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da Vinci Project: Self-Taught Pilot Going to Space

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Sat Jul 10, 2004 9:48 pm
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chabot imageCompetitors and organizers of the Ansari X Prize — the international race to create and fly a privately financed rocket ship for space tourists — like to talk about launching a new era of barnstorming.
Like during the early days of aviation, they see pilots at the controls of experimental craft taking to the heavens by the dozens or hundreds. Mike Melvill became the first people’s astronaut last month when he flew Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne to an altitude of 100 kilometers over Mojave, California. That marked the first time a civilian pilot at the controls of a privately built spacecraft had flown to space.
Now, a self-taught Canadian engineer leading a group of volunteers is determined to become space barnstormer No. 2.
Melvill’s feat made Rutan’s team the favorite to win the X Prize’s $10 million jackpot when it launches its next flight later this year. But so far, no one has publicly given the required 60-day notice for a prize attempt. And Brian Feeney, the leader of a Canadian team that plans to blast a spherical capsule called Wild Fire into space, says he’ll give SpaceShipOne a run for its money.
“We’re definitely in contention against Rutan,” said Brian Feeney, head of the da Vinci Project, the team developing Wild Fire, which is headquartered at a former military base in Toronto.
Wild Fire uses a hybrid engine similar to that of SpaceShipOne, but is in other ways a strikingly unique craft. Among the innovations da Vinci has incorporated is a round, windowed capsule that separates from the craft after takeoff and free-falls to Earth using parachutes to slow its descent.
While Wild Fire isn’t your run-of-the-mill spacecraft, X Prize organizers agree that da Vinci is one of several teams with a shot to make an attempt before the prize expires at the end of the year.
Feeney hinted that Wild Fire will be ready for a first ascent by the end of September. Read More

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