Wednesday, August 19, 2009

X-15


Test pilot and astronaut (STS-2) Joe Engle explaining the X-15

2009 is also 50th birthday of the first reusable spaceship. In October 1959 the X-15 made its first flights, starting a test programme that lasted until 1968. Wednesday at Johnson Space Center pilot Joe Engle remembered his involvement with the most successful test plane ever.

X-15 flights had a great influence on the Shuttle program, since reentry parameters were very similiar. For instance, the X-15 landed "dead stick" without power. X-15 flights convinced Shuttle designers that extra turbojet engines for landing were not worth the extra weight. The X-15 flew to heights of 67 miles, earning astronaut wings for some of the pilots. Joe Engle and the other X-15 pilots flew the first spaceship.

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2 Comments:

Blogger nige said...

"The X-15 flew to heights of 67 miles, earning astronaut wings for some of the pilots. Joe Engle and the other X-15 pilots flew the first spaceship."

Yes, it's fascinating that space is only 62 miles or 100 km away. As Arthur C. Clarke said, it's only an hour's drive if you could go vertically. It only takes 0.98 MJ of energy to send 1 kg to 100 km, which isn't too bad because 1 kg of fuel and oxidiser can release many times that much energy, so with 100% efficiency you only need a smaller mass of fuel than the mass of the astronaut you are sending into space (E = F*d, with F = ma = mg, where g = 9.8 ms^-2). Problem is, a lot more energy is usually wasted in overcoming drag and in the lifting the many tons of a big spaceship. If you could reduce the spaceship mass towards the minimum, including astronauts and fuel, it would be far more economic.

Lightweight plane-type rockets that can fly up are a good idea.

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget that getting there is only half of the equation. You also have to reach the appropriate orbital speed

1:16 AM  

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