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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.
  • I say... (Score:2, Insightful)

    Good luck, SpaceShip One; and Godspeed.

    This could be the beginning of the next Space Age.
  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:04PM (#9316350) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • by aardwolf204 ( 630780 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:13PM (#9316465)
      Sounds like the vomit comet. Your post interested me so I've been reading WikiPedia's article on weightlessness, Microgravity, the Vomit Comet and more. Check it out here [wikipedia.org]

      Weightlessness is not due to an increased distance to the earth: the acceleration due to gravity at a height of, for example, 100 km is only 3% less than at the surface of the earth.

      Weightlessness means a zero g-force: acceleration is equal to gravity.
    • 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

    • by Goldenhawk ( 242867 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:48PM (#9316934) Homepage
      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.

      Yep, this is more or less correct, but let's clarify one point. The only significant difference between this attempt (or any similar 100km up-then-down mission) and an orbit mission is how far you fall.

      You can go a thousand kilometers straight up, and fall straight back down, and never go into orbit. You never can "ignore" gravity - even out at the lunar orbit distance, at hundreds of thousands of kilometers, gravity is still a factor. Fact is, that's what keeps the moon nearby.

      An orbit is, essentially, simply falling in an arc that never intersects the ground (or atmosphere). You have to get a whole lot more energy into the vehicle so that the trajectory falls past the planet's "edge" - at which point you end up "falling" forever around the earth. (And yes, for you rocket science purists, you also have to expend some additional energy to reshape the path through which you fall, usually at the highest point of your trajectory, to make the orbit more circular - that's called an "orbit injection maneuver".) So it's not a matter of HEIGHT, it's a matter of which DIRECTION you expend the energy.

      As a matter of fact, if the atmosphere and terrain were not an issue, you COULD do an orbit a hundred feet off the ground. And you could enter this orbit by going straight sideways. It just requires moving a lot faster than a higher orbit. Our current launch profiles are designed to minimize the fuel (and therefore change in energy, a.k.a. "delta-V") required.

      So to wrap up the thought here, weightless is BECAUSE the vehicle trajectory is a free fall (one that's not being modified by expending energy or using winged lift or drag). Doesn't matter whether it's a complete orbit or one that will hit the ground before going around one complete time.

      And here's the most relevant point to SpaceShip One - to achieve true orbit (a true free fall all the way around the earth), quite a bit more delta-V is required - which requires more fuel, which requires more vehicle structure, which increases vehicle weight, which requires more fuel to lift, which requires more structure... etc. (And let's not even THINK about reentry heating yet...) So as neat as this trick is, SpaceShip One and any other X-Prize vehicles are a LONG way from a viable orbital launch vehicle.

      • 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.
      • So, in effect, orbit is achieved by falling and missing the ground? I thought that was called flying?!?
      • 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 [m6.net] 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.
  • Flight Controller (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> 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?


    • The flight controller display blanked out (blue-screened for all I know

      That's interesting -- I'd never really thought about that before... has it been mentioned anywhere what kind of software this thing is running? I know the space shuttle has some custom, reliable, blah blah code and stuff, so... what do they use on this craft? Anyone?


    • 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: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 [armadilloaerospace.com] to try it.
        • Re:Flight Controller (Score:3, Informative)

          by Long-EZ ( 755920 )
          I had already read the warning of the airport closure. That just goes to show what a big event this is. Mojave is a public use airport. They don't just close those for a few days to hold a bake sale or something.

          I was planning on arriving a few days early and maybe seeing if I could get involved, even in a tiny way. If not, I could always soak up the environment. If you're an airplane nut, there's a lot of neat stuff in Mojave. For a canard aircraft enthusiast, it's sort of like Mecca.

          I'd probably

    • From this Space.com article about the data from the May 13th flight [space.com], "During a portion of SpaceShipOne's boost, the flight director display did not function properly. Pilot Mike Melvill, however, continued the planned trajectory referencing the external horizon through cockpit windows."

      Forget an artificial horizon, good thing SpaceshipOne had a window! If the cockpit had been purely computer generated (e.g. "viewscreen on"), the pilot wouldn't have had a clue where he was going.

