Canada's first X-Prize Contender
Vehicle Flight Evolution Risk


History is filled with the exploits of ordinary individuals doing extraordinary things and whose accomplishments propel human progress. Uncommon thinking and independent action has advanced our general knowledge throughout history. The famous of these are revered as heroes and children are taught about them in school. Everybody has heard of Aristotle, Copernicus, Isaac Newton and Marie Curie but few are aware of the risks each of them undertook and the personal sacrifices they endured to pursue their singular innovations and discoveries.

Prior to the European renaissance, our understanding of the earth, moon, sun and stars was steeped in mysticism and superstition. The prevalent belief held that the earth was the centre of the visible universe. People who openly challenged that conventional order risked their very lives.

Copernicus opposed the conventional geocentric belief and postulated a heliocentric, sun-centered theory. Fortunately for Copernicus, he withheld this radical viewpoint until he lay on his deathbed and thus escaped persecution. Giardano Bruno, an Italian monk, was not so fortunate. His observations led him to openly proclaim that the universe was infinite and that the earth, moon and sun were among untold millions of insignificant stars that shone in the sky. He was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in a Roman piazza.

Bruno's intellectual successor, Galileo, the first person to observe celestial bodies with a telescope, not only confirmed Bruno's observations but went on to assert that there were mountains on the moon and that the earth revolved around the Sun. He too was tried for heresy but at the last moment recanted and lived many more productive years.

The risks associated with invention and discovery have changed over the centuries, but there are still dangers, some life threatening, inherent in every attempt to push the boundary of the known into the unknown. The da Vinci project, while an exciting and appealing challenge, contains certain risks. When, after months of design and testing and the application of some very sophisticated aerodynamics, physics, and engineering, Brian Feeney finally dons his space suit and straps himself into the pilot's seat of the rocket, there will be no turning back.

Canada's first private astronaut must face several possibilities for failure during the launch and return sequences. The design methodology behind the vehicle is to minimize these risks through redundant backup systems. Should the engines fail to ignite and develop full equal thrust in less than 100 milliseconds, an automatic stop fuel flow and fuel dump sequence takes place, prior to the rocket having been released from its tether to the balloon.

Multiple redundant sensors will monitor the condition of the engines and levels of thrust. At any time in the flight sequence as the rocket engines are firing, and it is determined that an unsafe or potential failure condition is possible, the flight computer will automatically shut down the engines and dump the fuel.

The innovative balute can be deployed at anytime in the flight sequence to stabilise the rocket in an abort situation. The rocket is also equipped with a full axis Reaction Control System to aid in stabilisation.

The base area of the balute includes the high temperature heat shield for re-entry. The technology and materials employed are from existing and proven re-entry systems. The rocket has a main parachute for soft landing. In an emergency the high drag balute is capable of delivering the rocket fully stabilized to the ground with a minimum force impact that would yield little damage to the rocket. The astronaut is equipped with a primary and secondary parachute system. The capsule is also separable from the vehicle at any stage in the flight sequence and is capable of re-entering the atmosphere at the maximum velocity of Mach 4 or 4,000 kph (2500 mph). The rocket's primary parachute is attached to the capsule.

While every conceivable precaution will be taken to avoid or effectively minimise these dangers, this historic event will still be a First, experienced by one lone man who will have to deal with any unexpected changes from the planned flight sequence. Brian's pioneering predecessors Orville and Wilbur Wright and Charles Lindbergh risked their own lives in piloting their own inventions, and did not delegate the task to someone else. Brian Feeney will demonstrate those same qualities of character, commitment, professional integrity and bravery upon which our future aspirations in space ultimately depend.

Good luck Brian… and Godspeed.

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