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BREAKING NEWS: Rocketplane Global Talks to the Space Fellowship about the New Rocketplane XP configuration

Published by Rob on Fri Oct 26, 2007 6:12 pm
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During the last week, some of the Rocketplane Global team got together in a conference with the International Space Fellowship to talk about their recent progress and changes to the Rocketplane XP design.  Having recently revealed that they have been working on the new design George French III (Business Development Associate) and David G. Faulkner (Program Manager) were more than forthcoming to discuss the future of Rocketplane Global and their matured XP configuration.

We discussed some of the changes and the reasons for the new improvements. They told me that with the mature XP configuration there were significant changes to the look and feel of the craft. A Craft that they quote as being “sexy” is a design they are proud of and are confident will help the XP be a success. Regarding the design, they suggest “It’s not too different to what people have seen before” adding “it has some of the look and feel of a private jet”. Some of the larger changes include the fuselage, the size of the windows, the engines, and the introduction of a new interior designer for the craft.

Talking on the phone with David and George it became apparent that they had felt some agitation the past year or so. They had been watching the design go through revolutionary changes, yet, with this happening the changes were kept under wraps until today, waiting to release the new design they had to travel around using old images and concepts. This behind them they will now proudly be showcasing the changes. Most notable there will be a CGI video used to show an XP flight, this will be premiered at this years X-Prize Cup event in October.


Rocketplane XP Changes

The Fuselage
The Fuselage for one has been changed, there were many reasons highlighted for this, David Faulkner describes the changes “The new fuselage gives us the ability to carry more passengers, while at the same time reducing the weight, increasing safety, and adding flexibility where vehicle systems are involved.” He adds “Almost a year and a half ago we realized that we were modifying 95% of the Lear fuselage and that a completely new fuselage would not necessarily cost more.  This fact, along with the benefits previously mentioned, made the switch an easy decision and we have been working on it ever since.

The XP will hold five people, four in the back and one in the front, a design which was made to mutually enhance the views and experience of the passengers.

The Engines
The engine has been changed and will now be GE’s J85 engine. A model that GE claims “has more than 75 million flight hours experience on military and commercial model… the J85 offers the highest thrust-to-weight ratio of any production engine in its class in the free world.”  Dave Faulkner added that the J85s“allow us to climb to a higher altitude before rocket ignition and carry more passengers. “

When asked about actual built hardware they told me that there were a lot of small parts being tested. They were hastening to add that the technology they were employing was not “new and untested” but rather it is hardware that has evolved, hardware that is used the world over. They highlighted that safety is always the number one priority. They want to “fly passengers to space and back safely”, that is the goal. Rocketplane Global has already bought 11 J-85 engines, from Bristol Aerospace, a subsidiary of Magellan Aerospace, that were once used on Canadian F-5 fighters.  Dave Faulkner added that “Those will be refurbished before being used on our vehicle.

The Rocket
Talking about the Rocket, Dave Faulkner stated that Rocketplane Global are using the AR-36, based upon the extremely successful Atlas Sustainer Engine that had over 500 successful flights putting payloads into orbit. He talked about the reasons for this choice, a prime example of Rocketplane Global using tried and tested hardware, he says “Our company chose this approach because of the exemplary flight history and also because minor changes would allow it be sized to meet our requirements and to make it highly reusable.  Many companies are developing brand new rocket technologies where they will have to go through trial and error processes to get them to flight.  In fact, our first rocket engine for the XP was based upon an experimental technology and when we tested it more than two years ago it failed.  Some of the other companies in this business are finding the same thing with these new approaches. We learned a lot from this mistake and chose to go forward with the Atlas’ proven technology.”

The tail for the new XP configuration has been changed, “A new T-Tail has been adopted that is lighter, safer and provides more aerodynamic control throughout the flight envelope.  This was done through extensive engineering analysis and wind tunnel testing.”

Landing Gear
When asked about the new landing gear I was told that “The landing gear will be all new, but the design is a slight modification of the F-5 landing gear design by Loud Engineering and Manufacturing.  Loud has extensive experience designing and building landing gear. In fact, they were the original manufacturers of the landing gear for both the F-5 and the SR-71.

The build of the Rocketplane XP vehicle will be built with titanium on some of the leading edges however the rest will be aluminium. They also added that the design weight is nearly half propellant.

The Aesthetics
During the interview I learned that the new Rocketplane XP design will use the talents of internationally renowned and award winning industrial designer, Frank Nuovo – (BMW/DesignworksUSA, Nokia, Vertu). He is overlooking the aesthetics of the craft, his sketches showed an ergonomic ship. The inside looked curvy and well fitted, the seats looking rounded and smooth.

The initial designs show seats with screens built in the back of them, able to show high definition videos of the craft from multiple angles, another small design made to improve the passenger experience. Ideas such as passengers being able to pick and choose which camera they watch the trip from are being considered as integral parts of the Rocketplane experience. One idea that captures the imagination is that of having lighting that changes as the trip progresses (EL Technology).

