It's a tiny kit-built plane with just enough kick to send you into
space. Well, that's the theory.
The EZ-Rocket, a highly modified U.S. $30,000 build-it-yourself Long-EZ aircraft, fired its rocket engines and soared to about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) above California's Mojave Desert on Monday. The engine ran for about two minutes until it ran out of fuel and then glided back to jubilant onlookers on the ground.
Aviation legend Dick Rutan, who was the first to fly around the world nonstop in a plane called the Voyager, piloted the EZ-Rocket.
The EZ-Rocket has two rocket engines that run on isopropyl alcohol, basically rubbing alcohol, and liquid oxygenfuels that burn cleanand generate 400 pounds of thrust, said Dan DeLong, chief engineer at XCOR Aerospace and designer of the EZ-Rocket engine. To modify the two-seater, push-prop plane and outfit it with rocket engines cost about half a million dollars.
XCOR's goal is to design a cheap reusable space vehiclesomething that can reliably be launched several times a daywhich can carry a payload of either space tourists or satellites.
Monday's launch of the EZ-Rocket was a small, successful step toward this goal, said DeLong.
The EZ-Rocket was built to test the engine; this particular plane is not destined for space.
XCOR's next step is to build a supersonic aircraft that can reach an altitude of 60 miles (100 kilometers)the boundary of space. From this altitude a passenger would see the skies blacken, the stars burn without twinkling and enjoy three ecstatic minutes of weightlessness. These vehicles could also be used to launch small satellites into orbit.
DeLong estimates that about U.S. $12 million dollars could fund the design and building of a space-worthy plane with rocket engines and an upper-stage rocket to launch a small satellite into orbit.
"Currently the price of getting a satellite into orbit is at least $12 million," said DeLong. "We think we could cut the price to about half a million dollars," he added.
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