View Full Version : Private spaceship launch successful
23rd Jun 2004, 01:36
Private U.S. Rocket Plane Soars Into Space
Mon Jun 21, 2004 04:56 PM ET USA
By Reed Stevenson
MOJAVE, Calif. (Reuters) - The privately funded rocket plane SpaceShipOne flew to outer space and into history books on Monday as the world's first commercial manned space flight.
The white rocket plane was released from a larger plane called the White Knight and ignited its rocket engine to enter space and reach an altitude of 328,491 feet, or 62.2 miles above the earth.
Against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, it landed safely back at a runway in the Mojave Desert in California, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Thousands gathered for the hourlong journey.
"The sky was jet black above, and it got very blue above the horizon," said pilot Michael Melvill, 63, who earned his wings as an astronaut and was greeted by Buzz Aldrin, one of the first men to walk on the moon.
"The earth is so beautiful," added Melvill in describing the planet's vast curvature and the Southern California coast he saw during a brief three and half minutes just beyond the atmosphere.
"The flight today opens a new chapter in history, making space within the reach of ordinary citizens," declared Patti Grace Smith, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation.
In Washington, Michael Lembeck of NASA's office of exploration systems said the agency might offer up to $30 million in prizes to encourage commercial missions to orbit the Earth or land on the moon.
Lembeck told Reuters there was even discussion of offering "a couple hundred million dollars for the first private orbital flight."
SpaceShipOne with its striking nose -- a pointed cone covered with small portholes -- was designed by legendary aerospace designer Burt Rutan and built with more than $20 million in funding by billionaire Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft Corp .
Rutan and Allen said the success of the project proved commercial space flight and space tourism would soon become a reality.
"We've clearly shown it can be done," said Allen, who attended the launch of the first U.S. space shuttle in 1981.
Future flights in spacecraft based on SpaceShipOne's design will be able to take at least six passengers to 93 miles above the earth, said Rutan, who designed the Voyager airplane that was flown nonstop around the world in 1986.
GUINNESS CITES PROJECT
Melvill's mission was the first privately piloted flight in the space age that began when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth in 1961. It also marked the first time a non-government spacecraft reached the altitude considered to be the boundary between earth's atmosphere and outer space.
The Federal Aviation Administration awarded Melvill with its first civilian astronaut wings, and Guinness World records cited the team for achieving the first commercial manned space flight.
After burning its rocket for about 80 seconds, SpaceShipOne sped up to more than three times the speed of sound and then coasted to its peak altitude, making Melvill weightless.
He said he released a bag of M&Ms chocolates, which "just spun around like little sparkling things."
There were a few glitches, however, that may delay Allen and Rutan's next goal, an attempt to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize, offered by a group of private donors to the first team that sends three people, or an equivalent weight, into space and repeats the trip within two weeks.
SpaceShipOne's trim controls got stuck as it made its rocket boost, causing it to go about 22 miles off course and not reach its full expected altitude of 68 miles.
In addition, a piece of cowling, or protective cover near the end of the rocket nozzle, buckled, Rutan said.
Pictures and additional info are available at the following webpage:
23rd Jun 2004, 01:40
There was an article on the New Scientist website, regarding some of the problems on the flight.
The flight of the first private astronaut was not as perfect as it first appeared – a number of glitches occurred during the flight, some potentially catastrophic.
The revelations were made by Burt Rutan, designer of SpaceShipOne, which on Monday became the world's first privately funded craft to enter space. Until the team fully understands exactly what went wrong during the flight, he said, they will not go ahead with the pair of flights needed to claim the $10 million Ansari X-Prize.
Luckily, the glitches did not prevent a successful flight. But pilot Mike Melvill said that a partial failure of the system controlling the spacecraft's orientation could have been disastrous if it had occurred just slightly earlier in the flight,.
The problem struck at the end of the rocket engine's firing time of about 70 seconds, just as Melvill reached space. "As I came out of the atmosphere I no longer had any attitude control," Melvill told New Scientist and other reporters. "If that had happened earlier, I would never have made it and you all would be looking sad right now."
Although that was the most serious anomaly, it was not the only frightening moment for the 63-year-old test pilot. There was also a loud bang behind him while the rocket engine was firing.
The team believes this was caused by aerodynamic stresses crumpling a composite material fairing around the engine nozzle. However, Dick Rutan, Burt's brother and a famed test pilot himself, said that fairing could have fallen off completely without endangering the craft.
