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Ugandan Seeks To Build Backyard Space Shuttle 136

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-are-the-dreamers-of-dreams dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Who says that only big, militaristic states are capable of manned space flight? The BBC reports on an attempt by Chris Nsamba to build what he hopes would be the first crewed spacecraft designed and built in Africa. Not that Nsamba, the Ugandan founder of the self-styled African Space Research Program, doesn't have any good role models. NASA's first African American flight director, Kwatsi Alibaruho, traces his roots to Uganda." Hopefully the press will help Nsamba's cause. I sincerely hope he makes it into space one day.
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Ugandan Seeks To Build Backyard Space Shuttle

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    A lack of local facilities is hampering the project and I asked Chris Nsamba how he plans to simulate zero gravity, for example, in Kampala.

    "Easy" he said. "I've got a jet engine on order so I'm planning to build a tunnel, put the engine at one end and when I throw a guy in he'll float in a similar way to how he would in space."

    • by Aighearach (97333)

      "in a similar way," yeah, similar in that they're both dead now.

    • and he will cook in a similar way to how he would on re-entry without a heat shield.
      • I was assuming the engine will be above/after the "skydiving area" with a grate to keep people out, and it would draw in fresh air from outside. That could work. But it's still not a zero-G simulator, it's a falling at terminal velocity simulator.

        • But it's still not a zero-G simulator, it's a falling at terminal velocity simulator.

          Nonsense! It just means the Ugandans will be prepared for those windy days on the ISS.

        • by tibit (1762298)

          Assuming they're getting a turbofan: You can always direct the turbine exhaust elsewhere so that it doesn't mix with the fan air. Fan air can go through a heat exchanger if you really need to cool it down, I don't think it'd be necessary.

          • by rubycodez (864176)
            the temperature rise of the fan air is typically 80 to 100 degrees, hot enough to cook your meat. these africans scare me with their talk of "throwing in a guy", and they are NOT going to be able to make anything with the precision needed to reach space. will not have the aerodymanics to not be ripped apart, will not have precise dynamic control of engine thrust direction, or even control of center-of-mass. different league than model rocketry! heck even a medium range missile is an extraordinarily dema
            • by tibit (1762298)

              I've seen a jig just like they propose where fan air goes through a bunch of nozzles where it's mixing with external air, sort of like Dyson's "air multiplier" fan. No need for any cooling -- they planned on having some, but it worked well enough that they removed the heat exchanger. The temp rise was 25C. Toasty, but bearable.

              As for rocketry: the first thing is to do is to model the heck out of everything, all the way to the test beds. That means hardware-in-the-loop test beds, software-in-for-hardware sta

              • by rubycodez (864176)
                sure, they can do all that...and make a wonderful rocket that goes to a few miles altitude. It takes the resources of a nation or billionaire or equivalent corporate wealth to go beyond that.
                • by tibit (1762298)

                  As long as they can make that rocket affordably, they can just keep shooting it up till all the bugs get worked out. As to how many resources it takes: if they get labor comparably for "free", who knows -- they may just pull it off. I wish them well. I do worry that they're a cargo cult bunch at this point, like another reader aptly noted. Of course experience plays a big role: good luck in finding in Africa people that SpaceX could "snatch" from closing-up NASA-related programs. At lest those guys do some

                  • by rubycodez (864176)
                    I don't think you understand, to go above a certain altitude you will need hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tool and die, testing gear. and advanced materials. You will NOT be using recycled steel or aluminum, hand welds, and a fifty year old milling machine snatched off ebay. The needed balance, precision, strength will not be there.
                    • by tibit (1762298)

                      Not hundreds of millions of dollars worth: SpaceX pulled off entire Falcon 1 -- avionics, two new engines, tanks, tooling, testing, launch complex, fuel, hauling by the sea for a couple hundred mil. I don't think they were using very advanced materials either. Of course you can't exactly make pressure tanks designed with factor of safety (F.S.) 1.5 using materials of unknown provenance. But they may well design it first just so that it flies its own weight, with 0 effective payload. You increase factors of

    • Sounds like he's building something like a "skydiving tunnel" but that's not exactly a zero-G simulator...

      • Sounds like he's building something like a "skydiving tunnel" but that's not exactly a zero-G simulator...

