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SpaceShipOne Captures the X Prize 896

SpaceShipOne's second flight was a success, the craft successfully launching from mothership White Knight and returning safely about 20 minutes later. If the flight is certified to have reached the X Prize's target height (62.5 miles) before its safe return, it will win the $10 million purse, and more importantly attain the prestige of repeatably (if only technically) reaching space, on a budget embarrassingly smaller than NASA's. Today's flight was manned by 51-year-old test pilot Brian Binnie (rather than Mike Melvill, who piloted last week's trip), and according to spectators present at both launches seemed even smoother than last week's flight. The view from the sidelines was incredible. flapjack submits a link to CNN's coverage of the launch (which lists a claimed height attained of 368,000 feet), noting "Interesting to note that a majority of its funding ($20-$30 million) was put up by Microsoft's own, Paul Allen." See also the official X Prize site for continuing live coverage. Update: 10/04 17:05 GMT by T : I was able to attend the launch; read below for my short sketch of the event.
Impressions from the launch:

I got to Mojave yesterday evening (it's a long way from El Paso), slept in my car, and got to the airfield itself just before 4 a.m. Traffic on state highway 58 was brisk already, though not clogged (which it later became), and nearly every car was turning onto the two-lane entrance heading for acres of packed-dirt parking spaces near the runway from which SpaceShipOne would take off.

The crowd which built up in the following hours was surprisingly quiet on takeoff, which happened right at 7:45 local time. Not exactly hushed -- perhaps "hesitant" is a better word, or maybe just waking up. Only scattered clapping (guilty!) as the White Knight / SpaceShipOne piggyback duo lifted off, followed shortly by two chase planes, an AlphaJet and a Beechcraft Starship. The enthusiasm grew, though, as the flight progressed; a P.A. system kept the spectators informed of the trip's progress.

When SpaceShipOne finally separated and fired upward ("Good release, good release!" over the P.A, followed by enthusiastic cheering), it was after three separate two-minute warnings, then for one-minute and 30-second intervals. After an 84-second burn followed by a clean shutdown, SpaceShipOne coasted to its final altitude. At 90 seconds into the flight, the ship was well past 100,000 feet, and out of sight to the unaided eye. At 7:51, an altitude of 328,000 feet was reported, but the ship was still climbing for the next 40,000 feet under its own momentum. The reported peak altitude is enough to top the previous record, set by an X-15 at 354,200 ft. in 1963.

The descent was happily uneventful. At 60,000 feet, Binnie experienced "slight oscillations" -- consistent with previous flights, according to the announcer, who continued to count down the altitude. At approximately 45,000 feet, the conditions are right for contrails, and more cheering erupted when those popped into view. The crowd perked up and cheered even more with the first of two sonic booms audible on the ground (the booms that occur during ascent aren't), pointing and shading their eyes from the sun, following the ship as it traveled in wide arcs to bleed off the energy of the ascent, followed by a smooth 3-point landing.

(Special thanks to the members of the Foothill High School band who traveled the three hours from Orange County to watch the flight and play both before and after the flight. The launch itself was surprisingly low on ceremony, and their playing provided a bit of well-deserved pomp.)

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SpaceShipOne Captures the X Prize

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  • by turg ( 19864 ) * <turg&winston,org> on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:51AM (#10429633) Journal
    That's a bit of a let-down, actually. I was hoping a few more people would have a successful first launch before someone managed to do it twice in two weeks. It would have been a little more dramatic.

    What do you think will happen to the other projects? I suppose they must have been funded well enough to not depend on receiving the prize.
  • Burt Rutan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:52AM (#10429658)
    Say what you will, but this guy is a true visionary and genius. First the round the world on a tank of gas flight, and now this.

    Congrats to Paul Allen as well, for his vision and support.
  • WTF!!?!! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geomon ( 78680 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:52AM (#10429664) Homepage Journal
    "budget embarrassingly smaller than NASA's"

    Of course Rutan didn't perform any of the fundamental research that lead to the first manned flights, so his efforts are piggy-backing on those of NASA.

    What a bullshit comparison.

  • Watched it live.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kid-noodle ( 669957 ) <jono@@@nanosheep...net> on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:52AM (#10429665) Homepage
    On the webcast. Wow. I mean really - ok, it isn't the moon landings, but it is one of the more significant things I'm likely to see in my life I think.

    I have to say, it brought a tear to my eye when they did it. Yo, America - you guys have something to be proud of today!
  • by cluckshot ( 658931 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:53AM (#10429667)

    Congratulations to Scaled Composites and their supporters! This is a great day for American Innovation. Finally we start going back to space without the Government keeping us from doing it right.

  • by JJJ_NL ( 785776 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:53AM (#10429668)
    You only have to reach low earth orbit to win this prize. To really go to spots where hotels can be built you need to go a lot higher, and that's more difficult too. So space hotels aren't in reach yet.
  • by Randolpho ( 628485 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:54AM (#10429698) Homepage Journal
    Today is a great day for space afficionados. We've been rather fed up with NASA's castration for years... it's great that the doorway to space seems to be opening up again.

    Next step: orbit [space.com].
  • by jamie ( 78724 ) <jamie@slashdot.org> on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:54AM (#10429699) Journal
    Finally private industry has shown it can rocket a man 62 miles straight up and stay there for a couple of minutes! Congratulations! Now all it has to do is send someone to, you know, orbit the globe, and it will have caught up with government-sponsored space flight a third of a century ago [wikipedia.org].
  • by darth_MALL ( 657218 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:55AM (#10429712)
    This is a great day for Human Innovation! Well done lads :)
  • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <{richardprice} {at} {gmail.com}> on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:56AM (#10429729)
    Its also a hell of a lot later than when NASA did the same, with technology that is more widespread and cheaper to boot. When NASA did their shots, it had to invent pretty much all of the technology, whereas Scaled Composites had the benefit of all the public knowledge now available about space travel. Not to put a cloud on this success, but come on guys, comparing it to NASA and saying its much cheaper just isnt fair.
  • by mscalora ( 226843 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:57AM (#10429747) Homepage
    >...repeatably (if only technically) reaching space, on a on a budget
    >embarrassingly smaller than NASA's.

