It's with a portentous drumroll and fanfare of trumpets that we reveal today the design of our Vulture 2 spaceplane - the rocket-powered vehicle at the centre of our audacious Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) ballocket mission.
At the end of 2011, a heavyweight team of Southampton University postgraduates climbed aboard LOHAN, and has since been beavering away to produce a vehicle capable of high-speed, high-altitude flight.
Suffice it to say, the aircraft has proved a real design challenge. Not only must the Vulture 2 perform in the rarefied upper atmosphere, when it'll be propelled by rocket motor from the fantastical flying truss launch platform, but it's also required to glide at less lofty heights, when its autopilot will guide it safely back to base.
We're delighted to announce that the team has addressed and resolved these issues, and is now wrapping the the initial CAD design for delivery to 3T RPD Ltd, where the aircraft will rise majestically from the powdered nylon to reveal its full 3D printed glory.
Although we're keeping the fine detail under wraps for now, and you'll just have to wait to see just how the finished product shapes up, here's a planform rendering* - produced using the "vastly simplified CAD geometry we used for weight prediction and CG location as well as determining the aerodynamic stability in flight mode and rocket mode", as design team member Christopher Dodd explained:
It's a thing of great beauty, we're sure you'll agree, even in this basic form. Ultimately, due to 3D printer size constraints, the aircraft will have to be produced in three sections, plus the canards, and then clipped together.
Just how that assembly will work is part of the final CAD fine-tune, which also involves ensuring stuff such as the autopilot, control surface servos, cameras and other bits and pieces fit correctly into the structure.
Naturally, there will also be a place on board for an intrepid playmonaut, once the period of mourning for our previous pilot comes to an end, and we can begin the recruiting process for a new miniature adventurer. ®
*Before you start crying foul on the design, we're missing a couple of bits on the planform seen here. Rest assured, the thing will fly.
Further LOHAN resources:
- New to LOHAN? Try this mission summary for enlightenment.
- You can find full LOHAN coverage right here.
- Join the expert LOHAN debate down at Reg forums.
- All the LOHAN and Paper Aircraft Released Into Space (PARIS) vids live on YouTube.
- For our SPB photo archive, proceed directly to Flickr.
- We sometimes indulge in light consensual tweeting, as you can see here.