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

This is the day

I am sure the Scaled Composites team is busy with their last minute checkouts now. I will be following this event as closely as one can from a third of a planetary circumference away. Obviously I will not be as immediate as those on the edge of the runway, but perhaps I can supply knowledgeable commentary on the next few hours.

So, time to get the Anseri X-Prize out of the way and move on to the Bigelow et al Prize!

Time to up-ship! Hot jets, good luck and Godspeed Mike!

UPDATE: The pilot for this flight has been announced and will be Brian Binnie.

UPDATE 1257 UTC: Weather at Mojave is reported looking good. Which is not unusual for Mojave! White Knight/SpaceShipOne takeoff is scheduled for 1400 UTC, so I would imagine they are outside the hanger and doing the the Pre-Flight about now. Burt Rutan has reportedly stated they are shooting for the alitutude record today, 354,200 feet reached by Joe Walker in the X-15 on August 23, 1963.

UPDATE 1317 UTC: As Rand Simberg points out, today is the 47th Anniversary of the first satellite launch.

UPDATE 1339 UTC: WK/SS1 is reported to be on the taxiway. I imagine the crowds are waving flags and going wild about now. Not much longer before the takeoff… then we wait an hour for the drop and burn.

UPDATE 1356 UTC: WK/SSI is in the air. For the next hour everyone gets a sore neck watching them circle ever higher towards the 47.000 foot drop altitude. It gets a bit easier to follow them when they pass about 20,000 feet and contrails begin to show… of course that depends on the conditions at altitude and is not a given. Then they will fly to the East of the airport so they will be nearer Edward AFB for radar tracking. This means everyone gets absolutely blinded looking into the sun to watch the initial climbout after the drop an hour from now.

UPDATE 1425 UTC: If you were watching Black Sky on Discovery last night (obviously I did not, sitting here outside Belfast) and liked the simulations of the SS1 flight, you can buy the software at X-Plane. Tell Austin I sent you.

UPDATE 1431 UTC: I expect WK/SS1 is passing through 40,000 feet about now. I notice that an old friend of mine, Greg Maryniak, is the commentator for the X-Prize Foundation. Not that surprising since Greg and Peter Diamandes, who I’ve known since he and the late Tod Hawley were MIT college kids, run the place. Greg was the Exec at the Space Studies Institute in Princeton all through the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s.

UPDATE 1445 UTC: By the time you read this I expect SS1 will have dropped and fired the hybrid rocket motor. Yeehah!!!

UPDATE 1452 UTC: Drop and burn happened on time… burnout and SS1 is coasting upwards, hopefully to break the X15 record as well as cop the $10,000,000 Anseri X-Prize!

UPDATE 1455 UTC: Unofficial apogee at around 368,000 feet. They may have the record. X-15 max was 354,200 feet. Sounds like a safe margin to me!

UPDATE 1515 UTC: Verily as I was on the phone trading notes with Rand, it touched down. The X-Prize has been won! The X-15 altitude record has been bettered! Now, on to commercial Virgin Galactic flights, on to the Bigelow prize for an orbital flight by 2008… and not to mention we can expect the da Vinci project to carry out their balloon drop flight within a few months and Armadillo Aerospace should fly sometime next year too. Oh what a wonderful year this is!

UPDATE 1619 UTC: It seems the altitude is official and Burt is claiming the altitude record. In an article I wrote last year, I suggested Rutan has a shot at ‘the Triple Crown’ of aviation records. Voyager flew around the world non-stop for the distance record; SS1 has now copped the altitude record. The only gem missing from the Scaled Composites front office is speed. As many have pointed out, SS1 is probably not capable of surviving a low angle speed run. But that does not mean some near future Rutan vehicle will not do it. I think he will go for it at some point.

UPDATE 1654 UTC: I note that Leonard David has been the journalist blogging for space.com from Mojave. Len is another one of our little crowd of space illuminati. He started off with the Project Harvest Moon attempt to buy the last Saturn V’s back in 1976 or so; he founded a space organization of his own at university and later became the magazine editor for for Von Braun’s NSI, and later for Ad Astra of NSS, the merged L5 and NSI organization. He also plays a mean autoharp. Yep. We all know each other.

16 comments to This is the day

  • zmollusc

    What? Are they ready to fly again?
    Blimey, that was quick. Hope they get to burn ALL the fuel this time. Good luck chaps!

  • As Rand Simberg points out, the day has symbolic significance, just as the day of their first supersonic flight did.

  • “Now …on to the Bigelow prize for an orbital flight by 2008”

    At the risk of being accused of p-ss-ng on a parade, this techology is not scalable to orbital flight. The gulf between a mach 3 sub-orbital hop and a mach 20 orbital flight is immense and as far as I know, none of the private projects has any practicable scheme for bridging that gulf.