    Let's see them reach orbital velocity and then I'll be impressed by the budget difference.

    It is not that I am unimpressed by the flight, but I'm not really impressed by comparing the budgets of two totally different projects with totally different goals.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:57AM (#10429756)
    Considering the general history of tech in the marketplace, the initial leader will not be the eventual winner.

    I'm quite sure many shortcuts were taken in order to be first from all parties, with the probablity that the winner took the most.

    Thus there is a likliehood that the other contestants have a craft that has more practical uses, and a higher expected liftime.
  • W00t! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by jbltk ( 801038 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:58AM (#10429767)
    This is truly a great achievement, and congratulation to the winning team.

    That being said, I keep hearing and seeing people remark about how this somehow embarasses NASA or proves the "wonders of the private sector". I feel that the people making these comments (including the submitter/editor of this story) fail to realize that, without NASA's taxpayer funded contribution over the span of its existence, what they did this morning would not have been possible at this point. The private sector was able to accomplish this on such a budget because of innovations by NASA that brought this technology out in the first place.
  • next stop: orbit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Peter La Casse ( 3992 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:59AM (#10429773)
    The next step is to achieve orbit. If that can be done as inexpensively as SpaceshipOne, then all sorts of space-related activities will benefit.

    This is an exciting time to be alive.

  • by ozric99 ( 162412 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @11:59AM (#10429782) Journal
    Uhmm, these guys did a job (fantastic though it was) that NASA had already pioneered. I dare say they'd have spent a hell of a lot more cash had they not been following in the footsteps...

  • Re:WTF!!?!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jesrad ( 716567 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:03PM (#10429846) Journal
    I think the point is that the cost of building a spaceship has gone down several order of magnitudes these last years. With those current "embarrassingly smaller" costs for reaching space, who knows what services and products and opportunities await ?
  • by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:04PM (#10429851) Homepage
    The problem is money. Scaled has Big Bux behind them. All the others involve huge model rockets (a good way to die). And it's not just the model rocket thing (hey, the V-2 is proven technology that eventually lifted man into space via NASA), its R and D. All these other programs just don't have the technical skill to build something other than a Roman candle.
  • by geomon ( 78680 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:04PM (#10429852) Homepage Journal
    Besides the fact that SpaceShipOne utilizes a completely different and more efficient aeronautical approach than NASA to reach space,..

    Different than what?

    Oh, you mean the one that worked for 40 years?

    The fact that you have a comparison to make only reinforces my point.

    How many hours of Rutan's work was spent on failed attempts to achieve space flight?

    Wow, he didn't have to spend any because it had already been done.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:04PM (#10429864)
    As always, the GREATEST thrill is landing.
  • Re:WTF!!?!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by daviddennis ( 10926 ) * <david@amazing.com> on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:05PM (#10429875) Homepage
    True on one level, false on another.

    Yes, NASA did much of the basic research.

    But that was all done decades ago.

    Does that mean they should have a permanent monopoly on space?

    If this had been a NASA mission, would it not have cost ten times as much? And that makes it pretty much impossible to go to space for any reasons other than big-time investments like satellites.

    I thought How the West Wasn't Won [spacefuture.com] was a very nice parable on this subject.

  • by Ed_Moyse ( 171820 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:06PM (#10429905) Homepage
    Oh COME ON! Yes, that was a fantastic achievement ... I've been cheering Scaled on from my desk, and grabbing every bit of information I can about this. I find it incredibly exciting. But your comment "Take a look at Scaled Composites' expenditures and then compare then with those of NASA for one damn shuttle launch. Then shut your mouth." is incredibly silly. The space shuttle is doing a far more difficult job, a job that SpaceShipOne cannot conceivably do. Comparing SpaceShipOne to X15 is fairer, but then you *CAN* justifiably say that Scaled has benefitted from NASA's research.

    None of this takes away from Rutan et al.s fantastic achievement. But let's keep a little perspective : NASA has problems, but it still has achieved an incredible amount, and it (and the smart people who work there) deserve a bit more respect from the slashdot crowd.
  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:08PM (#10429940) Homepage Journal
    That's going to light a fire under a lot of asses... big ones.

    Congratulations are particularly in order for Anousheh Ansari's family [girlgeeks.org] without whom the X-Prize would not have been funded.

    Hopefully guys like Paul Allen and Bill Gates will get the idea they can do a lot more with their philanthropy money if they put up prize awards than if the schmooze it up with toadies. If they do they will start making major advances not just in space migration but in life extension, intelligence increase and fusion energy [geocities.com] which will finally embarrass the government into doing what it should have been doing all along the right thing as well:

    Fund prizes, not proposals.

  • by THotze ( 5028 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:09PM (#10429959) Homepage
    I think its interesting to point out that Rutan & co. have made it into space, sure, just space, not orbit (but seriously, when did we start getting so picky? It is _still_ rocket science, and getting to space is still a technical achievement that took over 10 millennia of human technological progression), three times while NASA is still trying to cobble together a way of making their space shuttle (launch cost: about what every slashdotter COMBINED will ever make) safe enough to fly again.

    So basically, the ONLY way that the US can send anyone into space right now is with SpaceShip One - making it one of 3 vehicles, including Russia's Soyuz and China's Soyuz-esque rocket, that can go into space with people in it.

    Its also significant that I think this is the only completely reusable vehicle to ever go into space, as being able to do a one-week turnaround shows, having this capability has some pretty big benefits.

