Rick Newlands 2013 - 2017

‘Spacelouge’ was the first idea I had for a small spacecraft tailored to my M.E. restrictions. It’s basically a one-man ultralight (microlight) spaceglider that I’ would fly lying flat on my back (hence the name ‘louge’) cos I can’t sit up. Lying flat allows healthy people to withstand up to 20 gees of acceleration, so I should easily be able to withstand the 4 gees during rocket ascent and the 5 gees of re-entry. Lying-prone aircraft have been built and flown, though usually the pilot lies on his stomach with the head foremost. I intend to lie on my back with my head at the rear, so several video-cameras are required to let me see the view outside with adequate coverage. Modern webcams are small, lightweight, and reliable.



I was going to enter a spaceplane for the Ansari X-prize in the ‘90’s but I knew it was missing a vital safety-feature to ensure a safe re-entry. But I couldn’t work out what was required. The aeronautical genius Burt Rutan devised a ‘feathers’ system that like the flights on a dart keep the craft flying at precisely the correct attitude for re-entry, and then they fold back to transform the craft into a glider. Soon you’ll be able to fly in one of Burt’s feathered spacecraft called SpaceshipTwo if you have the money (Virgin Galactic).


So I certainly didn’t invent the feathering system, but I didn’t invent the parachute either: it would be crazy not to have both systems onboard as they greatly enhance the safety of the mission. But I must point out that neither Rutan nor Virgin Galactic nor anyone involved with the design of their SpaceshipTwo craft endorses my spacecraft concept. They have the time and money to make their craft ultra-safe but I don’t. I do want to come back in one piece of course.



Spacelouge is basically a high-tech hang glider, based on the original Nasa Parasev.


The wings are fabric (high temperature proof fabric) to keep the weight down. This ensures a low wing-loading which is key to the success of the mission. The wing-loading is a measure of how much wing area there is per each kilo of the vehicle. The lower the wing-loading (and this vehicle has a low loading of 15 kilograms per square metre), the gentler the re-entry becomes (so I can go higher) and also the lower the landing airspeed becomes (about 25 knots), so I can land on a short grass airstrip or beach.


Hang gliders usually don’t have a tailplane (the Rutan feathers here) but this omission makes them prone to a lethal malfunction called the ‘tumble mode’ which is a very rapid pitch rotation end-over-end that can’t be stopped.


The wings have a slight downward cant (negative dihedral = anhedral) as otherwise the Spacelouge could be over-stable (called ‘Dutch roll’) due to the high position of the tailfins. The anhedral also improves supersonic re-entry performance (see the Aspirespace website ‘spaceplanes’ - ‘waveriding’).

As well as the Rutan movable feathers, at the front of the Spacelouge are a pair of canards which look like the wings on a christmas-tree angel. (Shown in yellow here):


These ‘angel wings’ deploy like a paper fan for re-entry, and are designed to move the centre of the aerodynamic forces (centre of pressure, CP) forwards again when belly-flopping back into the atmosphere, because otherwise the centre of pressure moves backwards at such a high inclination to the direction of travel (about 60 degrees angle of attack).


If I didn’t stop the CP moving rearwards, then Spacelouge would get very nose-heavy and would go into a steep dive. In contrast, Rutan’s SpaceshipTwo folds up the rear of its wings to do the same thing. It subtracts wing area whilst I want to add more: more area equals lower re-entry gees.


Once re-entry is over, the angel-wings retract completely like a folded fan.


Lying flat presents one problem during rocket ascent out of the atmosphere: what to do with the wings?


They’re not needed for ascent, and just create unwanted aerodynamic forces that could tip the rocket over. I thought of fixing the wings side-on to the rocket, like the Space Shuttle on its tank, but this caused off-centre lift and drag forces, and I figured I’d have a hard job to engineer me being flat whilst the wings were tilted at 90 degrees to my body. (But I managed it, see the Spacedare spacecraft).


Instead, the whole craft lies flat during ascent, and the fabric wings are simply folded away. Then, once safely above the atmosphere and once the rocket has burnt out, the Spacelouge is separated from its carrier booster rocket, and the wings unfold and lock into place to create effectively a V-shaped parachute.


The feathers, and the angel-wings, are actuated by compressed-gas pistons.


To see the technical decisions that led to Spacelouge see ‘the spacecraft’.

Challenges


Nobody’s ever flown a Mach 3 hang glider before. One of the big engineering challenges will be to prevent flutter: the rippling of the aerodynamic surfaces like a flag in a breeze. I’ve paid careful attention to where the shockwaves will go during re-entry to prevent them causing flutter, ‘buzz’, or shock-shock interaction (when one shock intersects another it can melt things right off). The use of carbon-fibre to stiffen the tubes that form the leading (front) edges of the wings should help.

Previous incarnation: the Spacelouge:

Here’s a very basic sketch of Spacelouge: I’m in blue in the middle of the craft, the fuselage and wings are white, and the Rutan feathers (see below) are yellow and at the rear (and in red in their re-entry position).