I asked them if having a designer such as Nuovo was important to them and if someone of his background would be equipped to understand the needs of a commercial spaceship. They told me they were more than happy with the deigns and added that he is “very aware of what needs to be done”. They said that very early on he was already thinking about seatbelts and other issues that are important to the success of the Rocketplane XP. I was also told that more aesthetic designs of the craft will be becoming available to the public in the coming months. The Space Fellowship will be sure to keep people updated as this happens.

The Rocketplane XP Experience

So what will the new Rocketplane XP design offer you? Well firstly you are going to have to pass a basic medical test. Although these plans are not fully drawn up yet there has been a lot of thought going into who can fly. Rocketplane are considering making their passengers do a compulsory physical test. The proposed level (US) would be equivalent to a Third Class flight physical test. There will also be some level of a basic health check.

Rocketplane believes that their new design will mean there is less stress on individuals, a 4G reentry compared to 5.5g – 7g boasted by other companies coupled with their plan to fly to an altitude offering around four minute’s micro-gravity will allow more people to fly into space. This is something they believe is very important. This can be the answer to people who are on the fringe of flying with some organisations but just fall short medically.

The Rocketplane XP will have all the features you could want. The experience is to be truly as enjoyable as they can make it. The comfort for the passengers is a priority for Rocketplane Global; they already have plans to incorporate highly sophisticated environmental controls in the craft. They further added they believe that their design will come across as familiar to the passengers.

The Rocketplane XP Team

With the new design of the craft I asked if they had the staff and the expertise to be truly competitive. I was informed that they feel they have a strong “Core Team” and with potential funding in place they are in a strong position to bring in the right people when needed.

Funding as with many organisations we interview is an issue but one Rocketplane feels is not a big one. They informed me that they are speaking to people right now and are confident of finding the money they need to progress. With funding in place they tell me “We can be flying passengers in 2010

They tell me that one of the Combustion Devices Engineers, employed through Polaris Propulsion and working on the AR-36, was responsible for the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) Ascent Engine that had a 100% reliability record in getting all of the men off the Moon. Another person working on valves is also working on the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) J2X engine valves. They say Rocketplane employees and contractors are “World Class”. Having earlier talked about the engine Dave Faulkner tells me “Our propulsion team at Polaris is made up of many veterans from Rocketdyne that developed the original Atlas engines and other flight proven propulsion systems which we believe will again reduce the time to develop our rocket engine.

The Competition

Viewing a slide of their potential competitors we talked about their thoughts on other design concepts. Perhaps the most interesting issue to come from this conversation was on The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS). The slide showed information on the EADS Astrium suborbital craft. You may think that such a similar competitor would have the Rocketplane Global team rubbing their heads or thinking about redesign, they are doing quite the opposite.

They tell me that the EADS approach to flight is very similar to the new Rocketplane one; they see the design as reaffirming the Rocketplane design. They pointed out that in the press EADS has been quoted as having already spent 40,000 hours work on their project; in contrast the Rocketplane XP has already had over 200,000 hours of work time. They also point out that if they can get the Rocketplane XP flying in 2010 they will have hopefully been flying passengers successfully to space for over two years before EADS.

They later discussed how the new design of the Rocketplane XP will be at a competitive weight. Ships such as Blue Origin’s “New Shepard” will weigh substantially more they told me. They also describe how competitor approaches such as the Virgin Galactic Mother-ship approach is more complicated than theirs. They emphasised safety again and how they feel the new Rocketplane XP is a leader in safety design.

One critical design feature of the Rocketplane XP is that of being able to land safely after a non-successful flight, obviously not a scenario the team would want to be a reality but one that needs careful design and thought. The Rocketplane XP can dump its liquid oxygen and the rocket fuel can be fed into the wings and be used by the jet engines.

With regards to any flight anomalies I asked them how Rocketplane Global would compensate their passengers in such a scenario. I was informed there will be “some sort of guarantee” something in place so that if the full experience is not achievable there will be another flight offered or some sort of compensation, therefore every person will get what they sign up for. 

The future of Rocketplane Global

The new look Rocketplane XP can potentially be flying in 2010. I asked them what the approach will be for getting suborbital flights started. They told me “initially there will be two planes flying with the potential to add another one every six to nine months depending on the market” The Oklahoma Spaceport is at the centre of the Rocketplane Global’s plan. I was told this is where it will all start, they want to be here getting the operation started. They added that they would like to go international one day however they are not “Putting the cart before the horse”.

The Rocketplane XP design has gone through many improvements and the team seems to have a good understanding of the market, their own situation and that of others around them. Depending on funding we could see this new design flying within a matter of years.

More updates, images and CGI are expected in the coming months so be sure to keep a look out for updates. The International Space Fellowship thanks all representatives from Rocketplane Global for their contributions to this story and wishes them the best of luck with the new design.

Keep up to date with Rocketplane Global at. http://www.rocketplaneglobal.com

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