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Private Spaceship Control Problems Prompt Fixes

06 November 2003

Builders of a private spaceship are ironing out control problems with their craft uncovered during drop testing at a Mojave, California desert test site.

Engineers at Scaled Composites have been wrestling with issues of airflow over tail control surfaces of their SpaceShipOne suborbital vehicle. A fourth high-altitude drop test of the craft on October 17 has assessed several modifications to the tail section.

Aerodynamic troubles with the tail cropped up in a previous drop test in September. SpaceShipOne encountered an unwanted nose rise, but was safely maneuvered to runway touchdown by the craft's pilot, Mike Melvill.

SpaceShipOne is the first piloted winged aircraft with outboard horizontal tails. Fully understanding the craft's handling properties through the atmosphere is crucial.

During a glide to Earth after flying to the edge of space, the vehicle's tail section flips up to a ""feathered"" position -- moved to a 65-degree angle to the main body. This critical positioning of the hinged tail section slows the craft to allow a safe and sound glide down to the airstrip.

The craft is being readied for winging its way to the edge of space, a competitive shot at winning the $10 million X Prize. Numbers of rocket teams around the world are vying for the X Prize purse by designing and building various types of suborbital, passenger-carrying spaceships.

Noted aircraft builder, Burt Rutan, is leader of the SpaceShipOne venture, along with a cadre of specialists at Scaled Composites, based at Mojave, California.

A step-by-step ground and air test program has been scripted. That test series now includes four SpaceShipOne high-altitude drops currently listed by Scaled Composites: August 7, August 27, September 23, and October 17, 2003.

Still to come are in-the-air ignitions of SpaceShipOne's hybrid rocket motor. SpaceDev of Poway, California was picked by Scaled Composites in mid-September as the vendor of choice to supply key hardware for the propulsion system.






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