        Yeah. As any skydiver will tell you, what we call "free fall" is not the same physicists call free fall. We're definitely not at zero-g (we don't feel like we're falling, just like there's a lot of wind), and we most certainly don't move in the same way astronauts would move at zero-g. It's more akin to how a plane flies...you change your body position in relation to the relative wind, and that causes the wind to turn / move you. That training wouldn't help at all.

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      It's actually not difficult to generate 'zero-G' environment. Built a tall tower, and dig a deep vertical tunnel underneath it. Install an elevator, that can go up, then fly down in a free fall but at some point engage engines to come to a smooth stop. If the tower and the tunnel are very tall/deep, you can have a few seconds of 'zero-G' happening. Don't know how useful that is, but it can be done without jet engines.

      • by rednip (186217)
        It'd bee a lot cheaper just to use a carnival ride, there are plenty of them that put people at zero g's. Heck, it might even be cheaper just to go to an amusement park. When there one could also use the Gravitron [wikipedia.org] to get some heavy g-force experience.
  • an adorable sidekick, like a bonobo or a kitten or something.

    Then he can easily get the popularity and funding to make this happen.

  • by Joce640k (829181) on Friday August 26, 2011 @03:44PM (#37222100) Homepage

    These guys [topgear.com] already beat him to it...

  • by Aighearach (97333) on Friday August 26, 2011 @03:46PM (#37222118) Homepage

    Test pilot!

  • I do. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DarthVain (724186) on Friday August 26, 2011 @03:47PM (#37222138)

    I have no doubt they have the ability to make a "spacecraft".

    Actually getting that in to space, particularly with squishy meat bags on board that don't want to go "pop", is another story.

  • I hope they do it and then years from now I can watch about it in movie form, it will be the spiritual sequel to the movie Cool Runnings.
    • Sanka... you dead?
      Ya, mon.
      • by MattGWU (86623)

        Sanka last seen observing local high school science class Egg Drop day with great interest.

    • ... years from now I can watch about it in movie form...

      You already can! [wikipedia.org]

  • When I was a kid, I used to build shuttles in my living room all the time.

  • On a related subject, don't miss the Black NASA [youtube.com] documentary.

  • by markg11cdn (1087925) on Friday August 26, 2011 @04:01PM (#37222258)

    I asked Chris how far away he thinks he is from his dream of sending a manned shuttle into orbit. "Let me tell you", he replied, "building a space shuttle is a big job." He thinks he'll have it done in four to six years.

    Maybe they'll beat NASA back to space?

  • by milbournosphere (1273186) on Friday August 26, 2011 @04:03PM (#37222280)
    Don't use a Reliant Robin.

    http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/space-robin [topgear.com]

    • by Baloroth (2370816)
      Although to be fair it did launch pretty well, which is impressive considering, well, its a Reliant Robin. I have no idea how they thought they could get it to land, though.
      • I know! I was watching with bated breath, and was sad to hear that they were done in by one release mechanism. Oh well, it was an amazing episode regardless, and a valiant effort, despite the horrible aerodynamic qualities of the Robin.
      • Had it not failed to separate from the large fuel tank, then they might have had a chance.

        The RC Reliant glider model, while not exactly making a smooth landing, wasn't going very fast when it hit the ground.

        After the perfect separation of the SRBs you might suspect that it was rigged to fail, for television.

        • by tibit (1762298)

          I was suspicious, too, of the big fireball when it hit the ground. What the heck burned so violently? It should have had no fuel of any kind left at that stage? Or were there boosters that would activate once the tank had separated?

        • Good point, but as a viewer, I would've been much more satisfied had they succeeded. I know that Top Gear often tweaks reality on their shows, but the only entertainment value gained (that I can make out) by blowing the thing up would be the fireball. My guess is that it would've been much less work (and money) and much more climactic to just let the thing succeed.
  • and getting it back safely to Earth is another. I wish 'em luck.

    • Yeah a reusable shuttle as a first step seems like an unnecessarily massive and risky undertaking...a rocket w/ Apollo-style return module would be a better idea.

      • by Locutus (9039)
        but that doesn't sound as good when you get the email asking for donations and reserve your spot when it's flying. Sounds like a scam to me and IMO it's not really news if all they are doing is hoping to do this, that, and the other thing. Lots of people hope to do things which never happen but the cardboard mock-ups look fun.

