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Students creating SpaceShipOne replicas

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Sat Feb 5, 2005 5:57 pm
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From left: Michael Conti from the University of Rhode Island, Brian Woodard from the University of Illinois and Dayne Goodwin from Sheridan College in Canada are working with composite materials to make a replica of SpaceShipOne. (Jeff Goldwater/Daily News)

By Charles F. Bostwick Daily News: University students from around the United States and Canada are in the Antelope Valley to build full-size, nonflying replicas of Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne.
Ten students spent Thursday and Friday at Antelope Valley College getting hands-on instruction in working with graphite carbon fiber and other high-tech composite materials that will be used to build the mock-ups.

“It’s a way to learn — we’re learning about composites and about spaceships,” said Michael Conti, a 22-year-old University of Orlando graduate student in mechanical engineering.

The students are the first in what is expected to be a number of groups through summer who will be making five or six SpaceShipOne replicas for tours and displays around the country.

The students will create the replicas in Mojave, which is where Rutan’s Scaled Composites built the real SpaceShipOne, the first reusable privately built spacecraft.

They are working in an intern program organized by the Ansari X Prize Foundation, which also sponsored the $10 million prize that Rutan’s rocket plane won last October.

On Friday, the students were in Antelope Valley College’s composites laboratory getting instruction from composites instructor Gary Eisenberg, a retired skills-training manager for Northrop Grumman in Palmdale.

Started four semesters ago, AVC’s composites class draws a mixture of students, from aerospace workers seeking to acquire new skills to private pilots planning to build kit airplanes to people seeking to make custom or racing auto parts, Eisenberg said.

Composite materials are what the Northrop Grumman’s B-2 stealth bombers and Rutan’s aircraft are made from.

The preimpregnated graphite carbon fiber the college students were working with Friday looks like squares of cloth stiffened with glue.

But laminated in layers and baked in an oven, it is lighter than aluminum but stronger than steel, Eisenberg said.

Few colleges offer such instruction, said Eisenberg, who set up the college’s composites-training laboratory and now teaches two days a week.

‘It’s very rare. There’s probably only a couple in the country that do hands-on composites. I think ours is the best,” Eisenberg said.

Not all the college students helping build the SpaceShipOne replicas are planning on aerospace careers. Eighteen-year-old Dayne Godwin plans to major in journalism and technical theater production at Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada.

Composites material, he said, is finding uses in making theatrical and motion picture props.

The students expect to be in the Antelope Valley through May and to build one or two replicas. Other groups will follow to build more.

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