A group of engineering students traveled to the Mojave Desert on Friday to see the spaceship that made history by winning the Ansari X Prize last month.
Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne flew to a height of over 71 miles on Oct. 4, earning its creators a $10 million cash prize. Since then, Scaled Composites has received international media attention and attracted the interest of many students at UCSB. Keith Kedward, professor of mechanical engineering, and the UCSB chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers organized a group of 20 students to visit Scaled Composites’ facility and see several of the company’s specialized aircraft, including SpaceShipOne.
The group of students were led on a tour of some of Scaled’s hangars and offices as well as shown a video with footage from SpaceShipOne’s October flight. The students were able to ask the staff questions and were allowed to take photos in a designated area.
The spacecraft’s success has made Scaled Composites a familiar name, but the company is also known for many other custom airplanes, some of which are involved in classified government research. The company has also built some non-aircraft designs, including the General Motors’ Ultralite concept car. GM designed the car, but the body construction details and methods were planned and executed by Scaled Composites, according to the Scaled Web site.
The common thread among all of Scaled’s projects is the use of composite materials. These materials include anything composed of two or more separate substances, but in the industry it often means a combination of epoxy resin and carbon or glass fiber. Carbon fiber composites are very stiff, strong and lightweight, making them ideal for aerospace. They are also expensive and reserved for projects requiring the highest performance.
The vast majority of commercial aircraft are made from aluminum because it is cheaper and traditionally easier to shape than carbon fiber. Scaled Composites, however, is able to use carbon fiber because they specialize in building prototypes where cost is less of a concern.
One such project that makes use of carbon fiber is the Proteus, built by Scaled in 1998. According to their Web site, this plane is designed to carry scientific measuring devices up to 60,000 feet for long periods of time. Its shape makes it efficient at high altitude and able to carry a large payload.