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Space The Almighty Buck Science

SpaceShipOne 100 km Attempt Slated for June 21 345

apsmith writes "Scaled Composites has just announced their first attempt at breaking 100 km, scheduled for June 21. This would make it the first commercial manned vehicle to officially enter space. This is not quite an Ansari X prize attempt since it will carry only one person without the extra mass corresponding to the 3-person prize requirement; they have to give at least 30 days' notice for that. Past flight history is available from their site; the Discovery Channel is producing a documentary on the whole project, 'Rutan's Race For Space.'" Roger_Explosion adds "If successful, the craft - named Space Ship One - will become the world's first commercial manned space vehicle. Space Ship One will temporarily leave the earth's atmosphere, and the pilot (yet to be announced) will experience about three minutes of weightlessness."
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SpaceShipOne 100 km Attempt Slated for June 21

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  • Webcast? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Unoriginal Nick ( 620805 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:04PM (#9316334)
    Any chance there'll be a webcast of the launch? I'd really like to see it.
  • Flight Controller (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:05PM (#9316358) Homepage Journal
    The flight controller display blanked out (blue-screened for all I know) during the last flight. It will be interesting to see what is in the cockpit for this attempt. I suspect at least a backup artificial horizon. There's already a commercial GPS there. What else would be necessary?


  • ... as we watched the 1st launch since the Challenger disaster...

    "GO baby, GO!"

    I'll be counting down. Heck I might even break out the model rockets and find a big park to go 'celebrate' (course the biggest park is next to a gorge, we don't like strong winds...)
  • by peacefinder ( 469349 ) * <> on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:10PM (#9316428) Journal
    I think this is the first Space Ship One flight that Scaled has announced in advance. I'm more than a bit surprised. I thought that they would do their first X-Prize-class flight quietly, then announce the next day that they were going for the prize officially.

    Good luck to them in any case... I'm sure it'll be a heck of a ride!
  • by 1ione1 ( 207861 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:11PM (#9316440) Journal
    To win the X Prize requires that two sub-orbital flights be completed within two weeks. The June 21st first attempt is just less than two weeks before the Fourth of July, America's Independence Day. While I don't expect to hear a public commitment (or even comment) from the Spaceship One team, it looks suspiciously like they're hoping to wrap it up on Independence Day.
  • by WegianWarrior ( 649800 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:12PM (#9316446) Journal

    I think they'll manage to get over 100 km in their vessel. Then I assume we'll see them attemt the quick turnaround needed to win the prize and a new launch within two weeks. Then first, having proven their system, will they announce their officall attempt for the prize.

    At least that makes sence to me - test that it work first, before they go for the big one. Just the same as NASA did with their first spacecapsules; unmanned ballistic flights first, then a ballistic flight with a monkey, then an unmanned orbital flight and a monkeyed orbital flight - and once they knew their craft would behave as expected under all phases of the mission, they did a couple of manned suborbital flights to prove that humans would behave as expected (they did better than expected AFAIK) before they launced a man into orbit. In fact, it's just the same these guys do; prove that the spacecraft can handle all aspects of the mission before they put three people into it and light the fuse ;)

  • Re:Flight Controller (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Long-EZ ( 755920 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:17PM (#9316513)
    SpaceShipOne uses a custom developed avionics package and it is not based on Windows so it didn't "blue-screen" in that sense. The lift vehicle, White Knight uses an identical system. The design intent was to allow cross training, so time spent flying White Knight will train for SpaceShipOne flights.

    The test pilot when the SS1 avionics required rebooting, Mike Melvill, is a VERY capable pilot. In short, he don't need no steenking avionics. All the Scaled team consists of interesting and capable people. They're the cream of the aviation crop.

    I'm seriously thinking about flying my Long-EZ (another Rutan design) to Mojave to see the magic. This is going to be so cool.

