Monday, August 11, 2003

Skinning that proverbial cat

If you've read Trinity over on Eject!Eject!Eject!, then you've already heard of these guys. Burt Rutan is most famous for designing and building Voyager, which was piloted by his brother Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager and flew around the world without refueling.

Dean Esmay passes along the report that their newest endevour; SpaceShipOne and White Knight, have successfully achieved yet another milestone as they attempt to conquer space. For more details about these remarkable craft, you can download this .pdf document.

People like this don’t need major motivation, but it can’t hurt. And among the major incentives are the 10 million dollar X-prize, which was established to promote civilian space tourism. In order to collect, the winners have to design a craft capable of carrying 3 people to 100km (62.5 miles) altitude and bring them back safely. Then they must repeat the launch with the same craft within 2 weeks.

This is a follow-on to the unclaimed CATS prize. CATS, which stood for Cheap Access To Space, required the construction of a craft which could loft a 2kg (~5lb) payload to an altitude of 200km (120 miles). The craft was required to be a completely civilian project, without government involvement. Several attempts were made, but none successfully, and the prize went unclaimed as the time limit expired.

Among the enthusiasts involved in today’s civilian space race is a group of hobby rocketeers from England known as MARS (Middlesex Amateur Rocket Society). I’ve talked to these guys, and they are passionate and dedicated to their stated goal of putting “Britain back into space”.

Some of these pioneers have already fallen by the wayside. A revolutionary design called the ROTON underwent some flight testing before the company went bankrupt.

So keep looking to the skies. These ‘gimmicks’ of tourists in space and weddings from orbit are only going to increase in number. As mankind has done throughout history, eventually someone decides that expanding into the next frontier will be a good thing. And once that decision has been made, it’s only a matter of time.