Danish rocketeers ready to launch British dummy
Go, Randy. Go! A group of Danish rocketeers has headed out into the Baltic Sea to launch a British dummy about 30km into the sky.
The dumb doll will sit atop the Heat-1X booster when it flies from a restricted military range, perhaps as early as Thursday.
The Heat-1X is the latest iteration in Copenhagen Suborbitals' quest to develop the ultimate in personal space transportation.
If all goes well in this test - and the others that will follow - then Randy will be replaced with a real human.
The idea is that this passenger would half-sit, half-stand inside a tube little wider than their shoulders. Above their head would be a see-through dome that could afford them the most spectacular view as the rocket climbed above the blue of Earth.
At a predetermined moment, the tubular spacecraft would separate from the booster and the passenger would then follow a weightless ballistic trajectory. The maximum altitude hoped for would be a little over 100km - in space.
The return would be a parachute-assisted splash-down, again in the Baltic Sea.
There are many amateur groups around the world who chase the dream of developing their own sub-orbital launch system. The Copenhagen team have attracted attention because of the very "singular" way they hope to launch their private astronauts.
And like all such ventures, the project has been built on limited cash and an awful lot of goodwill. Randy, for example, is the sort of dummy that is used by fire services to practise rescues from burning buildings.
He was paid for and donated to the Danish team by a supporter in the UK.
Kristian von Bengtson leads Copenhagen Suborbitals with project partner Peter Madsen. Kristian tried to work out for me the total cost of the endeavour:
"In the past year, we've spent about 50,000 euros, which has been paying the rent, producing the rocket and the spacecraft and also the launch platform. So that's about the same price as a family car, at least here in Denmark. But then again, we've had a lot of equipment from companies which has basically cost them nothing to give us. It's definitely less than 100,000 euros - and that's about the price of the keyhole of the space shuttle."
The Copenhagen Suborbitals website carries plenty of impressive YouTube-style videos of static motor tests.
The Heat-1X is a hybrid booster - it will burn a solid polyurethane propellant with liquid oxygen. Kristian says it should achieve about 70-80 kilonewtons of thrust this week on lift-off (by comparison the Ariane 5 develops 13,000kN).
The goal on this first flight is only to go a few tens of km, to test the systems and then move on to the next iteration. Step by step, says Kristian:
"We're not going to change the dummy for a real person until we've seen the rocket fly to the final height, the final apogee; and many times so we can feel secure about riding it ourselves. And that may take more than three years; it may take less than 10 years - it's difficult to say because we're not trying to kill ourselves here; we're just having fun. We'll do it when we're ready to do it."
We'll follow their progress, and that of Randy, with interest.
The Danish government has given Copenhagen Suborbitals the use of its ESD139 test range until 17 September.
If the Heat-1X cannot fly before that date, the team will have to wait until 2011 for another chance to launch.