    My prediction is that the Bigelow prize will go unclaimed for a very long time; and that if/when cheap orbital flight comes, it will not be via rocketry, but via something else entirely – most likely a space elevator.

    That said, the achievement of Scaled Composites is certianly impressive and testimony to what private sector philanthropy can achieve.

  • This is fantastic news! I never doubted them. And I’ve seen they seem to be getting plenty of TV coverage at least on Sky News. Time to start saving up for my space flight, now…

  • Robyn Kendrick

    The Rutan team has been working on scaling up to the 17,000 mph craft for several months now, since the SS1 proved itself. It’s a challenge worthy of Rutan and his team, and I wouldn’t bet against them.

  • Dale

    Great news. Its been eight years since the X Prize was announced. At the time it seemed like a good idea but not one I was going to get excited about.

    They have another loaded engine ready to go. I wonder if they’ll make one more flight, with passengers?


    Space Elevator? I seriously doubt it. Torque forces alone make it highly improbably that one could ever be built. I do love the guys who are working on the nanotubes for this, a far more useful technology.

    Space Ship One is not directly scalable to orbit, but its successors probably will be. NASA and the DoD have given up on the incremental ‘build a little, test a little’ approach. That does not mean it cannot work. For libertarians when the government says they can’t do something it should be a signal that someone should go out and do it.

  • Dale Amon

    Space elevators may be a little ways off and rather difficult… but tethers are not. With Dr. Forwards Hoytether structure an SS1 vehicle could make it to Mars. Of course the pilot would be a dessicated corpse from no food and water for a year, but hey, he’d be famous forever!

    Which reminds me. I haven’t checked in on the company since Bob died. I wonder if the partners are still pusing ahead on it?

  • Dale Amon

    Yep. They are still active. TUI. I’ve read some of Forward’s old papers. They are rather heavy slogging for the calculus-impaired. But I’m sure they have some lighter fare as well. Brilliant stuff. All you need is a cheap way to get the tether into LEO, a cheap way to get a suborbital boost to link on during the downswing… and Earth, Moon and Mars are your oyster.

  • Walter Wallis

    As soon as we have a pickup truck we can do anything with it. Of course I believe that Rutan is trying to see just how silly he can make an aircraft and still have it fly. Amazing what you can do with an engineer in charge. On second thought, amazing you can get any engineering project to work without an engineer in charge.

  • Dale Amon

    Actually there is nothing silly about the designs of either WK or SS1. Both are ideally suited to their purpose, elegant designs that come from a truly creative and unhidebound mind. Rutan looks at a problem and solves it rather than following slavish convention.

    I would dare anyone to find anything about the two aircraft (outside of the paint) that is not a precise solution to the problems at hand.

    It is this free thinking creativity which has allowed Scaled Composites to open the door to space.

    Note that almost all of the other X-Prize craft are similarly unusual to the untrained eye.

    This is wholly different than NASA contractors who work behind the scenes to figure out what NASA high management thinks a spaceship should look like and then sells it to them.

    That’s why NASA is a multigigabuck per year bust.

    By the next decade, ‘Astronaut’ will mean commercial space pilot. I will predict quite a few of NASA’s best rocket jockeys will bail out as soon as the flight rates go up. Why sit around for 3,4,6 years or more between flights… if you are lucky enough to ever even get a mission in the first place? The Right Stuff gravitates to where they can fly. So long as NASA was the game, that is where they went.

    The game has changed.

  • Robyn:

    “The Rutan team has been working on scaling up to the 17,000 mph craft for several months now, since the SS1 proved itself.”

    Any links for this? Very interesting if true, but sounds a bit unlikely.


    I meant tether. I read a paper recently on this (ok, sponsored by NASA … booh… hiss) which said the main obstacle was getting the tubes long enough. Next day what should I read but this …. (Link)

  • There really isn’t much I can say here, other than a magnificent day for mankind.

  • Jonathan Bailey

    According to my AOPA Air Safety Foundation calendar, it is not only the 47th anniverary of Sputnik’s successful launch, it is also the 99th anniversary of the first airplane flight of greater than 30 minutes duration by Orville Wright.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    It’s not just about scalability of the rocket design. It’s also about attracting investment for additional research and techniques, and that investment capital being put to use more efficiently in pursuit of profit.

    Space flight might not be a self sustaining market yet, but this and Virgin Galactic are both huge steps towards making it so. And once there is a self sustaining market for space flight and its related industries, we’ll likely see an acceleration in spaceflight technology unlike any before.

  • Mike

    It’s a damned shame Gordon Cooper died today. That’s not a happy coincidence.

  • Julius

    Tethers are great for many ‘in space’ applications if you get a chance check out Ivan Bekey’s book on Advanced Space System Concepts.

    Space Elevators , in the immortal words of Rosanne Rossanna Danna “Never Mind”.