Heck, there's even JP Aerospace [] with their airship/ballon platform to orbit method!

      • I think a reasonably competitive industry would usher in a new era of space exploration. We wouldn't be confined by the total monopoly of government organizations like NASA and the ESA which are limited by a constant lack of public interest.
      • by johnjay ( 230559 )
        I think the balloon platform idea, as attempted by JP Aerospace among others, is the most brilliant one out there. I would be interested in reading an explanation of why a group would decide not to use a balloon launch platform. The only drawback I can see is that it's boring, slow and vulnerable. These are only significant problems if you're building a space-fleet or something equally bizarre. For a space-truck, the balloon launch sounds like the cheapest way to go.
  • Have to launch under it's own power (meaning the whole ship is reuseable)? Or is it ok if it uses external breakaway parts like the Shuttle?
  • Photos... (Score:5, Informative)

    by arashiakari ( 633150 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:44PM (#9143869) Homepage
    Here are links to the photos from the flight directly off their servers. Shot of earch in background... [] Apogee []
  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:45PM (#9143890) Homepage Journal
    Budding space pioneers should now know that there is an incentive to go beyond the narrow confines of the X-Prize and go where no man has gone before. This in the form of the natural follow-up to the X-Prize, The Squiggleslash Prize For Human Achievement [], which will go to the first person or group to land a person on Mars and bring them safely back home - with an expiry date of 23rd February, 2008 to discourage slacking.

    The amount of this prize was, until recently, $6,000, which by itself would be a remarkable incentive. But thanks to Stargoat [], this has been increased by a massive 50% to NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS. (US$)

    If you're interested, get going! All it takes to get to Mars is a lot of imagination, thinking outside of the box, pro-active team playing and self-motivation. What are you waiting for?

  • Another competitor (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wizarddc ( 105860 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:45PM (#9143895) Homepage Journal
    I can't remember if he was involved in XPrize or not, but there was a guy building a ship that used peroxide as his propellant. He was most definitely a back yard builder, he had his two huge tanks for his H202 in his garage. Does anyone remember who he was, or have a link to him? I was really interested in his project a while ago, but I've lost his url.
  • by TyrelHaveman ( 159881 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:49PM (#9143933) Homepage
    Here is the actual information release from Scaled:
    "Launch conditions were 46,000 feet and 120 knots. Motor light off occurred 10 seconds after release and the vehicle boosted smoothly to 150,000 feet and Mach 2.5. Subsequent coast to apogee of 211,400 feet. During a portion of the boost, the flight director display was inoperative, however the pilot continued the planned trajectory referencing the external horizon. Reaction control authority was as predicted and the vehicle recovered in feather experiencing 1.9M and 3.5G's. Feather oscillations were actively damped by the pilot and the wing was de-feathered starting at 55,000 feet. The onboard avionics was re-booted and a smooth and uneventful landing made to Mojave." - Scaled Composites LLC []

    So it looks like it went to 211,400 ft. Those witnesses knew what they were talking about.
    • Damn.

      Third flight of the aircraft, with your primary display out, counting on a reboot to bring it back for the landing.

      That pilot sure has a pair.
      • by cmowire ( 254489 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:06PM (#9144159) Homepage
        It's a miracle of Scaled Composites design that the aircraft is actually able to be hand-flown the entire course.

        So the pilot had a pair, but Burt Rutan's ability to make the most bizare looking aircraft be easier to fly than the equivelent normal-looking aircraft is just inhuman.
      • Well, this was presumably on a severe-clear day in the desert, so I would expect the pilot to have been able to make a visual approach and landing even if his Flight Director had not come back to life. Also, I would be surprised if they didn't have at least some backup instrumentation not associated with the FD computer, such as a simple artificial horizon.

        However, I agree that the pilot definitely has some cojones. He needs them just to get in the damn thing and light it off!
      • "Feather oscillations were actively damped by the pilot"

        not just a pair, but some skill too. IANAAE (... aerospace engineer) but AFAIK those tasks are normally handled by computers running very high speed feedback loops. sounds impressive. would the 'plane have been ripped apart if he hadn't damped those oscillations correctly? i've no idea :)

  • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:57PM (#9144040) Journal
    to ....... Mos Eisley
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @04:58PM (#9144057) Homepage Journal
    Speed: 4520MPH/Mach 6.7 William Knight.

    Altitude: 354300 ft (107.9 km, 67.1 mi) Joseph Walker.

    IIRC, the x prize contender would not necessarily break the height record, since it would only require an altitude of 100km or 330000 ft. However, the trick is the vehicle must (a) be privately funded, (b) be capable of carrying two passengers in addition to the pilot and (3) repeat the feat within two weeks.

    Undoubtedly the X prize contestant will probably go the extra 7 km and break the altitude record for good measure.

