Billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul G Allen has set foot down a path trailblazed generations ago by another eccentric business kingpin: he intends to build the biggest aircraft ever flown. However unlike Howard Hughes' monster "Spruce Goose" 1940s flying boat, Allen's plan appears at least feasible and he has some big names on …
Is it just me
...or is Allen on his way to becoming a real world Bond villain?
@ Anonymous Coward
ooooh!!! Can we call him "Codefinger"???
Elon Musk has the better Bond-villainesque name however.
Now where has that white Persian cat gone?
It’s the ability to launch to any orbit any time which is the real advantage of this system. It might be a bit cheaper but unless the rocket becomes reusable then there won’t me massive savings. Launching from the east cost means you could take use of all the ground processing at the cape, handy.
Explosive icon, would make a good boom.
"Under Stratolaunch, Scaled Composites will design an enormous successor to the White Knight and WhiteKnightTwo motherships. "
The much cheaper and quicker solution would be to phone up Antonov, order half a dozen 225's (I'm sure they still have the blueprints), get out the pop riveter and bolt them together pairwise. ElReg SPB, are you listening?
The Hughes H-4 Hercules (to give it its proper name) was entirely feasible - it was built, and it flew. The fact that WWII ended before this happened and thus robbed it of its raison d'etre had nothing to do with its feasibility!
Why doesn't Mr Allen wise up and invest in Reaction Engine's Skylon and SABRE tech??? Seems much better than this white elephant...
"Why doesn't Mr Allen wise up and invest in Reaction Engine's Skylon and SABRE tech??? Seems much better than this white elephant..."
This might have something to do with a little thing called ITAR. It shouldn't but I'll be prepared to be bet that the US gov will claim "US citizen puts money into a space project, we claim rights to decide who uses it, where it can launch from etc." It's part of the reason why Virgin Galactic will be based in the US, because exporting even *that* level of tech is still likely to need a ton of paperwork, a special dispensation from the Senate and the sacrifice of a virgin or two.
@John Smith 19
Yeah, you're right about ITARS.
Mark Hempsell of Reaction Engines gave an interview to The Space Show back in 2009 (you can go to the wiki page for Skylon and down at the bottom's a link or else search through The Space Show archive)
Mark pointed out in the interview that just about every part of Skylon would be covered by ITARS. The moment they start dealing with the Americans, Skylon/SABRE becomes American and REL needs to license their own technology back. Ownership basically remains with the Yanks.
It looks like something out of Thunderbirds!
Can I have a go?
Energy wasted due to release...
So they drop it, and then scurry away. In the time it takes them to get to a safe distance, the rocket will be accelerating downwards building up a tremendous downward velocity. This downward velocity will have to be reversed, and that's a waste of energy.
Maybe the rocket should have a parachute to reduce this effect?
Not so much
The launch sequence would be:
1) Go to max speed and then lift the nose until there is a considerable upward vector
2) Let down the stick to become ballistic and release, then nose up a bit to separate
3) Roll and turn to the side, causing very rapid separation
4) Ignite rocket when safe, while it's still rising
At launch altitude the proper thrust angle for an orbital rocket is already quite tilted, so it won't take much time for the horizontal slow-moving rocket to turn up into that attitude, much like a Tomahawk missile:
After that the small horizontal vector quickly becomes irrelevant compared to the hugely growing thrust vector velocity. The initial side drag loading on the rocket body at that low an air density and slow speed should not be enough to cause structural failure.
You mean like spaceship one had to when it got the x-prize. Oh hang on it didn't.
These guys are significantly cleverer than you.
Launch separation and banking
1. Launch separation.
Note the length of the orbital rocket and its minimal vanes. Getting a clean separation is going to be tough, If it pitches down, its bye bye time.
2. Roll to side or banking?
With this monster's wing span? How long does it take to get the wing tip to clear the center line?
With the force of those powerful engines on each wing and the weight of the rocket in the centre, couldn't the aircraft be ripped in two since it's two halves are joined by a weak looking connection. There's not much structure there to handle the forces at work.
Obviously people who are a lot smarter than mean have done the calculations but it looks so weak from those images.
It's intersting to see two private companies pushing ahead with space launches while NASA becomes the customer and observer. Good luck to them - keeping the dream alive!
Gary F you are right on the mark
That was the first thing I thought with all that weight and power.
I can't see connecting the 2 fuselages at the back. I believe that might interfere with the rocket drop or is just a safety hazard but a forward wing might be able to reinforce everything and taking away some of the shear forces which as you said are going to be extreme.
That the whole weight is spread over the entire lifting body which would make a huge different.
I bet even the fuselages have strong lift characteristics.
On the mark here:
"Obviously people who are a lot smarter than mean have done the calculations"
THE POINT OF THIS IS?
Rich people's play thing perhaps.
From an uninformed point of view..
like mine, it seems to be a good idea,
Turbofans are much more efficient than rockets, and even 30,000 feet (about 5.8 miles) means the rocket has a lot less air to push through.
