Copenhagen Suborbitals dreams big with Spica rocket
Meet CopenhagenSuborbitals (CS), the small Danish organization with a big dream –launching a human being into space, and returning them safely toEarth in a shoestring-budget micro rocket. The CS website conveys asimple mission statement, to prove that access to space does not haveto come in the form of an exorbitantly expensive government-subsidized project. CS is proving that a driven group of individualscan achieve what would at first glance appear to be the unachievable,and strike a blow for the democratization of space.
Operating out of aworkshop situated in a closed shipyard, the crowdfunded outfit isstaffed exclusively by volunteers, most of whome devote their time tothe amateur space program after their regular 9 – 5 jobs. CS hasalready launched a number of unmanned rockets of increasingtechnological complexity from a mobile platform in the Baltic Sea.
Land-based launch siteswere quickly ruled out, as the closest established spaceports wereconsidered too remote to be of use, and military installations likeshooting ranges were simply too small to cater to the organization'sambitious goals. The only viable option remaining to the group was tolaunch the rockets at sea. CS constructed a launch complex in theform of a 12-ton (10.9-tonne) steel catamaran, designated Sputnik, whichwould serve as both transportation and launch pad for CS's rockets.
Once both platform androcket have made the treacherous 125 nautical mile (231.5 km) voyagefrom Copenhagen to the launch site, operations will be controlledfrom aboard the CS flagship - the 19 m (62 ft) class German cutterVOSTOK. The primary launch area used by CS is actually an oldmilitary firing zone, which is made available to the group by theAdmiral Danish Fleet.
The first rocketlaunched by CS was the 9.38-m (30.77-ft) tall Heat-1X rocket. Mountedatop the experimental rocket sat the Tycho Brahe spacecraft, andwithin that a test dummy lovingly named Rescue Randy. The less thanideal launch of the Heat-1X rocket taught CS a number of valuablelessons. Soon after launch, the rocket pitched at a 30-degree angle,forcing the ground crew to shut down the launch vehicle's engine only15 seconds into the mission.
The intense forcesresulting from the unfortunate trajectory shredded the parachute,leaving the Tycho Brahe to strike the water at 200 km/h (124mph), inflicting significant damage to the capsule. In the videobelow you can watch the launch from the perspective of Rescue Randy(who we imagine has since been retired from service with full honors).
Despite the apparentfailure of the rocket, the test was considered a success – CS hadmanaged to fabricate and launch a 1,630-kg (3,594-lb) rocket from apurpose-built platform floating at sea. The organization had shownthat many of the fundamental elements of sub-orbital launch andinfrastructure were there, and that it had taken its first steptowards putting a human being in space.
The next significantadvancement for CS came in the form of its single-stage Sapphirerocket, which blasted into the skies above the Baltic Sea sporting anewly implemented guidance and vector control system.
During launch, guidanceand navigation computers located in Sapphire's avionics compartmentmanipulated a set of jet vanes inserted into the rocket's exhaust,which were designed to manipulate the force exerted by thepolyurethane/liquid nitrous oxide hybrid rocket engine. Following thetest, it was revealed that the system performed well, leaving therocket a mere 191 m (627 ft) offtarget as the launch vehicle reached apogee, some 8,253 m (27,077 ft)above the Earth.
Next up for launch willbe the Nexø I & II rockets,which will serve to demonstrate several key technologies including anew hybrid engine and upgraded graphite jet vanes, which will allowthe control mechanism to survive a prolonged 50-second burn. Upondescent, Nexø I will deploy a ballutte to control orientationwhilst in free-fall, and a 34.7 sq m (113.8 sq ft) parachute, whichwill (hopefully) allow the rocket to splash down at a gentle 8 m/s(26 ft/s).
Constructedpredominantly from aluminum in an effort to reduce weight, the Nexøfamily of launchers willbe significantly smaller than the manned Spica rocket, standing only5.5 m (18 ft) tall.The final manufacturing process of the Nexø Irocket is already well underway, with CS hard at work machining andassembling the testing rocket. Both Nexø I and II are scheduled tolaunch this year, with launch windows secured in both August andSeptember.
Whilst Nexø I and IIwill prove to be vital testing missions, it is the Spica rocketfamily that CS is relying on to fulfil its ambition of sending aman into space. Spica is currently in the preliminary design phase,with many aspects of the rocket liable to change as CS continues itsNexø launch campaign.
However, with regard tothe current design, the rocket will stand 13 m (42.7 ft) tall,relying on a 100 kN liquid bi-propellant engine running on liquidoxygen and ethanol to break the oppressive hold of Earth'satmosphere. In order to assure engine efficiency, Spica will use acombination of pressure blow down and an active pressurization systemto ensure that fuel is properly distributed in the propellent tank.
CS intends to move awayfrom the jet vane method of launch vehicle orientation used in theSapphire and Nexø rockets in favour of a gimbal system, which wouldsee the entire engine shift to provide orientation control, resultingin greater efficiency.
The group plans to accelerateSpica to a maximum speed of 3600 km/h (2,237 mph) in aneffort to send the rocket to the Karman line – a point 100 km (62miles) above the Earth's surface. At 190 seconds into the flight,the spacecraft will separate from the launch vehicle and begin itsdescent. Spica I is slated for launch next year, with Spica IIfollowing in 2017.
Little information hasbeen made available regarding the characteristics of the capsule thatwill (hopefully) send the astronaut into space, but since Spica Iis set to be unmanned, CS has a little time to work on the design ofits crewed module. Not being a government body bogged down in aquagmire of admin and bureaucracy, CS can move very quickly fromdesign to production to testing.
This said, keeping anastronaut alive in space is arguably one of the most impressiveengineering feats that our young species has accomplished, sodeveloping the technology required to shield a human being from thedeadly orbital environment, even though the tech is now fairly wellunderstood, will be a tall order for an amateur space program.
As with the Spicarocket, the group's spacecraft will draw on experience collected fromprevious launches. CS states that it is currently designing andbuilding the Apollo-inspired capsule Tycho Deep Space II (TDSII),however from the Spica I graphic, it appears that the eventualspacecraft will boast a cylindrical design at odds with TDSII.
Regardless of the finalshape of the capsule, it must be capable of shielding an astronautfrom a number of potentially lethal threats. Radiation, the vacuum ofspace, the intense heat of re-entry, and just the general forcesinherent with launching a suborbital rocket all pose deadly risks toa potential astronaut. Furthermore, based on the rocket's estimated955-mm (37.6-in) diameter, an inline capsule is going to be a prettycramped and dangerous ride, so the astronaut selected to join SpicaII on its journey to space will need either a lot of courage, or alot of crazy.
CS is also in theprocess of developing other vital safety equipment and systems forits as-of-yet unnamed pioneer in the form of a pressure suit andLAS system, though the latter could only be employed should the final design ofSpica II situate the spacecraft at the apex of the rocket.
At the core of theendeavour is a group of passionate individuals hoping to make theseemingly impossible a reality. Its dangerous, overtly ambitious, andeven a little bit crazy, but should CS ever launch its Spica IIrocket, it will capture the attention of a global audience.
The late and greatPresident Kennedy would be proud.
Source: Copenhagen Suborbitals