  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:10PM (#10429971) Homepage Journal
    ss1's usefulness vs. 1 shuttle launch: shuttle wins!

    in other words... it's still faaar faaaar faaaaaaar away from what even the shuttle does, putting something 'up there' so that it stays there.

    ss1 'just' goes up 100km and then comes down - that's cool and all, but quite useless unless you're travelling or something like that.

    so, you shut up!
  • by turg ( 19864 ) * <turg&winston,org> on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:10PM (#10429975) Journal
    No. The most likely reason would be that the second launch doesn't happen on time. The trickiest part of the X-Prize requirements is to have the ship ready to go again within two weeks.
  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:11PM (#10429982)
    I watched the documercial last night on Discovery called Black Sky about the Scaled project, it's on again this week and there is a second piece coming up as well, it's worth watching.

    After I watched it I was thinking about who it really shows as being behind the ball. Well NASA is the obvious choice, but NASA made an investment from the 70s on into Shuttle and with the tangled web they have to tread with Congress and internal inertia, I don't think we can say "Look, NASA sucks!"

    Who it really makes look foolish, in my opinion, is the Chinese space program.

    They have been ramping up for thier space program for decades, and thier way of doing it was to buy Russian hardware, reverse engineer it and then build it again. No one knows how much that cost the Chinese, but look at Scaled. 250 people and about 25 million in venture capital is running a space operation out in the desert. Yea they haven't orbited yet. But they will, I've read it costs about $80,000 in fuel and prep.
  • Re:The X-15 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:12PM (#10430018) Journal
    The difference being that with the X-15, it hadn't been done before. With SS1, the science and technology used was proven, mature and readily available.

    Not to say SS1 isn't a teriffic accomplishment, but it's not fair to compare the costs of these projects so directly!
  • Food for thought (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:12PM (#10430019) Homepage Journal
    First, the oblig congrats. It's an impressive feat, even though it is sub-orbital. :)

    Second, I notice Rutan did NOT go on the second flight. In fact, from the fact that the two "passengers" were balast (again!), I'm concerned that Scaled Composites were more concerned about the rolls in the first flight than they let on.

    Remember, Rutan was all dead-set on going into space on the second flight, and the spirit of the X-Prize rules was that the vehicle was to carry passengers. The fact that only the pilot was on the second flight indicates that the potential publicity coup of being on the second flight was outweighed by the risks.

    The only risks we're aware of are the "bang" heard on the first sub-orbital flight, and the propensity for SpaceShipOne to lose control on the edge of the atmosphere. The first problem was likely overcome, which means that the second problem likely has not.

    Whilst I certainly applaud Scaled Composites for what they have achieved, I think it's worth stressing that they will need to achieve a lot more (on the technical front) before the technology becomes viable.

  • by boutell ( 5367 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:13PM (#10430023) Homepage
    The government was pretty cooperative as I understand it. A lot of things they could have done would have prevented this, but permits have been forthcoming.
  • by Hexydes ( 705837 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:21PM (#10430144)
    I've seen now a few posts saying how "embarrassing" it is for NASA to have a private enterprise reach space for the price they did. But if you are frustrated with NASA (like I am), put it where it is due. The NASA of the '60s was daring, inventive, and always looking for a new challenge. Don't take away what they did, they reached space, orbit, and the moon, all within 10 years. And they were the first (or roughly tied for first with Russia) to blaze that path, a path that SpaceShipOne and Burt Ratan are now following.

    Don't take away what NASA accomplished in the '60s and early '70s. They were really pushing the envelope. Only since then have they stalled, and now deserve the criticism they receive. Their plan was to have a reusable spaceship that could lift astronauts and equipment at a fraction of the cost of previous methods, but that plan was horribly inaccurate. There was no real plan after that, and over the next decade and a half, it became painfully obvious, which is why there was such a shakeup around 2001/2002.

    The next 5 years will determine NASA's future. If they can get back on track, set big goals (like the '60s) that interest the public and push science and technology, and most of all, work with the private industry, they will continue to be relevant, and I dare say, could easily accomplish feats that rival those of the early '60s. If, on the other hand, they continue to drift along, dabbling in various projects, but never commiting to anything large, as they have done for the past 20 years, NASA will fade into obscurity, and private enterprise will take over.

    The ball is in your court NASA. Will you run with it?

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:24PM (#10430188) Homepage Journal
    Sounds great, if you want your summer vacation to last about 75 seconds.
    Oh, and cost US$200,000
    And have a non-trivial chance of killing you

    One day this will all be routine and our children's children will be fascinated that people went into space on those Saturn V powered mostrosities or even the space shuttles. You have to look past the present and visualize the future. After a few crotchety space stations, what's to stop someone from building a hotel/resort/convention center in space? Money. Practicality? Don't talk to me about practicality, I've been to enough convention centers and you oughta know people go there to get away, shoot some golf, etc. All of which and new entertainment possibilities be made possible in Zero G. The only concern I'd have about such a thing is radiation and stray space garbage smacking into it, but I think they could get that sorted out too.

    Dream a little.

    we've got another broken window, cruise over to the space K-Mart and get a space scooter full of whoever is hanging around to work on it.

  • by NoMoreNicksLeft ( 516230 ) <john.oylerNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:26PM (#10430208) Journal
    He simply means he wishes it had been a closer race... not that anyone dropped dead trying. If Armadillo had launched their first yesterday, they'd still have lost the prize... it wouldn't mean that their second attempt had exploded, however. Think about that the next time you're in a hurry to reply.
  • by windex ( 92715 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:27PM (#10430218) Homepage
    Planes have a non-trivial chance of killing you?

    Reality check. :)

    According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association [aopa.org], your chances of dying or being seriously injured in an airplane are about 1:4.3 MILLION.

    Your chances of dying or being seriously injured in a car, by comparison, work out to about 1:125.