As a normal rocket is having to push up itself + its fuel removing 6 miles from the journey could probably cut a lot more fuel than the 6 miles out of 26,200 miles would suggest, especially as the Rocket itself would bypass the thickest part of the atmosphere, and after a certain point (Dont know when), you could use Much more efficient Ion thrusters to push you the rest of the way.
Wonder how the figures stack up?
not that much
Stratolaunch saves a lot for 'virgins', but to reach LEO, it's supposed to save only 5-10% vs. ground launch.
Falcon 9 can lift 10t to LEO with 9 engines. Launched this way it will deliver 6t with 5 engines.
Considering the overhead of building and debugging this plane (it is a much more complex setup than a rocket standing fixed at time of firing), runnway, etc. plus all the fixed logistic of a launch, it's surely not a big investment opportunity.
Boys and their toys...
Looks too flimsy to me to get on the bugg*er!
It's not worth a second look unless it's made of paper as well.
And called something interesting.
It'd be more like
D'ahh, it's been thought of...
And long before Allen, or Scaled Composites, even...
"This design dates from early 1945, and was also to be a carrier aircraft (like the Daimler Benz Project 'A'). The Daimler Benz Project 'C' was basically the Daimler Benz Project 'B' without the single jet engine bomber attached. The wing was straight with a taper on the outer wing leading edge, and featured pronounced anhedral on the inner wing sections and dihedral outboard of the high, fixed landing gear. Six DB 603 piston engines provided the power, four pulling and two pushing. There were two different parasite manned missiles that could be carried by this aircraft, the Daimler Benz Project 'E' and the Daimler Benz Project 'F'."
...and then, of course, there was the Norman Bel Geddes "Bulgeliner" from 1929:
TFA does mention that it's not a new idea. The novelty in this situation is that the carrier aircraft will be sodding enormous.
Oh come on Lewis!
First of all, of course Hughes' huge one was feasible - after all, he flew it himself (once, briefly)! That the cost of production and time of development were both as much over budget as his best movies - given. This was HH after all.
With this new Allen project now, some funny aspects come to mind immediately. It says the booster is "derived from" the F9, but is mentioned to have a mass of <500.000 lb (what's that in London double decker buses again?), where the F9 weighs 735.000 lb. So it would be a shortened version then? With only five (uprated) engines? Why not. Would sure make it stiffer (dat's one big stiff rocket there). What strikes me is that they go for this ginormous wingspan and six engines, but the mass is actually less than an AN-225 or even A380. Why? And why, then, do they need a 12000ft (35 football pitches or what) runway? With the straight wing and all, that doesn't make sense. And so it goes on. Many of the technical details appear a bit arbitrary - not at all what I'd expect from Mr Rutan, retired or not. But then, we are talking about one of the true masters of the trade, so if he's really in it with more than his name, I'm sure we'll be enlightened before too long.
And don't forget that a standard rocket is intended to carry weight _along_ its axis, with almost no resistance to bending, whereas hanging one off an aircraft is going to require substantial re-design, ie strengthening, ie extra weight.
The flexibility that this provides for the final orbit will be important.
A typical launch site doesn't launch rockets over populated areas, due to the risk of showering the populace with exploding carcinogenic acid (aka 'rocket fuel'). This limits the inclination of the orbit--the angle of the orbit plane relative to the equator--because rockets generally get launched in the direction of the orbit inclination. (The rocket or the satellite can change direction afterwards, but this takes a LOT of fuel.)
Why is this relevant? Because an airplane can go out over the ocean and fly in any direction it wants, and therefore launch a payload into whatever inclination the customer needs. Previously this was done by Orbital Science Corporation's "Pegasus", but that was a pretty small rocket. This is going to be a big boy.
Benefits of air launch...
The biggest is, of course, that you don't need all that ground equipment -- noise suppression water systems, gantries, etc, plus you can launch from anywhere on the planet.
There are plenty of runways long enough (Kennedy and Edwards both have them. Actually, both Kennedy Space Center and John F. Kennedy International airport could serve, but obviously the latter _might_ raise hazard eyebrows.
One point is that this is already a "known" technology: not only does the SpaceShipOne (and Two) use it, but so does Orbital Sciences with their Pegasus launcher, which was the first private commercial vehicle to offer launch services.
The key issue, though, seems to me to be that this is "just" another low-to-medium payload system. What we need is a big truck, and what this (and Falcon 9, and Antares, and everything else) is a transit van. Cheap, effective, as long as things you want to carry aren't too big or heavy.
Here's the nub of the thing: Ariane, Proton, Long March 5, Titan IVB and the Space Shuttle could/can (theoretically) put something over 20,000kg (but less than 25,000kg) into LEO . This is good, but....
Saturn V could put 118,000kg into the same orbit.
Not the heaviest
As the Antonov An-225 can be 640 tonnes at take off. That's 12,600 cwt in old money.
