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RLV News Special Edition:
Scaled Composites
SpaceShipOne & White Knight

Photo by Jeff Foust


This section contains a compilation of articles and links about the rollout of the "first private manned space program" by Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites company on April 18, 2003.

Note that the Scaled Composites web site provides a wide range of images and documents about the project.

The White Knight

RLV News Archive Directory

May 7, 2003

SpaceShipOne briefs... London takes notice - Three-seater powers up for cheap space trip - Times Online - May.8.03 (link found at spacetoday.net)...

... The Scaled Composites entry page at the X PRIZE has, not surprisingly, been updated and includes a new team briefing (pdf, 284kb). No new info from whats on the Scaled website but does provide the essential info in a nicely compact format.

May 6, 2003

Another article about the SS1 - Not Just for Millionaires and Pop Stars: A private company reveals its craft for sending tourists to space - Astronomy - May.6.03

May 1, 2003

SpaceDev hybrid engine test
Test firing of SpaceDev's hybrid engine.

SpaceDev SS1 engine photos... I had missed this earlier press release (April 18th) at SpaceDev. It includes photos and videos of their hybrid engine that is competing with eAc to win the Scaled SS1 propulsion contract (see the eAc press release below.)

April 30, 2003

Space Access'03 Review included some SS1 related topics.

News briefs ... Jeff Foust discusses RLV regulations and issues, relevant to the SS1, brought up at the Space Access'03 meeting : RLV regulation: licensing vs. certification - The Space Review - Apr.28.03 ...

... Rutan's SS1 and regulation questions : Private Innovation, Public Stagnation by Rand Simberg - FOXNews.com - Apr.25.03 ...

... More about SS1 and SpaceDev : A quest to bring space within reach: Designer betting a reusable winged rocket just the vehicle - SignOnSanDiego - Apr.29.03.

April 23, 2003

Environmental Aerosciences - SS1 Propulsion Development
SS1 Test Stand Trailer
Test Stand Trailer
White Knight takes off
Test firing Jan.16.03

The White Knight lands
eAC team with Burt Rutan

Photos courtesty eAc
More photos in eAc gallery

Environmental Aerosciences press release:

Environmental Aeroscience Corporation (eAc) announces selection as a team member providing the hybrid rocket propulsion system for
Burt Rutan’s Manned Space Program
Miami Florida - April 22, 2003

Founded in 1994, eAc has pioneered the development of nitrous oxide hybrid propulsion including the first ever sounding rocket flight of such a system from a NASA launch facility. eAc has been designing, testing, and flying hybrid rocket motors for tactical missiles, sounding rockets, and satellite launch applications; and with this announcement, space tourism. After two years of secret development with Scaled Composites, we are proud to announce our involvement as a vendor for the propulsion system for SpaceShipOne.

We are excited to have participated in the unveiling of this historic program on Friday, April 18, 2003. “Even though they are a tiny company … they’ve fired over a thousand hybrid motors, and that’s why they were selected,” said Burt Rutan at the event. Korey Kline, eAc Director of R&D was quoted as saying “These are the Wright Brothers days of Civilian Space Flight”.

Several developmental firings at our test facility in Miami were conducted in support of the SpaceShipOne propulsion system. The experiences of the South Florida testing allowed eAc to bring to Scaled a functional and proven system resulting in the efficient execution of the first successful static test in Mojave. eAc’s forward bulkhead with the SpaceShipOne oxidizer filling and vent systems was selected and qualified thru a competition with another vendor and will be used for all ground and flight testing. The hybrid rocket design represents the state of the art in low recurring cost nitrous oxide hybrid propulsion for space tourism applications.

eAc is currently working on advanced hybrid propulsion developments with AFRL and DARPA, including the world's smallest orbital launch vehicle, the MuLV. The MuLV is a safe, responsive, and affordable launch system that will carry 350-1200lb payloads into low earth orbit. A turbo-pump fed 30,000 lb thrust common-core booster design is used to lower development costs. A single motor system is designed and used for the central booster motor, with a variety of combinations of strap-on boosters of the same design. The lifting capacity is determined by this first stage configuration. Developmental firings include a 16” diameter nitrous hybrid that has produced 11,000 lbs thrust levels. The first series of nine test firings on this scale have been very successful allowing us to fine-tune the fuel grain geometry and injector design..

SpaceShipOne simulations... An Aviation Week reporter takes the SS1 to space and back in this detailed account of his simulator piloting : Flying Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne Simulator - Aviation Week - Apr.21.03 ...

... Scaled apparently uses the X-Plane simulator. See the White Knight X-Plane simulation at X-Plane.org....

... A somewhat more modest SS1 simulation is included in this Java applet at SpaceTethers.com.