    I would say that right now, space flight has a higher than 1:125 chance of serious injury and/or death, but not substantially, and not as the technology matures. I think it will evolve to being quite safe, personally.
  • Not to orbit yet (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Chiminea ( 696521 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @12:57PM (#10430298)
    Spaceship One is cool yes, but it can't get to Orbit. Before you call the cost differences "embarassing' be sure to compare apples to apples...
  • by sward ( 122951 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:00PM (#10430344)
    Risk is probability * exposure.

    The risk for an incident involving a car is much higher than that involving an airplane because most people's exposure to cars is far higher than airplanes. I interact with cars as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian every day. I might fly, as a passenger in an airplane, once or twice a year.
  • Perspective (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mwood ( 25379 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:03PM (#10430378)
    Okay, way to go Scaled team!

    But I must object to "embarrassingly smaller budget than NASA's." NASA had to do their first manned suborbital flight with 1950s hardware borrowed from the artillery boys, and without 40 years of prior experience to draw on.

    The X Prize contestants are, in Newton's words, standing on the shoulders of giants. They're doing great things, and I applaud them, but there's no need to tear down other pioneers to build these guys up. The present work is quite impressive enough as it is.
  • by Council ( 514577 ) <[rmunroe] [at] [gmail.com]> on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:04PM (#10430397) Homepage
    It seems to me the big problem here is getting into orbit, which is where anything interesting will happen (i.e. hotels).

    This thing is only going a fraction of the required speed. More speed = more fuel = more fuel to carry that fuel = disposable tanks = too big to be carried by a plane = ground launch = a Saturn V.

    I don't really see how this is a big jump on the technical side as far as getting us usefully into space goes. I want a space hotel as much as the next guy, and I'm young enough to want it for me. I'm just wondering how we're gonna get from here to there.

    Yay for privatization, I just hope it works.
  • by JUSTONEMORELATTE ( 584508 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:07PM (#10430425) Homepage
    Dream a little
    I can (and do) dream a lot, and I'm looking forward to a day when parabolic descent lasts for more than a few brief seconds, but the parent poster extrapolated from today's events into "Suddenly that old commercial advertisement for a Hilton Hotel in space doesn't sound so wacky anymore" and I disagree.
    I think it still sounds as absurd as it did when it first aired, perhaps more so now, because I now have a more educated appreciation for just what it takes to get into space, let alone orbit.
    Today is a watershed event in human history.
    Today does not herald in the age of zero-G convention centers.

    Free gmail invites [slashdot.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:07PM (#10430432)
    Isn't it sick how The Rest of the World (TRoTW) is always so down on the USA but when then the States accomplishes something great then TRoTW always jumps on the bandwagon? Fuck you it's a a great day for Human Innovation. This is a day to congratulate the USA.

    This has no more to do with the USA than Microsoft's obnoxious business practices have to do with the USA. Actually, it has less to do with the USA - the US govt must take responsibility for its (lack of) consumer protection laws, whereas is has essentially nothing to do with Scaled Composites.

    This is a day to congratulate Burt Rutan and the rest of the Scaled folks.
  • Re:WTF!!?!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:08PM (#10430452) Journal

    Yes, they are piggy backing on NASA.

    But I guess that NASA developed a number of things.

    1. Gun Powder.
    2. The rockets that flew
    3. Gliders
    4. Aircrafts
    5. V2
    6. First into space to find out what it really was.

    BTW, I have done work for NASA and it will always remain one of my favorite entities. But NASA did not stand alone. They stood on the shoulders of other giants.
  • Yes, the Government is no longer able to keep us from killing ourselves in the name of adventure.

    This statement would only make sense if you think the government should own your life. If, on the other hand, you believe individuals own their own lives, you'd be glad the government stayed out of the way.

    Truthfully, a lot of these X-Prize contestans remind me of the guy who attached weather baloons to his lawn chair. Is it any wonder that Scaled won it? Not really, they where the only contender.

    Some other contenders:

    * American Astronautics
    * Acceleration Engineering
    * American Advent
    * ARCA
    * Armadillo Aerospace
    * Bristol Spaceplanes
    * Canadian Arrow
    * Da Vinci
    * Discraft Corporation
    * Fundamental Technology Systems
    * High Altitude Research Corp.
    * Interorbital Systems
    * ILAT
    * Lone Star Space Access
    * Micro Space
    * Pablo de León & Associates
    * PanAero, Inc.
    * Pioneer Rocketplane
    * Mojave Aerospace Ventures, LLC.
    * Space Transport Corporation
    * Starchaser Industries LTD
    * Suborbital Corporation
    * TGV Rockets, Inc.
    * Vanguard Spacecraft
  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:15PM (#10430532) Homepage Journal
    [sigh] Everything private parties have so far done in space, the government did first. Look, I'm as enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to buy a ticket to the Moon for my 50th birthday as the next geek, but to say that the government is "keeping us from doing it right" when, in fact, the Rutan team built on decades of NASA experience is just absurd. As with most major enterprises, a combination of public and private efforts will get us much farther than either could on its own.
  • by mwood ( 25379 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:36PM (#10430862)
    Indeed, you should see all of the information (*not* just PR) that NASA publishes, for anyone to read, compliments of the U.S. taxpayer. You're welcome.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:39PM (#10430902)
    You are forgetting that with sub-orbital velocities being much less than orbital velocities they don't need to deal with the heat of reentry. This will probably be the most difficult challenge, you can't just slap some ceramic tiles on ss1, throw in a bigger engine and go, it will take some good engineering to do it right.
  • by AeroIllini ( 726211 ) <aeroillini&gmail,com> on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:47PM (#10431002)
    I think it went a little outside what the competition was trying to accomplish. I do admit that it is a great achievement, but what I'm referring to is that the prize was for $10 million. In such, I think they were hoping that someone would spend less than that to pull it off with a reusable craft. They obviously spent much more than that.

    The point of the prize wasn't the money, and anyone competing will tell you that. There are much easier ways to make $10 million.

