11 September 2003
- Tourism (Good)
SpaceShipOne's Successful 2nd Free Flight Raises Hopes for December 17 Spaceflight
Fingers Crossed!
by Patrick Collins
As the test flight program of Scaled Composites Inc's sub-orbital, passenger-carrying rocketplane "SpaceShipOne" progresses steadily, it performed its second gliding flight on August 27. Described on Scaled Composites' web-site the flight successfuly achieved all its objectives, which are listed as:

"Flying qualities and performance in the space ship feather mode. Pilot workload and situational awareness while transitioning and handling qualities assessment when reconfigured. As a glider, deep stall investigation both at high and low altitude and envelope expansion out to 200 kts and 4 G's. Lateral directional characteristics including adverse yaw, roll rate effectiveness and control including aileron roll and full rudder side slips."

The flight proved out SpaceShipOne's unique re-entry configuration, and further increases confidence that the vehicle will perform as planned when it starts to use its rocket propulsion system.

It's said to be an unofficial target of the program to make the world's "First private space flight" on December 17. That is the exact centenary of the Wright Brothers' world-changing first aeroplane flight. If Burt Rutan's team achieves this milestone, we can anticipate that it will receive truly world-wide publicity. The "Wright Brothers of Space" is a catchy title - and the implications for the existing "space industry" are absolutely shattering.

The total cost of the development and test flight program of "SpaceShipOne" is reported to be less than $30 million; that's about what OECD space agencies (ie Nasa, Esa, Nasda and the national agencies in Europe) spend every twelve hours. The cost per flight is said to be going to be about $80,000 - or about 1/1,000 of the cost of Alan Shepard's sub-orbital flight in 1961. Although SpaceShipOne is a modern design and uses new materials, sub-orbital passenger space flights could have started fully 30 years ago, after the X-15 rocket plane proved out all the necessary technology in the 1960s. And there's no reason to doubt that similarly focused efforts can reduce orbital spaceflight costs by similar orders of magnitude - which is all we need to realise Space Future's scenario of space tourism development.

These incontrovertible cost data are excellent follow-ups to Dennis Tito's flight in April 2001 which showed that the cheapest and safest way to travel to space is to fly on basically the same vehicle that carried Yuri Gagarin. Trouble is, OECD space agencies have spent $1 trillion of taxpayers' money since then - but without reducing the cost of getting to space by a single centime. But what could be more important than making space accessible to the taxpayers who pay for all their work? Well, until SpaceShipOne came along, the agencies could still squeak by, by saying that whatever technology is used, space travel is immensely difficult and complex and expensive and so should be left to them - "So come back in 40 years, but keep paying your taxes in the meantime" etc etc.

But now that nonsense won't wash any more - and the entire world is going to hear it on December 17. . . with a bit of luck.

The space agencies are still in denial, of course. But that isn't going to prevent them being shaken to their foundations - just as trying to ignore the implications of the Internet hasn't saved swaths of companies from being turned inside out by the cutting of information transmission costs to nearly zero.

So our fingers are crossed for the Scaled Composites team: Take care - and please give us the best imaginable memorial possible of the Wright Brothers' 100th anniversary!

PS Even if SpaceShipOne or some other "X-Prize" contender don't hit the December 17 deadline, the implications of their successful flights will be just the same whenever they occur: proving that space travel costs can be just 1/100 to 1/1,000 of space agencies' costs. December 17 is just a publicity "Sweet Spot" which would guarantee the most rapid spread around the world of this wonderfully subversive fact.
Share |
Patrick Collins 11 September 2003
Please send comments, critiques and queries to feedback@spacefuture.com.
All material copyright Space Future Consulting except as noted.