Rick Newlands 2013 - 2017

Balloon ascent

This should be boring if all goes as it should; nothing to do except look out the windows.

I take-off in the very early hours when the wind is light. I’ll be ascending at the usual safe balloon ascent rate of about 1000 feet per minute, which will therefore take around 2 hours to reach launch altitude of 35 kilometres.

I’ll listen to music to calm my pre-launch nerves.

At 35 kilometres, the sky will be very black.

What will the Space trip be like?


Once at 35 Km, hopefully in a pre-arranged part of the sky, we’ll run pre-launch systems checks to make sure all is ready.

And then I’ll manually arm the rocket by flicking a switch, and then, taking a deep breath, I’ll press the big red launch button!

Four lumps of solid propellant will then fire inside the four rocket engine combustion chambers to heat up the plastic fuel tubes, then a second later, a valve opens to let the nitrous into the chambers.

With a sudden roar, I’m on my way upwards at 3 gees. Assuming the automatic steering mechanism works, I’ll ascend at 80 degrees for a few seconds to steer clear of the balloon, and then ascend vertically.

I’ll feel that I’m toppling over backwards: a high gee vertical climb feels like it’s way past the vertical because my inner-ear balance organs will be confused (the somatogravic illusion). I’ll have to trust my instruments to tell me which way is up.

Despite the gees mashing me into my seat, I must monitor the engine instruments. If anything goes awry I can shut the engine down instantly by shutting off the nitrous supply valve. It’ll be difficult to see the instruments, because hybrids give rather a rough ride: a lot of vibration. I’ve designed the engine not to scream though: some nitrous hybrids burn horribly roughly due to poor injector design.

Assuming all goes well, the gees build up to four, and then at 41 seconds after ignition, the liquid nitrous runs out, and the thrust drops away as the engine now burns for a few seconds on nitrous vapour.

Then the thrust stops: burnout.

The most dangerous part of the mission is over. I now fire the explosive bolts to release me from the booster. A small rocket nudges me away from the booster to build up a good, safe, separation distance: I don’t want to meet it on the way down!


I’m way above the sensible atmosphere, so now I’m weightless (so-called ‘zero gee’) for the next five minutes or so. Pity the cabin is so cramped; no room to float around.

Using my joystick, I fire the gas thrusters to steer myself around to admire the view.

I’m rising vertically upwards but with gravity continually slowing me down.

Eventually I stop rising, I’m at apogee (apo-geos: latin for ‘furthest from Earth’) which should be around 120 kilometres up. After that, it’s all downhill.

I rotate the cockpit 180 degrees to orient myself for re-entry, and extend the airbrakes to 60 degrees.

Here’s roughly what Scotland will look like from 120 kilometres up looking southwest, though the sky will infact be black:

From this altitude I can also see England, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, and Iceland’s just on the horizon.


I hit the atmosphere at over 1000 miles per hour.

At first there’s just the faintest whistle, which then becomes a loud shriek as the air rushes past at Mach 3.3

The airbrakes orient my craft vertically, with my cabin side-on to the incoming air.

The gees quickly build up to five, which hurts, but it doesn’t last long. Soon the gees are past, and my craft is descending vertically, and below Mach 1.

Now, unless some emergency dictates me getting to Earth in a big hurry, I transform my craft from a parachute into a glider by retracting the airbrakes and rotating the cabin 90 degrees so I’m flying head-first. I can now take over manual control and properly fly my craft. I’ll primarily fly visually (VFR) because there’s no point looking down from Space if it’s a cloudy day.

Post-re-entry glide

It’ll take about ½ an hour to glide down to Earth after re-entry, with a post-re-entry glide range of about 100 kilometres (54 nautical miles).

Basically, I’ll have to use my instruments (primarily my GPS sat-nav) to navigate: make sure I’m going where air traffic control tells me I can go, as all U.K. airspace between 19,500 feet and 66,000 feet altitude is controlled airspace (class C). I’m aiming to drop below class C airspace within 17 kilometres of my intended runway.

Flying at very high altitude feels like driving on ice: there’s no aerodynamic damping to reduce any rotations that build up. With my fly-by-wire system, I can feed-in signals from rate gyros to artificially put rotational damping back in.

Also, at high altitude I must keep my airspeed down or I’ll go transonic (there be dragons here).


Spacedare will have a glide angle of about 8 degrees (lift-to-drag ratio, or glide ratio, of about 7) due to the sweepback of the front (‘leading edge’) of the wings.

Its low-altitude rate of descent should be about 860 feet per minute at 60 knots, which is a bit fast, but delta wing gliders can really be flared (push the nose really high) to arrest the rate of descent for landing. It’ll just take practice. Stall speed will be about 30 knots.

I’ll use the Space Shuttle’s pre-flare maneuver:

For a greatly superior space-glider, see the Aspirespace Swift: – ‘Spaceplanes’, ‘Swift’.

The Spacedare can land on any beach or grass field, as well as any proper runway.

Two target runways I’d particularly like to glide down to are Scone (Perth) aerodrome, because my family the Newlands used to own the land, and my other fave destination would be the Glenforsa grass strip beside the Glenforsa hotel/restaurant on the magical isle of Mull. (Terrific food!)


A light breakfast before dawn (no roughage: can’t go to the loo inside the craft). “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.”

Then a quick blast on the simulator to warm-up.

I’ll have to breathe oxygen from a mask for two hours before takeoff to purge my blood of dissolved nitrogen: should prevent ‘the bends’ if there’s a major cabin leak below 50,000 feet.

My crew fill the gas balloon, and also fill the booster rocket’s nitrous tank some distance away downwind.

The balloon ascends, lofting a long attachment cable which eventually lifts me up with it.