28 July 2007

Sad news about the Scaled Composites Guys

Scaled Composites LLC is the company headed up by Burt Rutan which one the Ansari X-prize with their craft SpaceShip One. They were subsequently associated with the Virgin Galactic venture who are considering the concept of offering space tours in the not-too-distant future.

SpaceShip One was a manned spacecraft which was designed by non governmental agencies, and was suborbital, and reusable.

However, this week Scaled Composites had a disaster while trialling a larger, more advanced ship, rather unimaginatively named SpaceShip Two. This is designed to carry passengers.

A fatal explosion at the Mojave Air And Space Port, which killed three and injured badly another three, occurred at around 2:30pm on Thursday the 26th (July, 2007). It is thought to be a tank of nitrous oxide that went up. Nitrous Oxide is used as an oxidiser to another combustible fuel. It was testing of the oxidiser flow through a component (which can lead to quite vigorous and even violent chemical reactions) that resulted in this.

The explosion was violent enough to have been heard and flung debris as far as two miles away. Some debris was considered toxic, and firefighters were dispatched to the site of the blast.

Virgin and Burt Rutan are obviously disappointed, although they are not going to give up on their efforts. This is rocket science, and not without its risks. I really hope they continue too, and that they can learn from the incident in some way to prevent it occurring again.

The spaceport authority have stated that they consider it a tragedy, but not a setback. They are obviously sympathetic to the victims and victims families.

Comment on my article regarding the space hotel

One reader (thanks Will!) mentioned to me a few facts regarding my blog post previously on this, correcting some of my notes, and also pointing out a few other notes.

He pointed out that when space rocket launches are done correctly, they actually have a fairly low environmental impact, even in comparison with helicopters and cars. This is down to not using the same kinds of hydrocarbon fuel that conventional vehicles use. That is not to say they do not use a large amount of energy, but that it is clean burn energy, such as liquid hydrogen and then a liquid oxidiser.

Here is hoping that efficient space craft and space hotels really do begin to become a viable commercial reality in the next decade or so.