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Scaled composites takes on big space project

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, its a giant launch system for commercial spacecraft! It’s not built yet, but the legendary Burt Rutan claims his company will build it and space customers will come:

(CNET) — The carrier aircraft envisioned by Scaled Composites will have an even larger wingspan and incorporate systems taken from two 747 jumbo jets. It is similar in appearance to a vastly scaled-up version of the carrier plane designed by Rutan to launch SpaceShipOne as part of the Ansari X-Prize competition.

The carrier will be able to launch all kinds of spacecraft from an altitude of 30,000 feet with a forward velocity of 300 mph or more added to whatever fraction of earth’s rotation the specific launch latitude provides. One big advantage of this launch architecture is it can operate anywhere in the world, including the near equator where earth’s rotation gives the greatest escape velocity kick. The savings in rocket propellant will allow the actual spacecraft to reach much higher orbits or even trans lunar injection with far less fuel.

That’s a loft goal. But given Rutan’s track record and the fact that he’s being bankrolled by MSFT co-founder Paul Allen, it might be possible.

Comments

  1. The Lorax says

    Space is a beautiful place; tranquil, yet violent, and full of colours that our eyes cannot see, but our technology can. It is large beyond our limited imaginations, varied, and ignites our curiosity. Preservation of this beauty has been ongoing ever since we banned the use of weapons in orbit. It truly is the final frontier.

    When I first thought about having a neon glowing billboard in orbit around our planet, I thought it was a disgrace. This emotion lasted about 2.7 seconds before I realized that, if corporations want to go there, they’ll make it happen better and faster than government programs could. I’ll take a billboard… hell, I’ll take thousands… if it means I can fly into orbit as easy as I can fly across the country.

    Space is huge. Lets privatize a few planets in order to get humans up there and exploring! We can become enlightened later; for now, let’s just get up there.

  2. says

    My thought when I heard about this is that Paul Allen just fucked Richard Branson. Allen has taken the Virgin Galactic model and scaled it up, so that actual useful work can be accomplished. Who is going to pay for Branson’s crappy sub-orbital flights when they can get real space flight? Allen is even co-opting one of Branson’s business partners!

  3. Das Boese says

    Don’t forget the third big name in this game: Elon Musk. The rocket itself will be built by SpaceX, which significantly raises the chance for success.

    It also means that the rocket may be partially reusable, driving down the cost of a launch even further.

  4. F says

    When I first thought about having a neon glowing billboard in orbit around our planet, I thought it was a disgrace. This emotion lasted about 2.7 seconds before I realized that, if corporations want to go there, they’ll make it happen better and faster than government programs could. I’ll take a billboard… hell, I’ll take thousands… if it means I can fly into orbit as easy as I can fly across the country.

    Missiles are cheaper to build and easier to launch into orbit.

  5. sawells says

    I’ll be very happy when we finally move away from an essentially missile-based launch system to something like this. The huge advantage is of course in having an air-breathing “first stage” so you don’t have to haul a massive weight of oxidizers off the ground with you; plus of course being able to use aerodynamic lift instead of brute-force rocketry.

  6. Trebuchet says

    This is rather cool, but I have a nitpick about the thread title: Scaled Composites is not involved. Rutan sold Scaled to Northrop Grumman several years ago and retired from there last year. This is a new company funded by Paul Allen in partnership with Rutan and SpaceEx. It appears this may have come from an error in the CNET article which has now been corrected.

    I worked on Boeing 747 systems for some years. They apparently are planning to reuse some systems from a pair of 747′s they’ve purchased so there’s a chance the carrier aircraft could have parts I designed! How cool is that?

  7. StevoR says

    @ ^ Trebuchet : Very.

    Awesome looking craft, great idea, would love to see this get off the ground and fly into space.

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