  • ... 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 Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:09PM (#9316417)
    Allen, founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc,

    The Vulcans are helping them out. I wont be at all surprised if SpaceShipOne looks like a Zephram Cochran design.
  • BOOOOOOOOM! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stratjakt ( 596332 )
    Enough said.

    Does the Russian's new policy of sending up folks for big amounts of cash (the Japanese reporter, etc) not count as commercial flight?

    • Re:BOOOOOOOOM! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Long-EZ ( 755920 )
      I hope you were referring to the two small sonic books that SpaceShipOne makes on reentry. The SS1 rocket design is a very safe solid rocket system using rubber as the fuel and nitrous oxide as the oxidizer. It's been tested as well as it can be, both on the ground and in flight. So far, zero problems.

      Yes, the Russian tourist flights were commercial flights, but they were done by a government. This is the first private venture into space. In a year or so, when the technology is more established, it w

  • more adds (Score:2, Funny)

    by millahtime ( 710421 )
    so, what's next. satelites with giant adds that change language over different countries. Instead of stars i the nights sky we will see lots of adds. It a possibiblty with corperations going to space.
    • Re:more adds (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:35PM (#9316765) Homepage
      Corporations have been going into space since the 1960s. Did you think that your DirecTV dish is picking up signals from NASA?

      The reason this is big is that this is private manned spaceflight. As long as the government has a stranglehold on who does and doesn't qualify for space, then there can be no real human expansion. The sooner private interests are getting into space (eventually it'll be orbit, then beyond) the sooner we'll have meaningful colonization of places like the moon and Mars. This is vital to the survival of the species, as long as we're all stuck on this rock, the next comet or solar flare can wipe us all out.
    • A poem that I heard on the BBC once (think it was on 'Tomorrow's World'):

      Twinkle Twinkle little star
      How I wonder what you are
      A red giant, or a shooting star?
      No, just an advert for a little blue car...
  • by peacefinder ( 469349 ) * <alan.dewitt@NoSPAm.gmail.com> 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!
    • I doubt this will be their first X-Prize flight. This is just their first suborbital.

      X-Prize requires two flights quite close together. I expect that after this flight is analyzed, they'll schedule a pair of flights for the X-Prize. Possibly in August or September.

  • 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 twostar ( 675002 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:22PM (#9316600) Journal
      Except that they are not carrying the required three passengers on this flight. Depending on the outcome of this flight they will then plan for the Xprize.

      This is still experimental flight and they're minimizing personel risks.
      • by lommer ( 566164 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:02PM (#9317134)
        They don't actually have to carry three passengers, they just have to carry the bulk, the weight, and the life support for two simulation passengers and then actually carry one pilot. The X-prize rules are pretty clear about this. I think they did it so that if something does fuck up, at least only one guy bites the dust rather than three. It also allows for a few flights to be made with one passenger to thoroughly test the system before flying with three.
    • Remember though - this story announces that the June 21st flight doesn't qualify them for the X Prize. They'll need to have two trips within two weeks that meet the mass requirements. This trip will not count. I highly doubt that they'll be able to get two more flights that do meet mass requirements within the two weeks prior to 7/4/2004.
  • 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 ;)

  • by ol2o ( 746375 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:13PM (#9316460)
    Will they be playing it?
  • by Gldm ( 600518 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:14PM (#9316471)
    Sorry, couldn't resist the gratuitous movie quote reference, the names are too similar. :P
  • by MooseByte ( 751829 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:15PM (#9316484)

    "This would make it the first commercial manned vehicle to officially enter space."

    Which immediately makes me wonder which was the first commerical manned vehicle to unofficially enter space. Did this guy [snopes.com] finally get some larger balloons?

    Best of luck, Space Ship One! May your design be sound and your crew be safe.

  • by daves ( 23318 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:15PM (#9316486) Journal
    Q: Who is invited?
    A: Everyone, especially children. They will want to tell their children that they were there to see the event that triggered the industry of private space tourism.

  • RTFA (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This flight doesn't qualify for the X-Prize, because they are only carrying one pilot and no extra weight in place of the other two people.

