Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It Was Safer Flying Against the Nazis...

Jeff Bell's scorching editorial on Space Daily skewers the suborbital tourism market six ways from sunday, through a thorough disection of the risks and safety record of rocket-powered suborbital flight to date.

It doesn't matter if your favourite beast is a rocketplane, DC-X lookalike, or spaceship one - he does an admirable job of ripping them apart.

I'll be interested to see the reaction from the kool-aid crowd to this one.

Kudos, Jeff.

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Blogger Shubber Ali said...

there's still no business case. I can't see a way to make any money at all in this area.

See the cat? See the cradle?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007 9:47:00 PM  
Blogger Jon Goff said...

Jeff's article was interesting, and while I do believe that first generation suborbital RLVs will be risky, I also think Jeff made several glaring factual errors in his post. Most importantly, his list makes it looks as though there were 5 X-15s, with 4 out of the 5 biting the dust. The reality is there were only 3 X-15s, and only one of them was actually destroyed. Several of the failures he listed didn't destroy the vehicle or kill the pilot. Several of the failures were made due to it being very early in the rocket age (leather gaskets and LOX don't mix), and a lot of them were due to trying to expand the envelope...And he ignored several examples of rocket powered aircraft that were a lot safer, including as Henry Spencer mentioned, a RATO kit for a passenger jet that was tested thoroughly enough that the FAA was willing to ok it for use with passenger flight.

It sounds like a well researched paper until you start seeing all the facts that he bungled or misrepresented. But I guess pointing out inconvenient facts makes me one of those "kool-aid drinkin' alt-spacers".


Wednesday, March 07, 2007 9:11:00 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

This is about the fourth or fifth article that Bell has written in the last year or so, all of them negative about the new space industry, to be riddled with factual errors. I mean, seriously, an experimental aircraft (the X is a hint) from the 1950s being compared to the suborbital passenger craft being worked on by numerous companies today?

I suppose that a stopped clock is right twice a day, so eventually if he keeps whacking away at the new space industry he'll find something that will stick. Until he does, I'm going to treat Bell the same way I treat Hoagland, and ignore him.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007 3:05:00 PM  
Blogger Shubber Ali said...

Ed, the reason Jeff had to rely on data from an old X vehicle is because there are only paper dreamships in the current realm to choose from otherwise. I challenge you to name 2 (or even 1) currently flying suborbital vehicle (and airplanes don't count) that could be used to provide more current operational data.

Take your time - you'll need it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007 6:43:00 PM  
Blogger Jon Goff said...

As I mentioned before, Jeff Bell did cherry pick data. If you add in other experimental and *operational* rocket powered aircraft from the past 40 years, the difference is a lot bigger. As someone brought up on the ameteur rocketry list, Jeff forgot several vehicles, including the French Mirage III aircraft that logged over 20,000 rocket powered flights, with over a 99% reliability...

There was also a Navy rocket powered aircraft that logged something like 175 flights without failures.

Basically, if you look at only part of the data, you can prove almost anything you want.


Thursday, March 08, 2007 1:18:00 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Shubber, that's saying that Bell has to rely on data from oranges because he hasn't got data on apples.

If he wants to make apples-to-apples comparisons, then he has to look at the data from SpaceShipOne. Three successful manned suborbital flights, no catastrophic failures, dozens of drop tests. The only failure in the entire SS1 program was a failure of landing gear, and that happened at a slow enough speed that the craft was reused after minor repairs.

Yeah, I know that SS1 isn't a currently flying suborbital vehicle - but neither are 55 year old X15s. I'd say that the less-than-five-year-old technology of SS1 is far more comparable to current technology than something that was tested back in the 1950s.

Thursday, March 08, 2007 1:23:00 PM  
Blogger TomsRants said...

...Jeff forgot several vehicles, including the French Mirage III aircraft that logged over 20,000 rocket powered flights, with over a 99% reliability...

There was also a Navy rocket powered aircraft that logged something like 175 flights without failures.

Basically, if you look at only part of the data, you can prove almost anything you want.

You look at the parts of the data that are relevant, as in "apples to apples". We're talking rocketplanes here, not hybrids with rocket assist. In addition (including the Bells), all of the craft mentioned were built/financed/used by the military, where a much higher level of risk is part of the game.

Show us a case where any of that machinery made it to the commercial aviation sector, flying paying passengers reliably and safely.

Go ahead...we'll wait...

Friday, March 09, 2007 5:43:00 AM  
Blogger Jon Goff said...

There was a RATO pack that was FAA certified for use with passenger aircraft. I'm not sure if it ended up being used very much (mostly because I believe it was for use on an aircraft that had some other issues and that was retired fairly quickly), but it was tested and demonstrated to a level of safety that the FAA felt was up-to-snuff for use in commercial passenger service.

But I don't know if that was what you were looking for.


Friday, March 09, 2007 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger TomsRants said...

Well, Jon, that's a start. Now, how about some specifics? What kind of engine is it? How much impulse? What sort of aircraft is it suited for? (How many passengers?) Since this RATO pack was in fact FAA certified, has anyone in alt.space considered using it in some sort of custom passenger-carrying craft, selling joyrides, as a way of subsidizing further development and raising public awareness?

Or is reinventing the wheel our only option?

Saturday, March 10, 2007 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger pat said...

I am surprised nobody has mentioned either Blue Origins or Virgin Galactic. The interesting thing to
study is the adventure aircraft market of the
1910-1930 time frame. Early aircraft were
phenomenally dangerous and lacked range and payload to be practical transportation.
Certainly some of these vehicles were sold to
the wealthy, and, that the joyride business
did exist in the 1920's. I would be curious
to see if any of the joyride aircraft were
profitable businesses and how many aircraft
companies were started to service that market.

Is this the kind of analysis you were looking for,
Dr Jurist?

Sunday, March 11, 2007 9:07:00 PM  
Blogger pat said...

one more factoid,

Air mail flights of the 1920's were far more hazardous then flying combat in the Great War.

Lack of nav aids, poor weather reporting aides
and very limited design but the air mail market
trained a legion of pilots and paid for
the airlines.

The question is how od you haul the mail?

Monday, March 12, 2007 6:20:00 PM  
Blogger Shubber Ali said...

The question is how od you haul the mail?

No, the question is WHAT mail is there to haul..?

The problem with analogies used by alt.spacers is that they so often fail as soon as you go past the surface.

Monday, March 12, 2007 9:58:00 PM  

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