    FYI: William Knight recently passed away on May 7. html
    • I hate to be a wet blanket here, but does winning the X-Prize really get us any closer to privatization of space? The real question here is if having achieved the X-Prize, can the winning entry be modified to lead directly to LEO -- I suspect not. Most notably missing is the ability to survive the extreme thermal stress from the much higher velocities on reentry.

      As is mentioned in the parent post here, the X15 rocket plane essentially met the X-prize goals back in the 60's, but it never led to a LEO roc

      • Well, the first computers were horribly expensive and built with government money and kept in government hands.

        Did the first computers in private hands matter?

        Probably if computers stayed in the hands of the government, they'd still be mainly used for things like artillery table calculations. We'd never see the idea of computers being used to play music, for example
      • Re:Wet Blanket (Score:3, Informative)

        by HeghmoH ( 13204 )
        I hate to be a wet blanket here, but does winning the X-Prize really get us any closer to privatization of space? The real question here is if having achieved the X-Prize, can the winning entry be modified to lead directly to LEO -- I suspect not. Most notably missing is the ability to survive the extreme thermal stress from the much higher velocities on reentry.

        It doesn't matter that the current vehicles have no hope of getting to LEO. Suborbital is useful and potentially profitable by itself. Tourism is
      • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <[ten.orezten] [ta] [gninroh_trebor]> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @06:13PM (#9144983) Homepage Journal
        The reason why the X-15 didn't get any further was strictly political, not technological.

        By the time the X-15 was doing its stuff, NASA was already gearing up for the Apollo program, and the ballistic missile guys (primarily lead by Von Braun, but it did involve others) were trying to push a competing program. It should be obvious who won that debate.

        The Space Shuttle should have (and in a small part did) been a technological decendant of the X-15 project, but instead most of its design technologies came from the Saturn V program and its predecessors.

        The promise of the X-15 was to have routine reusable aircraft for travel into space. The pilots of the X-15 were finally granted astronaut wings, but politcally even that wasn't really appreciated by the guys at NASA. The prep crew for the X-15 was just a dozen or so people, compared to the hundreds it took even for Alan Shepard to do his sub-orbital flight. It is indeed too bad that this research wasn't followed, but not because it was a technological dead-end. It wasn't followed simply because Congress in their infinite wisdom decided that programs of this nature should be cut. And it was almost impossible to get a follow-on project to go this route.

        Space Ship One really is the heir apparent now of the X-15 flights, and you had better believe that Burt Rutan knows just about all there is to know about the X-15 flights... probabally a world-class expert on the subject.

        Other X-class projects have been done since the X-15 (Notably the X-33) and they have all suffered with political problems coming from folks at NASA thinking they (the X-projects) are mussling into their turf. The X-prize was even named that in honor of these X-class planes and the potential they could have had if they hadn't been abandoned.

        The inspiring thing is that this ship goes higher and higher, pushing the materials and seeking refinements on what they already have.

        Finally, remember the saying of Robert A. Heinlein: "Low-earth orbit is half-way to the rest of the entire solar system."

        That sums up the importance of these flights. If refinements of materials and general ship design gradually lead to something that goes into orbit or even can leave the earth's gravity (like the Apollo missions), the age of manned planetary exploration will truly begin. Eventually, if you keep getting higher and higher, you are going to run out of altitude to the point that it really doesn't matter any more. You will be in orbit regardless.
  • Interesting trivia (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Stephen Samuel ( 106962 ) <samuel@bc g r e> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:04PM (#9144132) Homepage Journal
    I presume that this is just coincidence, but it turns out that 41 miles is also the altitude for first-stage separation for Saturn V rockets going to the moon [])
    See the section How Apollo Got to The Moon.
  • Gov't oversight?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by omahajim ( 723760 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:28PM (#9144452)
    ...their space plane flew to 212,000 feet altitude, almost 41 miles. NASA awards astronaut status to anyone who flies above 50 miles in altitude.

    On April 1, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it had issued to Scaled Composites the world's first license for a sub-orbital manned rocket flight.

    XCOR Aerospace, also of Mojave, California, announced in April it had received a Reusable Launch Vehicle mission license from the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

    NASA, DOT, FAA...

    Forgive me for being cynical, but how many government agencies need to be involved? Do we really need this much agency and departmental overlap for this stuff?

    Time to burn the newly minted Karma I guess.

  • The next one has to be orbit.

    Though I suspect that any insurance companies will be loathe to bet on it.

  • I can envision using SpaceShipOne as launch platform for a second unmanned stage that would place a small payload into LEO. The amateur's group booster on here yesterday might be able to do the job (it would go quite a bit faster at altitude as opposed to being launched though earth's atmosphere).
  • Mojave Spaceport.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @05:42PM (#9144613)
    A most interesting titbit in that article that I don't see anyone else has mentioned is that they've applied for a licence to allow Mojave airport to also become an inland commercial spaceport.

    Like an airport.. but FOR SPACE! Wow! ;)

    This is amazingly cool news and almost could be straight out of the pages of a science fiction book. Perhaps in a few years it will be major center for space traffic and commerce?

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!