The Wild Fire Mark VI spacecraft is set to make its first X Prize launch on Oct. 2, 2004. It is seen here on Aug. 5 during a public unveiling.
Credit: T. Malik/SPACE.com
A private team of Canadian rocketeers is still plowing ahead to ready its spacecraft for flight, apparently unfazed by looming launch license and insurance deadlines that may have to be extended should the rocket not fly this month.
Brian Feeney, leader of the GoldenPalace.com/da Vinci Project, said an approaching Nov. 1 flight deadline for his group's space shot - and winter weather at the intended launch site - are not mission-ending obstacles for his Toronto-based team.
"I am not concerned about the launch license date," Feeney told SPACE.com. "Our objective is to get the first private Canadian into space."
Feeney had hoped to make two launches this month to compete the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition, a private suborbital spaceflight competition among more than two dozen teams. The contest was won on Oct. 4, when a spacecraft SpaceShipOne built by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan made its second successful X Prize flight.
On Oct. 1, the Canadian transportation agency Transport Canada announced that its Launch Safety Office had issued a month-long launch license for the da Vinci Project's Wild Fire Mark VI spacecraft. That license ran from Oct. 2 to Nov. 1, which is rapidly drawing near, and Feeney's team originally planned to stage their first flight from the local airport of Kindersley, Saskatchewan on Oct. 2. The launch has been on hold since Sept. 23.
But a confident Feeney said the official license dates, which cleared Wild Fire for two space launches within 30 days, were based on the availability of his team's flight insurance.
"The launch window would have been longer if the insurance had run longer," he said, adding that if for any reason his team members need to extend their launch window, they can discuss it with their insurers and then submit an amended application to Transport Canada.
Under their current flight plan, Feeney and his team will launch Wild Fire using a large helium balloon with Feeney himself at the helm. The balloon is expected to carry Wild Fire and Feeney to an altitude of about 80,000 feet (24,384 meters), where the manned rocket is designed to separate and ignite its hybrid rocket engine. In total, Feeney should experience about three minutes of suborbital spaceflight before reentering the Earth's atmosphere and parachuting toward his targeted landing zone near Elrose, Saskatchewan - about 76 miles (122 kilometers) from Kindersley.
"Basically as long as the team keeps to the same requirements as in their initial launch application, that's fine," Transport Canada spokeswoman Lucie Vignola told SPACE.com. "They will just have to show proof of insurance from Nov. 1 on."
Feeney also addressed how winter weather could affect his launch date.
A small town of about 5,000 people, Kindersley received about five inches of snow last weekend according to local reports from residents. Accuweather.com forecasts for the next 10 days include frigid weather in the single digits Celsius and at least two separate days with snowfall.
"The only thing the weather does is drop snow," Feeney said, adding that should snow cover the launch site, it would cleared using large rolling vehicles used akin to those used by local farmers.
A heated tent over Wild Fire should protect the rocket from cold temperatures, he added.
Feeney did say that the wind tends to blow consistently stronger in the winter, but Wild Fire's early-morning launch plan should take advantage of lighter wind speeds.
"Hell, we're Canadian," Feeney said of dealing with harsh weather.
In addition to carrying a few interesting items, including a soccer ball kicked by professional soccer player David Beckham, an eight-track cassette and a laptop computer, which Feeney will use to place a bet during his flight for da Vinci title sponsor GoldenPalace.com, an online casino. The casino is also sending Cabbage Patch doll likeness of comedian Ellen DeGeneres, which GoldenPalace.com purchased in an eBay charity auction. Feeney said the doll is being outfitted with a spacesuit and replica of his own space helmet, and will eventually be given back to DeGeneres to raise more funds after its Wild Fire ride.
Local event organizers said the bulk of Kindersley remains supportive of the da Vinci project.
"Certainly, we can say we're the only community in Canada to have been chosen as a [manned] spaceport," said Brenda Burton, a member of the Cape Kindersley steering committee organizing local launch-related activities. "I think the community is still behind the launch, though like anything it there are some naysayers."
Before the launch was delayed, Kindersley Chamber of Commerce president Rod Perkins said the town's 280 hotel rooms were booking up fast and that some local officials - unsure of how many visitors the launch would attract - had given estimates of about 10,000 for the day.
"I think we had everything in place for an Oct. 2 launch," Burton told SPACE.com. "But we went to Plan B, which is to await a new launch date."
Burton said the delay has prompted some changes, including the closing of the Cape Kindersley office in the local mall, which occupied donated space that is now in use by paying groups. Activities planned at the local event center, an ice rink, will have to be relocated since the space there is now covered in ice, she added.
"It makes it all, I guess a little more of a challenge," Burton said of the local effort, adding that most facilities and services require just a phone call to reschedule. "I think we're just looking forward to just having the [da Vinci] team in town and the atmosphere of having it happen."