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Originally posted by Condorcet
Here's how Burt Rutan's private spaceship will avoid extreme reentry heat - basically by going very slow, or relatively slow compared to most spacecraft.
"Traditionally, there have been two dangerous strategies for returning a spacecraft to Earth: the high-speed, heat-intensive, straight-down drops such as those used in the Apollo program, and the precarious, controlled flights of the shuttle. Rutan has devised an ingenious third method for SpaceShipOne. During descent, the entire wing structure of the ship will tilt upwards about 70 degrees, making the entire craft look like a peacock lifting its tail. The wings control and guide the craft as it drops from space, while the fuselage acts as a giant air brake, slowing the ship's descent. The drop is inherently stable, Rutan says: It doesn't require precision maneuvering like the shuttle, and even though the ship hits Mach 3 on the way down (far slower than the Shuttle's re-entry speed), the airbrake system eliminates the need for thick heat shields. At 80,000 feet, the wings return to a level position, and SpaceShipOne returns to Earth as a glider. "
Home page for his X-Prize spaceship project with great movies for high-bandwidth connections:
Best of luck to the Rutan team. I think they're going to win!
Take a look at the variety of techniques each team will try to solve the problems of achieving orbit and safe reentry at the official x-prize webpage:
[Edited on 29-1-2004 by Condorcet]