The Art of Spica: Paintings of Our Manned Flight

By 

Jonas Linell

Creative Director and Concept Artist

Communication Group, CS

In Copenhagen Suborbitals, the actual work on our first manned rocket has begun. The engine group are busy designing the massive Spica engine, so far called BPM-100 (Bi Propellant Motor 100 kN), that will deliver the 10+ tons of thrust needed to fly a (wo)man up to 100+ km. Simultaneously, our capsule group are advancing the space capsule by building a scale model that will be tested aerodynamically in the air tunnel after new year. 

To keep adrenaline levels high, I’ve painted some illustrations of our first manned mission to over 100 km in the near future. This might be called Spica V, since Spica I, II and II could be the first, unmanned flights, and Spica IV the first (wo)manned flight to a lower altitude. It’s all concept art, based on what we know at the moment, so please consider these paintings food for thought and not scientific reference.

Our astronaut being sailed to the waiting Spica rocket. Art by Jonas Linell.

Our astronaut being sailed to the waiting Spica rocket. Art by Jonas Linell.

In the first painting, we see our astronaut being transferred to Mobile Launch Platform Sputnik II, where she’ll climb up the service tower and enter the space capsule, all in good time prior to launch.

She’s seen wearing one of the many, possible combinations of equipment we’re considering. Her suit is an off-the-shelf immersion dry-suit, as worn by sailors, air crew etc, who are prepared for survival in water for longer times. Constructed by flame-retarded neoprene It makes her buoyant, so she floats in the sea. Also, it’s thermally isolating, minimising the risk of hypothermia if she leaves the capsule and enters the Baltic Sea. 

On her head, she’s wearing a flight helmet, as worn by air crews. Besides impact protection, it also features noise cancelling headphones, and a visor to shield the eyes. The oxygen mask provides oxygen for breathing, protects the face and has an in-built microphone.

Flame-retarded, aviator gloves in Nomex are worn on the hands, and on the feet  commercially available aviator boots. 

But many other combinations being are being considered. Maybe a simple flight suit will be used instead of an immersion suit, since the latter probably will require a cooling system to be worn under the suit, and also makes ingress and egress of the capsule difficult. Probably, the most important factor in this decision is whether the plan calls for her to leave the capsule after landing in the ocean, while waiting for recovery. Since it potentially can take hours to find her, survival in 15-20 °C water could require a dry-suit.

In order to keep everything as simple and light as possible, it’s also possible that a light-weight, simpler protection helmet will be chosen, e.g the ones used by climbers, skateboarders etc. The hatch will be small, so easy egress will be a key safety factor, working against bulky equipment.

Maybe the cabin space itself will provide the breathing air/oxygen, eliminating the need for a oxygen mask. Either way, the air/oxygen system will a interesting design decision.

Spica V lifts off from MLP Sputnik II. Art by Jonas Linell.

Spica V lifts off from MLP Sputnik II. Art by Jonas Linell.

In the second painting we see the majestic lift-off in all it’s glory. Spica V has just cleared the service tower off Sputnik II, shooting skyward with ice falling from the freezing oxygen tank. The onboard computers steers the 14 m tall rocket, while the Flight Director, holding his breath, monitors the data……FIDO has his fingers close to the Mission Control Panel with those important buttons….

The rocket at over 50 km altitude and 3600 km/h, just before main engine cut off (MECO). Art by Jonas Linell.

The rocket at over 50 km altitude and 3600 km/h, just before main engine cut off (MECO). Art by Jonas Linell.

In painting 3, the rocket is seen where it belongs: On the edge on space. At an altitude around 50 km we’re close to MECO (Main Engine Cut Off), where after it will continue the “coast” phase of it’s flight purely from inertia. We’re approximately 1:30 seconds after liftoff, and Spica V is flying at more than 3600 km/h, which is just……really, really fast! Around 90 km, the capsule will be separated from the rocket, and continue alone up above 100 km to it’s apogee, and then start to free fall back to earth.

The space capsule falling back to earth under the ballute. Art by Jonas Linell.

The space capsule falling back to earth under the ballute. Art by Jonas Linell.

The fourth and last painting depicts the capsule in this phase, with the ballute deployed. This is a hybrid of a balloon and a parachute, which will both stabilise and brake the capsule down through it’s dangerous, hi-speed flight, being deployed just after apogee and being cut away just above 4 km. It’s maximum speed will be more than 3200 km/h and it’ll have to withstand a temperature of about 450 °C. 

Below, we see the island of Bornholm, with Spaceport Nexø on the East coast. The wakes of the search & recovery ships can be seen, sailing eastward toward the calculated landing point. Hopefully, the GPS and eager eye balls will follow the capsule on the way down to splash-down, so the astronaut can be recovered just after splash-down. If not, she can start writing the most awaited blog post in Copenhagen Suborbital’s history, while gently riding on the Baltic waves and waiting for the helicopters and ships.

2017 will be a very defining year for us, with the first metal being cut for both the Spica capsule, engine and rocket, with all the key design decisions that this demands. And, not least, we’ll also fly the Nexø II rocket in the summer….so, everybody: Buckle up and keep the vital donations coming, so my paintings can come to life.

Cheers,

Jonas Linell

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