April 22, 2003

More SS1 info ... Jeff Foust writes more about the SS1 rollout- Rutan aims for space: A look at SpaceShipOne - The Space Review - Apr.21.03 ...

... In his latest update, John Carmack comments on the SS1 and how it will affect (or not) the plans at Armadillo Aerospace for the X PRIZE competition.

Spacedev launcher... SpaceDev has announced that it will begin development of a small launcher - 1000lb to orbit - based on the hybrid propulsion system developed for the SpaceShipOne program - SpaceDev Announces Streaker Launch Vehicle : SpaceDev Propulsion Technology Spin-offs from SpaceShipOne Program - SpaceDev - Apr.22.03.

SpaceDev's hybrid development began after it purchased the rights to the AMROC technology. The company is also developing an orbital transfer “space tug” for the Air Force called the Maneuvering and Transfer Vehicle (MTV™) that also uses hybrid propulsion.

Good press for the SS1... Jon Bonné at MSNBC has written a couple of excellent articles about Rutan's spaceship (found the links via Transterrestrial Musings). The article - Flying to space: A cockpit view : A trip 62 miles high and back down, all in 90 minutes - MSNBC - Apr.21.03 - gives a nice overview of what a flight would be like.

The other article - Private space race, public hurdles : Regulations may hampter efforts to prove technology - MSNBC - Apr.21.03 - discusses potential regulatory roadblocks for suborbital tourism and possible solutions.

Note: I exchanged some emails with Mr. Bonné a couple of months ago, first about the Kistler K-1 and then about private suborbital rocket development and the X PRIZE. He was very skeptical and indicated that he didn't think there had been much progress since the competition was first announced back in 1996. He now seems to be much more positive.

April 21, 2003

White Knight on cover of Aviation Week... AW&ST gives extensive coverage this week to the White Knight and the SpaceShipOne rollout. Thankfully, they put the long and detailed article online - Affordable Spaceship - Aviation Week - Apr.21.03.

Some of the items from the article include:

  • The project funding comes from an undisclosed source. AW&ST estimates the project cost at $20-30 million.

  • Project development started as far back as 1996 and the designs went through a number of modifications over the years. Serious development started when full funding arrived in April of 2001. They hoped to be flying by now but development has been slower than expected.

    Ed. Note: A common proposition on the space newsgroups and other forums has been that Rutan was waiting for the X PRIZE to obtain full funding before he would start building his vehicle. However, it turns out that he had started the hardware development long before the purse reached the $10 million.

  • Outside of the atmosphere attitude, control of the SS1 will come from a "redundant set of pitch, roll and yaw thrusters powered by 6,000 psi. bottles of dry air in the cabin." The pressurized air will also power the feather actuator, defog the windows (fogging has been a serious problem in ground tests), and maintain the cabin pressure.

  • No pressure suits for the pilot and passengers. "Rutan believes the overbuilt structure of the cabin provides the same safety backup as a spacesuit." There are no ejection seats. The crew will need to crank open the hatch and parachute out.

  • They will carry out a number of test flights that gradually build up to the 100km altitude. Once the funded test flight phase is done, Rutan would like to do one flight a week for a few months to determine operational issues. He estimates an eventual cost of $80k per flight.

Rutan only recently talked with the FAA about the project. He makes a guess of $100-300 million to certify a craft for regular tourist service. So he is pessimistic about using the system for space tourism.

Ed. note : I think Burt should talk with Jeff Greason of XCOR and others involved in the recent Suborbital Institute campaign on Capitol Hill - Feb.11.03 (see also Jeff Foust's article : Suborbital activists go to Washington - Spaceflight Now - Feb.22.03) The issues of licensing and certification for suborbital vehicles were at the top of the agenda. Comments from the AST representatives indicated they were quite aware of how the costs of unrealistic certification demands might kill the infant industry in the cradle.

There seemed a general recognition by regulators and the Congressional staff with whom we talked that this brand new flight service can't instantly meet the same level of safety and reliability that the mature aviation industry reached after many decades in business. I'm fairly optimistic that some compromise can be reached. Perhaps the "Accredited Passenger" concept discussed by Peter Diamandis will become the basis of such a compromise.

More articles... Two more steps to space - Popular Science - Apr.21.03 ... Rutan unveils reusable suborbital spacecraft - Spacetoday.net - Apr.19.03

Demonstration flight of the White Knight
The White Knight prepares for a demo flight
White Knight takes off
Taking off

The White Knight lands

Photos by Aleta Jackson

April 20, 2003

More SpaceShipOne info... Funtech Systems of Altamonte Springs, Florida developed the FTS - Flight Navigation Unit for the White Knight & SpaceShipOne. Note that Funtech is also a X PRIZE entry but has not announced any vehicle development progress....

