Launch Deadlines Won’t Cancel Private Spaceflight, Canadian Says

The Race is On: Second Private Team Sets Launch Date for Human Spaceflight
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.
(Image: © T. Malik/SPACE.com)

A privateteam of Canadian rocketeers is still plowing ahead to ready its spacecraft forflight, apparently unfazed by looming launch license and insurance deadlines thatmay have to be extended should the rocket not fly this month.

BrianFeeney, leader of the GoldenPalace.com/da Vinci Project, said an approachingNov. 1 flight deadline for his group's space shot - and winter weather at theintended launch site - are not mission-ending obstacles for his Toronto-basedteam.

"I am notconcerned about the launch license date," Feeney told SPACE.com. "Our objective is to get the first private Canadian intospace."

Feeney hadhoped to make two launches this month to compete the $10 million Ansari XPrize competition, a private suborbital spaceflight competition among morethan two dozen teams. The contest was won on Oct. 4, when a spacecraft SpaceShipOnebuilt by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan made its secondsuccessful X Prize flight.

On Oct. 1,the Canadian transportation agency Transport Canada announcedthat its Launch Safety Office had issued a month-long launch license for the daVinci Project's Wild Fire Mark VI spacecraft. That license ran from Oct. 2 toNov. 1, which is rapidly drawing near, and Feeney's team originally planned tostage their first flight from the local airport of Kindersley, Saskatchewan onOct. 2. The launch has been on holdsince Sept. 23.

But aconfident Feeney said the official license dates, which cleared Wild Fire fortwo space launches within 30 days, were based on the availability of his team'sflight insurance.

"The launchwindow would have been longer if the insurance had run longer," he said, addingthat 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 applicationto Transport Canada.

Under theircurrent flight plan, Feeney and his team will launch Wild Fire using a largehelium balloon with Feeney himself at the helm. The balloon is expected tocarry 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 rocketengine. In total, Feeney should experience about three minutes of suborbitalspaceflight before reentering the Earth's atmosphere and parachuting toward histargeted landing zone near Elrose, Saskatchewan - about 76 miles (122kilometers) from Kindersley.

"Basicallyas long as the team keeps to the same requirements as in their initial launchapplication, that's fine," Transport Canada spokeswoman Lucie Vignola told SPACE.com. "They will just have to showproof of insurance from Nov. 1 on."

Chilly weather

Feeney alsoaddressed how winter weather could affect his launch date.

A smalltown of about 5,000 people, Kindersley received about five inches of snow lastweekend according to local reports from residents. Accuweather.com forecastsfor the next 10 days include frigid weather in the single digits Celsius and atleast two separate days with snowfall.

"The only thingthe weather does is drop snow," Feeney said, adding that should snow cover thelaunch site, it would cleared using large rolling vehicles used akin to thoseused by local farmers.

A heated tentover Wild Fire should protect the rocket from cold temperatures, he added.

Feeney didsay that the wind tends to blow consistently stronger in the winter, but WildFire's early-morning launch plan should take advantage of lighter wind speeds.

"Hell,we're Canadian," Feeney said of dealing with harsh weather.

In additionto carrying a few interesting items, including a soccer ball kicked byprofessional soccer player David Beckham, an eight-track cassette and a laptopcomputer, which Feeney will use to place a bet during his flight for da Vincititle sponsor GoldenPalace.com, an online casino. The casino is also sendingCabbage Patch doll likeness of comedian Ellen DeGeneres,which GoldenPalace.com purchased in an eBay charity auction. Feeney said thedoll is being outfitted with a spacesuit and replica of his own space helmet,and will eventually be given back to DeGeneres toraise more funds after its Wild Fire ride.

Local anticipation

Local eventorganizers said the bulk of Kindersley remains supportive of the da Vinciproject.

"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 steeringcommittee organizing local launch-related activities. "I think the community isstill behind the launch, though like anything it there are some naysayers."

Before thelaunch was delayed, Kindersley Chamber of Commerce president Rod Perkins saidthe 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 ofabout 10,000 for the day.

"I think wehad everything in place for an Oct. 2 launch," Burton told SPACE.com. "But we went to Plan B, which is to await a new launchdate."

Burton saidthe delay has prompted some changes, including the closing of the CapeKindersley office in the local mall, which occupied donated space that is nowin use by paying groups. Activities planned at the local event center, an icerink, will have to be relocated since the space there is now covered in ice,she added.

"It makesit 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 toreschedule. "I think we're just looking forward to just having the [da Vinci]team in town and the atmosphere of having it happen."

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