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SpaceShipTwo
December 13, 2011 10:52 PM   Subscribe

The team that won the X-Prize in partnership with SpaceX, goes orbital
posted by Long Way To Go (29 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, they're proposing a system which will let them go orbital. It hasn't actually DONE it yet.
posted by hippybear at 11:00 PM on December 13, 2011


It's no space elevator but it's a pretty exciting prospect if an air launch to orbit allows orbit to be acheived at a fraction of the conventional energy expenditure.
posted by Artw at 11:06 PM on December 13, 2011


I sincerely hope I'll eventually be able to go to space as a tourist without having to become filthy rich.
posted by flippant at 11:20 PM on December 13, 2011


allows orbit to be acheived at a fraction of the conventional energy expenditure.

It doesn't. It does allow launch to be much more flexible, and it does save a little energy, but not that much. The kinetic energy of orbit swamps the gravitational potential energy of non-orbital space flight. That's why the wiki article you link mentions super sonic launch. Unfortunately super sonic launch isn't ever going to happen for large payloads like this.

Still very cool though.
posted by Chuckles at 11:56 PM on December 13, 2011


I sincerely hope I'll eventually be able to go to space as a tourist without having to become filthy rich.-- flippant

That looks like the direction they are going. They even built an airport for space flights--a spaceport.
posted by eye of newt at 11:57 PM on December 13, 2011


Six 747 engines is just an insane amount of power. It's strange though the way Rutan frequently seems to employ the non-centered cockpit, it gives the aircraft such a weird sensibility. Also, how just trying to imagine the procedures for releasing a massive rocket is a trip and I mean how do they keep the plane from doing a back flip after releasing something that huge.

So anyway, the U.S. is now officially without a manned space program on a state level, while Russia and China still do, and I wonder if the private sector is going to make the country the envy of the world or if it's a sign of lessening of the stature of the country.
posted by Skygazer at 11:59 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting the advantage given for Pegasus, which Rutan also worked on, is not energy expenditure but precision positioning.
posted by Artw at 12:17 AM on December 14, 2011


Six 747 engines is just an insane amount of power.

Eh, it's only 1.5 times the number of engines on an actual 747. Impressive, but not insane.
posted by JiBB at 12:26 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why does the carrier aircraft need a mission range of 1300 miles, when all it needs to do is get to altitude and drop the rocket?
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:26 AM on December 14, 2011


Why does the carrier aircraft need a mission range of 1300 miles, when all it needs to do is get to altitude and drop the rocket?

They mention that they want to be able to target different orbits, my guess is that if you launch from land because you can't fly over inhabited areas you are unable to reach certain orbits without expending a fair amount of fuel in orbit. By being able to fly 1300 miles they can probably get to a place where they can inject to any orbit for less cost in terms of rocket fuel.

I would wager this capacity will appeal to the us military quite a bit as it could mean on demand satellite surveillance or even cargo or personel payload delivery at dramatically increased speeds.
posted by sourbrew at 12:29 AM on December 14, 2011


I think it doubles as a payload carrier if I remember right.
posted by Skygazer at 12:30 AM on December 14, 2011


It does, when I said cargo or personel in reference to the military I was talking about not actually entering a space orbit. More of a quick hop off the planet, in theory such a delivery system could give you travel times of around 6 - 8 hours around the planet as I assume the rocket has some reentry system.
posted by sourbrew at 12:33 AM on December 14, 2011


So if it doesn't substantially reduce the energy required to put a payload into orbit, will it at least reduce the amount of non-reusable rocket that's expended? Does the plane act as a reusable first stage?
posted by bicyclefish at 12:43 AM on December 14, 2011


JiBB: Eh, it's only 1.5 times the number of engines on an actual 747. Impressive, but not insane.

Oooh, awesome, let's get into an aviation geek argument over jet engines. I'll go first:

So SIX of these bad boys from the 747-400ER Freighter:

Pratt & Whitney PW4062
63,300 lb (281.57 kN)


63,300 X 6 = 361,800 Ibs of THRUST.

On a platform that looks like it weighs next to nothing without a rocket on it.

INSANE!!

/Tongue cheek etc...*
posted by Skygazer at 12:48 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


So anyway, the U.S. is now officially without a manned space program on a state level, while Russia and China still do, and I wonder if the private sector is going to make the country the envy of the world or if it's a sign of lessening of the stature of the country.

Space X will attempt a docking with the ISS in February of 2012.

The US is currently revamping its space program to have NASA focus on deep space, while leaving low Earth orbit to the commercial market. NASA still has a manned space program and astronauts and a new spacecraft, Orion, is being design and built.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:19 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was impressed by how the article read like a 1950's "the future of tomorrow" press release. "Within five years, we'll all be driving atomic cars" type of stuff.
posted by maxwelton at 3:20 AM on December 14, 2011


I'm confused. The article says the payload of the piggybacked rocket is 13,500 Kg to LEO (2000 Km). I thought if you wanted to be in the satellite-launching business, you had to get your payloads up to GEO (35,700+ Km). Big difference. Am I missing something? 'Splain, please.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:52 AM on December 14, 2011


The team that won the X-Prize in partnership with SpaceX, goes orbital
posted by Long Way To Go

Eponysterical!
posted by hat_eater at 3:54 AM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love this, and hope it works beautifully, but I can't help thinking that the carrier aircraft looks more than a little bit like two Spruce Gooses (Spruce Geese?) glued together.

