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SpaceShipTwo First Powered Flight

I have been a bit scarce around Samizdata lately as I have been out in the Mojave desert working on the Lynx Spaceplane… the same one you get to ride if you win the Lynx for Men contest. You know, the “Nothing Beats an Astronaut” one? In any case, we are not alone at the Spaceport. There are engine firings, vertical takeoff test flights by Masten Aerospace and yesterday… a milestone by our next door neighbours, Scaled Composites.  I have very little time to write just now, but I do want to share a few of the images with you.


I got in by 6am and one of our guys was monitoring the tower frequency so we knew when they were cleared for takeoff.


We spent the next hour or so hanging out in the viewing area about a mile from our hangar. Most of the time we could not even find the little tiny spec in the sky.


My camera refused to focus on the tiny white dot of fire in the big blue sky so although I saw the drop and ignition visually, I did not get a picture. Their burn lasted in the range of 15 seconds and Doug Jones (XCOR) said he heard a mild boom so they may well have gone supersonic as planned.  In this photo WhiteKnightTwo is diving to close on SpaceShipTwo, now on its glide to landing phase.


We were not all that far from the touchdown point on Runway 030. For those with long memories, Sir Richard Branson’s rollout bash on December 7, 2009 happened at the jet blast deflector at the threshold of 030. You can find that photo essay in the archives here.


I managed a number of good shots on the approach and was particularly happy to catch the very instant the wheels bit into the runway. Later on, outside our hangar, I spotted a grinning Richard Branson animatedly talking to designer Burt Rutan as they walked under WhiteKnightTwo on the way over to SpaceShipTwo. Yes, I do have those photos but I was on field outside our hangar so those photos will have to wait for posterity.


12 comments to SpaceShipTwo First Powered Flight

  • Paul Marks


  • Doug Jones

    I see you got my best side, there, Dale.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    My daughter once asked my why I loved space so much, why I got tears welling in my eyes when watching something like “In the Shadow of the Moon” – and the only answer I could give her was that (like a lot of boys) my dream was to be an astronaut.

    What I didn’t tell her (because she is too young for such cynicism) is that my dream was also my first big disappointment. Even as a young boy of maybe 7 or 8 I very quickly realised that I had essentially no chance of ever being an astronaut. At the time there had never been a Scotsman in space, and that is still true now. It was a crushing blow for a child to realise they had been born in the wrong country to be able to follow their dreams. Who knows how my life would have gone differently if I had thought there was even a slight chance of getting to go into space?

    This is why I’m less hostile to space programmes than I am to almost any other form of government spending. Hope is a powerful thing, and the majesty of space flight gives people something to believe in, a better tomorrow to hope for. I wouldn’t underestimate the impact this had on a whole generation of Americans, nor the damage done by Obama when he dismissively tossed NASA into the dustbin of history.

    I hope that the private sector is on the road to rekindling that sense of possibility for young people that only a space programme can provide. A country full of “failed astronauts” is still a country full of top pilots, engineers and scientists. But if America went 50 years without a space programme, as Britain has, what would become of them?

  • Dale Amon (Belfast, Northern Ireland/Laramie, Wy)

    Actually, what happened with the space program in the US is exactly what many of us who are space activists wanted. While marvelous, the road taken to the moon was one that left no bridges behind. It was a politically generated action done to beat the Russians and show that America could do Socialist Design Bureau’s better than Russia. In that it succeeded. Then we had to decided what to do next… and the only thing that survived the political battle was the Space Shuttle. But an initially interesting design was turned into a white elephant because of the political requirements. NASA had to have DOD on board. DOD needed a ship that could take off from Vandenberg, do one polar orbit over the USSR and the land at VAFB after one orbit. That requirement drove almost everything in the design; the lack of funding in key areas finished off the shuttle as a viable means of space transport.

    What many of us have been working for and calling for is a reset; a return to the AMERICAN way of doing things. It is not really Obama who thought of it; I know the person at NASA who is behind a lot of this and I know that she shares many ideas with me and others in the space movement.