    They will have to make 2 more flights later to win the X-Prize.
  • by nuclear305 ( 674185 ) * on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:18PM (#9316532)
    Everyone knows the REAL reason a followup flight is required within two weeks. It's so that the Vulcans can detect the flight, as they will only be surveying on our system for two weeks.
  • by kzinti ( 9651 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:19PM (#9316547) Homepage Journal
    If successful, the craft - named Space Ship One - will become the world's first commercial manned space vehicle.

    I believe that distinction goes to the Russians, who are the first to fly a paying customer in the flesh. It would be more correct to say that Space Ship One is the first privately developed manned craft to reach space. Until they fly a paying customer, I don't count Space Ship One as a vehicle of commerce. Just splitting hairs...
    • "commercial manned space vehicle" could mean a Shuttle taking a private company's satellite into orbit...something that was done on a fairly regular basis until the Challenger incident.
      • "commercial manned space vehicle" could mean a Shuttle taking a private company's satellite into orbit...

        Which is why I said "in the flesh". Most Shuttle payloads were military or government, and all payloads were so heavily subsidized that they were essentially free... no nongovernment customer could have paid the true cost of getting their payload to orbit.
    • There go them dang Russkies again, commercializing everything first!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:22PM (#9316591)
    ... the lady handling reservations at the motel didn't even need to ask what night I wanted (the 20th) -- their phone is apparently being slashdotted, and she said that everyone calling for that night "sounds the same".

    Is there some kind of geek accent I wasn't aware of?
  • Retro (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GoPlayGo ( 541427 )
    One of the sweetest things is that the SpaceShipOne looks like rocketships [currell.net] were supposed to look like [rodhunt.com] many years ago. Curvacious.
  • Yeesh (Score:3, Funny)

    by Erwos ( 553607 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:23PM (#9316615)
    I gotta hope the guy they find to pilot the thing has his life insurance paid up.

  • by mbessey ( 304651 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:25PM (#9316652) Homepage Journal
    You've got to hand it to Paul Allen - here's a guy who knows what to do with more money than he could ever spend in his lifetime. Making it possible for other people to pursue their dreams and possibly improve the world for everyone is just about the best possible use for all that wealth.


    • cause you know, world hunger, poverty, and the uneducated masses dont mean shit.....
      • 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

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:21PM (#9317341) Homepage Journal
        Worried about world hunger, poverty, and the uneducated masses. Sell your computer and give the money to them. Really the problems of world hunger, poverty, and the uneducated masses will not be solved by throwing money at them. Most hunger is not caused by lack of money to feed people. It is caused by politics, poverty? There will always be poor but the crushing poverty that you often see is not going to be solved by throwing money at the problem. The uneducated masses? Truth is books are pretty cheap these days and you do not have broadband and P4s to be educated. The old "we can put a man on the moon but we can't...feed the poor, cure the common cold, or take your pick" statment is old and tired. How about this on. "We can't put a man on the moon any more! Are you happy!"
  • 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.

    • The whole point of this is that it allows work to be done on cheaper reusable launchers.

      100t to LEO would be great, but odds are that if it got built, it still wouldn't see much use outside of government launch contracts at 500 mil per launch. On the other hand, if we can get 1 ton launches to LEO down to $50,000 incremental cost, odds are pretty good that a lot of people would start putting things into space.

      It's like computers; we get a lot more done with lots of small PCs than with small numbers of hu
    • It is a start. Once you have something like this, hopefully flying paying passangers on suborbital flights, you have proven that there is a marked for commercal, manned access to space (there allready exists commercal launcers for unmanned sattelites and probes - Sea Launch is one). Once you proven that, companies will start sinking real cash into it - perhaps taking the logical next step and build a 'space hotel' and a shuttle able to ferry more than three people up and down at a time.

      One has to prove tha

    • 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?

      But does your comment really make a difference? I am certainly not knowledgeable enough to guess what the Rutan/Allen team's long-term goals are, but their efforts thus far seem to be more than adequately meeting their short term goal

      • 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.

