Homebuilt $70,000 single-person spacecraft tested
By Pawel Piejko
June 6, 2011
Sending a man to outer space in a homebuilt spacecraft worth US$70,000 may seem like a crazy idea to most of us, but not for a Danish group of enthusiasts who call themselves Copenhagen Suborbitals. Their shoestring-budget single-person flying bullet might have come one step closer to an actual manned flight, thanks to a partially successful test flight last Friday (June 3).
The amateur space engineers prepared everything just as if it was going to be a real flight to space, apart from the passenger, which actually was a crash-test dummy. The rocket HEAT 1-X was launched from a floating ramp called "Sputnik" on the Baltic Sea, carrying a single-person standing capsule known as Tycho Brache (named after a Danish astronomer).
All went as planned, apart from the fact that the parachute was torn apart due to air drag and didn't fully open. It was meant to slow down the spacecraft's return, so as it turned out, HEAT 1-X ended up splashing down to the water after just a few minutes of flight.
Maximum altitude achieved during the test flight is estimated at 2.8 km (1.74 miles), which is far less than the Suborbitals team planned (around 15 km/9.32 miles). For comparison, the Kármán line, commonly referred to as the border of outer space, lies at an altitude of 100 km (62 miles).
This wasn't the first attempt at launching the bizarre spacecraft. Copenhagen Suborbitals planned the test for last year, though it failed because of a malfunctioning hairdryer, which was used as a heater inside the rocket. This time the team had more luck, and despite the parachute's failure, they celebrated the fact that the rocket actually flew.
Peter Madsen and Kristian von Bengtson are the brains behind the non-profit Copenhagen Suborbitals organization, having worked on the project since May 2008. Their aim is to lift people to altitudes as high as 120 km (74.56 miles). The person standing in the Tycho Brache capsule would actually not be a pilot or an astronaut, as the machine is controlled remotely from the Earth. "He's not doing anything with the spacecraft; he's not flying it in any way. He's there as an observer," Madsen explained in a New Scientist interview.
Taking into account that the rocket is just 65 cm (25.59 inches) in diameter, it will require lots of courage to take the trip. For certain individuals, however, the chance to be an "observer" will doubtless be a sufficient reward.