Friday, July 27, 2007

Blast At Scaled Composites Kills Three

Burt Rutan's company Scaled Composites (recently purchased by Northrop Grumman) suffered a fatal accident which killed three and critically injured three others. The accident occurred while testing a nitrous oxide injector for a new rocket motor being developed for SpaceShipTwo, the spacecraft which will be operated commercially by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

Although Rutan's new spacecraft is being developed mostly in secrecy, it's likely to be a scaled-up version of SpaceShipOne, the winner of the Ansari X-Prize shown in the photo above. SpaceShipOne's motor was a hybrid liquid/solid design that was essentially tire rubber oxidized by laughing gas. This motor was considered to be relatively safe, but as this incident once again proves, "safe" has a different meaning when applied to rocket flight.

Burt Rutan has been very critical of NASA (sometimes warrented, sometimes not). Now he and his crew are learning the hard reality. When operating at the edge of the possible, the margin for error is razor-thin.

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