Monday, October 29, 2007

Rocketplane Unveils New Suborbital Vehicle Design

Rocketplane Global, Inc. has finalized significant changes to their suborbital vehicle the Rocketplane XP. The changes are focused at making the vehicle more responsive to the emerging sub-orbital tourism market and also represent refinements to the engineering design.

The changes include seating for five passengers in an all new airframe, the addition of afterburning jet engines and an interior designed by internationally renowned and award winning industrial designer, Frank Nuovo.

Key to the engineering changes are:

New Airframe: Rocketplane has moved from a Learjet based airframe to an all new airframe design that affords weight savings and more flexibility in packaging the vehicle systems. The fuselage change has allowed the cabin to be enlarged significantly and provides room for five passengers in a first class seating arrangement. The larger cabin also allows the vehicle to carry more microgravity payloads during science missions.

T-Tail: Through extensive engineering analysis and wind tunnel testing a new T-Tail has been adopted that is lighter, safer and provides more aerodynamic control.

Afterburning Engines: The J-85 afterburning jet engines provide increased thrust and allow the vehicle to reach an altitude of greater than 40,000 ft before the rocket engine is ignited.

Landing Gear: A new landing gear system designed by Loud Engineering and Manufacturing. Loud is the OEM of the F-5 landing gear, of which the XP landing gear will be based.

The culmination of all these changes has resulted in a modest 10% increase in weight that is more than offset by a 40% increase in thrust which allows a 66% increase in the passenger carrying capability of the vehicle.

Dave Faulkner, Program Manager of Rocketplane Global said, "The engineering changes are the culmination of more than 200,000 hours of engineering work by the company and its contractors to date. For almost a year and a half the company has been working on these changes that stemmed from work done in the early days of the project. Since that time these changes have been incorporated into the design, but have not been released to the public."

David also said, "Accompanying the engineering changes is the addition of an innovative new cabin interior designed by Frank Nuovo. We are very pleased to bring Frank Nuovo onto our team to merge the vehicle engineering with the aesthetic and ergonomic design of the interior. We believe that the direction he is taking will complement the truly unique experience the Rocketplane will provide to our passengers."

NASA crew completes second space walk, discovers damage

US astronauts completed the second of five spacewalks Sunday, beginning the relocation of a key supporting truss but also detecting a problem with one of the mechanisms supporting an key energy unit of the International Space Station.

Damage was discovered in a joint supporting the station's solar arrays, a problem that NASA engineers will now have to solve.

US astronaut Daniel Tani noticed metal shavings and unusual wear on a race ring of a rotary joint used to rotate the arrays, NASA officials said.

"The joint has been showing some increased friction lately, and engineers are analyzing potential causes," the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in a statement.

The second spacewalk started at 0932 GMT and finished at 1605 GMT, with space shuttle Discovery astronauts Tani and Scott Parazynski removing bolts in preparation for the installation Tuesday of a truss that will support a set of the station's key solar panels.

The truss is the biggest piece of equipment yet to be moved around on the station on this latest mission to the ISS, during which the astronauts will perform a record five spacewalks totaling some 30 hours.

The ISS, a giant manned laboratory orbiting 240 miles (390 kilometers) above Earth, is aimed to be a potential jumping-off point for further exploration of the solar system.

The 100-billion-dollar space station, supported by 16 countries, is considered key to US ambitions to send a manned mission to Mars and is due to be completed within three years.

During Sunday's walk mission specialist Parazynski and Tani, a flight engineer, disconnected truss cables from the top of the station, where the assembly was installed temporarily in 2000.

Then the spacestation'sroboticarm, operated by astronauts inside the ISS,movedit toanovernightparkingposition. It will be installed in a new spot on the ISS during further spacewalks over the coming days.

The spacewalkers will also complete theexternaloutfittingofthe Harmony module, a new compartment recently installed on the station.

A team of astronauts earlier entered Harmony, a newly delivered compartment, and began preparing it for its role in connecting two future laboratories to the station -- Japan's Kibo lab and the Colombus from Europe.

"Harmony is a very good name for this module," said space station commander Peggy Whitson. "It represents the culmination of a lot of international partner work and will allow international partner modules to be added on."

The bus-size module was attached to the station during the first spacewalk of the mission on Friday.

"Everything is going great," said Rick LaBrode, the mission manager of the Discovery shuttle that blasted the NASA crew into space, on Saturday.

The current mission is making space exploration history as shuttle Commander Pam Melroy, 46, and Whitson, 47, are the first women to hold the reins of the two spacecraft at the same time.

The shuttle is to be retired in 2010 to make way for Constellation, a new space exploration project that aims to put humans back on the moon by 2020.