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Thursday, 8 December 2011

So, You Got a Space Rocket But Nowhere To Launch It?

So, you want to build a space rocket or maybe you already have? Unless you represent a government agency, have access to Californian deserts or Siberia you might soon realize you have problem. The problem faced by everyone building rockets.


Where in hell are you going to launch it?


Before getting into the darkest realm of it all (export issues) you should consider all options in your own country. In our case (Denmark) we are situated in a very dense populated area which is the case for most of Europe which makes it quite difficult for you to persuade anyone to launch at a random site on land. Most countries have test ranges for amateur rocketry and so do Denmark. But unless you want to stay (deliberately) below 2 km this is a no-go.


Your next step could be looking into finding a country providing better launch options. I suggest just forgetting about countries which are out of your reach export wise. Exporting rockets is really pure hell. You can’t argue about this or even if you can the mass of the final paper work will exceed the mass of your space rocket and even though “friendly” countries are all members of the Wassenar Arrangement , controlling the transfer and use of dual-use technology, I only consider it to be a wall of pain. And still you got the US ITAR and the EU equivalent making it virtual impossible for guys like us to break through anywhere.


For some reason less wise people have agreed to hinder the free flow of science and technology between countries which are supposed to be “friends”. But hey… I just live here..


We managed to find countries where we could have a chance to legally sneak our rockets across the border such as Norway, Sweden and Iceland (there could be more). Sweden and Norway have some great test ranges (Esrange and Kiruna) but they all have a guy hired to answer a phone saying “No”. They don’t like flying experimental rocket that hasn’t flow before and if you mention anything about humans flying they will freak.


So what options do you and I have…???


WATER!


We found out that the legal boundaries of all countries ends about 12 nautical miles from the coast. From this line each country still has their Exclusive Economical Zone where they are entitled to exploit the ocean and sea bed but without any legal saying in what else is happening.


Launching from water may sound completely mad but it has been done many times and for Sea Launch it is just another day at the office and if your project ends up dying due to legal land-launch issues why not take a trip into the ocean and have some fun. We cannot handle the legal issues but we know how to solve technical problem so the decision to launch from sea is really a way to replace legal issues with a technical solution.


I am sure you are already thinking about stability, waves and rockets going crazy. But the ocean is just another technical factor you have to add to the entire system and even though you have to start waiting on the shore until the waves, wind and sky is go for launch, but gives you an option to actually launch, it is just fine with me.


So, in the beginning of 2010 Copenhagen Suborbitals began the production of our sea launch platform named Sputnik. It was quickly decided to make it as a 12 x 12 m catamaran for good stability with a center placed launch tower. We finally had a way to launch our rocket but in sea waves below 1 meter.



Even though the nice side of the 12 nautical miles provide you with freedom you still have to deal with the basic laws of maritime operations and requirements and do not forget that clearing the sky for any passing airliners is also a good idea. So it is highly recommended to actually engage in co-operation with the maritime authorities of your country because they also co-operate with the advisory airspace and will furthermore guide you about which parts of the sea is the best option for you.


Our experience is that they are more than willing to do so. We have never met anyone going against our wishes for performing test launches.


The maritime authorities of Denmark advised us to perform our tests in one of two military test ranges (ES D 139) in the Baltic Sea east of a Danish island called Bornholm. On a normal day the areas are used for normal traffic and fishing but by one phone call the area become a test range.



During the time and sea operations using Sputnik we have changed its capabilities from being a platform which had to be towed/pushed to a self propelled unit with two Kobota diesel engines with all the additional and required systems on board.



The decision to launch at sea was our only option but also the best. Water is water wherever you go and it is really just a matter of creating a launch vessel capable of holding the size of your current or future rocket and capable of dealing with sea levels in whatever area of the world you want to operate from.


At some point our rocket may become very large and Sputnik will not be our main launching vessel. If so, it is just a matter of building a bigger catamaran, using a large barge or constructing something completely different. My favorite system is this!


No matter what we find to be the right solution in the future we just know that the biggest issue has be solved.


We found a way to launch our own space rocket. I recommend you might do the same if some guy says “no” in the phone when you are asking about land-launch.

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