An 225, by the way, has the same wingspan as the Spruce Goose. And the tail, the same height. There is a cut-out comparison somewhere in the interwebs. Maybe here:
...but that never stopped visionaries before.
Seems quite plausible, so long as NASA stys the hell out of it.
"By Grabthar's Hammer
what a savings."
To get all our atomic weapons in low earth orbit on Paul Allen's dime. We'll show those Chinese not to have their own private space station when everybody else has a timeshare one.
Blatant LOHAN rip-off!
All he did was swap the balloon with airliners. Cry havoc and let slip the suits of law!
And only call off the lawyers when they promise to call it
The Obvious Next Step
After getting the carrier aircraft working, the obvious next step is to add some wings, landing gear, and small jet engines to the rocket first stage. Once it is empty of fuel, it will not weigh that much, so it will not need them to be very large. Recovering the rocket stage will dramatically improve the economics.
It makes sense not to tackle that right off the bat, just building the carrier aircraft is a big enough project to start with.
They're not bothering with wings and extra engines, just landing legs and the existing rocket engines.
"After getting the carrier aircraft working, the obvious next step is to add some wings, landing gear, and small jet engines to the rocket first stage. "
No. Spacex is pursuing reusability for F9 doing *none* of these things.
I doubt they will abandon that approach unless they collect a *lot* of information to prove it won't work first.
The Spruce Goose actually flew
With Hughes at the controls, on what was supposed to be a floating taxi test, the spruce goose left the water and flew for a short distance. It was perfectly airworthy, and would have been a boon to US military transport, being immune to submarines, as well as substantially faster than ships. It was designed to fly fairly low, and built of wood so it would not compete with other industries for metal.
It was, actually, quite practical, and would have been very useful, if the need for it had not evaporated.
Any truth to the rumor that Howard Hughes and his heirs enforced terms in the contract donating the H-4 for display that no one ever attempt to fly it again?
re: The Spruce Goose actually flew..
... not to mention the savings on runways. Just build a "lake runway". Sorted. Or find a reasonably wide and calm river. What was the name of that river where an Airbus landed the other day, again?
And the Antonov lands on grass, if needed.
A Lofstrom Loop instead.
Here's a url if it's ok with the moderator.
Cut and shunt
It's not going to cost much more than buying two airplanes, taking a wing off each, and making a custom midsection to join them together. I'd have expected to see at least two engine mounting points on the middle bit though.
Love the rewritten article!
1st, @Chrisinastrangeland, thanks for the technical info on the earlier version of this article - very helpful.
2nd, While, as I said before, I'm not an engineer, I was an accountant for ten years (not in aerospace though) & while it IS good that more people are getting involved in making new launchers (take lots of different routes to a solution and one of them is likely to find a cheaper, safer, faster route), I'm still not convinced as to the economics of it.
Yes, Paul Allen has oodles of money to throw at it and it's of much more benefit to humanity to be doing access-to-space than to build huge luxury yachts (with the two helicopters and the submarine - Yes, I am jealous and would do the same thing if I had his money) but, at the end of the day, it has to be done with regard to economics.
While you can build, and then write off the costs, of the mothership & payload rocket, the mothership is likely to have a life of... I don't know... ten years?
And after that, unless some billionaire is willing to pay for (and then write off) another mothership, the whole program/business comes to a crashing (unfortunate word-choice, I know) halt. In the real world, you have to service your development costs if you're going to be viable. Billionaires with money to burn are great for getting things started but unless they're willing to keep burning, then the things they start have to play by the same rules as everyone else.
SpaceX already has lower-cost rockets than anyone else in the business, from what I can see and they are beginning a program to make their rockets reusable, starting with the first stage. This WILL have another significant effect on the cost and selling price of the Falcon rockets. They can prepare for the next generation of (reusable) Falcons.
And let's not forget something that is equally likely to revolutionise the economics of access-to-orbit from 2020 onwards... SKYLON!
But the Real Question is
How long before this aircraft is included in Microsoft Flight Simulator?
Do you mean the mothership or the rocket?
The mothership would be just like any other large aircraft on MS Flight Simulator.
The rocket on the other hand...
Although you'd better end your flight in orbit 'cos if you consistently end by flying the rocket into... something, the FBI's gonna be knocking on your door faster that you can say...
Hang on, someone's at the door. Back in a minute...
if they have to abort the flight for any reason? Don't know if I'd like to land the bugger with a directional bomb underneath it.
And they want to use it for manned flights? Would YOU like to be the strapped-in rocket-jockey on the nipple when "brace for crash-landing" comes over the headset?
@ Kharkov ...someone who understands. Skylon will be off into orbit with its 12,000 Kg payload whilst this monstrosity is trying to get to 10,000m. Can this bring anything back from orbit? Can it send people up? What are its abort profiles? What we really need is reusable SSTO, not this shite. I thank you.
Once Reaction engines get the £1B needed to build Skylon, I'm sure it'll be great. If it works.