Sunday, November 2, 2014

What a good way to go

So a Billionaire Experience Vehicle was transmogrified into pieces of carbon-fibre composite adorning the Mojave Desert. One possible inference to draw is that God hates CamelCase, for it is confusion and an abomination. Alternatively, one could conclude that the combination of messianic techno-hubris* ("Our technology is far too innovative to fail!") and deadline-loomy time pressure does not bode well for staff safety.

An interesting and prescient article reminds us that the rosy-tinted press releases about "Private-enterprise space tourism Real Soon Now" have been coming out for twenty Friedman Units, ever since June 2004. The public relations may not have fooled nature but they did convince enough ticket-buying Wealth Creators that they were really D. D. Harriman and that a five-minute high-altitude Experience had always been their childhood dream. They also convinced New Mexico voters to spend $210 million paying for Virgin Galactic's ground facilities (which is how billionaires stay billionaires).

I learned that the engine which exploded did not explode** the other day was an eleventh-hour substitution on its first test flight, being substituted only one Friedman Unit ago, after 19 FUs were spent trying to get acceptable performance out of the previous engine design (and after every feature of SpaceShipTwo had been optimised to fit that abandoned design). Part of that effort was the 2007 test-rig explosion which led to a previous round of Hoocouldhaveknowns and left the consortium looking for a new team of engineers.

I also learned that both designs follow the hybrid liquid-oxidiser / solid-fuel principle [not actually reusable]. That approach was familiar from a Mythbusters episode -- "salami rocket" being a phrase that sticks in a guy's mind -- but it was also used by the Top Gear team in their proof-of-concept attempt to turn a Reliant Robin into a space shuttle.
This was a daring departure from the pressured wine liquid technology that has become International Best Practice for maverick astronautical ventures. Although beer propellent is also acceptable.
SpaceShipOne (which won the Ansari X Prize) was intended for multiple test flights to discover and solve the teething troubles of hybrid-propellent rocketry... but once its second manned flight qualified it as First Private-Enterprise Reusable Manned High-Altitude Vehicle, there were financial incentives to put it on show in a museum as F P-E R M H-A V, and it was far too valuable to risk the typographical wrath of God by actually re-using it.

One can only advise Richard Branson to use Papyrus for the logo if he decided to go ahead with funding SpaceShipThree. That would really get the deity's attention!
Below: Artist's impression of SS3

* Riddled style sheet prefers this word to "vainglory" and "insouciance". Some of our best friends are Hubris.
 ** Updated to reflect announcements that the rocket chamber is intact and that rudder performance was involved. Someone forgot to switch their cellphone to Flight mode.


H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

It must have been along around 1960 that the Science Fiction Book Club offered new subscribers a coupon good for a round trip flight to the Moon when they became available. Unfortunatey, the sponsor was Pan Am (c.f. 2001, A Space Odyssey), so there's nobody left to sue. At least I got some decent SF books.

OBS said...

That episode of Top Gear was almost as good as the only other one I remember with the Reliant Robin where Clarkson just basically drives around crashing it all over the place.

Also, too: the "news" here this morning reported that the dead pilot turned on the "re-entry flap thingy" (my technical name) while still in atmosphere. It was supposed to take two switches to actually enable and then deploy them, but evidently they just went ahead and deployed with only the one switch.

Maybe the surviving pilot will remember what actually happened, but as of when I watched it, he wasn't talking yet.

Smut Clyde said...

It was supposed to take two switches to actually enable and then deploy them, but evidently they just went ahead and deployed with only the one switch.

Yep. The pilot turned off the safety catch (as it were) but that shouldn't have been enough to deploy the feathers ("Deploy the Feathers!" is the new "Release the Kraken!"). Something else did that. But there seems to be a Pilot-Error narrative emerging; "he shouldn't have turned off the safety catch for another 5 seconds!"

Tim said...

but that shouldn't have been enough to deploy the feathers

Perhaps,it was all the acceleration that made the other switch flip. Perhaps, That particular switch was made by GM.

Feathers?? isn't there a missed Icarus reference here somewhere??