    The point of the contest was to jumpstart an industry that was waiting in the wings, but just needed something like this to *ahem* get it off the ground. There is obviously a market for private space tourism: people are willing to pay large amounts of money for a short trip to sub-orbital space. An event like this is just the incentive aerosapce designers need to create working prototypes. Once the psychological barrier of "we can't build a rocket and go to space; only big governments have the funding to do that" is overcome, the rest will flow quite easily. Now that it has been done, inventment capital will start to materialize out of nowhere (like Space Adventures and Virgin) and the industry will start its long spiral upward to viability. The same thing happened to commercial flight: the event that changed the public's perception was Lindbergh's flight to Paris, where airplanes went from daredevils' toys to viable transportation. (By the way, Lindbergh was competing for the $25,000 Orteig Prize, which the X-Prize is modelled after. The general public doesn't remember the money after all these years: they remember the flight and its social implications.)
  • Re:just a reminder (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cavac ( 640390 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @01:59PM (#10431151) Homepage
    Well, pulling off something a bit more usefull than sub-orbitals flights requires a much greater team of engineers and scientists. I mean, sending probes - not even think of human beeings - is a problem much greater than a flight to "technically in space". Let's see: First, you need a global communication network that can talk to probes on Mars. Expensive, but feasable. You need a special propulsion and a special landing system. VERY expensive but still feaseable. Doing the science on Mars needs more money for instruments, ground-team and scientists. But getting the probe on it's trajectory needs a VERY accurate tracking system, a very experienced team and a bunch of top scientists. You could still get that for a vast amount of more money...but i doubt you would be doing the mission that much cheaper than NASA that leading science organisations would dump NASA's 40 year experience for flying with your yet un-proved, never-tested we-don't-need-quality-because-we-are-cheaper space agency. Just my 2 cents...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:01PM (#10431182)
    SpaceShipOne: Goal of two flights within a certain time frame, achieved on October 4.

    Sputnik 1: Goal of orbit on first launch, achieved on October 4.

    I'd say the grandparent is right.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:19PM (#10431421) Homepage Journal
    Even more 'silly' is the 'home of the future', or 'the car of the future' from the same time period.

    My robotic vaccumm cleaner arrived today.


  • by Charcharodon ( 611187 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:23PM (#10431471)
    Actually you perspective is incorrect as well. We already have airports where aircraft are stacked 20 deep and are landing less than 2 minutes appart nearly around the clock and still the percentage of accidents is miniscule.

    The factor that makes all the difference between accidents from flying verses driving is based on training, currency, and type rating. You only need one generic license to drive any passenger vehicles and in most states there are never any requirements other than paying a fee to get it renewed. Also the requirements to show driving profficiency are so pathetically low and the odds of ever lossing your license even more so when compaired to that of a pilot's license.

    Essentially if they held drivers to the same standards as they did pilots right off the bat at least 25% of the population would never be allowed to drive, ever. 75% of the remaining population would not be allow to drive anything but a 50hp compact car at speeds less than 40MPH during the day and only on nice clear weather free days. Also nearly anyone involved in an accident where they were at fault or illegal activity would loose their license until a governing board could review the discretion and then most likely if they were found to be negligent loose it for several years if not permanently.

    For some odd reason I see the number of auto accidents being greatly reduced if that were the case.

  • by Bozdune ( 68800 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:26PM (#10431497)
    Yes, but the problem with those statistics is that they obscure the truth. If:

    1) You are over 25;
    2) OR you are not male;
    3) AND you travel mostly on divided highways as opposed to secondary roads;
    4) AND you travel in the daytime or early evening, rather than late at night when drunk people are driving;
    5) AND you yourself are not drinking or smoking or pill popping or talking on the phone or otherwise not paying attention;
    6) AND you're actually wearing your seat belt;
    7) AND the car you're driving has good brakes (preferably anti-lock brakes);
    8) AND it has good tires;
    9) AND it's not some junker with bad shocks and loose steering;
    10) AND you're driving in decent conditions, not when it's snowing or icing up

    THEN what is the probability of dying in a car crash? It's basically the chance of being hit by or running into a random nut. Which is very very low.

    If on the other hand you are under 25, driving too fast with your friends, out late at night and drunk/driving with drunks, cruising secondary roads, not wearing your seat belt, driving an old junker with crappy brakes and shitty tires, then I guess you'd be safer strapped to an airline seat.

    Which is why statistics suck. Throw all the above variables into a multiple regression, then show me airplanes are "safer," and I'll believe. It won't happen, because the airlines would never fund such a study. Drunk teenagers keep the road death statistics high, and the airlines in business.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:27PM (#10431511)
    In comparison to NASA's budget, the cost of SpaceShipOne was certainly trivial, but SS1 didn't just bloom from the womb. Who performed the pioneering research that enabled SS1? Pioneering research is always more expensive, quite often in an exponential relationship with time. Is SS1 even close to achieving orbital velocity, let alone escape velocity? Does SS1 include a pressurized, habitable environment?
  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:29PM (#10431530)

    No they were not. Early Mercury missions were flying the ballistic trajectory.

    Space Ship One also flied in a ballistic trajectory. A ballistic trajectory simply means the trajectory of an object in free flight (Dictionary.com) [reference.com]. SSO was at freefall (ballistic trajectory) between shutting down the engines on the way up and wings catching the airstream on the way down.

    That said, SSO is nowhere capable of reaching a stable orbit, since it

    1. Didn't get enough altitude - there's still enough air in the X-Prize altitude to fast orbit decay due to air resistance and
    2. Didn't have any speed at the apex of its flight arc - it would have neede to go at least 7 - 8 km/s (horizontal velocity) in order to stay up.

    So no, SOO was not comparable to a Mercury, but it did fly at a ballistic trajectory - any object whose flight path is mainly influenced by gravity is flying in a ballistic trajectory. Throw a rock and it's flying in a ballistic trajectory...

