Unveiling of the Tier One program
April 18th 2003 Unveiling of the Tier One program
Flight research has always been Scaled Composites’ forte. For the 21 years since Scaled’s founding, we have designed, built and flight tested 23 unique manned research aircraft types and developed over 40 unmanned products. Counting the homebuilt and milestone aircraft developed earlier by Rutan Aircraft Factory, 38 different types of Rutan-designed manned aircraft have flown research test programs. None have had a significant accident or pilot injury during flight test activity. Our flight safety approach of “question, never defend” has allowed us to take courageous steps by safely flying new ideas and new performance envelopes. We are now focusing on the big step of developing a high-altitude supersonic light aircraft. This program, if successful, will result in the first non-government manned space flight (above 100 km altitude).
Sub-orbital manned space flights have been done before by Redstone - Mercury in 1961 and by the B-52 - X-15 in 1963. Even though the experience, as described by Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom and Joe Walker was awe-inspiring, sub-orbital space flights were ignored for the next 40 years. The view from the apex of a sub-orbital flight is similar to being in orbit, but the cost and risk is far less.
Our goal is to demonstrate that non-government manned space flight operations are not only feasible, but can be done at very low costs. Safety, of course is paramount, but minimum cost is critical. We look to the future, hopefully within ten years, when ordinary people, for the cost of a luxury cruise, can experience a rocket flight into the black sky above the earth’s atmosphere, enjoy a few minutes of weightless excitement, then feel the thunderous deceleration of the aerodynamic drag on entry.
Our plan involves flight in a 3-place spaceship, initially attached to a turbojet launch aircraft while climbing for an hour to 50,000 feet, above 85% of the atmosphere. The spaceship then drops into gliding flight and fires its rocket motor while climbing steeply for more than a minute, reaching a speed of 2,500 mph. The ship coasts up to 100 km (62 miles) altitude, then falls back into the atmosphere. The coast and fall are under weightless conditions for more than three minutes. During weightless flight, the spaceship converts to a high-drag configuration to allow a safe, stable atmospheric entry. After the entry deceleration which takes more than a minute, the ship converts back to a conventional glider, allowing a leisurely 17 minute glide from 80,000 feet altitude down to a runway where a landing is made at lightplane speeds.
Our concept design work began in 1996 and some preliminary development began in 1999. Our full development program began in secrecy in April 2001. This extensive experimental research effort is a complete manned space program. It consists of all new hardware including a launch aircraft (the White Knight), a three-place spaceship (the SpaceShipOne), a hybrid rocket propulsion system, a mobile propulsion test facility, a flight simulator, an inertial-nav flight director, a mobile mission control center, all spacecraft systems, a pilot training program and a complete flight test program. All our hardware components are full-scale, full space-capable performance, not mockups or interim vehicles.
The hardware, technical descriptions and a flight demonstration of the White Knight were revealed to the press on April 18th. We are now back into hiding, to complete the rocket development and flight tests. We will provide progress reports monthly via test reports posted in the “test updates” section of this site. We will again invite the press when we fly the first flight above 100-km altitude. This milestone will be significant in that it will represent the making of the first non-government Astronaut, and it will be flown on a system that shows the level of affordability needed for future space tourism.
I strongly feel that, if we are successful, our program will mark the beginning of a renaissance for manned space flight. This might even be similar to that wonderful time period between 1908 and 1912 when the world went from a total of ten airplane pilots to hundreds of airplane types and thousands of pilots in 39 countries. We need affordable space travel to inspire our youth, to let them know that they can experience their dreams, can set significant goals and be in a position to lead all of us to future progress in exploration, discovery and fun.