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« Two Wars' Ends | Main | Reverend Rick »

Rocketplane (Take Two)

Chuck Lauer is describing Rocketplane Limited's activity in Oklahoma, funded by state government tax credits and operating out of the new Oklahoma Spaceport at Burns Flat, at a decommissioned Air Force Base.

Chuck actually gets quite emotional when describing the feeling of going into the hangar and seeing all the people working, earning a living, finally living the dream that he and Mitchell started working on a decade ago.

Their spaceplane will be able to transport at least four people to 330,000 feet and back, with net perceived gees in the range of three or so. It's a converted Learjet, with new wings and other structure. Their base market is tourism, but they also hope to be able to use the vehicle to demonstrate rapid turnaround to help win future Air Force contracts. The vehicle will have both jet and rocket engines. It's a completely electric airplane, using lithium-ion batteries, allowing elmination of APUs (this is one technology that wouldn't have been ready for prime time a few years ago). Using cold-gas for reaction control system, with LOX-kerosene for main propulsion.

Fuselage has already been tested to thirty PSI overpressure. Fact that it's an older airplane actually gives it more margin for this mission compared to a more modern aircraft with lighter structure. They'll be doing pressure testing of it in an old missile bunker that was originally a city killer--Chuck likes the swords-to-plowshares symbolism of converting one of the MAD facilities to developing twenty-first century space hardware for human enjoyment.

Vehicle will have automatic flight control, and be capable of autonomous operation, but tests will nominally be piloted. Will allow vehicle to compete in both piloted and unpiloted classes of X-Prize Cup. Room for passengers will be able to unbuckle and stretch out, though cabin will be small. Still determining whether or not they'll allow people to unbuckle--will determine in atmospheric parabolas to see if they have time to get back and buckled in prior to entry. Full real-time video with views of interior and exterior.

Critical Design Review in August, rollout of vehicle late this year, initial flight test next year, with first revenue flights in 2007.

Long-term view is getting to orbit, doing ISS cargo, and they are interested in ocean hopping as well.

Most amusing comment on the business model:

"Thank you, thank you, Sir Richard, for raising the price to $200,000."

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 30, 2005 11:42 AM
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Doesn't that whole using the missile silo thing remind one of the Star Trek: First Contact movie -- w/ Zephram Cochran launching the first warp ship out of an old missile silo??

- Eric.

Posted by Eric S. at May 2, 2005 09:39 AM

If it works well with the Learjet fuselage, maybe they could scale it up a bit to a Piaggio fuselage - it's got quite a bit more elbow & headroom, and it already looks a lot like a classic Buck Rogers spaceship.

Posted by J Gerrish at May 3, 2005 09:07 AM

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