The amateur rocket enthusiasts at Suborbitals in Copenhagen have been at it for eight years now, and after a series of few launch attempts and some failures, the crowdfunding group says it is moving toward more ambitious goals, including launching a human on a suborbital. flight.
Founded in 2008, Copenhagen Suborbitals has attempted to launch more than half a dozen rockets of various sizes, including the Heat-1X in 2011, believed to be the most powerful amateur rocket ever launched. Most recently, in July, Copenhagen Suborbitals launched its Nexø 1 rocket, a 5.6-meter booster weighing 205 kg. Powered by liquid oxygen and ethanol, the Nexø only reached an altitude of 1.5 km instead of the planned flight to 8 km.
Such failures are common in amateur rocketry, and Copenhagen Suborbitals is no exception. However, the ambitions of the Danish group far exceed those of other amateur clubs. The group says the tests lead to the development of the Spica rocket, a 13-meter launch vehicle with a launch mass of 4,000 kg, mostly fuel. The rocket would be powered by an engine with about 22,500 pounds of thrust (for comparison, the Mercury-Redstone rocket that launched Alan Shepard on America’s first suborbital flight was powered by a 78,000 pounds of thrust engine).
To spark interest in such a mission, Creative Director Jonas Linell this week released some digital paintings of what that flight might look like. The group plans to use the Spica to launch an as-yet unnamed capsule to 100 km, just above the Karman line that demarcates the edge of space. After a 90-second engine burn, the spacecraft reaches apogee after about 190 seconds of flight before returning to Earth.
According to Linell, volunteers are designing the Spica twin-propellant engine, which is significantly larger than any other the group has previously developed. In addition, the group is also building a scale model of a capsule that will be tested in a wind tunnel sometime in 2017. In 2017, the first metal should be cut for the Spica capsule, motor and rocket, Linell said.
The mission to space is called Spica V, because it would track Spica I and other uncrewed tests, as well as a crewed Spica IV flight to a lower altitude.
Is this realistic?
As always, the question surrounding Copenhagen Suborbitals is whether the goals are realistic given the magnitude of the feat required to get a human into space (however briefly) and get him or her safely back to Earth . Ars reached out to communications director Mads Wilson for some clarification.
Wilson said the first Spica-class missile will likely cost about $1 to $2 million to develop and build, all of which will go toward materials, since everyone involved in the project works for free. “If we had $2 million now, I’d estimate it would be two to three years until the first unmanned flight,” he told Ars. “But right now we are raising money as we go along, so the actual time frame is uncertain. Contrary to what one might expect, the rocket itself is actually not as expensive and labor intensive as all the test and launch equipment required to test and launch it.” eventually launch.”
Funding issues aside, and despite some launch failures, Copenhagen Suborbitals has demonstrated solid engineering skills. It made the decision early on to launch from a mobile platform, Sputnik, from international waters in the Baltic Sea. This is because as a non-governmental organization it would be difficult to find a spaceport on land and a nation willing to grant them launch licenses. Developing the capability to launch from sea is not a trivial technical challenge.
Whether the group ultimately succeeds or not, the journey represents most of the fun. These are amateurs, solving tough problems, completely transparent and exciting to watch. This effort is similar to the kind of rocket building you might do Kerbal Space program, only in real life, with real people. And if a man or woman ever climbs into a small spacecraft on top of one of their rockets, it will presumably be with eyes wide open.
Frame image by Jonas Linell, Copenhagen Suborbitals