Rick Newlands 2013 - 2017

The spacecraft:

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 worst) my M.E. is about a 6 or a 7, so I had to design a mission tailored specifically to a 6-7


Like many with M.E. I’ve got orthostatic intolerance: my cariovascular system has been affected by my illness and the distribution of blood pressure around my body is screwy: I won’t be able to take high gee acceleration unless I’m lying with my back flat, and I can’t sit upright for the two-hour balloon ascent to 35 kilometres (115,000 feet), nor the leisurely descent after re-entry. The only solution was to design a craft where I can remain flat as in bed.


Also, my arms are rather weak. Solution: use electrically power-assisted controls.


I used to be a pilot, but I’m out of practice, and my reaction time isn’t what it was. Solution: make something small and easy to fly and easy to land.


Not many aircraft have been flown lying on your back but there’s a basic geometry problem: a vertically ascending rocket but with a horizontally-inclined bed lying across it. Not remotely aerodynamic, but you can get away with it if you start on a large balloon at the top of the atmosphere.

I’m enclosed by a pressurised carbon-fibre capsule shown here:


The capsule is filled with air from a large bottle whilst I breathe from an oxygen mask.


Pure oxygen allows me to breathe happily at a reduced gas pressure inside (a cabin pressure of 8.5 psi which is equivalent to an altitude of 14,000 feet), which lowers the weight of the capsule. To reduce the buildup of exhaled water-vapour which could fog the windows, and to prevent the buildup of toxic carbon dioxide which I exhale (and also to save on oxygen), I’m plumping for the scuba re-breathing system being pioneered by the Perlan2 ultra-high altitude glider. Rebreathers have become much more reliable in the past decade due to the use of electronic sensors to monitor the gasses.


(A rebreather is a breathing apparatus that absorbs the carbon dioxide of a user's exhaled breath to permit the rebreathing (recycling) of the substantially unused oxygen content of each breath. Oxygen is added to replenish the amount metabolised by the user.) Spacesuits and space capsules use rebreather technology.


The capsule is foam-insulated and electrically heated to protect me from the cold of Space. The capsule has several windows, which are double-layered for safety. The flight instruments are electronic (‘glass cockpit’).


All of the aerodynamic controls are electrically powered, which is called ‘fly-by-wire’. This enables me to fly by moving a little low-force joystick and rudder pedals, and avoids the complexity and potential cabin leakage of a traditional mechanical system. Obviously, the fly-by-wire system has backups. The lithium-polymer batteries are in a fireproof container.


To allow me to get the best view when in Space, there are little compressed-gas thrusters at the nose and wingtips to jet me into the correct orientation.


Challenges


Nobody’s ever flown a Mach 3 home-built spacecraft before, however I’ll be flying very high up where the air is thin, so the aerodynamic forces on the craft will be low. Although nobody’s done this before, I predict that in a very few years this sort of mission will be a popular adventure sport.



Testing


One advantage of a fly-by-wire system plus onboard video-cameras is that the whole mission can be test-flown by radio-control with nobody onboard prior to a manned flight. The craft can then be filled with my weight in scientific experiments.



Current thoughts


A list of my current technical thoughts on the design can be downloaded here: thoughts


The Spacedare The booster The balloon The Spacelouge

After conceiving the idea of this mission (see ‘the idea) I jotted down some requirements for the spacecraft:


I need a very big firework to reach space (officially defined as 100 kilometres above your head). Or, better still, start a third of the way up to space from a big balloon: that’d require a smaller rocket.


Actually, starting from a high altitude balloon means you can use a much smaller firework. We live at the bottom of an ocean of horrendously thick and heavy air. The atmosphere’s so thick that if you can rise above it on a balloon rather than having to plough through it, the amount of rocket fuel you then need drops hugely for this mission.


Also, launching from on high from a balloon is so much safer than launching vertically from the ground: if the engine quits, you have plenty of time to bail out before smacking into the ground and exploding.



My first idea was the Spacelouge, which was a bed in a cockpit that sprouts hanglider wings on the way down for re-entry and landing.


But now I’ve reviewed my technical decisions in designing Spacelouge, and that’s led me to a new design called Spacedare, so named because on the way down the pilot lies prone on his stomach like the pilots in the venerable old British Dan Dare comic, or a hanglider pilot.


Lying prone on your stomach you can comfortably handle 15 gees of acceleration (with a padded chin-rest), and on your back you can handle 20 gees.


Spacedare should fly better after re-entry than Spacelouge though the gees I suffer will be slightly higher.


To learn about Spacedare and Spacelouge, and the balloon and booster rocket that loft them, click on the buttons above.


As for mission control, nowadays it all fits on a little tablet computer next to my head. And don’t worry about the heat of re-entry: at only Mach 3.3 nothing gets that hot.

 

Will the U.K. authorities let me fly? Foolishly, they’ve decided to de-regulate single-seat microlight aircraft so I’m going to design Spacedare as just that sort of craft.