The CXV has controls for a single pilot and seating for up to three additional crew members. It has compartments for supplies and equipment, and a zero-G commode. Innovative fabric seats, designed by Voss and a team of engineering students at Auburn University, can take loads of up to eight Gs, are as comfortable as hammocks, and can be easily stowed to create more space after the craft reaches orbit. The seats have one other unique design feature: They swivel 180 degrees. That's because the capsule will leave the atmosphere and reenter it nose-first, using a
modernized ceramic/silicone-tile heat-
shielding system. The swiveling seats will allow the crew to take the G-forces of both launch and reentry in the most comfortable way-through their chests.
Gump was also on hand at the conference to show off the technology and explain his unconventional development strategy. "What we're proposing to NASA," Gump said, "is a type of incremental side bet" to the big aerospace effort to build America's next spaceship-that is, a scaled-down backup and supplement to the CEV. "Every 6 to 12 months we have performed a set of hardware milestones, and NASA has had a chance to say, "Well, have you actually performed what you promised?' So they never are betting the entire amount of money." The big
aerospace effort to build the next-
generation CEV, which will be led by either Lockheed Martin or the team of Northrop Grumman and Boeing, will have no such requirement. But t/Space won't compete with those companies for the contract to build NASA's primary space-launch system; it will just quietly build a backup machine more quickly and at a fraction of the cost. "We are trying hard not to claim to be a space-shuttle replacement; we are a Soyuz replacement," Gump said, "a simple craft to ferry people up and back rather than a self-propelled space station like the shuttle."
A series of three test
flights over Mojave, California, in June put key elements of the CXV launch process through their paces. Scaled Composites pilot Chuck Coleman took a Rutan-designed research jet called Proteus up to altitude with a 23-percent-scale mock-up of the capsule and booster hooked to its belly. When released, the mock-up deployed a drogue parachute and tipped its tail toward the ground as it dropped. The drogue slowed the mock-up's rotation to the vertical and stabilized it until it fell, tail-first, perfectly straight. The actual CXV would have fired its first-stage motor at this point, powering through the upper atmosphere behind the carrier craft and into space. The mock-up simply plummeted, as planned, until it slammed into the desert floor with a puff of dust. But it proved the viability of a new method for air-launching spacecraft that was developed under the direction of t/Space engineer Marti Sarigul-Klijn, a former Navy test pilot.