  • by ViolentGreen ( 704134 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:29PM (#10431537)
    It's still a matter of national pride and the nationality of the designers doesn't really matter apart from that. If a Canadian team had one there would be the same type of response.

    This is being blown way out of proportion.
  • Everything? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DahGhostfacedFiddlah ( 470393 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:31PM (#10431558)
    "Doing it right" not only refers to completing the task, but doing it efficiently enough that a "normal" person could conceivably afford it. That's one goal governments seem to have problems attaining.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:34PM (#10431594) Journal
    NASA didn't do its job on making space travel available to the rest of us, while both it and other agencies of the government actively interfered with private space ventures.

    (Fortunately that has changed - especially under the current administration - since the loss of most of the shuttles. Unfortunately that's too late for the PREVIOUS generation of private space ventures.)

    Yes, some developments from NASA went into the tech of this vehicle. But IMHO it's more in the way of pulling teeth than having the tech paid for by OUR dollars delivered on a neatly-wrapped package.
  • by AeroIllini ( 726211 ) <aeroillini&gmail,com> on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:36PM (#10431623)
    [sigh] Everything private parties have so far done in space, the government did first. Look, I'm as enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to buy a ticket to the Moon for my 50th birthday as the next geek, but to say that the government is "keeping us from doing it right" when, in fact, the Rutan team built on decades of NASA experience is just absurd. As with most major enterprises, a combination of public and private efforts will get us much farther than either could on its own.

    Walk before you crawl, padawan.

    The difference is, this is a bottom-up approach to space travel, with much larger socio-economic implications. What's the incentive for the government to go to space? Exploration, a little research, mostly the "because it's there" argument. That doesn't generate much initiative. What's the incentive for a private company to ferry tourists to sub-orbit? $200,000. Each. As more people make the trip, the companies will get better at their craft, building more efficient, higher-performace vehicles. Pretty soon, people will be going to orbit for the same price they went to sub-orbit, and the price will be going down all the time. Cargo capacities will increase, and the cost-per-pound to high Earth orbit will decrease dramatically. At that point, it's economically viable for a large corporation to purchase vehicles that would allow them to grow near-perfect crystals in microgravity, for instance, to be used in optics or timepieces or jewelry. Hotels WILL be built in space. Industries will be born that we can't even imagine right now. Think about what the internet/home computing did as far as creating industries. No one in the 1960s would have even dreamed of the industries we have now. And most of it was due to a small company mass-producing a computer that fit on a table. Everything this private company did had already been done, by the government, and many other small companies followed suit. There were no computing advantages to making a computer fit on a table, since it was slower than the best room-sized computers of the day. There were only economic advantages.

    The bottom line is that this is a window to getting thousands of people into space, and many more thousands working on ways to do it cheaply, efficiently, and safely. Once those pieces are in place, we will finally see the *real* space age. For a parallel, please research the rise of the desktop computer, the history of the automobile, and the entire airline industry.
  • Re:WTF!!?!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cmowire ( 254489 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:39PM (#10431643) Homepage
    I'd disagree.

    Rutan's *always* been running his mouth and complaining about stuff. He first worked for the government. Didn't like the bureacracy. Then he started making tiny homebuilt aircraft. Got sued by the family of an "escort" who had the poor choice to go flying in the back of a Rutan-designed homebuilt that was piloted by some drunk rich dude. Of course he's not going to be designing an aircraft that would be safe in the hands of a drunk pilot, but he got sued anyway. He built a prototype and helped with the design of a Raytheon/Beech aircraft that is currently being purchased up to be scrapped because Beech wants to bury the memory. Now he does experimental, revolutionary craft at a tiny fraction of the cost it would take a "normal" group of people. He, like every homebuilder, knows that it's expensive FAA requirements and a depressed general aviation market in general, that prevents him from selling fully complete LongEZs from a dealership right by the local landing strip.

    The thing is, we came no closer to being a truly spacefaring people in the decades of 1980-2000. So he's not the only one who's annoyed at the promise of our "other" space program being squandered, sometimes because of the fault of the program itself, sometimes just because of Congress.

    The thing to remember about being privately funded is that they have the same sort of usually self-preservation-related tendnacy to check, recheck, and document every tightened bolt of importance. I mean, every Helecopter has the "Jesus" bolt where if it comes loose, the rotors fall off the aircraft. Naturally, they are routinely inspected, carefully torqued down, monitored, etc. The trick is just to have fewer bolts to tighten, not to just wing it and hope nothing comes undone.

    The thing to remember is that the shuttle is far from perfect. It's cheaper, for the same amount of payload, to put it atop an expendable booster and launch it that way. It was supposed to be the other way around. It's an accomplishment, but only in the same was as the NS Savannah [wikipedia.org] was -- A technologically advanced form of transportation that just didn't make fiscal sense.
  • by Xentax ( 201517 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:41PM (#10431667)
    So we're cheering the international community for having such a competition, but we should also cheer the (almost) all-American project team that WON said international competition.

    It's a rather silly thing to get worked up about, IMHO. Bottom line, yes, anyone can compete, but yes, an American team *did* win it.

    It's like rants about what "could have" happened if the quarterback had thrown for 2 more touchdowns, or if Lee had flanked instead of going up the middle at Chancellorsville, or whatever. Does it really matter what "coulda/shoulda" happened? No. Does the fact that an American financier, designer, and builder won the prize? Sort of. Does it mean noone else could have done it? Of course NOT.

    There's nothing wrong, inaccurate, about doing it first; but there's no claim that only Americans can do it, or "could have" done it first. There is *something* to be said about doing it first, and I like to think that's all the original poster was driving at. First in Flight, and all that (and please, PLEASE don't turn that into the conspiracy theory of the day as to who REALLY flew first).

