PolySciFi Blog

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Brian Binnie Review

As I mentioned earlier, Brian Binnie spoke at Tech today. The following are some notes I took during his talk (while finishing up my 3rd presentation of the day at the same time).

The most important stuff first - SpaceShipTwo
Binnies said the first flights are 3-4 years out as they're basically having to do a complete redesign to meet government regulations and make the cabin a bit more commercial (more on that in just a moment). The first flights should cost in the range of $500,000 – $600,000/person with economies of scale hopefully dropping the cost to around $50,000/person later.

Interesting tidbits on SpaceShipOne (SS1)
There's no real heating in the cabin. All the heating comes from the nitrous-oxide tank (used to oxidize rubber in the rocket) which is about room temperature. As a consequence, Binnie's toes went numb during the flight.

Rutan likes to call NASA "Nay Say"

Binnie was also quite down on NASA and said that if NASA did aviation, then the only airplane flying today would be the B2-Bomber.

The crew hatch (two carbon discs and an O-ring) for SS1 cost about $20 which Binnie contrasted $35 million for the space shuttle's hatch. Binnie attributed the big savings to having the hatch open in instead of out making pressurization alot easier.

Because the cabin is a sealed system, a lot of moisture builds up inside the cabin fogging up the windows. To solve this problem they brought along (in effect) a giant Q-Tip.

Just for fun, they built a rocket bike.

Burt Rutan averages better than one new airplane design a year. Scaled has built 38 planes over 32 years.

They put no throttle on the rocket so it was either all on or all off.

They almost added Sidewinder engines to SS1 when Melvil just got into space. Eventually they just pushed the original rocket a little harder to the point where the fuel switched over from liquid to gas.

Their flight simulation philosophy is let the flight simulator get ~90% of it right and the pilot (with a little help from adrenaline) will figure out the remaining 10%.

Scaled Composites built remote control mockups of SS1, but used no wind tunnels.

That approach ran into two problems: 1) The 4th flight almost had a fatal stall due to an unforseen lift issue. They identified the problem, made a new design and fabbed it in two weeks. 2) When they added a dampener to the aileron control system, it caused some unforseen stability issues leading to a crash on the landing first powered flight of SS1 (flown by Binnie).

Attributed relative safety of SS1 to a handful of factors
  1. White Knight provides the safest possible first stage
  2. White Knight also provided a nice flying testbed (nearly identical cockpit)
  3. Simplified flight controls (no computer controlled flight) - big reliance on the pilot's skills
  4. The feather reentry scheme greatly reduced the chance for things to go wrong on reentry
  5. Use the simplest possible rocket motor (no cryo, no exotic fluids or hardware, high safety margins, no throttle)
General Impressions
There were quite a few nice videos in the presentation from Discovery special.

Binnie was rather self-effacing and appreciative of his opportunity to fly into space.

Spacecraft has posted his reactions to Binnie. He's particularly down on the gratuitous NASA bashing.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?