Last July, as it flew past Pluto, NASA's space probe contained a small but significant piece of space history: a small carbon fiber piece of SpaceShipOne. Liz Nickels looks back at the groundbreaking composite commercial spacecraft eleven years on.
On its own, it only went as far as suborbital flight; but a three inch piece of SpaceShipOne met the outer limits of the solar system this month. The component was part of a group of eight other mementos on board the New Horizons probe, as it made its historic fly past Pluto, coming away with the clearest pictures ever taken of the dwarf planet. The autoclaved carbon fiber piece, part of the pilot seat made from preimpregnated carbon fabric and LTM 45 epoxy, represented the wide range of the reinforced plastic materials used to build the innovative craft.
In keeping with the tradition of space mementos, the SpaceShipOne piece includes a message about its significance. Side one reads, ‘to commemorate its historic role in the advancement of spaceflight, this piece of SpaceShipOne is being flown on another historic spacecraft: New Horizons. New Horizons is Earth's first mission to Pluto, the farthest known planet in our solar system.’ Side two reads: ‘SpaceShipOne was Earth's first privately funded manned spacecraft. SpaceShipOne flew from the United States of America in 2004.’
The carbon fiber piece was developed by Cory Bird, current vice president and general manager of Scaled Composites LLC, the company that created SpaceShipOne. Scaled Composites is an aerospace and specialty composites development company located in Mojave, California. Founded in 1982 by Burt Rutan, the company focuses on air vehicle design, tooling and manufacturing, specialty composite structure design, analysis and fabrication, and developmental flight tests of air and space vehicles.
‘SpaceShipOne is part of a historic moment in spaceflight, as more private companies work to bring space access to everyone,’ said Kevin Mickey, president of Scaled Composites. ‘We are honored to have been recognized for this by having this piece of SpaceShipOne's pilot seat on New Horizons, which has the potential to change the way we think about our solar system.’
This article appeared in the March/April issue of Reinforced Plastics.