Mach 2 from a garage

Long ago I elected not to take an aeronautics/astronautics degree, and instead embarked on the path that meandered via a hodgepodge course in physics ‘and stuff’ to my current mucking around trying to inspire eight year-olds to make interesting things out of yoghurt pots. I walked away from aero/astro because I wanted to work in the industry circa 1960, not 1995: I wanted to make things, to finish a project and move on to the next. Project timescales are now so stretched, one might typically see only a couple of aircraft from drawing board to sky in an entire career.

It’s curious to note that while aerospace has gone from measuring projects in years to decades, architecture has gone from lifetimes (cathedrals) to merely years. I’d suggest that architectural engineering is now a faster-moving and more exciting field than aerospace (Discuss, 20 marks). Either way, I’m happy I’m no engineer, and I’ve never regretted the decision I made back in 1990.

Nevertheless, every so often an aerospace project rekindles my boyhood fascination with fast things with wings. One such was ThrustSSC – I wish I’d not taken a (short, dull, badly-paid, frustrating) writing job I was doing at the time and gone out to Mojave to help de-FOD the course, or whatever. I could and should have been there.

Another such project is Scaled Composite‘s X-Prize entry, ‘Tier One.’ Burt Rutan, maverick engineer (now there’s a concept I like) and designer of barking sane aircraft like the Voyager round-the-world craft, has built a spaceship and air-launch platform. SpaceShipOne and White Knight, respectively, are quite unlike anything seen before, are quite quite barking, and make a whole heap of sense. And SpaceShipOne just went over Mach=2 and 100,000ft.

The goal is space. I, for one, will cheer when they make it. Good luck.

3 Comments on "Mach 2 from a garage"

  1. Reminds me of the recent news about the scramjet, which was, IMHO, equally cool. They talk about using it to get part of the way to space, but it’s not usable once you get there, unfortunately…


  2. Interestingly, a scramjet isn’t usable for the first part either – you have to shove the thing along at Mach=3 or so before it’ll light up. So, to get to orbit, you end up needing three separate engines. Which means that at any given time, two-thirds of your engine systems are redundant. That’s a lot of dead weight.
    Back in the 80s/90s, a chap called Alan Bond had something resembling a solution, an air-breathing turbine/rocket that was designed into a BAe/Rolls-Royce concept called ‘HOTOL.’ Unfortunately, the British Government adopted their usual approach to funding space vehicles – they politely declined, and suggested looking overseas. Then the MoD slapped a D-Notice on the whole shebang (zero disclosure – national secret), and BAe were left wandering around saying ‘We’ve got this terrific idea, nobody has anything like it. We can’t actually tell you what it is, but we need a few billion dollars for it.’


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