The Space Review
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Burt Rutan
Rutan accepts the Space Frontier Foundation’s “Vision to Reality Award” October 9. (credit: J. Foust)

Burt Rutan, in his own words

<< page 1: convincing Paul Allen

Rutan compares the funding and success his venture enjoyed versus the problems of previous efforts like the DC-X and Roton:

The best advice I can give someone is don’t go out and spend someone else’s money—and I don’t care if it’s a billionaire’s money or NASA’s money—but if they’re not willing to give you the money to reach a significant and useful goal, then don’t take their money, because they are not committed to you. They don’t have the confidence in you for doing something useful. What was flown with DC-X was not useful technically at all, zero, towards the problems of building a single stage to orbit, land-on-a-plume vehicle. So here’s the thing: why did they even start? Another rule I think you ought to use if you’re out there doing this: for crying out loud, don’t use someone else’s money unless you yourself, with your confidence and your passion and your gut, would spend your own money if you had the money.

Why SpaceShipOne rolled during its first X Prize flight on Wednesday, September 29:

I want to tell you we were not concerned about safety on this. We were concerned that we did get this departure, and it is a departure, and it wasn’t from wind shear. We identified on Wednesday’s flight by analyzing our data very carefully that when we get to zero and then negative angle of attack, we lose directional stability. Now, we had never been at Mach 2.7 and negative angle of attack before; that’s kind of a hard piece of the envelope to open up in your glide tests. It has very low directional stability—SpaceShipTwo has got to have better high-Mach directional stability by a bunch—but at low angle of attack it gets worse.

Don’t use someone else’s money unless you yourself, with your confidence and your passion and your gut, would spend your own money if you had the money.

Mike [Melvill] got a little active on the rudders and got out of phase on the ailerons. He got some sideslip and it coupled, like SpaceShipOne likes to do—it’s got a lot of dihedral effect—it coupled into a high roll rate. By the time we had a roll or two, we had a Q [dynamic pressure] of almost nothing. So these 29 and a half rolls that you see aren’t aerodynamic rolls, they are more like in-space dynamic rolls, that is, once it’s turning it just keeps rolling. We knew the ship was not in danger because we were at really low Q and Q was coming down.

I want to explain another thing: why it took us so long to damp out those rolls. We have two different principal axes, inertia wise, depending on whether the feather is up or down. When the feather is up the principal axis tilts. We decided that the best thing on feather is as soon as you fly out of the atmosphere to put the feather up and leave it up while you’re in space. It took him that long to get out of the atmosphere entirely and then to put the feather up, and then he started to work on the roll rate [using the RCS thrusters]. He did get it straightened out to very low roll rates before he got to apogee.

Why certification of suborbital vehicles is a good thing:

You have to have certification, and it’s the cheapest thing you ever buy. First of all, it costs you between nine and sixteen percent more because the FAA is there. Forget these guys who say certification makes it ten times as expensive. I know what it takes. I asked Beechcraft when they were done certifying the structure on the Starship [aircraft], which is a tough thing to do. I asked them what if there was no FAA, what if you, Beechcraft, did your testing only for your ethics. Now your ethics mean that it’s not a good thing to kill our customers. What did certification really cost you? They said. “That’s a really good question, and we think we have the data for a very good answer.” They huddled and came back with a report for me about a week later. That report showed me every test, every test article, and every report that the FAA insisted that they do that they didn’t think be done. They took everything that was in dispute—in other words, I wouldn’t have done that but the FAA made me do it—and it came out to be nine percent.

Without that [certification] you can’t survive as an industry: you can’t survive the first accident, and you can’t insure. So you got to have government certification that protects passengers.

Certification is not expensive because of the FAA. And I’ll tell you something, it’s the very best thing you can buy when you have an accident and somebody gets killed. The plaintiff’s attorney’s job is to convince that non-technical jury that you did a sloppy job, that you didn’t do enough for his safety. The very best thing you can do is say that there are specific government certification requirements and I met every one of them, and you even get to bring the government in to certify to the jury that you passed all of the safety requirements. Without that you can’t survive as an industry: you can’t survive the first accident, and you can’t insure. So you got to have government certification that protects passengers.

What’s next after SpaceShipOne:

I put out there that before I die I want to see affordable travel to the Moon, that’s essentially where I’m going. What I mean by affordable is not what Houston talks about affordable; I’m talking about where a third of the people in this room can afford to go to the Moon when I finally kick off. That’s my vision.

Now, when you do that, you can draw a schedule back to show this above low Earth orbit stuff, and this low orbit stuff, and this suborbital stuff. Tier One is suborbital manned spaceflight, Tier Two is low Earth orbit manned spaceflight, and Tier Three is what we do above low Earth orbit, and it does have to start very soon after we have affordable Earth orbit stuff. I drew a schedule for all of that about three and a half months ago, and I decided what had to happen at every point to get to that. As of the 27th of September, I’m already six months ahead three months into the schedule. I did not think that there would be a major investment by a major guy who can and will do it. Can anyone here think of a better guy that will actually go out and build a spaceline [than Richard Branson]? I couldn’t.

Can anyone here think of a better guy that will actually go out and build a spaceline [than Richard Branson]? I couldn’t.

I could move directly on to orbital ops from a research standpoint, but I decided that since I didn’t seem to have a real close competitor to the X Prize, that maybe I ought to stay with suborbital and make damn sure that there’s a successful, certified, safe system out there flying many passengers every day suborbitally before I lose interest in it and go on to orbital. And that’s what I’m going to do. Is it going to be tough? Yeah, there’s some tough things. Are the regulatory issues going to be tough? Yeah. But I’m not as scared of that program that is in front of me right now as I was scared of the SpaceShipOne program that was in front of me in 2001.

I’ve never certified a light plane or an airliner, but it looks like I’m going to be the first one to do a spaceliner, and I’m just so proud of that.


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ISPCS 2014