    • 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 Teahouse ( 267087 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:01PM (#9317114)
      Remember, we are talking about commercial space travel starting from the same point as NASA's Mercury program. They are taking evolutionery steps just like NASA did. Currently, the X-Prize is for a sub-orbital system. Once that has been accomplished, I have heard that they plan on offering a $20 mill prize for the first orbital flight.

      Just like the beginning fo powered flight, governments have held all the cards and technology till now. What you are seeing is the highly efficent start of commercial space ventures. They will evolve through vehicles much faster than NASA did because they already have more knowledge to build on, and they also have the ability to make changes and adjustments faster and cheaper than a bureauracy like NASA. NASA isn't projected to have a new man-rated vehicle for another decade, and at the cost of BILLIONS. It is likely that before they accomplish that, the commercial industry will catch up and have a 4-man orbital vehicle by the end of this decade.

      Finally, the dollars will be there. Right now, if you asked NASA to get you into a sub-orbital launch, it would probably cost them $100 million minimum in development to get you there. Your price tag might be as high as 10-15 million. Rutan is doing it for less than 5 million (that's including vehicle development) and your price (once operable) will be about $80-100K per launch. Once these cheap methods are solidified, I could see an orbital flight dropping down to a $10-12K price tag for 4-5 orbits. If they get it that low, then space tourism will be the economic demand this industry is hoping. Hell, I would pay $20k to go into orbit!

      What I am saying is that you need to be a little patient. These companies will get you there far cheaper than NASA, and in a much shorter amount of time. This is just the beginning, but all things will come.

      An old NASA saying is "space is difficult", it should really be "space is easy, bureauracy is difficult".

      • 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 :-)
        • by Teahouse ( 267087 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:37PM (#9317503)
          I was at a JPL happy hour about a month ago. One of the engineers I talked to was a friend of Rutan's. The cost to build White Knoght was about 2.2 mill. The cost of SS1 (not counting engine) was 2,1 mill. Throw in another mill for the cost of the engine and that's the figure I gave. I have no idea what the continuing operations cost on a monthly basis, but the fact that they got the bulk of this done for less than 6 mill is pretty impressive.
      • Actually, if you asked NASA to get you into a sub-orbital launch, they would point you to the National Scientific Balloon Facility [nasa.gov] 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 Teahouse ( 267087 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @04:18PM (#9318536)
          Neither of these launch options is man-rated, but you make a good point. I don't think NASA is evil, I think congress is evil. Unfortunately, NASA must design their manned space program to please these mindless congressional masters....

          CONGRESSPERSON SKYPACK: My district has a company that makes winglets for aircraft, contributed $5000 to my campaign last election. I want winglets on the new orbital spaceplane.

          NASA ADMIN: But congressman, we are currently looking at a more cost effective capsule design, there are no wings.

          CONGRESSPERSON SKYPACK: Well you had better rethink your short-sighted design. My constituent told me winglets are the latest thing on my last junket to Barbados with them. You NASA people should know that winglets add efficency to wingtips! You should at least be looking at them.

          CONGRESSPERSON SMOOT: Yes, winglets are a good idea REP SKYPACK, they sound sexy. I would also like to see them use landing gear from manufacturer X.

          CP SKYPACK: Yes, Manufactuirer X is in your district right SMOOT? They make tires for cars. Why, they would need at least 15 million to develop an aircraft grade landing system don't you think? Good idea...if you'll vote for my winglets I'll....

          SMOOT: Sounds great! OK!

          NASA Administrator: Gentlemen, we will require neither winglets or landing gear for our capsule. We can make it safer and cheaper without them. Don't you understand?

          SKYPACK: I understand that your system better have wings and tires ADMIN, or you'll get no approval from THIS committee. In addition, I am going to cut your development budget while adding these two features to your design to make me look fiscally responsible, and don't you dare go over budget!

          NASA ADMIN: Where is a gun, I need to shoot myself immediately.

          SMOOT: Theres a firearm manufacturer in my district ADMIN, if you could purchase....

          And the stupidity continues.

      • It is likely that before they accomplish that, the commercial industry will catch up and have a 4-man orbital vehicle by the end of this decade.

        That's great if so, I'm all for it. But I think you're underestimating the engineering difficulties involved.