  • Re:Chutes? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:18PM (#9316530) Homepage Journal
    It has not been clear to me that there is a bail-out capability. There is no pressure suit, and the deisgn is that there would not be a pressure suit. They are really bulky and need a lot of support - cooling, etc. The ship is double-hulled and a rather small pressure vessel. If it loses pressure, the pilot is probably dead for other reasons.

    One person has done balloon jumps from 110K feet in preparation for early manned space flight. A famous astronaut commented that he would not have wanted to try this. From the SS1 this would be worse than bailing out from a jet under power - which generally only is accomplished with powered ejection systems. All of these things add the weight that SS1 is designed to avoid.


  • Retro (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GoPlayGo ( 541427 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:22PM (#9316592) Homepage
    One of the sweetest things is that the SpaceShipOne looks like rocketships [] were supposed to look like [] many years ago. Curvacious.
  • by mirio ( 225059 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:23PM (#9316609)
    It's important to remember that going into space and being weightless are separate things. Weightlessness is the effect of free fall; not some magic thing that happens once you reach space. You're only weightless in orbit because orbit, by definition, means that you're in a continuous free fall. Since this flight won't go into orbit (or anywhere close to far enough from Earth to ignore it's gravity), the weightlessness effect is simply a result of the flight trajectory including free-fall on re-entry

    Actually, weightlessness is simply the result of your velocity being the same as that of your surroundings. If you and your surroundings (i.e. Space Ship) are traveling at approximately the same velocity (speed & direction), you experience weightlessness. Free fall is an example of this effect, not the rule. This is precisely how the NASA Vomit Comet [] works.

    If your comment were correct, the Apollo astronauts would not have experienced weightlessness on their way to / from the moon.
  • Are not! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WegianWarrior ( 649800 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:29PM (#9316703) Journal

    The pilot (to be announced at a later date) of the up-coming June sub-orbital space flight will become the first person to earn astronaut wings in a non-government sponsored vehicle, and the first private civilian to fly a spaceship out of the atmosphere. SpaceShipOne then coasts up to its goal height of 100 km (62 miles) before falling back to earth.
    Seeing as a) most people in the aerospace industry defines space as 'anything above 100km over SL (sealevel), and b) they havn't gotten any money from the big, evil goverment to build their vessel, this is correct. Off course, he won't be completly out of out atmosphere, but then the edge of that isn't a sharply defined line.

    The pilot experiences a weightless environment for more than three minutes and, like orbital space travelers, sees the black sky and the thin blue atmospheric line on the horizon.
    According to This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury [] (freely avilable from NASA's website), this is a very good description of what Alan Shepard experienced on his suborbital flight on the 5th of May 1961 (see chapter 11-4 [] of the aforementioned bood, or see what Wikipedia [] has to say on that flight).

    Interestingly enought, when I first heard of the X-prize, I assumed it would be won by a reusable capsule modeled on the early american designs (Mercury [], Gemeni [] or Apollo []) launced by reusable solidfueled rockets. I'm happy a more inovative, less 'brute force' approach seems to be winning.

  • Re:Flight Controller (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:31PM (#9316721) Homepage Journal
    I'm seriously thinking about flying my Long-EZ (another Rutan design) to Mojave to see the magic. This is going to be so cool.

    Might better plan ahead. From the FAQ:

    Q: Can we fly our own airplanes in?
    A: Due to expected congestion, the airport will be closed to transient aircraft starting several days before the event.

    That said, though, I'd probably take a day off work to see it with the kids, if I lived within 300 miles. As it is, 1500 miles each way is a bit much for a long-weekend road trip. I'll have to wait for the Texas folks [] to try it.
  • Yes, It's Impressive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:34PM (#9316764) Homepage Journal
    But does putting the mass of 3 humans in suborbital flight really make a difference? This is akin to the Space Shuttle in the 1970s: It's designed to go somewhere, but there's nothing up there to go to. Are we going to continue launch satellites, or are we going storm heaven?