Melvill's first frightening moment on the historic flight came at the very instant he flipped the switch to turn on the hybrid rocket motor. The craft suddenly lurched over 90° to the right, and as soon as he brought it back to level it then rolled 90° to the right.
"I was ready to hit the switch" to turn off the motor and abort the flight, he said, but the craft remained steady and he was able to continue and achieve the 100 kilometre altitude that officially makes him an astronaut. This difficulty appears unrelated to the later failure of attitude control, Melvill said.
Despite Melvill's 25 years of piloting experimental craft, he found even the normal operation of the rocketship alarming, as it travelled faster and higher than any previous privately-built craft.
SpaceShipOne was travelling "faster than an M-16 rifle bullet", Rutan said, about around 2400 km/h (1500 mph) or mach 3.2. As it reentered the atmosphere, falling like a badminton shuttlecock almost straight down, the rushing air sounded like a hurricane, said Melvill.
"Coming down is frightening, because of that roaring sound," he said. "You can really hear how that vehicle is being pounded."
Until the exact causes of the anomalies are understood, there will be no X-Prize attempt, Rutan said: "There's no way we would fly again without knowing the cause and being sure we had fixed it."
But despite the problems, the mood among the team remained extremely buoyant about their success. Melvill recounted how, as he became weightless, he opened a bag of M&M chocolates to watch them float around the cabin.
But it was the sublime view that affected him the most. "The sky was jet black, with light blue along the horizon - it was really an awesome sight," he said. "You really do get the feeling that you've touched the face of God."
David L Chandler, Mojave
There's a lot of difference between reaching "space" (where ever that starts) and then falling back to earth, and reaching orbital velocity and orbiting the earth.
Rutan is somewhere around where NASA was with Alan Shepards "spam in a can " trajectory at the dawn of the space age. When was that? The Sixties?
But good to see him pushing the boundaries. I'm still not sure what the commercial benefits are.
23rd Jun 2004, 05:45
The big difference of course being that Rutan & his team are all being privately funded. The majority of the funding has come from Paul Allen, founder of microsoft with Bill Gate$, and has totalled just U$20m.
Possible commercial benefits? How about space tourism, priced for the new upper middle class. Given that Dennis Tito et al were willing to pay $20m to go into space, surely there will be more than enough willing passengers at somehwere between U$10k - 100k to cover the initial investment in this venture.
Starts with P
23rd Jun 2004, 09:41
Why so negative MoFo? This is history.. the beginning of a new space race that will bring poge's like you and me into space. I reckon it's pretty cool and I look forward to the next 5-10 years when this really takes off! (no pun intended).
23rd Jun 2004, 10:10
The other big difference with this mission, and one that hasn't really been mentioned, is that no part of the launch vehicle had to be jettisoned into the sea or burnt up in the atmosphere - unlike Shepherd's, where all that came back was him in the 'tin can'. This must be the first time since the X15 missions that this has been accomplished?
All in all, a fantastic achievement.
23rd Jun 2004, 10:19
Actually, sub-orbital flight offers one great advantage- you get somewhere at the end!
Achieving orbit is a whole different thing- It may be the first step to deep space flight BUT- 1) you just go around in circles and 2) You need to get back down!!
Hypersonic sub-orbital vehicles may well prove to offer the answer to high-speed, intercontinental travel that SSTs failed too. By burning all your fuel initially (and thus not having to cart it around the world with you), then following a sub-orbital trajectory outside most of the atmosphere (and thus most of the drag), you achieve efficiencies not possible with atmospheric flight.
24th Jun 2004, 10:35
WizoFoz, agree completely... Just imagine, Paris to LA in a matter of an hour or so! Or, Sydney to London in just a little under 2 or so hours!!!
These folks behind this should be congratulated for their marvellous efforts. The Wright Bros only got a few feet off the ground for a few seconds, remember? Wonder where this "flight" will rank in 100 years time. The ship will probably be in a museum, with people gawking in amazement.. "God, they went up in THAT??!"
Just hope I live long enough to either get endorsed to"fly" one of 'em, or, to buy a ticket to meet a friend on the other side of the world for lunch, and be back home by dinner.
Just think, you could be an international pilot with what looks like a domestic schedule Think of all those lost hours in the book... sigh...
Room for a passenger on your fandangled rocket by any chance on the next ride? Promise I won't touch the controls!!! ;)
24th Jun 2004, 11:58
Great achievement, but curb the excitement about mass hypersonic commercial passenger flights.
Sure it is feasible, but one hour Sydney to London means the entire trip at around 2-3 G. Until they find a way around that we won't be seeing grandma (or anyone else for that matter) on the manifest.
24th Jun 2004, 12:12
I thought that it was bizarre that the test pilot flew without a full pressure suit - showed that he had a lot of confidence in the pressurisation system. NASA doesn;t have that much confidence and they've been developing their systems for many years longer.
I believe that F-15 pilots have to have a partial pressure suit on to fly above 50,000ft.
No significant improvement to Alan Shepard....
What about the fuel efficency alone.
How much fuel would the mother ship burn? Two small turojets at high altitude for an hour...maybe 1500 to 2000 kgs. How much fuel on the small rocket? It can't be much as the craft isn't that big. Gas and rubber. It really is Mach 3 sub-orbital on a shoe string.
When you work out the efficency compared with the Shepard flight it's amazing. And this is for a three seater (they filled the seats with weight to simulate paying passengers).
24th Jun 2004, 12:47
Actually, I think that the engine is probably the single most impressive achievement.
You could always get far more efficiency from solid rockets than from liquid fuels. The big problem was that once you lit the fuse, it burnt until the fuel was expended (The SRBs on the Shuttle for example).
THIS thing has a solid fueled rocket...that you can turn off!
I'm already envisiging things like a scale ME 262 powered by one... now wheres my old Tech Drawing set...
25th Jun 2004, 08:44
Pity about Granny missing out. About mass hypersonic travel, well, I can dream.. just don't hand me the engineering issues!! After all, I don't make 'em, I only fly 'em!
Hey speaking of manufacturing, I wonder if Burt's going to be offering "his" ship in kit form one of these days?
After he irons out the glitches of course!
25th Jun 2004, 11:48
I'm with you Going Boeing.
Air force uses them, and they are an AIR force, not a SPACE force.
Good luck and hope they never need them.
25th Jun 2004, 12:28
Just imagine, Paris to LA in a matter of an hour or so!.. Sydney to London in ... 2 or so hours!!! Yeah just great..... And what about the lay-overs??? Thought about that?? :*
It'll be a turn-around. Probably a 4-sector day, in fact. No more allowances, nude pool parties with the bubbly, excited, naive, young hosties. MORE nights at home with the wife. :hmm:
Actually through the miracle of seniority, the old Wagon-Dragons will get all the trips and the young babes will be stuck on the clapped-out old plastic shite-bag airbuses that appear to be actually travelling backwards through time in comparison.
Have you thought this through?
By the way, what's the point in turning up in just a PARTIAL pressure suit??? :confused: Is that like just the pants? I see a flaw in this theory........ see if you can spot it :ok:
25th Jun 2004, 13:41
Hey speaking of manufacturing, I wonder if Burt's going to be offering "his" ship in kit form one of these days? Sign me up for one. So would I register it as a VH or with AUF? ;)
Air force uses them, and they are an AIR force, not a SPACE force.
Actually - they are a SPACE force
USAF Space Command (http://www.peterson.af.mil/hqafspc/Default2.asp)
By the way, what's the point in turning up in just a PARTIAL pressure suit??? Is that like just the pants? I see a flaw in this theory........ see if you can spot it
The early partial pressure suit, designed to be worn under ordinary flying clothing, consisted of a close-fitting elastic nylon and cotton garment which covered the entire body from the ankles to the neck and wrists. A system of inflatable tubes called capstans are attached to the basic garment, when inflated the capstans through the action of crossing tapes, tighten the fabric of the suit on the body. The objective was to supply the amount of counter pressure which will just balance the breathing pressure necessary to prevent hypoxia at a given altitude. Various models of this suit were worn by pilots of fighter aircraft, bombers and high altitude flights of research aircraft beginning with the X-1.
26th Jun 2004, 00:07
yes good on you for digging up all that research. meanwhile the rest of us were out drinking piss like it was going out of fashion. What were YOU doing\?//?? more scientific research on this topic of rocket flight??????????? oh, well, very well done...............
26th Jun 2004, 06:11
yes good on you for digging up all that research. meanwhile the rest of us were out drinking piss like it was going out of fashion.
but wait a minute - you're here too?
beside - took all of two minutes to find on the web. Google's so good - it can even make YOU look clever.
Then again - maybe not... :}
26th Jun 2004, 10:43
:} :} :}
Not a G - suit!! (blow up incontinance pants) although that is an angle that could be of some use in test flying...
The type of gear U2 and SR-71 crews use. One step short of a space suit, enclosed full face helmet etc.
Now available over the internet, at a fraction of their original cost, from both US and Soviet manufacturers. If I can find a link to a vendor I will post it.