        SS1 is a great little craft and a tremendous technical achievement, but it is not even close to being an orbital vehicle. They are achieving a great part of the height necessary, but very little of the horizontal velocity. Orbital velocity is "[...] approx [howstuffworks.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @01:49PM (#9316946)
    This is not correct - the ship carries no cargo nor paying passengers so it's not "commercial".

    "Private space craft" would be a more correct term.
  • by jd142 ( 129673 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:11PM (#9317228) Homepage
    Ok, am I the only one who thinks that we should not be encouraging the Rutans? Sure, they were enemies of the Sontarans, but that doesn't make them our friends. Just ask Leela.

  • 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 [xprize.org]. 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!
  • Yay! (Score:4, Funny)

    by vjmurphy ( 190266 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:47PM (#9317600) Homepage
    "Space Ship One will temporarily leave the earth's atmosphere, and the pilot (yet to be announced) will experience about three minutes of weightlessness."

    "Yet to be announced" eh? Cool, that means I'm still in the running. :)
  • by InsomniaCity ( 599389 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @03:38PM (#9318136)
    Who cares about the avionics crashing (which they did on the last flight IIRC)?

    What I care about, or would if I was the pilot, is whether it has a slot loading CD player into which I can slap a CD in the last few seconds before launch!

  • 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.
    • 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 ac
  • by billtom ( 126004 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @04:32PM (#9318735)

    One thing I've always wondered about SS1, the other X-prize entries, and the X-prize itself is whether there is a clear series of steps which lead to some goal like regular space travel.

    By this I mean questions like: can the design used for SS1 (and the other X-prize teams) be scaled to orbital operations, more people/cargo, etc; or is it just a special purpose vehicle designed to win the X-prize?

    Sure, it's inevitable that we'll learn something when doing a complicated engineering project like this. But at times it feels like the X-prize is being treated like an end goal instead of an early step on a journey.
    • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @05:26PM (#9319448) Homepage Journal
      People who ask this probably have a poor understanding of aviation history.

      Let me ask you:
      Was the Wright brothers' plane a special purpose vehicle or a general lift vehicle?

      Was the 'Spirit of St. Louis' scalable to larger flights with more people/cargo, or once it was proven that you could fly to France, did other people build craft that would do the job?

      Was the Bell X-1 scaled up to accomodate more than just the test pilot?

      Consider that breaking the sound barrier was first done in a rocket-plane, something that has NEVER been used for large passenger carrying craft. The Concorde flew Mach2 on jet engines, not rockets.

      The purpose, as I see it, of SS1 and the X-Prize in general, is to spurr activity in this sector of engineering, which will hopefully lead to revolutionary new craft and even perhaps some new and exciting propulsion systems, advanced materials for absorbing and disappating heat, rapid prototyping, and more rugged avionics.

      Once it's been proven that space can be reached relatively cheaply, it's only a matter of time before companies spring up to take advantage of this opportunity.

      This vehicle is a test-craft, much like the original Wright-flyer. It's a proof of concept. It's the next step in aviation.

      And if nothing else, imagine if Rutan offered a kit version, like the Long EZ, that you could purchase for ... say... 20 million.

      I'd start saving my pennies if I were you.

      Also please remember that once upon a time, flying by jet was horribly expensive compared to prop-aircraft, hence the term "jet set" to describe rich people.

      Eventually, development in this area reduced the cost of flying by jet, and now, you can hop a plane to just about anywhere in the world for a reasonable amount.

      Space travel or Suborbital travel will start out expensive, but over time, as there is more development, it will eventually get cheaper.

      I think FEDEX will invest in such a system before airlines do, but if you can get a package from NYC to Hong Kong in 3 hours, it's only a matter of time before companies start trying to get their executives from NYC to Hong Kong in 3 hours.

      SS1 is the start of all this. It's not meant to be the final design of a larger craft any more than the X-1 was the final design for some larger supersonic craft.

      Instead, SS1 is the stepping stone for design work to bring us that larger suborbital craft, that may be based on entirely different technology.

      I hope this answers your question.

If I'd known computer science was going to be like this, I'd never have given up being a rock 'n' roll star. -- G. Hirst