Saturday, June 4, 2011

HEAT-1X Wave

Here's something you won't find in the Globe and Mail. To be honest, I'm having difficulty finding any reporting on it from North American sources; the New York Times may have something, of course, but I haven't read it out of principle since they decided to start their paywall off in Canada and only Canada. But as to what you won't find - it's simple. As of yesterday morning, the Danish space program has taken one step closer to the heavens.

Yes, Denmark has a space program... of a sort, albeit entirely unlike any other space program in the world today. That's because not only is it a private venture by Danish citizens, the Danes in question are also volunteers and amateurs. The non-profit organization Copenhagen Suborbitals organized the project; you may recall that I wrote about their first, ultimately unsuccessful, launch last year.

On Friday, the Danes didn't make it to space - but they did leave the surface. From a launch platform in the Baltic Sea off Bornholm, HEAT-1X successfully launched, went supersonic, and ultimately reached an altitude of 2.8 kilometers; not exactly kissing space, but pretty good for the first shot of a group of volunteer rocket scientists. As the launch occured around 7:30 Pacific Time, I wasn't awake to watch it - so here's a video.

So what does this mean - aside from the fact, of course, that rockets are awesome? For one part, it's a powerful reminder of just how far we've come in the last seventy-five years; Doctor Goddard never had anything this sophisticated, and the German program that would eventually create the V-2 had the resources and backing of a government behind it. We're in a different stage of rocketry now. The big questions have all been solved, thanks mostly to NASA; the challenge has shifted from science to engineering. Building the damn things is the more daunting part of a rocket launch now. This is just the first step in their program; with this success behind them, they're going to build to go higher and farther, with the ultimate goal of sending a human into space.

I don't think anyone really thought there was ever a place for non-governmental or non-corporate rocketry, considering that rockets tend to be beefy and expensive things. The only alternate voice I recall coming across was a short story in, I believe, a 1980s issue of Analog where basically the entire US space program had been run on an amateur basis, resulting in a world where even the Boy Scouts operated their own space station. At the time, I thought the idea was somewhat unrealistic.

If that's the case, then all Copenhagen Suborbitals had to do was change the nature of reality. In some respects, that's exactly what they did. Space launches are no longer something that can "of course" only be done by governments or powerful corporations. With enough support and enough drive, maybe all we need to get beyond the world is each other, working together toward one goal.

It's people such as these - people such as us - who build the road to the future.

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