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Budget rocket

September 3, 2010

Two Danish entrepreneurs are planning to launch a nine-meter high space rocket from a platform in the Baltic Sea on Saturday. They hope it will eventually pave the way for manned space flight in micro-sized spacecraft.

Peter Madsen and Kristian von Bengtson
Peter Madsen, left, and Kristian von Bengtson show off their low-budget spacecraftImage: Copenhagen Suborbitals

Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen of Denmark have been working for more than two years on the "Tycho Brahe" - a mini-spacecraft scheduled for test launch Saturday. The Danish Navy has provided them with a launch site in the Baltic Sea, and the two have said the test could end in success or crash. Regardless of the result, the pair said they are determined to make it into space themselves and prove that space travel is possible on a low-budget, micro-sized scale. Deutsche Welle spoke with von Bengston about the mission.

Deutsche Welle: What can you tell us about your rocket?

Kristian von Bengtson: It's the culmination of about two and a half years of work. It's a rather small-sized vehicle; it's a space craft with lifting rockets. We're going to do the test hopefully on Saturday and do our very first launch of this system, and see if we've got to do any changes, and then move onto the next step so we can fly higher.

What will be the payload?

The payload is a space craft containing a crash dummy system of about 70 kilograms which we eventually will replace with a human being once we've seen that this is a proven and safe system.

What are you hoping to learn from this test flight?

The launch pad
The first of several test launches is slated for SaturdayImage: Copenhagen Suborbitals

This test flight will hopefully give us a lot of data about if we have the parachute systems correct, the g-loads on the dummy, also internal pressure of the chamber and internal temperature and external temperature of the heat shield. Those are some of the very important things that we need to base future development on.

How much control will you have over the rocket once you've fired it up into space?

We're going to have some very major key function controls which I'm going to be doing from the mission control. That is starting the rocket, also doing the aborts, stopping the engine if we need to do so - but also separating the spacecraft from the rocket itself, and then the deployment of parachutes of both the engine, but also the spacecraft so it can land safe in the water.

Rocket science is considered to be very difficult. What were your chief problems?

For any technical difficulties you can actually find technical solutions. It's more about being able, with just two people, to raise the funding and the organization to do a project like this. It's more about keeping the project on track. That's actually some of the key issues, because you can always test your way out of any technical issues.

What is your ultimate goal?

The ultimate goal is being able to launch ourselves into space and to get this very extreme experience of seeing Earth. But also being able to show people that you can do space differently, you can work with entirely different budgets. The entire mission has a price of about 50,000 euros ($64,000), which is extremely cheap - even though we shouldn't really compare our systems with the "pro" guys' stuff. But it's still going into space, and it might raise some questions about whether space should be that difficult, extreme and expensive.

When will the technology be ready to lift you up into space?

I would say the technology itself is ready. But of course we need to see it work properly in the context of when we're flying. So it all depends on the outcome of the results. Because this launch here is an experiment. And we're going to do these launch experiments as many times as needed. So it might be five, it might be 10, 15 launches until we are ready to replace a dummy with a human being.

Interview: Mark Caldwell (acb)
Editor: Sean Sinico