Good Morning and welcome to the 3DB. This week I want to talk about a man whose name is familiar to all of us in aviation – Burt Rutan. I am certain that most of you are familiar with his long list of accomplishments so my purpose here today is to showcase the highlights of his career and then take you to the point where he, his company, and his partners have taken commercial space travel. Burt Rutan retired from his company in 2011 but is still actively involved in numerous projects and lectures extensively on the future expectations of space travel by commercial companies/private industry.
Click HERE for photos of Burt Rutan’s innovative designs.
The Man Who Kept Simplicity as a Cornerstone of His Philosophy to Challenge The Establishment and Conquer Space.
A quick video now, to give you a break from the text, and let’s hear how Richard Branson, and his team, describe the possibilities.
The X-Prize was intended to award $10 million to the first non-government organization that flew people into space, using a reusable spacecraft, twice in a two-week span. Scaled Composites safely made it to space – twice – in September and October 2004 using Space Ship One and won the X-Prize.
Richard Branson had been interested in spaceflight since the 1960s, and sponsored Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites’ bid to get the prize. That same year, Virgin pledged to bring ordinary people into space with Scaled Composites technology, for the reported low price of $200,000 a flight, and also added the following to their announcement:
“We hope to create thousands of astronauts over the next few years and bring alive their dream of seeing the majestic beauty of our planet from above, the stars in all their glory and the amazing sensation of weightlessness, thereby allowing every country in the world to have their own astronauts rather than just a privileged few.”
In July 2005, Branson and Rutan announced a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites to get space flights going. The Space Ship Company would manufacture Space Ship Two, a new generation of spacecraft that built on Space Ship One’s technology, as well as a launching aircraft called White Knight Two.
Space Ship Two would carry six passengers and two pilots into space with enough space “to allow for an out-of-seat zero gravity experience as well as plenty of large windows for the amazing views back to Earth.”
With a spacecraft in hand, the next step was finding a launching area. In December 2005, the state of New Mexico officially offered Virgin Galactic a taxpayer-funded $225 million facility, Space Port America, where the company could put its world headquarters and send flights into space.
Construction and development occupied Virgin’s attention in the coming years. A fatal explosion at Scaled Composites occurred in July 2007 during a routine test, delaying development of the rocket engine as the company searched for the cause. The next major flight milestone came in July 2008, when the company showed off the first White Knight Two air launch vehicle.
While testing continues on Space Ship Two, Virgin Galactic has been working to diversify the business. In July 2012, Branson announced the company would offer commercial satellite launches beginning in 2016. He also announced the development of Launcher One, an expendable liquid-fuelled rocket.
“It will unlock new technologies and will help fast-track the potential of space as a positive force for powerful change,” Branson said during the unveiling.
At the same time, the company said it is “poised” to begin powered rocket tests on Space Ship Two. The Federal Aviation Administration granted approval in early 2012 for these tests to go forward.
However, Virgin Galactic may face a fight with the FAA for another business idea, which is to offer zero-gravity parabola flights on Earth.
What is next for Virgin Galactic when they conquer suborbital flights? Where will the future take them?
Although Rutan is no longer as active at Scaled, he’s still involved in space exploration in other ventures. He recently joined the board of Stratolaunch Systems, an air-to-orbit launch system that is slated to have its first test flight in 2017.
The company – which also has financial backing from Allen – initially planned a system that would work with a SpaceX rocket. It aimed to bring 6,100 kilograms to low Earth orbit or 2,300 kg into geosynchronous orbit.
Scaled is involved in the project as well, as it is building a 490,000 pound (222,000 kg) “mothership” airplane able to fly up to about 1,500 miles (2,400 km) before releasing the rocket. But the system may undergo some changes amid a shakeup in late 2012. Space X announced it would pull out, and Orbital Sciences Corp. is now going to step in to try to keep the project on track.
“We have been engaging Orbital over the past few months and have them under a study contract through early next year with specific design deliverables,” Stratolaunch chief executive Gary Wentz wrote in a November 2012 e-mail to SPACE.com partner Space News.
The companies provided few details about the potential pact. “They are currently evaluating several alternative configurations that appear promising,” Wentz added. “We expect more information to be available in the February 2013 timeframe.”
Rutan is also keeping busy with an idea for a hybrid flying car, which was revealed publicly amid a short test flight in 2011. Its advertised range is 760 miles (1223 km) in air, and 820 miles (1320 km) when skimming the ground.
The car, also a Scaled project, was unveiled to seek interest from potential customers. Company officials cautioned it was best not to get excited yet, but if it does come true, Rutan could be the architect of the long-held dream of flying cars.
Taking a flight into space without mortgaging the house may seem a long way off, but it just got a step closer to reality with the groundbreaking of the Stratolaunch Systems production facility and hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s company could one day compete with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, driving down the price tag for commercial human spaceflight. The first phase of production has also just begun on the aircraft that will serve as the delivery system for Allen’s spaceship: a 1.2-million-pound behemoth with a wingspan larger than a football field.
Allen has teamed up with Scaled Composites owner Burt Rutan to develop the mothership, an updated version of Rutan’s WhiteKnightOne and WhiteKnightTwo designs. The aircraft will be capable of carrying a SpaceX-designed rocket ship up to 1,300 nautical miles to the launch point, where the rocket would detach and blast into the stratosphere. But this time out Rutan is going really big: The Stratolaunch aircraft would be the largest plane ever built, with a 380-foot wingspan—60 feet longer than Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose”—and six Boeing 747 engines. In February the first of two 747s arrived at Mojave to begin disassembly of its engines, landing gear and hydraulics for use in the new plane.
“By the end of this decade,” says Allen, “Stratolaunch will be putting spacecraft into orbit,” helping restore America’s leadership role in space. Flight-testing is scheduled to begin in 2015, and the first rocket should be launched in 2016.
To finish up this lengthy article I have one more video, featuring Burt Rutan, that talks about why the future of space exploration is not in the hands of NASA but in the hands of people like you, your children, and your grandchildren.
Some of the information presented may be a bit dated but I believe the picture presented represents the future of commercial space travel accurately. Take some time to do a little research on your own, get connected to the future by staying informed, and remember what Burt Rutan said in the last video. “The future of space exploration is in the hands of private companies”
Have a good weekend, keep friends and family close, and don’t allow the chains of Corporate America derail your dreams. Follow your passion – Life is short.
March 14, 2014