    This would make an excellent crew transfer vehicle, but a poor 'space truck'. What's needed is a commercially produced heavy lift launch vehicle. 100 tons to LEO would provide the ability to send modular lab or manufacturing stations into orbit, with crews sent up by craft like SpaceShip One. It doesn't have to be totally reusable, just cheap enough that it won't cost ~$1 billion plus the cost of the material being launched. Lower this by half, and maybe large companies could use it as research or manufacturing stations, with the benefit of NASA being able to use them to mount high-quality manned missions to the Moon and Mars, and unmanned missions to deep space, powered by nuclear reactors that would increase the amount of data by increasing both bandwidth and mission length.

  • Re:Pilot? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:42PM (#9316853)
    This is essentially an airplane. It ain't no capsule on top of a big rocket that just follows its course and goes up. This thing needs to be flown up into space.

    With that said, it's also a lot safer than sitting on top of a giant uncontrollable bomb. If I were a test pilot then this really wouldn't be that much more dangerous than what I would be doing anyway.
  • by hypnagogue ( 700024 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:59PM (#9317088)
    But does putting the mass of 3 humans in suborbital flight really make a difference?
    Yes. Commericial engineering is only accomplished in small, achievable, individually profitable steps. Only governments can afford to waste money on decades-long boondoggles. Space tourism is seen as a potentially profitable industry... orbital heavy-lifting already has big market players (the governments) and entry into this market is not likely to be overwhelmingly profitable. That is, until you have technology that can significantly lower the price point.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:05PM (#9317165)
    Perhaps you used the words "whoa-hai" or "glayven". That's usually a dead giveaway.

    No, I only got as far as "I'm calling to see if you have any rooms available for ..."

    I did not inject any Monty Python references (even though the situation clearly called for it[1]), rant about SCO vs. All Right Thinking People, talk trash about Emacs, brag about my fat pipe (even though the situation clearly called for it[2]), or anything else remotely geeky.

    The only conclusion is that I must have an accent other than my native SoCal facility with the word "dude".

    [1] Monty Python references are always called for, so it's redundant to mention it.
    [2] No one will know if you have a fat pipe unless you either tell them about it or show it to them, so you just have to work it into a conversation wherever you can.
  • by Long-EZ ( 755920 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:13PM (#9317253)
    People are like tribbles. If you feed people, you get more people. Harsh, but I think true. That's not to say that feeding people isn't a noble venture, especially if there is an effort to control overpopulation in deserts that can't support human life. But the goal isn't to see how many people we can put on the earth.

    On the other hand, taking the first real steps into space will pay long term benefits to all humanity. And by "real", I mean economically viable, commercial ventures. Not some "what's the most dangerous and expensive path to space" government pork project. I intend to offense to NASA engineers or their Russian counterparts, but governments just aren't very good at this sort of thing.

  • by (Maly) ( 742260 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:22PM (#9317348)
    ...if this project makes the 2-week turnaround for re-launch required by the X-prize rules []. Their launches to date have not been even close to the required frequency.

    This launch, as I understand it, is just the first try. If it goes well they will prepare to do the 2 launches in 2 weeks. Still, the first manned commercial space flight is a momentous event. Go Scaled go!
  • by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:25PM (#9317368) Homepage Journal
    1) People will not be invigorated by watching three people, two billionaires and a pilot, take a joy ride. They will be invigorated by watching man walk on Mars, or at least having a leader who says we're going to go there.

    2) We've had the technology to go to space for forty years. We've had the technology to do suborbital flight for longer. Hell, we could have landed on Mars before I was born, but we didn't have the economic or political balls to do so.

    3) I don't think tourism is really helping the economic situation in Africa. I'm sure they would rather have people invest in their infrastructure. Same thing with space: We need an infrastructure to make space more than an alternative to the safari. We can't do that launching ~500 kg at a time.

  • Re:Are not! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by justanyone ( 308934 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:28PM (#9317396) Homepage Journal

    assumed it would be won by a reusable capsule...solidfueled rockets

    The X Prize requires a certain percentage of liftoff mass be re-used in the two flights. I would presume that liftoff mass means the mass at the time the craft touched the earth the last time before ascending (thus would count both SpaceShipOne and WhiteKnight (although WhiteKnight is an aircraft and is completely reused).

