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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The outward explosion begins

The Manchester based Starchaser has rolled out its prototype and they hope to give the Rutan/Branson team a run for the pole position in suborbital tourism.

They intend to launch in 2007 and follow up with a manned launch in 2008. Their spaceship can carry 3 passengers to 100 miles at 98,000 Pounds Sterling (US$183,000) for the half hour flight.

“The race is on,” he said. “This is a new space race. We’re building the vehicles, we’re building the hardware, we’re building capsules, we’ve done manned drop tests of capsules, we’re building engines,” he said. “We’re really going for it. You know we’re not just buying a ready made system from someone else so we have more control over what it is we do and I think we’re going to probably beat him to the punch.”

I am guessing I will see them at Las Cruces a few weeks from now, perhaps running their engine in a less spectacular fashion than last year.

Richard Branson has ‘rolled out’ the interior concept for the Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo:

“It won’t be much different than this,” Branson told reporters here at Wired Magazine’s NextFest forum. “It’s strange to think that in 12 months we’ll be unveiling the actual plane, and then test flights will commence right after that.”

Meanwhile, Anousheh Anseri has returned from her week aboard space station Alpha and UP Aerospace is retrieving their sounding rocket payloads after a launch which failed to reach suborbital altitude.

There may soon be some other news much closer to home ;-)

26 comments to The outward explosion begins

  • Very exciting news — it’s going to be an interesting few years.

    By the way, there’s something funny going on with the interior concept link. This should hopefully work:

    rolled out the interior concept

  • Dale Amon

    Actually it was a missing double quote on a url… Thanks for pointing out the problem.

  • Nick M

    I have to say I’m not much impressed by Starchaser. I tried to volunteer for them (they had a scheme) and they just dissed me a coupla years back. And I was well prepared to lift boxes for them…

    It wasn’t like I wanted to head Mission Control, Salford.

    Frankly, I’m quite surprised they’re still going. I thought that their business model had winning the X-prize as an absolute must.

  • Paul Marks

    I have never understood why N.A.S.A. has its main spaceport right next to the Atlantic (with all the weather disruption that this means).

    Was the idea to allow aborted missions to land in the ocean, or was the thing just pork for voters in Florida back in the 1960′s?

  • Dale Amon

    No, the site makes perfect sense. It’s probably the furthest south site that was available, and nearer the equator is better. You want to launch in the direction of the Earth’s rotation, so you are going to launch eastwards, which means you are best off on the East coast. And finally, yes, in those days things tended to go boom, fly off in unexpected directions and get blown up by the Big Red Button under the nervous finger of the Range Safety Officer.

    There was an earlier case at White Sands where a V2 took off, and almost immediately turned level to the ground and took off southwards. Made it all the way to Mexico where it made a nice hole in the ground.

  • Paul Marks

    Dale – what has your reply got to do with my question about why the space port next to the Atlantic (considering the weather problem)?

    Is having the space port next to the Atlantic a good idea or not? And if it is a good idea, why is it a good idea.

    The idea that all southern places are next to the sea will not work (because it is not true).

  • Dale Amon

    Let me try again. A rocket going into orbit is going to launch in an easterly direction. In the 1950′s, it was more usual than not that rockets would blow and go awry and then be blown up by the RSO. The peices then rain down to the ground. Even if the rocket works perfectly, the 1st stage is going to come down a few hundred or few thousand miles down range.

    So basically, anything eastwards of a 1950′s rocket launch for some hundreds of miles was at serious risk. So we are right off the bat limited to the Atlantic coast. (Forget launching from some other country, not in the Cold War environment of that era… remember that almost all of the early rockets were IRBM or ICBM tests or derivatives used for satellites and manned flight). So security concerns pretty much limited it to CONUS. Not to mention east of transport. Some of the largest stuff comes in on barges.

    Now there is also a launch site at Wallops Island Virginia, but it is too far north. The farther north you go, the more delta vee you lose from the earth’s rotation.

    So you want to place it as far south as you can. Key West is too built up and all the keys are really hurricane fodder; the everglades are not a wonderful place for such things for many reasons; the lower part of the coast is fairly populated… but up around Cape Caneveral everything you want is present. Lots of empty land around the site; reasonably far south; right on the water so the flaming debris only comes down on fish and Russian Trawlers, good shipping; lots of level ground for long runways.

    Even Jules Verne picked pretty much the same location for his “From The Earth To The Moon” written in the 19th Century.

    Now times have changed a bit. Rockets are worlds more reliable so the use of the Atlantic coast is not *quite* as important as it was 50 years ago.

    So yes, in 1955 the Cape was as near to an ideal location as one could hope for and it continued being pretty much perfect for a very long time afterwards. It will become a major commercial space port as well simply because people tend to build launch stands next to where other launch stands are already built and where all the expensive tracking and range safety infrastructure is already in place.

    But with the new generation of manned space ship, things are changing. The Western deserts of the US are now very much in the running.

  • Midwesterner

    Dale,

    Does Vandenburg have a place in the future? I had a friend that participated in some launch gone awry there back in the early eighties. I recently looked it up and found a whole constellation of launch sites instead of the one or two I was expecting.

    He said the launch control building was substantially damaged/(destroyed?) in the incident. As in diving under consoles and tables and praying. I couldn’t figure out which specific launch or site it might have been from the web but did get to wondering about Vandenburg and its place in future space programs.

    Was/is it only used for sub orbital launches or west bound launches? And any guess on what launch he may have been refering to? I haven’t seen the guy in 20 years. Maybe you’ve heard a legend?

  • Dale Amon

    Vandenberg is used for polar and sun-synchronous orbital launchs; it is also used for testing in the Pacific. They’ve fired off a few at Kwajelein from there to test RV’s over the years; I believe they are also supplying some of the test articles for the missile defense systems tests as well.

    I am uncertain whether they are allowed to do anything easterly today… I would think not but I cannot come up with a reason SpaceX would want a polar launch.

    If you have really big fuel tanks and money to burn, you could launch polar and do a plane change maneuver, but I do not specifically know of anyone ever doing this.

    I some friends who had a pad there some years back. I’ll have to ask if they were planning on strictly polar launches for their test program.

    And then there was SLC-6… but I’ll not go into that billion dollar plus rat hole.

  • Paul Marks

    I think I see what you mean – bits were going to going to come down and they wanted them to come down in the sea (sorry I did not understand the first time).

  • Midwesterner

    BTW, Dale, thanks. I learned something new. I hadn’t heard of ‘sun-synchronous’ orbit before.

    Perhaps SpaceX wants to demonstrate a polar launch capability so they can bid for any satelite they want? It seems that the design loads and precision would be a little higher and a demonstration mightn’t hurt?

  • Tudalu

    There is a lot of innovations in telescopes as well, as per this great article. (Link) Soon, amazing new discoveries will abound, including Earth-link worlds.

  • Michael

    Dale and Paul,
    Another aspect of the decision to put a launch site on the east coast, even when the launches go nominally, most of the boosters fall back to Earth, only payloads and upper stages reach orbit, and you don’t want to drop spent boosters on nice suburban houses!

  • Space launch ranges were developed from missile test ranges, which in turn were developed from military artillery test ranges. Artillery ranges more or less assumed that you never want people or property at risk anywhere under the trajectory, whether nominal or non-nominal. Since muti-stage vehicles shed parts even in nominal flight, these rules continued to be sacred. Air Force Regulation 127-1 (rather a big book, actually) has quite detailed formulae for determining where a launch vehicle can or can’t go without the range safety officer pushing the destruct button.

    AMROC (the company to which Dale referred) has a pad (ABRES A-3, to be exact) at Vandenberg, which it had intended to use for suborbital launches (to the west) and polar-orbital launches (to the south). The pad had originally been used in the early 60s for the ABRES (Atlas-Boosted Re-Entry System) tests, launnched on (naturally) Atlas laucnh vehicles.

  • I also think that Starchaser is not all that impressive. But they are one of the only two European companies doing this at all (the other is Orca from Romania).

    What SpaceX is doing seems much more interesting and meaningful to me, as far as outward expansion is concerned. They may be not as pure because they are not squishy about taking government money whenever an opportunity presents itself (e.g. COTS). But that’s just the way it is.

  • Skeptic

    Dale explained the usage of Vandenberg correctly, but I thought it might help to add a couple points. Launches from Vandenberg are generally southwest over the Pacific. As explained before, easterly launches are much preferred to get the benefit of the rotation of the Earth, but for some purposes it is just necessary to put your satellite in an orbit that goes pole-to-pole (for instance spy and land resource satellites which get full Earth coverage this way).

    I believe the accident which Midwesterner’s friend was referring to was the Titan 34D which exploded less than 9 seconds after launch on April 18, 1986 completely devastating the pad and damaging many facilities in the vicinity.

  • But with the new generation of manned space ship, things are changing. The Western deserts of the US are now very much in the running.

    Virgin will be headquartered at the new port in southern New Mexico, and Bezos is planning one for Texas. The advantage there, is the open land, (obviously), the altitude – 4500 feet in the case of NM, mostly important because it means less air to push through on the way out – and the fact that eastbound flights aimed at something close to an equitorial orbit get out over the gulf fairly quickly, and even the bit of land they have to go over to get there is sparsely populated.

    And, no hurricanes, just a fairly predictable thunderstorm season and a UV level that will disintegrate just about anything left outside long enough.

  • Petronius

    In the early days of the Shuttle program there were plans to sometimes launch military missions from Vandenburg. This was to maintain security and to handle polar orbits used by spy satellites. The problem they ran into was that if a mission aborted during the early phases of the launch there wasn’t any place to land. For launches from Florida the Shuttle could put down at Rota in Spain, but the only land directly south of Vandenburg was Easter Island! The US actualy paid to improve the single airstrip on that mysterious dot in the ocean, and add better navigation beacons to the tower. Alas, Vandenburg launches were abandoned, and I don’t think they ever did a polar orbit with the shuttle, so the Space People never did return to Rapa Nui.

  • Orion

    Initially Vandenburg was going to be the military’s Space Shuttle complex, too, but costs skyrocketed so much that even before Challenger went Boom the military was backing out of the deal, going back to multistage rocket launches. And of course afterwards no one in his right mind wanted a Space Shuttle launching over (possibly) inhabited land.

  • KJ

    Its been ages since I’ve looked at them, but both Vandenberg and KSC have azimuth launch limitations- Vandenberg is to the south & west as I recall and KSC to the east & north east. I believe they are to limit flight over land. For KSC, it means you can’t launch directly into a polar or sun-synchronous orbit so you have to do a plane change if you want that-and that’s costly. Easier to launch from somewhere else.

    Please note, ESA launches from a site close to the equator and can go from due east to north for a polar orbit. Must be nice…

  • Midwesterner

    Skeptic, thank you. The timing is right, the description is right.

    Can anyone tell me what the role of civilian/military responsibility is re the launch safety officer at an AFB. Is he military? If so, what kind of qualifications? Rank?

    It’s been about twenty years, and I’m really curious if what I recall is possible.

  • I’m not so excited by the drive toward space tourism (or suborbital tourism), although possibly some of this is sour grapes. I am more interested in the prospect of private/commercial exploration of the Solar System.

    I know there are international laws that prohibit private ownership of space real estate, but I imagine these would be revisitied if it became possible to actually get there. But are there laws that would prohibit a private or commercial enterprise from landing on celestial bodies, such as comets, asteroids, and planets? Or damaging the bodies collecting samples, or leaving waste and garbage around?

  • Dale Amon

    Thanks for the telescope article. I have followed many of the developments in that area (I’m a regular Astronomy and Sky&Tel reader) but the diagram is the most interesting part.

    We are indeed seeing the side effects of a general acceleration of technology as we approach the singularity (or the wall, depending on your preferred analogy) which I have for a decade or more projected to occur around 2030. What we are seeing now is, by my analogy, a bit of tidal affects stretching our minds… it will not be many more years before it becomes impossible for even the scientifically illiterate typical TV presenter to ‘get it’.

  • I read Anousheh’s blog this morning, an entry entitled ‘A Matter of Perspective’ written by the CEO and Founder of the X-Prize Foundation Peter Diamandis. At the end he made mention of the Anchron X-Prize for Genomics, the Foundation’s new focus, which hopes to foster rapid gene sequencing technology. Why do you suppose the Foundation has switched emphasis from space exploration to genetics when there is so much more to be done and as you say it is ‘exploding outward’? Meandering familial interests? Bored with space? Just wondering if anyone has a thought for that change.

  • Heh… nevermind, just got wind of what Peter Diamandis has in mind for Las Cruces, New Mexico this month. Seems he is as invested in the idea as ever. Thanks.

  • Dale Amon

    Yes, I will be out there again this year and will post some photos when I get a chance. I’ll be rather busy as this is a business trip, although it will definitely be a pleasure!

    I will no doubt run into Peter although I don’t know if he’ll have a chance for a drink and chat until the X-Prize staff after-party.