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Private Spaceship Control Problems Fixed
Posted Fri November 07, 2003 @10:16AM
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News is running a story about a private spaceship design which had control problems which were fixed through testing, despite the availability of CFD analysis data. Unfortunately, the article does not cover the reason for using testing over CFD to fix the problem. Could the problem not be solved by CFD? Would CFD take too long? Perhaps it was simply due to the fact that they were at the test site and did not have access to CFD modeling.

Engineers at Scaled Composites have been wrestling with issues of airflow over tail control surfaces of their SpaceShipOne suborbital vehicle. A fourth high-altitude drop test of the craft on October 17 has assessed several modifications to the tail section.

Aerodynamic troubles with the tail cropped up in a previous drop test in September. SpaceShipOne encountered an unwanted nose rise, but was safely maneuvered to runway touchdown by the craft's pilot, Mike Melvill.

Putting high-tech computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis of their design aside, SpaceShipOne handlers decided to "road test" the craft's boom-tail.

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Using a bit of creative Ford driving (CFD), a modified Ford-250 pickup truck tested various changes to SpaceShipOne's tail section. Putting pedal to the metal, the truck accelerated to high speeds to carry out full-scale "wind tunnel" evaluation of the tail assembly. These tests enabled Scaled Composite experts to study several modifications to SpaceShipOne's tail section meant to counter aerodynamic problems uncovered in the prior drop test last September.

Several days of ground testing validated aerodynamic fixes meant to solve the tail stall problem. The fixes were first flown on the October 17 drop test of SpaceShipOne. After release from the White Knight carrier plane at 46,200 feet, pilot Mike Melvill checked out the vehicle's handling qualities.

The Scaled Composite team reported "considerable improvement" of SpaceShipOne's flying attributes, with no vehicle pitch up noted. Real time video from the craft to mission control was used to study aerodynamic improvements to the craft's tail section.

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