But mostly, I'll save my space geekery for the Space Launch System that NASA's currently developing -- an honest-to-god Saturn V for the modern day, which could eventually lift 130,000 pounds to orbit, or nearly 10 times as much as the Rutan/Allen/Musk system. (I know, I know; SLS will almost certainly never fly. I don't care, it's exactly the sort of thing I was looking forward to when I threw enough of a tantrum that the secretaries in my school's office were forced to turn off their soap operas long enough for kindergarten-age me to watch the last Apollo launch.)
posted by Zonker at 4:22 AM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Excited to see this. If anyone is going to make space travel practical, it's going to be innovators like Burt Rutan.

That said, it reminds me of a test program to air-launch a Minuteman ICBM from a C-5. SPOILER ALERT: the Rutan system looks much nicer.
posted by MrGuilt at 5:17 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm confused. The article says the payload of the piggybacked rocket is 13,500 Kg to LEO (2000 Km). I thought if you wanted to be in the satellite-launching business, you had to get your payloads up to GEO (35,700+ Km). Big difference. Am I missing something? 'Splain, please.

Low Earth Orbit is fine for a lot of satellite applications. These are usually constellations that whiz around the Earth very fast - you might pick up one particular satellite only for a handful of minutes, then get passed on to the next satellite. Orbcomm is one that I'm familiar with; they primarily are used to monitor fleets of tractor trailers. Because you're constantly picking up and losing satellites, though (and their bandwidth isn't very high), you're limited by the amount of data you can pass through it.

Geostationary/Geocentric are more important if you need 100% coverage on a certain geographic area - satellite TV, XM/Sirius, satphones. I believe (and now I am stepping out of my area of expertise) that you can get better throughput because you're not constantly shifting between satellites.

Also:
posted by Long Way To Go

I'm just gonna leave that there.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:27 AM on December 14, 2011


Is it really that more efficient to haul a rocket up 5 1/2 miles and then launch it?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:29 AM on December 14, 2011


So SIX of these bad boys from the 747-400ER Freighter:

That's not that impressive. Look at the two GE90-115B engine mounted on the 777-300ER and 777-200LR -- 115,300 pounds of thrust per, so two of them are putting out 330,600 pounds of thrust -- more thrust than 5 of the 747 engines, almost as much as six.

Looking at this design, I'm suppressing a shudder. We have all the lift and thrust coming from the wings, but most of the drag and load carried on that center wing span. The loading on the center wing roots* and in the center of that wing are going to be horrendous. The Taurus is much smaller, and flies under an L-1011.

The article says the payload of the piggybacked rocket is 13,500 Kg to LEO (2000 Km). I thought if you wanted to be in the satellite-launching business, you had to get your payloads up to GEO (35,700+ Km).

Actually, you want them in GTO, Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, which is an elliptical orbit with the apogee at 35,700Km and the perigee in LEO. The satellite then burns it's own motor to circularize into GEO.

Most boosters will quote mass to LEO and GTO, but really, you run the numbers based on the exact trajectory you need and the exact mass of your payload.


* That is, where the center wing connects to the two fuselages.
posted by eriko at 5:55 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seems like another advantage of a 1000-mile launch radius would be avoiding local weather problems. I don't know if the math works, but with that much range maybe you could be much more flexible, along the lines of "if we can get off the runway somewhere within this hour-long window, we'll be able to generate 3 different spots 500 miles apart we can launch from and pick the one with the best weather," instead of the precise timing and great weather ground launches seem to require. Does that make any sense, or am I off base?
posted by Honorable John at 6:33 AM on December 14, 2011


The first stage of the saturn 5 gets the rocket to an altitude of 38 miles, going 6000 mph. The 747 is only certified to fly up to 8.5 miles at 680 mph. So that's why all the focus is on launch site mobility, not on energy savings. Despite looking like a radical departure, the stratolaunch is just an incremental improvement on a stupid 1970 era rocket, and the $10,000 per pound limit remains. At that rate, I need to lose a lot of weight before I can afford moving into a retirement village on the moon.

I hoped that the wackos at jp aerospace would get some traction, because nothing is more cool than blimps in space, but they appear to be about as vibrant as their web site design would lead you to expect. Our best bet is probably that the Chinese will change the economics, with sweatshop powered foxconn rockets that work for $100 per pound.
posted by efbrazil at 9:40 AM on December 14, 2011


Why are they located in Huntsville AL?
posted by bq at 10:28 AM on December 14, 2011


Because Huntsville has roots in space that go back to Wernher von Braun. Huntsville is also the home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, among other space related things.
posted by librarylis at 11:02 AM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


...two Spruce Gooses (Spruce Geese?)...

I believe it's "Spreece Geese" because of vowel harmony.
posted by The Tensor at 1:43 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


eriko: That's not that impressive. Look at the two GE90-115B engine mounted on the 777-300ER and 777-200LR -- 115,300 pounds of thrust per, so two of them are putting out 330,600 pounds of thrust -- more thrust than 5 of the 747 engines, almost as much as six.

115,300 pounds of thrust per, eh?

That's just downright a sick amount of power.

*Sick in like an awesome way.
posted by Skygazer at 5:58 PM on December 14, 2011


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