Thursday, August 05, 2004

May the best team win.

As expected, the da Vinci team have announced that their first flight will be 2 October, four days after the first planned flight for SpaceShip 1. If the da Vinci team hopes to win however, they will have only two days to turn around their craft and make a second flight before Rutan's second flight. The da Vinci Project has also announced that they will launch from the Kindersley Municipal Airport in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Sources and further information:
da Vinci's Wildfire IV is even further out the Rube Goldberg scale than SpaceShip 1, yet it does not have the ability for much in the way of incremental testing. Frankly this announcement concerns me, sixty days from roll out to the first operational flight leaves little time for testing and bug stomping.

On a side note; am I the only one that has noticed that the two top contenders have both chosen the same basic scheme (air launch)? Yet that is the very scheme that is often (that I have seen) derided as the least likely to yield affordable, scaleable, space access. This is a little discussed side effect of prizes; the temptation for entrants to seek solutions that will win the prize, yet may not be optimal for the notional goal of the contest.


At 8:14 AM, Blogger Jon Goff said...


I also noticed that both of the two prize attempt vehicles were air-launched. My take on the benefit of the prize is that if someone wins it, it will show that private companies can build suborbital spacecraft at relatively low cost. I think that this alone is worth a lot, even though it is mostly "sizzle" as opposed to "steak". Most potential investors just have no real idea about the technical difficulty level involved in suborbital spacecraft development, and this should help put in in perspective.

I think a lot of investors have been scared away, not just because of uncertainty about the size of potential markets (which is usually enough in itself to drive away most investors), but the fact that most of the companies they've seen that "do space" are huge companies with tens of thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue. They say (as a business professor said when I discussed one suborbital project with him that will come out of stealth mode in the next week or so) something to the effect of "if you can do it, why hasn't Lockheed or Boeing done it? What makes you think that you can pull something like this off, when they can't?"

Up until the June 21st suborbital spaceflight, the best we could say is that we think those dinosaur companies are way too bureaucratic, bloated, and innefficient. But now that a set of smaller companies are getting close to pulling something similar off, they can now say something like "you seem to have a point here, if Rutan's company can pull something like this off for low tens of millions, you might have a shot at it too".

As it is though, I have to agree that the fact that da Vinci intends to fly without doing serious flight testing before hand is a bit scary. I much prefer incremental development and envelope expansion to all-up glory shots.


At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would note that SS1's carrier craft is a lot cheaper that most carrier planes looked at before, and since it is designed to carry SS1 the mating procedure is probably faster, simplier, and easyier to use than any mating system designed to work with standard aircraft on the market.

As for da Vinci, I have no idea how you can get cheap ballon recovery.

Earl Colby Pottinger

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Derek said...


White Knight (SpaceShip 1's carrier) is cheap because it is basic, small, and fairly modest in performance. The problems with cost come when you attempt to get beyond sounding rocket/nanoscale payload sizes.


Why haven't the dinosaurs done it? One theory is that because markets under a billion dollars a year simply are not (to them) worth their time. I've said it before, don't count the dinosaurs out. I would not at all be surprised if they entered the market once the mammals have proven it exists and taken the risks of blazing the trail.


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