... Lots of articles in various newspapers about the rollout but most are rehashes of the AP article or the press release. This one from the LA Daily News provides extra background info: Rutan unveils privately funded spacecraft - L.A. Daily News - Apr.18.03

April 19, 2003

SpaceShipOne SpaceShipOne The White Knight & SpaceShipOne attached

Photos taken by Jeff Foust during the rollout of the White Knight & SpaceShipOne

Rutan shoots for the stars with SpaceShipOne
by Jeff Foust

Famous aircraft designer Burt Rutan ended months of speculation Friday when he publicly unveiled an aircraft and a spacecraft that together offer what his company calls "the first private manned space program."

At an event attended by several hundred journalists and invited guests at the headquarters of Rutan's company, Scaled Composites, in Mojave, California, Rutan displayed for the first time both the SpaceShipOne rocket-powered suborbital vehicle and the White Knight aircraft that will carry it aloft. Guests of the event ranged from Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Apollo-era spacecraft designer Max Faget to space tourist Dennis Tito and balloonist Steve Fossett.

Rutan, fighting laryngitis during his speech, said he is developing this private spacecraft now in the hopes of igniting a "renaissance" in spacecraft development similar to the one seen in aviation between 1909-1912. While by 1908 only the pilots had flown, by the end of this three-year aviation renaissance hundreds of aircraft types had been developed and thousands of pilots had flown. The development of a private suborbital spacecraft could create a similar renaissance in spaceflight to end the decades of stagnation in government-run programs, Rutan said.

Work on the concept started back in April 1996, inspired in large part by the X Prize. Design work started about three and a half years ago, and full development of both vehicles commenced in April 2001. The first test flight of the White Knight aircraft took place on August 1, 2002; photos of that were published by Aviation Week shortly thereafter, leading to speculation about Rutan's plans, but the veil of secrecy surrounding the program remained largely in place until Friday's event.

As currently planned, SpaceShipOne will be carried aloft attached to the underside of the White Knight. At an altitude of 15,000 meters, SpaceShipOne will separate, ignite its rocket motor, and go into a steep climb. The vehicle would achieve a peak speed of about Mach 3 and climb to an altitude of 100 kilometers. SpaceShipOne would make a similarly-steep descent before leveling out at about 24,000 meters and gliding to a runway landing, less than 70 kilometers downrange from the launch point.

An unusual design feature of SpaceShipOne reduces the heating loads of the vehicle on reentry. Before reentry begins, the vehicle raises the trailing edge of its wing, along with its twin tails, to more than a 60-degree angle to the horizontal. This "carefree" reentry mode, Rutan said, is designed to put the spacecraft into a "superstable" configuration that is far more forgiving to trajectory errors than the space shuttle or the X-15. The wing and tail sections are rotated back to the horizontal position at 24,000 meters to allow the vehicle to glide to a landing.

SpaceShipOne will be powered by a single hybrid-propellant rocket engine, using nitrous oxide oxidizer and rubber fuel. Much of the propulsion system will not be developed by Scaled; as Rutan noted, "we're not rocket scientists here." With propulsion systems from major engine developers too expensive, and concerned about putting such a critical system in the hands of a single, small company, Scaled is instead running a competition. Two companies, Environmental Aerosciences Corporation and SpaceDev, are each developing and testing engines, one of which will be selected for use on SpaceShipOne. Rutan would not disclose when he would select a winning design, but a source with one of the competing companies said that a decision would likely come late this year.

The timeline for the whole SpaceShipOne flight test program is also shrouded in secrecy. Rutan hinted that the first phase of the flight test program, captive carry test flights where SpaceShipOne is carried aloft under White Knight but not released, would begin in the very near future, with glide tests taking place afterwards in the next few months. However, Rutan refused to disclose any schedule for later flight tests, or even when the first rocket-powered flight or first flight into space would take place. Part of that reticence to disclose information, Rutan explained, is because "we just don't know yet" how many test flights will be required.

Indeed, the shroud of secrecy that has surrounded this program prior to Friday's event will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future. "We're not going to have any press conferences during the test regime," Rutan said. Instead, Scaled will post a monthly summary of the events that took place in the last month of the test program, but not what is scheduled to take place in the next month. "We'll tell what we have done, not what we're going to do," he said.

Rutan also left open questions about the long-term status of the SpaceShipOne program. He made it clear that SpaceShipOne is not a commercial vehicle, and even though it is an X Prize competitor there are no plans to sell seats on flights to paying passengers, or use it for other commercial purposes. Rutan said he plans to flight test the vehicle to determine what the cost is to operate it, and possibly use that as the basis for other vehicles.

