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October 4, 2004 8:56 AM   Subscribe

And so it begins
posted by sourbrew (32 comments total)

 
Link to story
posted by mcwetboy at 8:59 AM on October 4, 2004


Welcome, one and all
posted by Peter H at 9:13 AM on October 4, 2004


"If today works it is the kickoff of the space tourist industry."

Capitalism: Spreading pollution further. For you!
posted by biffa at 9:14 AM on October 4, 2004


I for one welcome our space-travelling overlords.
posted by devbrain at 9:18 AM on October 4, 2004


Yay!

But just to put a small damper on my child-like giddiness, we should remember that it's far, far more difficult to get into orbit than it is to breach the mesosphere. Many have said that what was achieved today was already accomplished by the X-15 missions in 1959 -- which were also launched from air-platforms. But the important thing to note is:
  • It was a lot cheaper
  • It was done by a private company
  • People only say mean things like when their inner-child has been drawn, quartered and hung from a tree by its entrails
Personally, I think this brings us one step closer to personal jet-packs and robot maids, and you can't fault that.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:23 AM on October 4, 2004


> Capitalism: Spreading pollution further. For you!

First you say we can't pollute because we've only got then one planet, then we try get more, you kvetch about that! Sheesh, there's no pleasing some people!
posted by Capn at 9:24 AM on October 4, 2004


But the important thing to note is:
It was a lot cheaper


Because NASA did all the research in the 1960s with the X-15. Scaled Composites knew what they had to do to make the record attempt -- because NASA spent a bunch of money and effort finding out what it would take.

It was done by a private company

Who was hired by Paul Allen, who can afford to throw 40 or so million at ego projects. You notice few real aerospace firms even bothered to try. They all said the same thing. "Easy, cost about $40 million. But we know how to do that, and the commercial possibilities aren't going to pay the money back. Forget it."

Scaled Composites wasn't even in the hunt until Allen said "If I give you bunches of cash, can you do this?" Then the argument changed to "Easy, cost about $40 million, and some rich guy wants to give us $40 million to do it."

I thought the X Prize would be a stepping stone. It's not. SS-1 won't scale, and it didn't tach us anything we needed to know about this stage of an orbital flight.

As to my inner child -- it wants to go to space, which is why it is so disappointed at this -- this does nothing to help that dream.
posted by eriko at 9:39 AM on October 4, 2004


"And so it begins"

*sound of Kosh breathing*

You were referring to that particular quote, right? Right?

In all seriousness, this is awesome. With luck it may help forestall the current stagnation of manned space science that's happening thanks to NASA's budgetary issues and so on.

And regardless, even if we end up with largely privatized spaceflight, as long as it is at least nominally available to more than just the rich and famous, it's better than nothing at all.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 9:41 AM on October 4, 2004


"And so it begins"

Hmmm, I thought you might mean this.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:44 AM on October 4, 2004



posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:49 AM on October 4, 2004


  • The Iraq war is a government project
  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers" - Thomas Watson
  • "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home" - Ken Olson
posted by b1tr0t at 9:57 AM on October 4, 2004


Fucking A. I feel a little more optimistic about our chances of getting off this mudball once and for all.
posted by darukaru at 10:10 AM on October 4, 2004


eriko, even given that it's more than half stunt, it's still better than the alternative of nothing at all. Lindbeg's flight across the Atlantic was a stunt for prize-money too. If nothing else, SC has shown that rapid turn-arounds are possible and that you don't need to spend billions on every launch (I know that 100km isn't 350km, yada yada. Still). The enormously technical shuttle and ISS program seems more like a make-work project for missile engineers rather than a real attempt at getting to space. Don't want them defecting to North Korea after all.

Besides, if the Virgin thing actually gets off the ground, SC could accumilate more flight experience than NASA in only a few years (maybe 400 trips if Branson's numbers are right). If the FAA doesn't kill this industry in the next year, that is.
posted by bonehead at 10:18 AM on October 4, 2004


People only say mean things like when their inner-child has been drawn, quartered and hung from a tree by its entrails

Usually by the same entity/system they have to thank for doing things more cheaply and privately.
posted by namespan at 10:46 AM on October 4, 2004


PG, that's just disturbing.
posted by lodurr at 10:46 AM on October 4, 2004


Stunts... I'm of two minds about things like this. Sure, they generate enthusiasm. But AFAICS, none of these projects will make it any easier or cheaper to get satellites into LEO. (Much less HEO.)

