The is another step forward for the Virgin Galactic start up. It has now completed several trips into space including a recent flawless return cycle. And the mechanism used to launch the space vehicle is to get the craft to a high altitude using conventional lift then use a much smaller rocket to do the rest.
Here is the video which shows a vehicle much smaller than a Space Shuttle.
Space X has demonstrated rocket launch and is the first private space company to successfully dock with the International Space Station. I covered this in Space Goes Private.Â
NASA Space Launcher
NASA has demonstrated assisted Space Launch using a glider.
Â The key to the assisted launch is that it remove the need to keep enough fuel on the spacecraft to get the fuel into space. Up to 80% of the fuel on the space shuttle is to get the space craft and fuel into space. If you aren’t having to lift the fuel then you need a much smaller rocket.
And the use of aeronautical lift saves fuel for both the lift vehicle and the rocket. In the Â case of NASA’s glider assisted lift, there is no fuel at all on the lift vehicle.
We were an excited bunch of Engineers as we watched the live feed from NASA of the landing of Curiosity on the surface of Mars. Given the telemetry delay of 15 minutes, the real landing had already happened. Here we were looking back in time as we were watching history being made. The tension and excitement were evident in the room and we felt it too.
Curiosity Landing taken from the Mars Orbiter
As a team of Engineers who focus on the delivery of a brand new Electronics Design with the supporting Embedded Software, we know a little of what it is like to fire things up for the first time but celebrate that it didn’t go up in smoke. Not that this happens literally very often, but it is a good feeling to get confirmation that the careful design work has been successfully implemented. We develop up to 100 new Electronics Products each year so we have had some practice at this.
In space this is harder still for 3 reasons:
You can’t easily rework it if it goes wrong. It is too hard to get to it. It has to be right.
Radiation is much worse and the environment is more demanding. You can’t just use any technology for Aerospace Electronics Development.
A lot more investment is at stake.
The celebration when the first telemetry feeds came through as ‘Nominal’ was overwhelming. So this is what it looks like to deliver on $2B of R&D Investment!
Curiosity On Mars – front leg in view
And thoroughly deserved too. Though the use of ‘Nominal’ for such a great outcome is a little understated. But then this is Engineering and science. We know a little of what that is like though we don’t get to spend that level of investment in creating the future. Certainly the win last year for the Industrial Electronics Future Awards 2011 was a moment we savour.
You can watch the whole landing here:
And some links you will enjoy if you are an enthusiast as I am