        LoB
      • Yeah a reusable shuttle as a first step seems like an unnecessarily massive and risky undertaking...a rocket w/ Apollo-style return module would be a better idea.

        Looking up some thing in the Estes model rocketry [estesrockets.com] catalog would be a better one.

  • Who says that only big, militaristic states are capable of manned space flight?

    Gravity. That's who.

  • Dear Sirs (Score:5, Funny)

    by bill-kellerman (1063892) on Friday August 26, 2011 @04:13PM (#37222360)

    FROM: Mr. Chris Nsamba

    TO: Dear Sirs

    Madam:

                    I have been requested by the African Space Research Programme to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. The Programme has recently finalized a large number of contracts for space exploration, in time producing moneys equalling US$40,000,000. However, because of certain regulations of the Ugandan Government, it is unable to move these funds to another region.

                    You assistance is requested as a non-Ugandan citizen in moving these funds out of Uganda. If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your United States account, then you can forward the funds as directed by the African Space Research Programme. In exchange for your accomodating services, you will to retain 10%, or US$4 million of this amount.

                    Please call me at your earliest convenience. Time is of the essence in this matter; very quickly the Ugandan Government will realize that the Programme will be maintaining this amount on deposit, and attempt to levy certain depository taxes on it.

    Yours truly, etc. and so forth.

    Chris Nsamba

  • Who says Uganda is small & peaceful?

  • I can't help but feel this will end up something like Zambia's space programme [youtube.com] from the 60's.

  • by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Friday August 26, 2011 @04:36PM (#37222628)
    They won't get there with paint brushes and sandpaper. Space is a long way. They've not even built a working rocket engine yet, and a small team of engineering students? and he thinks he can do it in 6 years? I'm wishing it was possible too but it isn't.
  • by Jawnn (445279) on Friday August 26, 2011 @04:38PM (#37222652)
    That they've retained Billy Bob Thornton as a consultant.
  • They were covertly funding a space program!

  • Build it, and they will come [wikipedia.org].
  • It's far from complete, there's still no engine...

    Bah! Details, details.

    he's been teaching them how to calculate the distance between planets for example

    Why? This thing will be lucky to not fall apart before it reaches the upper atmosphere, let alone travel to another planet.

    I asked Chris how he plans to simulate zero gravity: "Easy" he said. "I've got a jet engine on order so I'm planning to build a tunnel, put the engine at one end and when I throw a guy in he'll float in a similar way to how he would in space."

    Except for the small fact that you have high velocity air screaming at you and every small movement will change your attitude, direction, etc. due to that wind. And this is the guy in charge.

    • by ZigMonty (524212)
      Wow... this guy is going to get people killed...
      • by Bucky24 (1943328)
        I think that was a pre-determined outcome. What remains to be seen is if they will actually make it into space before they are killed.
      • by gl4ss (559668)

        well, if he could do it, he'd be building ICBM's for ugandan government.

  • Constructing an imitation of an existing craft (Scaled Composites): check

    No engineering, or even basic science, experience: check

    No budget: check

    No materials: check

    Friends of the guy pretending to do work for the reporter: check

    It's just a typical African publicity prank/scam, just more ambitious in premise than usual.

  • This is just scary" I asked Chris how he plans to simulate zero gravity, for example, in Kampala.
    "Easy" he said. "I've got a jet engine on order so I'm planning to build a tunnel, put the engine at one end and when I throw a guy in he'll float in a similar way to how he would in space.""

    And come out well done .
    Hey if they where trying to launch a satilltite that would be one thing. Build a manned spacecraft like Mercury, maybe. A shuttle? They are out of their minds.

  • As long as he's better at flying than his countrymen are at special effects [youtube.com]....
  • Building things can be difficult. At least it is for me. My variable power source I built out of a kit does work. The scanner I tried to build from parts never did work. "The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind" http://williamkamkwamba.typepad.com/williamkamkwamba/book.html [typepad.com] is an excellent account of What Can Happen If You Try. This attempted shuttle is just sad. They could build a nice glider with what they have to work with, perhaps. A glider would be a fine thing to have built.

"We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." -- George Bernard Shaw

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