The Wright Bros built a plane and later a product line based on ideas that had no practical future (wing-warping, anyone?), unless you were Paul Macready. Lindbergh's approach didn't really prove anything anybody didn't already know (yes, you can fly a single engine plane all the way across the atlantic). I doubt it had a serious impact on the rate of development of transatlantic airlines. Non-stop transatlantic flight would have to wait a long time.

Real milestones tend to be smaller and less grand. For example, the DC-3's flight test over the Rockies had a terrific impact on civil aviation. The only "prize" at stake was a market.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a White Knight plus booster arrangement could fling a satellite into LEO. If so, that's actually pretty damn fantastic. Ditto for any of the other projects. But the speed plus money approach of a contest isn't likely to produce the most optimal solution.
posted by lodurr at 11:11 AM on October 4, 2004


Maybe a White Knight plus booster arrangement could fling a satellite into LEO. If so, that's actually pretty damn fantastic.

Been there, done that, launched the payload. It's called Pegasus. It's flown up not by a highly custom composite aircraft with neato wings, it's flown up by an old L-1011.

However, even with the much larger airplane, it still suffices to only put very small payloads into orbit. And, IIRC, Scaled Composites was a contracter for Orbital Sciences in the development of the Pegasus.

Which is, I'll note, a private company.
posted by eriko at 11:21 AM on October 4, 2004


"Private" v. "Gov" gets the discussion side-tracked into ideology really quickly. Let's just accept that the private efforts would be nowhere without the prior public expenditures, and call that one done. If there's a market to sustain private space flight, we'll know it eventually.

(I'd forgotten about Pegasus, btw...)
posted by lodurr at 11:43 AM on October 4, 2004


Congrats to Rutan, Melvill, Binnie and all involved!

Perhaps success of this type might spur investment in other more serious space ventures, like this Space Elevator thing here, which has a hell of a lot more real potential to open up space and, as darukaru says, get us off this mudball.

In the meantime, I bet there's plenty of people who'll pony up $200K to take a ride in SS1 and see the black sky, stars and curved horizon. If I had a house, I might sell it just to do that. Certainly there are plenty of rich folks who can afford that jump now -- I'd bet all the flight slots for all projected Virgin Galactic flights will fill up almost instantly.

And that might scale rather well and cut the price down. Maybe in 10 years it will only cost $10K to play John Glenn. I'm definitely going at that point. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 11:53 AM on October 4, 2004


Capitalism: Spreading pollution further. For you!

Actually, the byproducts of the rubber/laughing gas engine that powers SpaceShipOne are mostly water vapor, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, nitrogen, and a little carbon monoxide--nothing all that bad for us or for the environment. Plus, the ship is reusable, unlike a lot of NASA's old rockets.

Compare that to the environmental disaster area that surrounds Baikonur (Russia's version of Cape Canaveral) in Kazakhstan--a large area surrounding the space port is contaminated with heavy metals and I've read reports that it's so bad, they keep finding dead cows next to the streams there because they drank the water...
posted by Asparagirl at 12:35 PM on October 4, 2004


A healthy space program results in more than just shooting people into space.

Unfortuantely, our government-funded space program has had numerous budget cuts over the past few years, so at this point commercial ventures are our best hope for progress. The Xprize has also proven what can be accomplished for a fraction of what NASA would spend on a similar project, the cost of past investments notwithstanding.

And at the very least, projects like the Xprize serve to renew interest in space exploration. That we have something positive to dream about is a good thing.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:18 PM on October 4, 2004


Scaled Composites wasn't even in the hunt until Allen said "If I give you bunches of cash, can you do this?" Then the argument changed to "Easy, cost about $40 million, and some rich guy wants to give us $40 million to do it."

Actual Cost was around 25 million... 25 million minus 10 million prize money means 15 million total cost.

