Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Burt Rutan on the SpaceshipOne roll
The complex reason on why the rolling departure occurred will be described in a report we will post at a later date. What I am intending to do here is merely address some of the incorrect rumors about the rolls that have been seen in various news stories and web discussion groups.
While the first roll occurred at a high true speed, about 2.7 Mach, the aerodynamic loads were quite low (120 KEAS) and were decreasing rapidly, so the ship never saw any significant structural stresses. The reason that there were so many rolls was because shortly after they started, Mike was approaching the extremities of the atmosphere. Nearly all of the 29 rolls that followed the initial departure were basically at near-zero-q, thus they were a continuous rolling motion without aerodynamic damping, rather than the airplane-like aerodynamic rolls seen by an aerobatic airplane. In other words, they were more like space flight than they were like airplane flight. Thus, Mike could not damp the motions with his aerodynamic flight controls.
Mike elected to wait until he feathered the boom-tail in space, before using the reaction control system thrusters (RCS) to damp the roll rate. When he finally started to damp the rates he did so successfully and promptly. The RCS damping, to a stable attitude without significant angular rates was complete well before the ship reached apogee (337,600 feet, or 103 Km). That gave mike time to relax, note his peak altitude, and then pick up a digital high-resolution camera and take some great photos out the windows. Those photos are now being considered for publication by a major magazine.
While we did not plan the rolls, we did get valuable engineering data on how well our RCS system works in space to damp high angular rates. We also got a further evaluation of our “Care-free Reentry” capability, under a challenging test condition. As seen on the videos of the flight, the ship righted itself quickly and accurately without pilot input as it fell straight into the atmosphere. No other winged, horizontal-landing spaceship (X-15, Buran, SpaceShuttle) has this capability.
go for monday morning
is Go for monday morning follow up flight
I blearily drove into work for a meeting in Livermore this morning. Work doesn't seem the same, somehow. It seems like, well, work. It's what I gotta do to eat -
not satisfy my soul.
Back from the desert after a successful, if scary flight
I gave up on typing up the experiences and just started recording conversations into my tape recorder, as they happened. I have about 3 hours on tape that I'll be listening to and transcribing as soon as I can. The highlight (or lowlight) of the recordings was that during the landing I ended up talking to and standing next to Sean O' Keefe, the NASA administrator.
What concrete thing can I do to keep NASA's camel out of this tent?
- I thought. I didn't "accidentally" mash O' Keefe's foot, or elbow him in the stomach - it looked like he had a pair of bodyguards for that eventuality - Ha! I'll distract him with Toutatis
The roll that SpaceShipOne went into put my heart in my throat, if Mike Melville had kept the engine running he would have ended up spewing fire in all directions.
I was pleased that the only casualty of the event was Elf's vaio, which died before we could upload any photographs. I stood behind another blogger (Coding in paradise
) during the training meeting - he has a few photos up already, including a stunning shot of White Knight just passing the sun on the takeoff roll.
We got home after 7 hours of driving, still grinning, and I (for one) collapsed in bed still caked with dust and awoke 11 hours later still in my shorts and X-Prize crew T-shirt -
still grinning. I have hope for man in space, once again. Judging from the 600+ articles on the flight, the announcement of the 50 million dollar American Space prize, and Ansari's plans for New Mexico - plenty of other people do, too.
3AM - Do I know where I'm supposed to be?
caught 20 minutes of sleep. I slam down one of these "Amp" highly caffinated things. So far, no results, my mind isn't kicking in yet.
The desert is cold, far colder than I anticipated it would be - I'm bundled up in layers and still mourn my missing hat - the windchill is driving all the heat from me - I swing my hands back and forth and jog around the hangar....
rules are I have to have the t-shirt visible at all times and so I have a bulky jacket embedded underneath everything... it's still
Now the amp thing is kicking in. on to wait, and to work, from now, past dawn. It promises to be a glorious dawn.
I shan't be logging in for the rest of the day - for more news as it happens, tune into www.xprize.org
T minus 6 hours
Went for a long walk with the members of the Illinois space society - ages 19-22 - and asked what motivated them to do this, what interested them in space.
To a man (and woman) they said: "We want to go".
that kind of shit just chokes me up.
Live from the Mojave desert 10 hrs til launch
First off, I noticed, in registering for my crew pass, someone in on a wifi connection. I'm seated on the other side of the wall, getting on one blog entry before I have to go manage people.
Mark Schaffer - the aerospace student from Illinois, made it here – with 35 volunteers
! Let's hear it for the Illinois Space Society
! One introduced herself to me - "Brianna" - asks me what I do - I say, "network engineer with roots in aerospace" - and run out of things to say.
I drove down with Elf – more on that story later - we made it to the mojave airport - walked in, I asked: "what can we do with him?" Jennifer looks him up and down and declares "He's a VIP volunteer." He gets the spiel, signs the release, and bang he's on the team, too. Last I saw him tonight, he was hanging with the wery Russian staff of Interorbital
.... "We don't like wings. Wings suck. Fuck wings."
