Headlines > News > SpaceShipOne designer talks about flight’s future

SpaceShipOne designer talks about flight’s future

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Tue Dec 21, 2004 12:07 pm
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By George Nemiroff, The Desert Sun
COACHELLA VALLEY — Legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan has designed hundreds of aircraft throughout his career. However, his most recent success, SpaceShipOne, won the $10 million X Prize, officially becoming the first private sector-built manned spacecraft.

The project was sponsored by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft.

Mr. Rutan, in the Coachella Valley to give a talk, sat down for a Q & A session and gave his thoughts on the X Prize, SpaceShipOne, NASA and more:

Question: Mr Rutan, your company, Scaled Composites, is in the Mojave Desert, but what brings you to the Coachella Valley?

Answer: I am giving a talk on Sunday evening to a naval group, the Association of Naval Aviators at The Lodge in Rancho Mirage. It will be about our private manned-space program and the future of space tourism.

Question: What motivated you to throw your weight and skill behind the X Prize Competition?

Answer: This wasn’t done for the X Prize. In fact, when we started on it the X Prize was not funded and did not look like it was going to be funded. This was done primarily because I uncovered some things that I thought were very significant that could make space tourism much safer then space flying had been. You see, it’s not just a problem of affordability; it’s also a problem of safety. And also, Paul Allen, I found, was a space addict and he wanted to see it done. We ran the first non-government manned space program.

Question: Where do you see SpaceShipOne, the craft itself, heading?

Answer: We looked at a lot of things to do with it. We have a lot of requests — actually, five different requests to fly payloads on it. Of course, everyone in the world wants to fly on it because it’s the only operable, private manned spacecraft. However, Paul [Allen] feels that it needs to be preserved for the Air and Space Museum. They have offered to put it in the Milestones of Flight Gallery in the mall in Washington D.C. So, I don’t think we’re still debating it; it probably will not be flown again. I think we’ll move on and our future space flying will be done with SpaceShipTwo instead of SpaceshipOne.

Question: So there is already another spaceship of similar design, yet probably with most of the kinks worked out, being developed?

Answer: We’re developing a much bigger spaceship named SpaceShipTwo, one that could carry nine people and allow them to float around the cabin when they are weightless. It would also fly higher, and further down range. So this is going to be a craft that could do sustainable business for a long time, flying thousands of people.

Question: How far away is commercial space travel then?

Answer: We will be flying within about two and a half years or so. I think it will be certified and actually in commercial operation in about four years.

Question: Considering your motivation to innovate and design futuristic air/spacecraft, are you attracted to the Centennial Prizes offered by NASA to develop new craft designs?

Answer: Oh no, I don’t believe NASA can properly put out a (developmental) prize like the Orteg Prize or the Kramer Prize, or either the X Prize. NASA has a real habit of trying to help sub-contractors and contractors by monitoring risks that NASA wouldn’t take themselves. What NASA needs to do is to put out a very difficult goal to achieve and then not monitor it at all and let those that go after it take their own risks. I don’t see NASA doing that. Possibly they will. Maybe they will put someone in charge that knows the benefits of running a prize properly. I haven’t seen that yet.

Question: What’s on the horizon in terms of future interests?

Answer: Well, I think I will spend a large percentage if not all of my main efforts for the rest of my career on manned-space travel. I think we can, if we do it right, be within 20 to 25 years of being able to visit hotels in orbit and many thousands of people being able to afford to do that. I would like to see affordable travel to the moon before I die, so I am starting relatively soon on developments for orbital-space tourism.

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