    After all, this is about privatized, commercial access to space. We should all know that first in buys you something, doing it better and/or cheaper and/or cooler can ALSO mean something, when it comes to commerce. Apple didn't invent the portable music player, Betamax came before VHS (right?). Paraphrasing Churchill, this isn't the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning.

  • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:55PM (#10431856)
    Uhmm, these guys did a job (fantastic though it was) that NASA had already pioneered. I dare say they'd have spent a hell of a lot more cash had they not been following in the footsteps...

    That's the whole point of the exercise. They're supposed to be doing what NASA has already done in the way that NASA_hasn't_, cheaply and easily. Advancing technology is supposed to make things like this easier and cheaper. However despite the claims made back when the Shuttles were being developed back in the 70s, NASA has if anything made spaceflight harder and more expensive.

    The reason for this [washingtonmonthly.com] is that NASA is a huge beuracracy which must answer to the US government. The space shuttle was designed by government committee to fulfill a lot of "needs" that the shuttle wasn't well equiped to handle. Trying to meet those government mandates made the shuttle more complicated, more fragile, and above all, more expensive. The shuttle was prevented from taking full advantage of the advanced technology of the times, and NASA has done very little about coming up with a replacement using today's technology.

    So yes, they're doing what NASA has already done, but they're doing it better and cheaper. The hope is that the private organizations can keep to that track record while trying for orbital fligts and other achievements.

  • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:55PM (#10431857) Homepage
    To claim that private companies will invest the money necessary to generate a similar body of data making the next leap in space commerce possible is foolish.

    So you are saying that the X-prize that generated SS1 was foolish? But it has worked!

    Business will need to be convinced that they can make a profit for their investment.

    Apparently you missed the announcement. Funnily enough, a few days ago, Branson just announced that he had agree to pay for the R&D of the passenger version of SpaceShipOne, Virgin Galactic [virgingalactic.com].

    Looks like the X-prize has worked. That's exactly the situation that it was intended to create. The whole point is to improve the confidence factor for businesses to invest in space tourism. If suborbital is even halfway successful, orbital should be right behind it.

    In some ways it is cheaper than suborbital- you get orders of magnitude more zero-gravity time per dollar.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @02:56PM (#10431865)

    The genius of SpaceShipOne is that it essentially tumbles back into the atmosphere at a high angle of attack, with a high drag configuration, and very low speed. The low speed entry generates very little friction and therefore negligable heat.

    You seem to have left out the part about how SpaceShipOne never quite left the atmosphere, and didn't even try to acheive the velocity needed for orbit.

    SS1 had to dissapate ~2% of the energy an orbital vehicle would have to dissapate on reentry. Is it surprising that solving an easier problem is ... ... ... easier?
  • by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Monday October 04, 2004 @03:03PM (#10431942) Homepage
    You mean the prize purse that was (initially) put up by the City of St. Louis, Missouri, USA?

    Sometimes I think America's achievements are in the same category as the old saw about marriage...what's yours is yours and what's ours is yours.

    Whatever, man. Obviously nothing good has ever, ever come out of the US, so your bias is totally justifiable.
  • by WebCowboy ( 196209 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @03:17PM (#10432104)
    ...it's the rest of the world that is too modest. To be fair, the Americans are front-and-centre on this project so kudos to them as long as they remember they got there with a little help from others.

    The US sometimes isn't the leader in Aerospace but give them credit when it's due. Russians and Canadians bet them in the sattelite race--the Canadians also beat the Americans to Mach 2 flight speed. And the REALLY big, complicated projects are the result of collaberation between all three of those nations among many others. However one thing the US consistently tops the world in is national pride and the associated amitious goals they have set. Only Amercans had the balls to reach for the moon and actually REACH it. When they win they win BIG.

    Thank God rocket scientists don't get into pissing matches like the ones here or nothing would get done.
  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Monday October 04, 2004 @03:26PM (#10432209) Homepage Journal
    I'm all for the future you describe. But of the three major technologies you describe that changed our lives in the 20th c. -- the computer, the automobile, and the airliner -- two (the first and last) became as prominent as they did largely because of significant government investment. The internet, of course, was a government project; the home PC built directly on computer-miniaturization techniques developed, not coincidentally, for NASA; and the Wright brothers' first customer was the US Army, and military demands drove aircraft development for the next half-century.

    I will say it again, since apparently it didn't register the first time: we need both. Private enterprise provides innovation, competition, and efficiency. Government provides money -- money which industry could supply, but won't until profits are closely in sight -- infrastructure, and long-term planning. Neither is inherently superior to the other, and both work better in an environment of cooperation than in one of mutual ignorance.

    Anti-government ideologues never seem to realize how much they sound like Marxists ...
  • by bluekanoodle ( 672900 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @03:46PM (#10432434)
    So I take it you've never felt a sense of national pride when your nation's team wins at the Olympics?
  • by Little Brother ( 122447 ) <kg4wwn@qsl.net> on Monday October 04, 2004 @03:51PM (#10432491) Journal
    Last I heard it would start at about $150,000/trip, still well beyond the means of us proles.

    Furthermore, I just want to say, private enterprise has NOT taken the lead in spaceflight, SSO doesn't reach the neccicary altitude for low earth orbit, much less the distance that NASA has brought us to with the Apollo missions to the moon. Private enterprise still has a LOT of catching up to do. Oh, and one would EXPECT it to be a lot cheeper to get a suborbital space flight today than it was when doing such had never been done before, we have better materials and better understanding of what we're doing.

  • by daviddennis ( 10926 ) * <david@amazing.com> on Monday October 04, 2004 @04:22PM (#10432969) Homepage
    Have you figured out a solution to it getting tangled in all the wires geeks normally have on the floor?

    That's what did mine in, from a practical perspective. But I have the older generation model.