Rutan also declined to discuss the cost of the program, although when asked he said that winning the $10 million X Prize would not allow SpaceShipOne to pay for itself. Scaled documents provided at the event state that the cost of the program is projected to be "close to a Soyuz ride", suggesting something on the order of $20 million. Rutan didn't disclose the source of his funding, only to say that when he went out to look for money shortly after starting the program two years ago he "immediately found it."

Overall, while White Knight and SpaceShipOne are definitely private vehicles, the overall feel for the venture was one that was far more research and development oriented than commercial. "Fun is more important that profit," Rutan quipped at one point. He said his chief motivation was not winning the X Prize but laying claim to the title of the first private manned spaceflight, a feat that he hoped would inspire others to develop vehicles that would inaugurate a renaissance in space flight similar to the one in aviation. "Even if there's only a tiny bit of what we did that inspires others," he said, "then that's everything."


More SpaceShipOne info... eAc has posted more info now on their work to win the hybrid motor contract : eAc - Environmental Aeroscience - Tier I ...

... In the Slashdot posting about the rollout, John Carmack responds to the news.

... other articles:

April 18, 2003
Burt Rutan rolls out

"History's First Private Manned Space Program"

The White Knight airborne launcher in a test flight.

Today in Mojave, California Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites company rolls out their two stage suborbital transportation system to compete for the X PRIZE and to serve the space tourism market. According to the company:

Top photo shows the rocket powered second stage -
- slung below the launcher.
Lower photo shows a
cockpit view.

"This event will show not just dreams or mockups in search of funding, but an extensive two-year-old research program including all new hardware: airborne launcher, spaceship, rocket propulsion, avionics, simulator and ground support elements."

"Scaled Composites, the most prolific research aircraft development company in the world, is tired of waiting for others to provide affordable human space access. Active and hidden for two years, an aggressive, manned sub-orbital space program has been in work in the Mojave, CA desert.

"The event is not about dreams, predictions or mockups. We will show actual flight hardware: an aircraft for high-altitude airborne launch, a flight-ready manned spaceship, a new, ground-tested rocket propulsion system and much more. This is not just the development of another research aircraft, but a complete manned space program with all its support elements.

"The unveiling is not a marketing event. We are not seeking funding and are not selling anything. We are in the middle of an important research program - to see if manned space access can be done by other than the expensive government programs. After the unveiling, we will go back into hiding to complete the flight tests and conduct the space flights."

"The event will include a flight demonstration and opportunity to inspect and photograph a new, never-seen spaceship" and present "unique rocket propulsion hardware, conduct interviews, and [...] a technical Q & A session." Cliff Robertson will be the MC.

Editors note 1: I received an invitation to this event (thanks Burt!!) but unfortunately I could not attend. Instead Jeff Foust of spacetoday.net took my invitation and will post a report here over the weekend.

Editors note 2: With this debut of a privately developed suborbital passenger transportation system and with the launch by the end of the year of a privately developed unmanned orbital system at SpaceX, are we really so far from low cost commercial passenger transportation to orbit?? Looks like construction of the stairway to orbit is well underway.

Update: The Scaled site provides a lot of info but it's hard to reach at the moment due to the posting at Slashdot about the rollout. However, here are some miscellaneous items from what I was able to download:

  • * The SpaceShipOne "wings are folded up to provide a shuttle-cock or "feather" effect to help stabilize the vehicle for reentry." The "'Care-Free' configuration allows a 'hands-off reentry and greatly reduces aero/thermal loads.
  • * Everything reusable except they will "replace the fuel casing and nozzle between high altitude flights."
  • SpaceShipOne uses hybrid propulsion with nitrous oxide and rubber propellent and an ablative nozzle.
  • Thiolol and AAE Aerospace are assisting Scaled in making the composite nitrous tank and case/throat/nozzle.
  • Spacedev, which entered hybrid development after buying rights to the technology of AMROC a few years ago, and Environmental Aerosciences (parent of Hypertech, which makes high power rocketry hybirds) are "being competed" to develop the motor and plumbing components.
  • One picture shows a ground test of the motor system so it seems fairly far along even though its still "being competed".
  • Winged design allows for glide landing.
  • "Designed for a 'shirt-sleeve' environment, the 60" [~1.8m] diameter cabin has a space-qualified ECS [Environmental Control System] and dualpane windows."
  • The White Knight and SpaceShipOne have identical cockpit and systems "allowing component flight-qualification testing and realistic pilot training."

Other articles & sites:

Big news in suborbital space development... Full story at 1:00pm EST. (This guy cheated.)

April 16, 2003

Big news soon with regard to private space development. Stay tuned....

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