Winging It Takes Aviators To The Edge Of Space
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Nov 09, 2004
On October 4, the first privately-owned, manned craft reached space. The goal now, says Burt Rutan- SpaceShipOne's designer - is to eventually put thousands of people into space. In the weeks after claiming his X-Prize, Rutan gave a public presentation in an airplane hangar, at Moontown, Alabama. His comments echoed a desire to apply biological principles of 'natural selection' to aerospace design. His theme was to encourage experimentation.
When Rutan referred to his notion of the future, or 'space for the rest of us', the 'us' he refers to is not high-tech. Rutan may dream of a future like the Jetsons with flying cars, but for the time being, he has set his sights on getting a couple thousand people to take a suborbital flight.
Astrobiology Magazine followed Rutan's talk and his reflections on the big picture: how to get 4,000 astronauts in the next four years? (see note below)
Burt Rutan: I'm winging it. We've not given this talk anywhere before.
We've had some interesting conversations with the German rocket scientists today [in Huntsville, Alabama, home to NASA Marshall Space Flight Center where Wernher von Braun spearheaded the manned missions to Earth orbit and eventually the moon].
What we're trying to do here is build a very low-recurring-cost spaceship. We wanted to inspire commercial experimentation [in space].
Like what happened [in aviation] after 1908. In that year, less than a dozen people had flown. But in only four years, by 1912, hundreds of planes were flying in 39 countries. Something sparked that off.
What I think inspired that was the attitude, "I can do that."
The entrepreneurs tried all kinds of configurations [to fly]. Most were never heard of again, because they crashed. This was flight by natural selection.
Most of those planes would make smoking holes in the ground.
So now forty-three years after [Russian cosmonaut] Gagarin first flew to space, is that kind of innovation possible today?
Politics has been the justification for all space missions. But if you're not willing to take risks, you won't make progress. Around two hundred and forty four (244) spaceflights have happened since Gagarin. Four hundred and thirty-four people have gone to space.
But now, after the last few weeks, four hundred and thirty-six people have been outside the atmosphere.
Over the last forty-three years, there has only been a flight every two months (on average). In the year following Gagarin (1961), there were four manned spaceflights from two countries. This year, with SpaceShipOne, there have been only two manned spaceflights, and only from one country. This seems backwards. What happened?
So the question can be asked, is a space renaissance possible?
What is needed is an environment like the year 1909, with alot of entrepreneurs and experiments. People who have the attitude, 'I think I can succeed with a new idea.' It is the courage to try something new.
There will of course be natural selection too. Those are the risks.
What are the benefits? We don't know, and frankly we don't care.
When thousands of people have gone to space, you - the carbon-based folks who are produced by unskilled labor - will discover that you are the best payload to take into space. Mainly because you will pay to be a payload.
There have only been four suborbital flights. In 1962, the Redstone rocket carried the first two Mercury astronauts to over 100 kilometers altitude. Then in 1963, two consecutive X-15 planes were carried underneath a B-52 to high altitude, where they rocketed to space. But after 1963, manned, suborbital flights were never tried again.
During our SpaceShipOne flight, weightlessness was achieved for three and half minutes. It feels like you are in orbit, with similar views [of the Earth's curved blue horizon and pitch-black canopy].
After the first ten to fifteen years, these suborbital flights will be done at low-cost. The cost will be high in the beginning [est. $200,000 per ticket], until the infrastructure is built. Then the spaceline Virgin Galactic - now commercially sponsored with $100 million by Sir Richard Branson - will operate as a true corporate spaceline. It will take off from the Mojave Desert and four or five other sites around the world.
How did SpaceShipOne fly? First off, I bought the engines for $65,000 each. [Because of its novel, rolling-wing design], the spaceship pilot doesn't have to control the entry of attack as it returns through the atmosphere. [That was the first innovation, a kind of analogy to the self-correcting reentry.
It uses a design modeled after a badminton shuttlecock, one that corrects itself even if it reenters upside-down or at a bad angle.]
The second innovation was a nitrous-rubber motor. One single valve operating at room temperature runs the propellant, [which is nitrous oxide, or dental 'laughing gas']. Except for a solid rocket, which is not safe, [nitrous] is the simplest rocket fuel, a kind of expansion of a gas into a rubber chamber.
We fly this motor very aggressively to Mach 1.7 [nearly two times the speed of sound]. At high altitude, when we light this motor, the pilot experiences 3.6 times gravitational acceleration [or 3.6G. At this acceleration, a pilot weighing 200 pounds, would feel movement resisted as if weighing 720 pounds].
We have to accelerate for this initial takeoff aggressively. We go to that Mach-speed real fast, while still in the atmosphere where we can fly the plane aerodynamically. That way, we just coast to space, and don't need complex attitude controls and thrusters once we get to thinner atmosphere.
That's it. Virgin Galactic is pumping $100 million into the new spaceline. [It is an extension of the airline, Virgin Atlantic]. We will build five spacecraft for them, each about the size of a Gulfstream jet and different from SpaceShipOne. That will happen in the next three to four years.
The goal is to make three to four thousand astronauts. For kids today, if they want to go to space, they won't just have to hope to go. They will know they can go to space.
Burt Rutan's public presentation on October 23, 2004 at Moontown Airport hangar was videotaped by Andrew Dollarhide for Astrobiology Magazine editing and publication.
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X Prize Awarded To Space Pioneers
St Louis MO (UPI) Nov 07, 2004
Mojave Aerospace Ventures has won the X Prize and has been presented with a $10 million prize in St. Louis, Mo. The space race winners, lead by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan and billionaire Paul Allen, were presented with their prize Saturday at the St. Louis Science Center, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday.