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SpaceShipOne engine test completed

On September 4th, Scaled Composites executed a full scale ground test of the SpaceShipOne hybrid rocket engine. If all goes well, this engine will power the small ship on the first non-State manned suborbital flight.

The engine was run for the same amount of time and at the same thrust levels as a real flight. Due to proprietary concerns there are no technical details available on the test. Most of the publicly available details are summarized in this article by Leonard David.

Hybrid engines have a solid fuel that is quite similar to the material in truck tires. They are throttleable over a wide range (although Rutan appears to not be utilizing this ability) because they use a liquid oxidizer, typically liquid Oxygen (N2O2 or laughing gas in the case of SpaceShipOne). The engines are inherently safe.

Hybrid rocket engines were pioneered by the long departed California based companies Starstruck and AMROC, run by the late George Koopman and our good friend Jim Bennett. SpaceDev, one of the SpaceShipOne engine developers, bought the patent rights when AMROC went out of business.

10 comments to SpaceShipOne engine test completed

  • Andrew Duffin

    All very interesting but what has it got to do with Samizdata?

    Shouldn’t this be on Trans-Terrestrial musings or somewhere like that?


    The Curmudgeon

  • Following space news is today’s equivalent of following Henry the Navigator’s experiments. Its important and is valid grist for Samizdata.

  • Woof Woof

    Andrew… Quoted from the Samizdata sidebar:

    A ‘blog’ for people with a critically rational individualist perspective.
    We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous… lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

    Clearly that is what was on Dale’s mind. There have been aviation and technology posts here for as long as I have been reading Samizdata, which is to say, about 2 years. I for one like that.

  • Not only that, Dale is raaaaather well qualified to discourse on the subject at hand. I know a thing or two about the subject of aviation myself.

  • Richard

    Plus it’s got the whole “private enterprise vs. government control” theme to it. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out.

  • Jim Bennett

    Just to expand on Dale’s comments, SpaceDev acquired not only the patents but the entire intellectual property suite from AMROC, including designs, data from thousands of test firings, etc. The patents themselves were secondary ones one things such as insulation, etc., since the original basic patents on the hybrid concept, granted at the time of the early U.S. Air Force-United Technology Corporation research in the 1960s, had long expired. The SpaceDev hybrid is a direct descendant of the AMROC engines. (And the AMROC engines incorporated much of the knowledge of the earlier work, since AMROC had some former UTC people as consultants.) However, if you read the space.com article, you will see that the firing referred to was not the SpaceDev engine but one made by its competitor, eAc. There is a competition going on and final selection has not been made.

  • Dale Amon

    I perhaps didn’t make the distinction clear enough in my writing, but that was why I said “one of the SpaceShipOne engine developers” rather an erroneous “this engine’s developer”.

    Just thought I’d use Len’s article as a good segue into a bit of commercial history. We all know that when the first flight does happen, the media will completely miss the fact that the winners are standing on the shoulders of those who came before in the commercial launch field, going all the way back to OTRAG in the seventies.

  • Ron

    Perry: “I know a thing or two about the subject of aviation myself.”

    As in the first jet airliner?

  • Dave O'Neill

    Not to mention the airframe for the Nimrod aircraft.

  • This is even better news than it appears at first glance. As Rutan’s project has *two* firms working to provide hybrid engines, there is an excellent chance that other private aerospace ventures will have access to a perfectly sound, usable engine, even if Rutan retains sole access to the design best suited to SpaceShip One.

    One of the impediments to private space access has been getting an engine system that will work reliably AND at a competitive, economically viable cost. The hybrid motor concept is promising… and now being built by TWO firms.

    Rutan might just be kicking more than one door open with his bid. Looks good to this born-too-soon spacer.