    I finally wound up getting a maid. It does work and she does a lot more than vacuum(*). Dishes, laundry, all that sort of stuff. For $40 a week, it will be quite a while before technology can compete.


    (*) No, sadly, not that. Get your mind out of the gutter :-).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @05:15PM (#10433721)
    With all due respect, you don't know jack about airplanes. ;-) I used to entertain the same misguided ideas and fears that you do until I learned more about aviation.

    in a plane spiraling out of control or even just rocking like hell

    Please explain what you mean by "spiraling out of control" and "rocking like hell." I will assume for the moment that you're referring to a spin and light turbulence respectively. Sometimes a spin can be impossible to recover from but these instances are rare, usually being confined to someone royally screwing up an aerobatics routine or entering a spin only a couple hundred feet above the ground. As for turbulence, the "official" categories of turbulence are light, moderate, severe, and extreme. Most airline passengers have never experienced moderate turbulence and would describe the high end of light turbulence as extreme.

    there is no escape if the plane departs from "controlled flight"

    There most certainly is. Spinning? Recovery procedures depend on the specific make and model, but typically you just apply rudder opposite the direction of spin and release back pressure, level out, and slowly bring the nose back up. Stalled? (That's an aerodynamic stall, not an engine stall.) Release back pressure and throttle up. Level out and bring the nose back up. In an unusual attitude? Level out and return the nose to level flight. Electric trim running uncontrollably nose up? Roll into a steep bank to incur a vertical lift penalty that matches the added lift from the runaway trim. And you know what the best part is? All that time you mentioned is time you have to recover and figure out what went wrong. I'm talking minutes here. In a car you get seconds if you're lucky.

    blow an engine in flight

    Losing an engine is definitely an emergency but a properly trained pilot, assuming you're not in a light twin (note: the "puddle-jumper" you refer to later is most certainly not light), will be able to execute a safe landing every time.

    the high G feel on takeoff concurrent with a hard bank

    I assure there was nothing high about the G's nor was there anything hard about the bank. You got maybe 1.3 at 40 degrees.

    over-fuselage wing "puddle-jumper" plane ... worrying about turbine or blade failure

    Next time you see a jet, take a look at the engines and tell me what that thing in the front is. Guess what? It's a propeller with a turbine attached to it. Yeah it's got more blades and it's blowing air through a big venturi, but it's a propeller. The turbines in a "puddle-jumper" are no more likely to fail than the turbines in a jet. Same goes for the propeller. And why the fear of high wings? Is it just because you think they're unusual, when in fact they aren't?

  • by Mad Alchemist ( 706211 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @05:18PM (#10433751)
    Much as I hate to nitpick (and at the risk of obscuring your point), Binnie [scaled.com] seems to be American from birth. You're thinking of Mike Melvill [wikipedia.org], who piloted [scaled.com] the last couple of flights.
  • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @05:31PM (#10433879) Journal
    After all, today's flight's pilot, Brian Binnie, is a South African.

    I think perhaps you're thinking of Michael Melville who was born in South Africa and became a U.S. citizen back in the 70's. Binnie, [scaled.com] did his college work at Brown and Princeton and learned to fly jets at Patuxent Naval Air Base and spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy. Though the Navy has been known to train foreign nationals, it's more likely that Binnie is an American.

  • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @05:48PM (#10434038) Homepage
    The risk of traveling by plane is lower than by car even if you compute it per mile travelled. It's not lower because you fly by plane less often. You are a lot less likely to die on a 400-mile plane trip than you are to die on a 400-mile car trip.

    True. But if you commuted to work by plane, the chances would be about the same that you would die on the plane trip as if you die in a car trip.

    The per-trip danger is about the same for a car and a plane- which is why aeroplane manufacturers nearly always quote per mile (since aeroplanes normally travel further per trip, it makes them look better).

  • naive!! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 04, 2004 @05:49PM (#10434045)
    If you think China sent a man to space "because it's there", or for any of the other reasons you listed, then you are truly very, very naive. The large governments have much more than lowly tourism on their minds when it comes to space; they think slightly bigger than that.
  • RIGHT (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wtoconnor ( 221184 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @07:50PM (#10435052)
    I worked with researchers for several years doing testing and research at Langley Research Center Hampton VA. Believe it or not it takes more than one fiber or even just the idea of carbon fibers to make a space craft. A lot of testing of fiber combinations, weaves, temperatures and epoxies went in to the development of COMPOSITES. People didn't know exactly what those combinations would be until they tried them. This is what we in the busines call ENGINEERING. Can you say ENGINEERING. I thought you could. Much of this was paid for or done by NASA before the cost came down and the materials could be used in consumer products.

    Similary transisters we use were developed by funds for from THE GOVERNMENT for BASIC RESEARCH long before there were practicle APPLICATIONS for them.

    Knowing a bunch of names and factoids doesn't mean you have a complete picture. The fact is the US invests in most of these things with DARPA in an nevering ending effort to find better and more cost effective was to kill people. In fact the first people to go into space were just ballistic payload replacements. Secondly the GOVERNMENT found that computers were good at breaking codes of your enemies making it easier to kill them. This encouraged them to make better computers and thus smaller transisters.
  • by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Monday October 04, 2004 @09:15PM (#10435653)
    The genius of SpaceShipOne is that it essentially tumbles back into the atmosphere at a high angle of attack, with a high drag configuration, and very low speed. The low speed entry generates very little friction and therefore negligable heat.

    That's not genius. That's the happy byproduct of not going into orbit. SpaceShipOne is in no way capable surviving reentry from orbital velocities. Not even close.

    If you look at an orbital craft's launch profile, you see 90% of the energy goes into horizontal motion, not vertical. All that energy gets dumped on the return trip. The most tricky part of any orbital craft is dumping that reentry heat, and the X-prize simply didn't require that kind of sophistication. The shuttle would have been orders of magnitude cheaper and safer except for that pesky little detail.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard