Space, Rutan's Next Frontier

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XPrize, here we come. While other people talk about commercial manned space flight, Burt Rutan is one of few doing something about it. The owner of Scaled Composites LLC unveiled his company's hardware -- a suborbital spacecraft (click here for larger image) that consists of an airborne launcher (a.k.a. the White Knight) and the space ship, SpaceShipOne. The vehicles have been under development for two years at Scaled's Mojave, Calif., facility. The company's Web site says the craft will be used to determine the feasibility of commercial manned space flight. Meanwhile, another California company is burning rubber in its bid to supply the power for SpaceShipOne. SpaceDev, of Poway, Calif., has developed a hybrid rocket that burns nitrous oxide, the laughing gas you get at the dentist, and HTPB, which is ordinary tire rubber. In a news release, SpaceDev CEO Jim Benson said the Rutan project is a great PR platform for the rocket, which has commercial and military applications as well. Research on the rubber-burning rocket began in September 2001 and the engine has been test-fired successfully.