    I have been too busy to post, but dumping the elephant into museums is probably the best space program NASA could carry out. The private sector efforts are exploding into the vacuum and even the program of record, the SLS (Senate Launch System) is unlikely to go anywhere because events are going to pass it by well before its incredibly overpriced operations get entrenched.

    State Space Program is coming to an end in America. Long live the AMERICAN space commercial space program.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    While I agree with what you say Dale, I stick by my assertion that state funded space programmes are one of the least bad ways for a government to waste your tax money. This is for the simple reason that space programmes by their very nature produce heroes, and a functional society needs heroes.

    Now can the private sector do it better? Of course. I’m not entirely sure it could have in 1969 though, since the required investment at the time was beyond even the largest corporations. Maybe this means in all fairness it was too soon for man to go to the moon – I don’t know.

  • Mr Ed

    If they piled up all the $1 bills required to cover the US Federal Debt, would they stretch to the Moon? A quick search suggests $1 is 0.10922 mm thick, so 16,000,000,000,000 x 0.10922 = 1,747,520 km or 1,0855,888 miles. Or the Moon and back twice in rough figures of 250,000 miles to the Moon.

    So now find something that can climb dollar bills and there is no need to have spacecraft.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Mr Ed
    April 30, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    So now find something that can climb dollar bills and there is no need to have spacecraft.

    Do we really want the next American on the Moon to be a politician?

  • Mr Ed

    @ PFP best place for them? The Golgafrinchans spring to mind, from the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams’ anarchic comic masterpiece, who load an apparently useless one-third of their population off into space, only for them to land on Earth.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks for remembering us with the photos, Dale. It’s really so exciting…. “I am encouraged to go on.” *smile*

    JV…when I was in grade school and then in high school, some of us really thought there would probably be space travel, at least within the Solar system, in our lifetimes. Big disappointment. 🙁

    But I’m glad to see Real People working on their private space programs!

    –If there hadn’t been a NASA, and if private people had been left alone, I think there would have been a space program, only it wouldn’t have looked like the one we got. Don’t forget how the “aviation program” finally became a reality…lots of advance work, but we Ride the Skies because of two guys in their bicycle shop. And out of that grew the Great Planes, and London to Sydney in less than 24 hours.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Two points- is this the two-craft design I saw once, where a big craft takes the shuttle up on its’ back, and the craft flies from there? If so, maybe it could redock with the large plane, and both land with out need of gliding?
    Second, any news on that radical (British) engine announced recently, that one that can freeze gases from the atmosphere whilst the craft is flying? Some bloke called Alan Bond, though not (I hope!!!) the Australian one. A space-plane that can refuel in flight would be THE plane to develop!!!

  • RogerC

    @Nick (nice-guy) Gray,

    Sounds like the SABRE engine. It’s a design for an engine that acts as a turbojet at low levels and speeds, a ramjet at high levels and speeds and as a rocket when you reach high enough altitudes that there’s not enough oxygen to support combustion.

    Sounds like a simple idea, but as is so often the case it turned out to be a ferocious engineering challenge. Still in testing, but they claim to have cracked the big problem, cooling the air as it’s compressed through the intakes in ramjet mode. Next step’s a working demonstrator.

    The benefit, should they manage to get it working, is that you won’t need to carry so much oxidiser as you would if the trip were made in rocket mode alone, since you’re using atmospheric oxygen to do the job instead for a portion of the trip. That means a considerable mass saving that can be used for payload instead.

    These guys have been working on this for almost as long as I can remember. Got to give them points for persistence!

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Yes, that’s the one! they were hoping that craft would be able to use ordinary runways around the world.
    As for my first point, that reminded me of a British SF series, about a covert war between UFOs and all Earth governments. We had a secret base on the moon, and we would regularly go there by way of a plane which carried a shuttle up to the stratosphere, where the shuttle launched itself, and would land by the same arrangement. I think Gerry Anderson was involved, though they used live actors, not puppets.