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Standing room only - the world's tiniest manned suborbital vehicle


May 20, 2012

Leading end of the Tycho Brahe suborbital vehicle showing the observation dome and a full-sized manikin representing the passenger (Photo: Copenhagen Suborbitals)

Leading end of the Tycho Brahe suborbital vehicle showing the observation dome and a full-sized manikin representing the passenger (Photo: Copenhagen Suborbitals)

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Generally speaking, companies developing suborbital manned vehicles brag about how much elbow room their spacecraft will provide passengers. They say there will be plenty of room to float around during the weightless portion of the flight, that there will be no fighting for windows, that passengers will comfortably endure the high-g portions of the flight ... and then there's Copenhagen Suborbitals' (CS) Tycho Brahe.

CS takes a different approach toward the whole challenge of suborbital flight. Founded in 2008 by Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen, CS is working with the stated goal of showing how space flight can be done outside governments and large corporations. The emphasis of the group is simplicity - using the simplest possible solutions which depend on technologies requiring little if any government paperwork.

Funding what is in essence a group of (highly skilled) amateur rocket scientists is also an exercise in simplicity. Operating funds are obtained through donations and sponsorships. Presently over 2000 people have donated to CS. Materials and equipment are also in large part donated, and the 20-odd team members are all volunteers. The activities of CS are open source, and all information and plans are also available to the public. To date, roughly US$300K has been spent over the past four years of extremely active development.

CS's Tycho Brahe is a one-passenger capsule intended for a purely ballistic flight to a peak altitude approaching 100 miles. The passenger is just along for the ride, with no mechanism to steer or otherwise pilot the capsule. Were it not for the transparent hemisphere (a plastic fishbowl) surrounding the passenger's head, the capsule would certainly be called claustrophobic, with a launch weight of 300 kg (660 lbs), a diameter of 0.62 m (2.03 feet), a capsule length of 3.5 m (11.5 feet) and a "cabin" length of 2.3 m (7.5 feet).

The crash test dummy (called "Randy" ... not "Buster") used for the initial flights has an average adult male build and a weight of 70 kg (154 lbs). The hull of the capsule and rocket are inexpensive - made from rolled-up two-meter wide steel plate, which is a standard size in Copenhagen. The internal atmosphere of the capsule is Earth atmosphere at one bar pressure.

As can be seen in the cross-section above, the passenger capsule is well packed with equipment. The passenger can only move their arms and turn their head slightly and spend the entire duration of the flight in a semi-standing position (people are particularly sensitive to accelerations experienced vertically, as blood pools in the lower extremities and leaves the brain somewhat starved of oxygen).

This seemingly uncomfortable ride position is partially offset by the design of the acceleration couch, which comprises an aluminum frame covered in memory foam, then covered with a fine leather outer layer. In addition to the cushioning effect of the memory foam the support forces a slight bend of the legs and thighs, thereby greatly reducing the loads on the knees, hips, and ankles. The passenger is equipped with anti-g bladders which squeeze the legs during periods of large acceleration. The downside - Tycho Brahe's astronauts will not be able to sample floating in zero-gravity, as it will not be possible for them to move around.

Externally, the Tycho Brahe has an aerospike to improve the supersonic aerodynamic performance of the capsule. Communications with the ground use two downlink transmitters and one uplink transmitter. Tracking of the capsule is facilitated by a 10.5 gigahertz transponder that sends a tracking signal to a portable tracking system near the launch vehicle.

After the weightless part of the flight is ended, the Tycho Brahe has a heat shield which consists of multiple layers of cork tiles wrapped around the capsule to a total thickness of 15 mm (0.59 inches). The capsule has one drogue and three cross-shaped main parachutes for recovery, with a total area of 145 sq m (1560 sq ft). If something goes amiss, the passenger is also equipped with a personal parachute for "panic egress".

Next on the boards for CS is continued testing of the Tycho Brahe and its launch system, as well as ongoing development of the Tycho Deep Space, an orbital vehicle similar to a half-scale Apollo capsule, for which a more powerful launch rocket is being developed. A date for the first manned flight of the Tycho Brahe has not yet been set, but the astronaut will be Peter Madsen, co-founder of CS.

Copenhagen Suborbital's quest for private, inexpensive space flight may appear a terribly risky gamble to the casual outsider. However, like so many things, risk and reward balances are in the eye of the beholder. As one of the founders, Kristian von Bengtson, said this on his blog: "Is it better to die old and senile, or to die at 150 km with a big smile on your face?"

For myself, I can only say that if I lived in Denmark, I would run out to their main site and join in their effort.

The video below shows the 2011 test launch of the Tycho Brahe.

Source: Copenhagen Suborbitals

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

I normally refrain from writting bad about innovations appearing on Gizmag. One look tells me this is a claustrophobic flying coffin in which you won't even have room to scratch an itch. I would rather die of old age than die (what a prediction) with an itch and in a cocoon.


I hope the weight limit for this human carrying missile is more than the 70 kg (154 lbs) weight listed in the article, otherwise most Americans won't be able to have a ride ;)


I respect the minimalist philosophy that made the passenger space so small. I understand, grudgingly, the safety compromises made to keep this project affordable.

But what disqualifies the whole effort in my eyes is the inability of the rocket to deliver to any, even the lowest, orbit. This makes the key difference between a practical spacecraft, which this is not, and a vanity project, which it is.



Many people have seen pictures from the weather baloon suborbital flights. But seeing this in person is something very different. Other than that, I hardly see any other value in this.

Kris Lee

I think it's great. Why spend so much when one can do it for far less. Personally I'd go for a lifting body like the Dyna-soar that could launch and land at a long airport runway or from, land on water like a seaplane has been done already. Water landing means you have lots of choices.

Because of the large area it's heat shield needs are far less.

Could be launched by a 100mph boat, rocket track, etc for more range.

While it would cost more it would be reuseable and even used to travel 1,000 miles rather fast. Hydrogen peroxide and ethanol or biodiesel or other low cost, high impulse fuel and little to maintain.


This looks more like an escape pod from an actual space traveling ship or space station than it does a "launched from the earth single person mover".

Gene Jordan

I'm not overweight but I'm too heavy to be lifted by this -- which is no matter, since I doubt my cardiologist would go for the trip even if I thought I'd remain sane until landing and wanted to try. Still -- as in the early days of manned powered-and-winged atmospheric flight, I think every attempt adds to the basic store of information. Can three or five of these boosters, once proven, be strapped together to make a heavier lifting vehicle? Surely if the current upper stage was not a semi-man-rated stage but an active upper stage they'd be able to do some science, or some business, with a 20 or 30 pound payload.

Steve Miller

What if he gets a painful cramp? What if he needs to stretch??? This happened to me once in a car & I almost went crazy! I find this very disturbing.


@Oztechi - pssh. Most PEOPLE wouldn't meet that weight limit. girls yes, but not to many guys.

Derek Howe

I've been following Copenhagen Suborbitals on FB for a while now....these guys REALLY know what they are doing and I'd have TOTAL confidence going up....more than once I have posted "get me off this sh*tty rock!" in reply to one of their Status Updates...this is FANTASTIC and could REALLY revolutionise the whole human-space industry. They did a live engine test the other day that they put on LiveStream, that went a bit more successfully than the SpaceX one did. (maybe the author could post a link)

Vincent Najger

holy crap.i get claustrophobia just looking at this.

Cowfy Kaufman

I generally like to be positive, but the word I have is I---t. Send the designer up(for a short ride) so he may experience what he has created. And try wiping your butt on a long trip.

It's too confined!!!

What if you land in the ocean and get a leak...

or land on the ground and the nose cone doesn't protect your face from being smashed...

what cartoon did you see this in??? The Roadrunner Show Back to the drawing board...don't give up...but give it more thought, a lot more thought.

Refreshing point of view

@Cowfy There are no long trips!

Many of you are overlooking at least one positive use of sub-orbital flight. To get from one place on the earth to another VERY fast. Like faster than the now defunct Concord fast. Like NYC to Tokyo in less than an hour fast! There are certainly uses for systems that do not get to orbit!


This reminds me of the Mobile Infantry Drop Pods in Starship Troopers. Now for the powered armor.


Author's Note. I'd like to respond very politely to a few of the comments which have been made.

oztechi - Randy's weight is 70 kg, but that is not a limit of the Tycho Brahe. jerryd - The Tycho Brahe and its launch vehicle are reusable. Steve Miller - CS is working on a 1-2 passenger orbital vehicle with a larger launch vehicle. Refreshing - the designer IS going up in it - the first passenger.

And thank you all for reading the article! Brian Dodson


I agree that this is a great idea - and i can't see the future of space flight as being anything but lots of time spent in cramped compartments for the first few hundred years. Claustrophobic or large people need not apply. I would personally rather spend one hour in a pod with a view like this to get to london, than 24 hours in a barely larger economy seat, as long as it was proven safe of course.


This is how we send our kids to another earth when ours blows up! SUPERMAN!!

Rathana Pen

Thanks,Brian,for clarifying.

It is sad how quick people are to criticize or make aggressive  (yet ignorant&juvenile) assertions, especially on a site that is supposed to be science oriented. I would think that these pioneers have many other ideas than this but they have to start somewhere.

This really is pure ballistic rocketry and is no more or less dangerous than early aviation or most other fields of motorized transportation-dead is dead,after all. At least there's an escape route - is this really any more dangerous than sky-diving? It is much less dangerous than NASA's early missions in bigger&roomier capsules.

Remember Gus Grissom & the guys and their disastrous death on the launch pad? Before this happened, Lieutenant Colonel Grissom had said, "If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."

There is a memorial near there that states: "Ad Astra Per Aspera"... "It is a rough road  that leads to the stars" (more or less).

Let the herds wait for the cattle cars - I don't expect they'll ever get to space anyway. At least these guys are doing something instead of just playing the critic... or video games.

What would Wilbur and Orville think? I think they'd wanna ride!


better idea, ditch the pressurization, have the occupant wear a space suit, open the hatch and tether them to the capsule and allow them to space walk for a minute or two then pull them back in and reenter.

Mihai Pruna
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