DEC 2018


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DECEMBER 2018 4 CompositesWorld FROM THE EDITOR » Four years ago, in the fall of 2014, Virgin Galactic was, by all accounts, well on its way to becoming the rst space tourism service provider. •e company, through its subsidiary •e Space- ship Co. (TSC), built its carbon ber-intensive, eight-passenger SpaceShipOne craft and had been busy testing it throughout the year. It had constructed a new and impressive launch facility near Las Cruces, NM, US, called Spaceport America. Spaceport America was to be the starting and end point for passengers who would pay ‡ˆ‰Š,ŠŠŠ each to ride in SpaceShipOne to the edge of the Earth's atmosphere — an altitude of about '‰',ŠŠŠ ft/''Š,ŠŠŠm — at which point they would be allowed to unbuckle from their seats and enjoy about – minutes of weightlessness, plus an unbeat- able view of Earth, before gliding back to the ground. As of July ˆŠ'˜, some ™ŠŠ people had signed up for a chance to have this experience. •en, in late October ˆŠ'œ, during a test žight of SpaceShipOne, as the spacecraft was still in powered žight and approaching its apogee, co-pilot Michael Alsbury prematurely and inexplicably acti- vated SpaceShipOne's feather mechanism. •e mechanism rotates the wings to a vertical orientation and help guide the craft, shut- tlecock-like, for its return to Earth. However, its premature activa- tion destroyed SpaceShipOne, causing it to break apart. Alsbury was killed; pilot Peter Siebold, although injured, miraculously survived. •ere was plenty of blame to go around for this accident. •e US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in ˆŠ'‰ issued its report on the accident and pointed to inadequate safety standards, lack of regulatory oversight and co-pilot error. Further, the NTSB noted, SpaceShipOne should have had mechanisms in place that would have made premature feather activation impossible. In the meantime, Virgin Galactic and TSC went back to the drawing board and started working on SpaceShipTwo (also called VSS Unity), and you can read about that spaceship and the compos- ites fabrication being done for it, starting on p. 'ˆ of this issue of CW. VSS Unity is now going through žight testing of its own and, in late May ˆŠ'˜, completed its second supersonic žight, reaching an altitude of ''œ,‰ŠŠ ft/'‰,ŠŠŠm. With the ˆŠ'œ accident surely weighing heavily on Virgin Galactic, it is taking its time testing VSS Unity. As a result, it has not yet committed to a service start date. Virgin Galactic, of course, is not the only company pursuing space tourism services. Blue Origin is working on its own craft, New Shepard, which will take passengers to '‰',ŠŠŠ ft/''Š,ŠŠŠm for a similar suborbital experience. Other companies are working on plans for space hotels, lunar tours and more. We look to these programs with some excitement because all of them do or will make substantial use of composites, in everything from passenger and crew structures to launch vehicle bodies. Indeed, when ghting gravity, as all spacecraft must, reducing vehicle mass is a necessity, and that is where composites typically excel. Accidents like SpaceShipOne's, however, give us pause, and remind us that sending humans into space is di¦cult and fraught with danger. •e challenges faced today by Virgin Galactic and others put in stark relief the challenges associated with man's attempt, nearly ‰Š years ago, to land on the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's rst steps on the lunar surface in July '¨™¨ are, today, taken for granted as established, successful historical events. However, the Apollo moon mission (heck, the entire Apollo program) seems nearly miraculous when you consider the meager materials, computing and communications technology available to us at the time. And so I wonder, in ‰Š years, how we will look back on this new age of corporation-led space žight. Will we see here the seeds of programs destined to populate the moon and Mars? Will we, even- tually, take for granted the complexity and risk associated with breaking away from Earth's gravity? What challenges will we face ‰Š years from now that, today, are purely speculative? Stay tuned. How will we look back on this age of corporation-led space flight? JEFF SLOAN — Editor- In- Chief

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