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Closing in on the Edge of Space

On May 13th, Mike Melville piloted Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne to an altitude of 40 miles. At 50 miles a USAF pilot would be granted their Astronaut Wings. The Federation Aeronautique International (FAI) defines the boundary of space as 100 kilometers, just over 62 miles.

Here is the Scaled Composites flight report:

Objectives: The third powered flight of SpaceShipOne. 55 seconds motor burn time. Handling qualities during boost and performance verification. Reaction control system use for reorientation to entry attitude. Supersonic feather stability and control.

Results: Launch conditions were 46,000 feet and 120 knots. Motor light off occurred 10 seconds after release and the vehicle boosted smoothly to 150,000 feet and Mach 2.5. Subsequent coast to apogee of 211,400 feet. During a portion of the boost, the flight director display was inoperative, however the pilot continued the planned trajectory referencing the external horizon. Reaction control authority was as predicted and the vehicle recovered in feather experiencing 1.9M and 3.5G’s. Feather oscillations were actively damped by the pilot and the wing was de-feathered starting at 55,000 feet. The onboard avionics was re-booted and a smooth and uneventful landing made to Mojave.

The previous test flight on April 8 reached just under 20 miles. It seems certain they will cross the 50 miles ‘astronaut’ threshold sometime in June unless detailed examination of test data or post-flight inspection of the vehicle turn up a serious problem.

Given the progress of the current test campaign, I expect the the FAI altitude will be reached no later than July: sooner if test results and vehicle condition allow it. In the best case they will cross both altitude thresholds in June and will make the Ansari Prize (X-Prize) winning flights in July or August:

The ANSARI X PRIZE is a $10,000,000 prize to jumpstart the space tourism industry through competition between the most talented entrepreneurs and rocket experts in the world. The $10 Million cash prize will be awarded to the first team that:

  1. Privately finances, builds & launches a spaceship, able to carry three people to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles)
  2. Returns safely to Earth
  3. Repeats the launch with the same ship within 2 weeks

I believe they will make at least one flight over 62 miles on July 20th, the 35th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

8 comments to Closing in on the Edge of Space

  • Good News . It seems that the flight controls worked fine. This was my main worry about this system.

    The craft went through a feathering/ defeathering cycle and seems to have come out of it fine. Again Good News.

    The avionics needed rebooting mmmm just like the F-22.

    Good luck to them all.

  • ‘Bout time, eh? Wasn’t it in the early Sixties that some X-15 pilots got their astronaut wings for going over 50 miles up? And they flew over Mach 7, I believe. Of course, doing it on Paul Allen’s dime is a lot better than on the average taxpayer’s.

  • D Anghelone

    Bout time, eh? Wasn’t it in the early Sixties that some X-15 pilots got their astronaut wings for going over 50 miles up? And they flew over Mach 7, I believe. Of course, doing it on Paul Allen’s dime is a lot better than on the average taxpayer’s.

    IIRC, it was 384,000 feet in 1963. X-20 would have done it all.

    IMO, we U.S. taxpayers would have gotten much for our dime with DynaSoar (X-20) than we did with the political showboat of Apollo. That’s not, however, a popular view.

  • In fact we would have gotten more with Apollo OR with Dyna Soar if we’d just picked one and stuck to it.

    What kills the program is that the basic launch vehicle is chopped and changed every few years. NASA is getting out of the Launch vehicle business , probably a good idea.

  • Hold on, they actually had a project they called “Dyna Soar”? Isn’t that fitting for the whole bureaucracy of NASA anyway?

    I’m really glad to see SS1 going so well. This is really exciting. A quick question tho: can someone explain ‘feathering / defeathering’ quickly?

  • Dyna Soar was actually an air force project. It was a space plane similar to the recently canceled OSP (Now part of the CEV ) It was intended to service the Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL). This was to be a manned spy satellite, they wanted to put up in the late 1960s to get around the limits of the Corona system which sent its film back to earth to be developed. (See the movie Ice Station Zebra)

    Dyna Soar, or something like it, could have serviced a space station, but the US government canceled it. Later they let the Saturn V line run down while starving the Shuttle of development funds.

  • Julian Morrison

    Feathering is when SS1 flips the tail assembly up so that the vehicle reenters the atmosphere belly-first with its tail trailing behind it, after the manner of a badminton shuttle-cock.

  • D Anghelone

    Thanks, spacer. You might like a favorite of mine from the Boeing website:

    “Dyna Soar actually reached the full-scale engineering mockup stage before it was canceled in December 1963 – a major blunder for American techno-logical leadership in space.”