In the meantime, I bet there's plenty of people who'll pony up $200K to take a ride in SS1 and see the black sky, stars and curved horizon. If I had a house, I might sell it just to do that. Certainly there are plenty of rich folks who can afford that jump now -- I'd bet all the flight slots for all projected Virgin Galactic flights will fill up almost instantly.

And yes virgin has already licensed the technology to start space tourism with this by 2007, which means paul allen proved once again that if you have ever worked for microsoft you make things liquid gold by touching them. He will probably have recouped all investment cash by 2009, and im sure he isn't planning on stopping with this stunt

My inner child wants like 15..........

One more comment.... sure NASA spent a lot of money paying for the research a long time ago. Yes SS1 didn't do anything new......

STFU.... NASA couldn't have pulled this off even with access to classified stuff that the designers didn't have... Government space has tooo much red tape.
posted by sourbrew at 1:20 PM on October 4, 2004


Aviation and spaceflight wouldn't be anywhere if it weren't for Goddard or the Wright Brothers and their backyard experiments, or audacious government projects like the (evil) German V-2 or American Apollo program. Both private and public space enterprise can learn and grow from each other. Any kind of project like this is good for everyone. It has much to do with the technical advancements as it does with the "gee, they can do it, why don't we do it better" factor.
posted by zsazsa at 1:34 PM on October 4, 2004


And So It Begins [About the Most Pretentious Headline Ever Conceived]

Good post; bad beginning.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:41 PM on October 4, 2004


Egads, not the space elevator!

OK, riddle me this: What happens when it breaks, and the connecting materials WHIP! downward at hypersonic speeds, slicing neatly through everything in their path....

It makes about as much sense as the microwave-transmitting solar power satellites they kept talking about in the '70s.
posted by lodurr at 1:57 PM on October 4, 2004


paul allen proved once again that if you have ever worked for microsoft you make things liquid gold by touching them.

For what it's worth, most of Allen's post-Microsoft investments have been pretty dismal failures. He does subscribe to a silly-high risk, silly-high reward school of investing, though.

What happens when it breaks, and the connecting materials WHIP! downward at hypersonic speeds, slicing neatly through everything in their path....

They heat due to friction with the atmosphere and vaporize.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:07 PM on October 4, 2004


Scaled is already working on the next generation. This particular model is a stepping stone. I would not call it a "stunt" and I imagine we will see this spaceship in the Smithsonian along with Rutans other planes. It is historic. As for the $40 million yeah on paper, and once it is all done it actually cost the big firms $100 million and was 2 years late in delivery and was not "scaleable" to a new generation model. That's the difference.
posted by stbalbach at 3:19 PM on October 4, 2004


lodurr: READ THE FAQ. As mr_roboto points out, they vaporize. The proposed material is actually thinner than a piece of paper and not much wider. Compared to far more substantial meteoric rocks, it will burn up almost instantly as it hits the air. It's not going to slice anything.

And interestingly, that would not be a catastrophic failure of the system. They could extrude a new cable pretty quickly from "spare rolls" stored at the GEO station.

No spouty doomsay if ya ain't done the math.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:30 PM on October 4, 2004


IMHO, SpaceShipOne == the new Segway. Let's check back in a year and see if anything happens.
posted by SPrintF at 6:27 PM on October 4, 2004


Segway: spend large amounts of money to travel at low speed to interesting places, as long as the weather is relatively nice.

Space tourism: spend gigantic amounts of money to travel really fast to nowhere in particular, as long as the weather is relatively nice.
posted by sfenders at 7:28 PM on October 4, 2004



No spouty doomsay if ya ain't done the math.


"The math" is a bunch of back-of-the-envelope hocus-pocus, based on materials and technologies that don't exist.
posted by lodurr at 7:48 PM on October 4, 2004


Segway: spend slightly too much money to get even less exercise than you do now, and go no more than 20 miles at a throw on smooth paths.

Bicycle: Spend about the same amount of money to go more or less anywhere, without range limits, and get in shape while you're at it. (Oh, and: Get that sense of power that only bicyclists really understand...)
posted by lodurr at 7:57 PM on October 4, 2004


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