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Rocket developer pledges space travel by next year

Published by Robin on Fri Apr 22, 2005 6:06 pm
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Darren Bernhardt, The StarPhoenix, April 22, 2005

Even though he is still working on blasting a rocket from the flat prairie around Kindersley this year, aspiring astronaut Brian Feeney expects to be flying passengers by the end of 2006 and have 10 spaceports around the globe within the decade.

His team has already started on Project Tiger, a seven-passenger craft for commercial space travel. The design was unveiled Wednesday at Science North in Sudbury, Ont.

“We certainly have grand plans of mice and men to column-up the planet with spaceports, starting here in Canada and then expand to about 10 locations around the world over the next decade,” Feeney told The StarPhoenix Thursday.

He admits he has been further inspired in his pursuits by the Hollywood film The Aviator, which details the life of airplane pioneer and recluse Howard Hughes.

“The whole pioneership is sparking me on. Not to compare myself to Mr. Hughes — and I’m hopefully not quite as eccentric as that — but I can see lots of parallels in history and now and with myself.” he said

But while he constructs an expansive plan for a new era of travel, he is nearing seven months past the Oct. 2 date he initially set to make a first attempt at reaching the edge of space. The re-scheduled date in December also came and went without a whisper before Feeney called it off for 2004.

He said in January that he was aiming for an unmanned launch in late spring and two piloted launches in the summer. But that, too, seems to be dropped.

“We’re absolutely still pressing away at it but I don’t think we’re looking at summer. We’re continuing through our testing and it’s going well — we’re firing an engine about every three weeks,” Feeney said from his Toronto base. “We have an objective of completing all of our testing and having the rocket fully integrated, all ready to go by the beginning of October.

“But even then, I don’t want to promise anything this year but we hope to get at least the unmanned flight in. And I’ve never been afraid of the winter if that’s when it goes.

“In the hunt for the X Prize, we were rapidly moving to try and complete everything but now we have the luxury of time and want to continue through the testing program. We want to have a total of about 30 or so firings under our belt to know that everything is as it should be, because we’ll be going commercial with the same engine. We don’t want to risk anything. This is an opportunity to get absolute performance and safety out of it.”

A massive 3.7-million-cubic-foot reusable helium balloon will carry the Wild Fire rocket to an altitude of 24 kilometres, at which point the rocket engines will ignite and the craft will separate from the balloon and travel to the 100-kilometre target.

Feeney’s team was competing for the $10-million X Prize, a competition to make two flights to an altitude of 100 kilometres within 14 days. The prize was claimed on Oct. 4 by Burt Rutan, whose SpaceShipOne was launched from a supersonic jet.

As opposed to the balloon-assisted Wild Fire rocket, Project Tiger has wings and takes off from a runway with turbine engines. At 12,000 metres above the ground, the craft fires up its rocket engines.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2005

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