    Technically, refilling a SRB (Solid Rocket Booster) with new fuel could be done and comply with ther requirements. However, I would presume there is a limit to the number of times this can occur due to dynamic airframe stress fractures and heat-induced stresses in the SRB structure. Anyone know of such limits? How often are the SRBs for the Space Shuttle reused? Is the SRB's exhaust nozzle replaced or is it reused as well? Is it complex or is it an open tube?

    NOTE: Scaled has not released the reuse percentage for its flights. I would presume due to the design that their percentage is going to be very, very high, with only fuel / consumables being replaced and probably a couple of spare parts here and there.

    NOTE: I am also presuming there is only one WhiteKnight aircraft; if they had to use two WhiteKnight aircraft then they would not comply with X-Prize requirements (methinks, IMHO), since it is part of the 'launch system'.

    --Kevin at justanyone daaaaahhht cahhhhmm
  • by khendron ( 225184 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:30PM (#9317421) Homepage
    Rutan is doing it for less than 5 million (that's including vehicle development)...

    I'm curious. Where did this number come from? I looked up and down their web site but couldn't find any numbers as to the cost.

    To be honest, I have some trouble believing that this can be done for $5M. Why? Because it seems to me that the manpower cost alone should be more than that. However, I am very willing to be proven wrong :-)
  • Thought project! If I were to build a vaccum sealed tube and wrap it around the earth in a perfect sphere (obviously that would be hard to do with mountains and whatnot so you'd have to build it a bit off the ground to accomidate, or maybe someone can find a path... srhrugs). Could you orbit the earth inside it, and would there be any practical uses for such a thing.
  • by Teahouse ( 267087 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:44PM (#9317560)
    Were all dead too

    How exactly does that fit into the topic of discussion? We are all going to die anyway. The amount we spend globally on space exploration is not even 1% of what we spend on medical research.
    I agree with you that we definitely should be spending more, but please don't dredge up that old argument that we should never leave the planet to help more starving people. People were starving before we had a space program, and they continue to starve and die from disease. I agree that we should be trying to get to places, but orbit is also just a forst step. My point is that you have a better chance of living or vacationing at a lagrange point with commercial development than you do with a government program. Consumer demand drives commercial endeavors. If I have to spend 20K to keep it running and then spend another 200K 20 years from now to retire on the L5 colony, I'll do that. If you wait around for them to get you where you want to go, they might never get there. You have to be committed now, and later. Spend the 20K as soon as you can, and then put the 180K in a muni find. You'll have your 20K back and more by the time they build L5 Hilton or Moonbase Hilton.

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @03:01PM (#9317744) Homepage
    Yes. And No. :)
  • by Enigma_Man ( 756516 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @03:26PM (#9317995) Homepage
    Very interesting thought there :) I can't really think of a practical use for it... Maybe a really quick light-mail delivery service, for important hard-copies of documents? Hmm.

  • by eutychus_awakes ( 607787 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @03:41PM (#9318164)
    Actually, if you asked NASA to get you into a sub-orbital launch, they would point you to the National Scientific Balloon Facility [] located at Wallops Island. $500K will get you a two day flight above 120,000 feet - close enough for most science. If you need weightlessness, a sounding rocket can also get you there, but not for as long, of course. Not everything NASA does is an overpriced iron pig.
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @03:41PM (#9318176)
    All good luck to the crew. I certainly hope this leads to something, but let's don't forget that it is a very long way from coasting up to 100k to entering orbit.

    First of all, this craft is at least 6 times to slow to achieve orbit. You can coast as high as you want, but without achieving orbital velocity, you'll fall right back.

    Second, the craft's unorthodox reentry technique isn't amenable for use coming back from orbit. That means that this particular design probably doesn't lead anyplace useful.

    Third,leaving the atmosphere isn't strictly necessary to achieve orbit. It's just a whole lot less messy. You could achieve orbit at one kilometer if you dealt with atmosphereic heating.

