Is Civilian Space Flight Ready for Liftoff?
Global warming. Global recession. The health care wars. Who wouldn’t want to chuck it all and jettison oneself into space? Just like in the Star Trek movie, we’d all just hop into our space cruisers or interstellar hotrods and meet up with Spock for some time-space continuum chat. Trekkie fantasies aside, exactly how will the lucky civilians-turned-space-pioneers go where no one has gone before? Apparently there’s new technology on the horizon.
The New Scientist reports there is more spacecraft development underway than any point in the brief history of space flight.
Remember Spaceship One? In 2004, the high-speed, rocket-powered aircraft became the first privately backed spaceflight. It climbed 111 kilometers above the Earth and broke the world altitude record set by NASA four decades earlier. That achievement won the $10M Ansari X-Prize. The milestone is captured in this cheesy music video.
SpaceShipOne used its rocket motor and another aircraft to take it suborbital but it never made it past the lower reaches of space. Now the spaceplane is stationed at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, where the original flying machines like the Spirit of St. Louis are suspended like enormous mobiles from the ceiling.
The wildly anticipated SpaceShipTwo, a collaboration between SpaceShipOne creator Burt Rutan and Virgin Airline magnate Richard Branson, is slated for liftoff sometime in 2011. Using a single hybrid rocket motor, the Virgin Galactic craft will be carried 50,000 feet by WhiteKnightTwo and then released. Climb aboard you space tourists! Tickets are $200,000 each.
As spectacular as that feat will be, another big challenge for Planet Earth’s spaceplane designers is to create an air-breathing engine that would power a winged craft into space and back to the runway. The buzz reported recently is about a supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, which uses fast-moving compressed air and burning fuel to create thrust. NASA is working on this, as is the European Space Agency, which backed a private firm’s development of a space plane called Skylon, which is designed to use a runway just like a conventional jet.
The idea is they could be reusable and cheaper than their ballistic counterparts. Ideally, they planes could share hangers with your average commercial airliner.
But space flight wannabes who can’t shell out the mega bucks for SpaceShipTwo would be happy to discover that the government has a stimulus package designed to get more people on board. The perfectly named Space Portal is a partnership between NASA and new space companies who are focused on making cheaper space flight feasible. It is helping one company develop high-performance heat shielding.
Enough about life-saving technology, though. What really matters is seeing the Big Blue Planet in style and comfort, right?
The Enterprise spaceplane made by the German-Swiss TALIS Enterprise group, which is slated to launch a suborbital flight in 2013 and carry up to six passengers, is designed to make weightlessness as comfy as possible. The Dexinger website reports that the cabin will have ergonomic seats, which lean downward in the weightless flight phase, glare-free materials for unobstructed views, good handgrips when micro-gravity kicks in. But if you are looking for a different style, the funky yellow pod-like chairs created by Qantas Airlines’ spaceplane designers are truly out of this world.
Photo: The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Amanda Bynes’s Behavior Revealed to Be Elaborate PSA
- 2 Obama Horrified by the Grammar in Our Emails
- 3 Monster Fart Prompting Management to Rethink “Open Office”
- 4 NSA Demanded Access To Un-Filtered Instagram Photos
- 5 Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Ambushed By Alan ‘The Paper’ Rubinstein
- 6 ‘Licensed to Kim Jong Il’ Records 27th Straight Year Atop N. Korean Charts
- 7 Vice Magazine Now Only Hiring Writers Who Fail Drug Test
- 8 Henry Cavill to be Replaced by Stack of Pancakes in “Man of Steel” Sequel
- 9 Stanley Cup Final One Blowout Away From “Boston Massacre” Headline Outrage
- 10 Taco Bell Now Just Dumping Bags of Doritos Into Everything On Menu