The Da Vinci Project Launch Date Is Rapidly Approaching, But
Will The Hardware And Paperwork Be Ready In Time?
By ANN Correspondent Christopher Armstrong
Brian Feeney and his
volunteer team has been working nonstop to ready their Wild Fire Mk
VI X-Prize contender for a scheduled October 2 launch attempt, but
they still have several key hardware and administrative issues that
need to be completed. On the administrative side, insurance to
cover launch liability has yet to be secured and the Canadian
Government has not granted permission for the launch from
Feeney declined to comment on the level or cost of the insurance
that will be secured during an interview with The StarPhoenix, but
did say that it will be obtained soon, and that he would not let a
couple of little pieces of paper stand in his way. The da Vinci
Project has been working with the Canadian Authorities to obtain
launch authorization and is prepared to file the insurance and
indemnification documents as soon as the insurance is obtained. The
Canadian Government is requiring that they be indemnified against
launch damages be provided before they will grant their
If these administrative hoops can be completed in time there is
still the question of the Wild Fire Mk VI Rockets readiness.
Critics of the program have pointed out that few of the many
critical systems of the eight thousand pound, twenty five foot long
Wild Fire Mk VI Rocket, or the enormous helium balloon that will
carry it to the planned seventy to eighty thousand feet launch
altitude have been tested. Some of the engine components have been
successfully tested, but no full up, end to end systems test have
been revealed to have been performed to date. Additional testing is
underway, but with only 1 month till Feeney is scheduled to ride
this rocket to space, some of Feeney's skeptics worry that the
program has become schedule driven with the usual primary driver of
safety being moved to a secondary position.
Wild Fire Mk VI has been computer analyzed extensively with
computational fluid dynamics and finite element analysis computer
aided design tools, which have become extremely capable in recent
years. But the aerospace industry typically tests every component
in a man rated air or space craft to limit static loads, to fatigue
life for dynamic loads and to failure to determine the ultimate
capability of each part. Wildfire VI is not extremely complex as
space vehicles go, but it does have many critical systems.
The rocket motor is a liquid solid hybrid similar to the one
used in Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne. It uses N2O (Nitrous oxide) as
its oxidizer, stored in a spherical pressure vessel directly below
the crew sphere. It uses Hydroxyl Terminated Poly-Butadiene (HTPB)
fuel stored in a graphite rocket case below the oxidizer tank. The
system is in the fifteen thousand pound thrust class with a total
specific impulse of one million pound-seconds. The support
structure for the rocket motor and oxidizer tank is an aluminum
space frame which carries all axial loads from the rocket nozzle to
the crew capsule. Torsional loads are carried by the external
composite aerodynamic fairing.
The crew capsule is a spherical pressure vessel with seats
mounted on pneumatic cushioning mechanism to cushion the ride and
protect the passengers from harm if the airbag system fails. The
entire spacecraft is controlled during ascent and the capsule is
stabilized for reentry using Reaction Control System thrusters. The
vehicle separates into engine module and crew capsule for separate
reentry and recovery. A chemical coating thermal protection system
was computationally investigated and the best system selected to
project both the capsule and the rocket block from the heating of
reentry. Both the crew capsule and the rocket block are designed to
by aerodynamically stable so that the will obtain the correct
attitude after reentry in the atmosphere without the reaction
The crew capsule uses a parachute to arrest the freefall to 19
feet/second. At this descent rate, airbags will be required to
soften the touchdown, or some damage to the crew sphere will occur.
The engine module is controlled by the pilot during ascent but uses
its own guidance and control system and RCS thrusters after
separation for reentry. It is recovered with its own parachute, in
a nose down attitude, and also uses an airbag system to soften the
landing which will allow reuse.
All these systems are critical to the success of the flight, and
more importantly, to Feeney's safety. But Feeney said in an
interview just after announcing his launch date "We don't have
anything to defend or to prove to anyone. People are, pardon the
expression, pissing in the wind." According to Feeny the da Vinci
program has developed "a new paradigm" that makes it easier,
quicker and cheaper to build new manned spacecraft, and reduces the
need for some of the testing that has been done in the past.
Suborbital launches are governed by national aviation agencies.
Burt Rutan's systematically tested SpaceShipOne program received a
launch license from the United States Federal Aviation
Administration. Wild Fire MK VI will have to receive its approval
from Transport Canada's Launch Safety Office. Feeney must convince
these authorities that the extensive computer modeling and limited
testing is sufficient to provide for a safe launch, and obtain
insurance for the launch at an affordable rate before his attempt.
If he gets his approval, and launches on schedule, then Ladies and
Gentlemen, we have a space race!