    We should also remember that the private sector has had the capability of achieving orbit for decades. They built/build/launch the rockets that have been enterng orbit for more than 40 years. Two things have kept them from actually doing it: 1) A clear business case: Can you really make a profit selling tickets to orbit? 2) The fact that any rocket capable of putting a person in orbit is also quite capable of carrying a warhead to the next hemisphere. Governments tend to worry about, and regulate, those sorts of things.
  • Tier Two (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GlobalCombatDotCom ( 670485 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @04:27PM (#9318676) Homepage
    Since Rutan and Co called the Space Ship One project Tier One, it makes sense that they are planning a tier two. Probably an orbital flight.

    Knowing Rutan he's probably already got the design figured out for an orbital vehicle and has been running simulations of it.

    Who knows, maybe there is even a tier three... the moon.
  • Re:Flight Controller (Score:2, Interesting)

    by EABird ( 554070 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @05:01PM (#9319129)
    I was at Wright Patterson AFB the other day, in the Presidential hangar (part of the Air Force Museum, so named because they have all of the old Air Force One aircraft). They have an X-15 there and some other astounding stuff. Don't miss if you get to Dayton. The X-15 there had a window cover on one side to protect the window from being abraded during "re-entry". They would open that side if the other side became too cloudy to look through. SS1 doesn't have any caps over its windows.

    The X-15 at WPAFB was the craft used to do the High speed testing. The cover was a special mod to provide a window to see out of after the high-speed part of the flight. To protect the craft during the 6.7 Mach flight, there was a coating sprayed on the body of the X-15. As it burnt off, it would cloud the view of the pilot, Air Force Major Robert White in this case. The high-speed flight actually made the craft unairworthy, due to the limited help the coating actually had, and therefore it was the last flight for that X-15. The SS1 will be traveling much slower and will not require such protection, eliminating any problem with the visibility.
  • by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @05:40PM (#9319616)
    If there is ANYONE that could build the world's first privately funded reusable spacecraft that can achieve low Earth orbit (LEO), it's Burt Rutan's company.

    Scaled Composites could work with Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works division and come up with a low cost vehicle that could be launched on top of a modified 747-200 to carry up to six astronauts and/or its equivalent in cargo to LEO. Unlike the unfortunate X-33 project, this project is probably going to be much cheaper to pull off since the vehicle that actually flies into space will not need to carry so much fuel during its boost phase.
  • by ghost_world ( 785065 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @05:46PM (#9319669)
    To be even more pedantic-
    If you were to orbit the earth at ground level, you could go a little bit slower than orbiting at 100km (ignoring problems like friction and the fact the the earth is not a perfect sphere). Orbital physics are a little counter-intuitive, but you must expend energy - and speed up - to rise into a higher orbit. Yet your angular velocity (the rate at which you circle the center point of orbit) decreases.
  • by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @06:27PM (#9320055)
    Time for my standard response that makes people hate me for getting them hooked:

    First off, the reason we fly straight up and then sideways is that it's a lot easier to accelerate sideways at 70km than it is at 0km altitude, because of the thinner atmosphere. Since the only significant delta-V in an orbital launch is the tangential component, you can tune your ascent to minimize fuel requirements and save up for the big sideways burn.

    Now, for the fun part: Orbiter [] is a free (as in beer + SDK for making your own ships) space-flight simulator that is both mathematically accurate and visually stunning. It includes the space shuttle Atlantis (don't even bother starting out with that one, as it takes practice to get to orbit) and some fictitious spacecraft capable of getting you to Mars or even beyond.

    You can even look around online and find add-ons such as my latest favorite, an Apollo mission including a pretty realistic cockpit complete with the Apollo computer system. You even have to do your own LEM extraction and so forth.
  • by shadowbearer ( 554144 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @09:52PM (#9321633) Homepage Journal

    and that says a hell of a lot of interesting things about what Allen thinks is the risk vs. reward ratio in this investment, doesn't it :)


Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?