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Melvill safely back on terra firma

The reports I am reading elsewhere indicate they have made it, although things got a bit dicey. From the sounds of it, they had RCS problems when they left the atmosphere. I do not know if Melvill regained orientation during the exoatmospheric flight or had to wait until the shuttlecock re-entry.

Early reports are that they made the altitude necessary for the X-Prize flight; now they have to do it again within the next two weeks. Hopefully the controls problem can be worked out.

It is a tribute to the design that the craft could tumble going out of the atmosphere and yet return intact. It is also a tribute to the pilot and an answer to those who think robots are the answer. Robots make craters. Pilots usually bring the ship back in one piece.

Now we wait for more detailed reports on the flight.

More It looks like the problem was not RCS. Melvill shut down the main engines 11 seconds early to stop the roll rate buildup. That sounds like some sort of main engine burn asymmetry. Again, we will just have to wait. But they do appear to have made the necessary altitude.

Update Melvill put the blame for the roll on himself. It was not a fault with the ship. Perhaps Melvill has just invented the space age equivalent of PIO (pilots will know what I’m talking about).

14 comments to Melvill safely back on terra firma

  • Julian Morrison

    From what I read and what I heard on webcasts, the roll started during the burn, Melvill waited until the burn was only just enough to poke the vehicle’s nose into space and complete the X-prize run, then switched off the engine, 11 seconds early.

  • Dale

    Good point about the need for pilots. especially when the going gets tough. We’ll see what happened later.

    I’m glad Melvill made it back okay. He is going to get quite a repuation as a rocket pilot. As far as I’m concerned he’s the one on top of Tom Wolfe’s Ziggurat of the Right Stuff.

  • James

    Excellent news, although I hope they can overcome any issues they’ve encountered

    Problem is, they’ve been newsflashing the Bigley news on most of the news channels, so there’s been bugger all about SS1 apart from some ticker items. Bastards.

  • Dale Amon

    Hmmm…. Bigley… Name rings a bell… does he have an X-Prize ship? 😉

  • James


    Seriously missed the excellent coverage that you provided last time. June 21st was one of the best posts on Samizdata to date, with beautiful pictures too.

  • Dale Amon

    I thank you for the kind words. If it had been even marginally possible I would have gone. Unfortuneately income from work in the late spring and early summer turned into… well nothing. I was not being figurative about scrambling for dosh. September was the sort of month where one gets by on a forty quid food budget.

    I should be in good shape by the time someone goes for the Bigelow prize though!

  • D. Timmerman

    Human Pilots have more incentive than robots to not make a big crater. 😉

  • Walter Wallis

    Excellent photography – where was the camera?
    It looks like Melville will be credited for the first lonchavac in space.

  • Dale Amon

    I saw the range camera data on TV this evening. Despite what I have read in a number of news site, I did not see any tumbling, only a ‘slow’ roll on the X-axis. That matches up with what Melvill said. He had a roll rate increasing while the burn continued so he shut down at the minimum burn time necessary for the X Prize altitude so that the roll rate did not get too high. Immediately after thrust termination he was able to kill the roll with, I presume, the RCS.

    You really, really, do *not* want to do a 360 pitch roll or yaw rotation with the main engine burning. I don’t *even* want to think about it.

  • Dale

    Good work, it looks like the flight controls were more or less to blame for the roll. Fortunately this is not a big deal. Space Ship 2 will probably have digital flight controls.

    It will be interesting to see the details on the engine shut off.

    PS I spent the afternoon moving our friend Fiorella from the Village to her new place in midtown. She has a new gig teaching and working on a NASA Climate change project.

  • T. J. Madison

    I watched the mission on NASA TV yesterday. The live camera view from the starboard wing was quite incredible. As for the unexpected roll, it was very visible 30 seconds into the burn, and quite scary. It was very obvious something was wrong. For a few seconds there it looked like SS1 was in real trouble. Luckily Melvill managed to get things straightened out. Gonads of Osmium plus forty years of experience sure paid off.

    It’s probably time to sacrifice some more chickens to the Engineering Gods. 🙂

  • John Ellis

    …and work on those digital controls. An experienced pilot is better in most circumstances than a robot, but an experienced pilot and a well-designed robot (hardware and software) are the optimum combination, I should say….

  • Space, the final frontier… at least that is what I told my clingy girlfriend when I broke up with her

  • David Gillies

    I think one of the coolest aspects of all this is being overlooked a bit – Melvill is a pilot. When things started going wrong, he was the one to fix it. I mean: a rudder bar in a freakin’ spaceship! Definitely not just ‘spam in a can’, to borrow a phrase from The Right Stuff. This is so much more X-15 than giant firework territory.