Elf also started an irc channel - #SpaceShipOne on irc.freenode.org. Presently there are about 50 people in there.....
First person I meet? Jerry Pournelle
. He's grumpy because he's both a VIP and a media person... and nobody in the media department has ever heard of him. I've heard of him – I've read every last one of his books and most everything else he's published or edited – we've had a few brief dialogs in email – he liked Rhysling and me
when I sent it to him 12 years ago - I'm not gonna sing that song tonight- I know his son's a big part of Xcor
, transplanted home of many of the starry eyed dreamers that once made up Rotary Rocket – I sidle over, calm him down a little, then Jennifer Cohen arrives... there's more confusion...
I mouth the words “Can I help?” to Jennifer, she nods no, I'm disappointed, I had quick daydreams about driving Jerry to the VIP party and having 30 minutes to debate our respective positions on getting resources to space vs from space
. Ah well, maybe later. He heads off to the party. Later on, he and Niven stop by, looking for the next party. Must be nice to have that many novels to your credit...
... me I'm picking up trash, and loving it.
The fate of a writer in a big event - I'm the only person here right now in an enormous hangar; all the other volunteers have vanished somewhere, I should get up and find Elf. There were a bunch of people gathered around the Xcor building...
I must look "official" - new volunteers keep streaming in and ask me where to go. I send them in through the "exit" to the registration desk. Hah! I'm actually being useful, for a change....
I'm packing my guitar, but I'm in the mood to write a new song. One with no minor keys. Hell, I'm in the mood to talk to people. I'm in the mood to run towards the stars...
I've got a pair of sleeping bags, and some beach chairs, and a laptop, and
Greg Klerkx's new book "Lost in space - the fall of NASA and the dream of a new space age" but I gotta go now.
It's 10 hours to launch time.
Off to see SpaceShipOne - with joy and tattered idealism
I left the Xprize volunteer training meeting convinced that the ballyhoo'd attempt to fly SpaceShipOne again on Oct 4th is intended to keep up interest in the Xprize and to make it sound more like a race.
I doubt that the spacecraft will fly twice in two weeks, this time. I think that doubt extends to the preparations - there are no plans in place for crowd control, no sign of any setup for broadcasting the followup, and everytime the subject of the followup launch was raised by a volunteer, we got, first, one of those pauses that I so hate from marketing people -
"Click". (internal dialog) I must repeat memorized statement to this question.
"Burt Rutan is responsible for the timing of the follow up launch and will make the engineering decision".
and then we'd watch them resume thinking normally. We'd ask the question again, somebody else would repeat the same answer, robotically, as if repetition would make it better....
The folk managing the event are into top down control - hollywood style broadcast - their idea of a mailing list is a broadcast-to-the-volunteers mailing from one of the managers.
I'm a bottom-up guy - my idea of managing volunteers would be have a mailing list that everyone could post to. Also they seemed uncomfortable with most of the volunteer's technical background - the actress and male model they had were what they were used to - and really, all they needed was people that could greet people and pick up trash - not aerospace students, pilots, and software engineers.
Rumor: "governator may be there". Remember, I heard that rumor from someone in marketing.
Ethically I'm a little challenged here, as a volunteer I want to help promote the event, to create enthusiasm for space flight - as a blogger with journalistic pretentions I want to write what I see and feel - and as a person - I want to go. I want to see it up close. I want to hang with people that see and care about space as I do.
Damn it. Maybe I'm getting a hint of what Walter Cronkite felt.
There are so many wonderful volunteers, including a group of 20 flying in from the university of Illinois. The kid behind organizing that is a pinnicle of idealism. I admire the hell out of his energy and enthusiasm - and pray that he spends it fulfilling the promise that my generation felt after we first walked on the moon.
Branson, of Virgin Galactic
is sinking 125m
into suborbital flights -
but everytime I see such enthusiasm, scenes flash behind my eyeballs - The Rotary Rocket
, a SSTO vehicle with an unworkable engine concept, and equally unworkable finances
. The Roton now rests in a helicopter museum, and the rest of Rotary Rocket was seized for back taxes
the DC-X, the Junkyard Rocket- which, for 60 m, flew again and again in the early 90s. It scared the jeepers out of NASA who eventually staged an "Open competition" and killed it off with the billion dollar boondoggle of the X-33... which never flew. The DC-X ended its life in a fiery crash
, on an otherwise perfect landing, aslosh with fuel....
and countless other failed attempts. It's hard to maintain that essential idealism given all the other attempts at commercial spaceflight made during my lifetime...
This I know - SpaceShipOne's design is good. The engine is underpowered - but far safer than most rockets, certainly far safer than the shuttle's. The craft itself is beautiful - and the people behind it believe, really believe. Just to see Burt Rutan or Paul Allen or any of those associated with the project speak brings tears to my eyes sometimes -
but me - I'll believe after I see it, feel it, hear it, and share it - with so many others - on the Mojave desert, Sept 29th, 2004.
See you there.