back to article Virgin Galactic tests laughing-gas powered rocket motor

Sir Richard Branson's space-tourism operation, Virgin Galactic, has announced successful tests of the rocket motor it will use to launch fare-paying passengers out of the Earth's atmosphere. Unusually, the rocket runs on laughing gas and tyre rubber. The SpaceShipTwo hybrid rocket in ground testing. Credit: Virgin Galactic …


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  1. Jason Baziliauskas

    Less fuel but is it as worth while?

    So if it uses quarter of the a round trip to New York from London, that is approx half the fuel of a trip to New York from London which must be in the order of 1700 miles worth of fuel. So I can go straight up 65 miles or out to the Azores from London?

    Hard choice.

  2. WonkoTheSane

    Salami works too

    As Mythbusters showed when they achieved 880lbs of thrust from a sub-20lbs rocket motor, consisting of liquid NOX & a frozen salami, with a graphite nozzle


  3. Matt West

    Server Farms in space?

    A question arising from the Flash movie...

    Why would you want to put a server farm in space?

  4. LPF


    Sorry apart from brand name, what the hell does virgin bring to this? Jesus Christ I'm

    sick of this parasite.

    Branson and his cronies contribute nothing but marketing, if that. Look how his trying to leech

    onto brawn GP!

  5. Tom Paine

    Beardie hype

    So many points it's like a porcupine at PMQs.

    > The spaceship’s carbon footprint for each of its passengers and

    > crew will be about a quarter of that for a return trip from London to New York,


    As Spaceship One only flew ~40km (straight up, granted, but starting at it's 60,000 foot release height and ending around 100,000ft) that's not quite so impressive as it sounds.

    It's hard to know how much /less/ polluting the SSMEs (the Shuttle's main engines) could be, what with burning hydrogen in oxygen; you can all guess what the waste product of that is.) Same goes for most other man-rated and otherwise launchers in the west. The SRBs burn aluminium perchlorate, which is no fun at all to breath in, but take a look around the low scrub and lagoons around Kennedy next time you're stuck watching NASA TV during an interminable T-40:00 hold...

    The really nasty propellant is hydrazine, which is pretty damn toxic (that's why curious cowpokes across Texas were warned not to go poking around any smoking wreckage from the Columbia accident.) However the Shuttle, like the other spacecraft uses of hydrazine, reserves it for in-flight burns. For instance the course correction manoeuvres carried out by planetary probes are generally made with hydrazine thrusters.)

  6. Mike Richards

    Beardie's got some neck

    I actually don't really care about the environmental impact of the suborbital jolly business, but this green spin is laughable. Per passenger, the emissions are about 'a quarter of that for a return trip from London to New York'.

    Using one of Virgin's rather lovely airliners to fly the Pond and back takes say 12 hours total. The burn time of SpaceShipOne's engine was - 83 SECONDS. Whatever way you look at it, space junkets are a profligate use of energy.

    But that's not the biggest turn off, surely the thought of being trapped in a small cabin with the likes of Beardie and Paris is more than enough to keep me earthbound.

  7. Steven Hunter

    Wait, what?

    "The spaceship’s carbon footprint for each [person] will be about a quarter of that for a return trip from London to New York"

    So just the trip back then and not the original flight over eh?

    Or did they perhaps mean a "round trip"?

  8. Fred

    Off to the dentist, then the moon?

    well - since my auto is equipped with HTBP, maybe I should stop by the dentists office for a bit of a top off, and then drop by Moon base Alpha.

    Flames - well thats what will get me there - Right?

  9. Neoc
    Thumb Up

    What's so surprising?

    "Unusually, the rocket runs on laughing gas and tyre rubber"

    Surprising? The folks at Mythbusters built a rocket engine powered by NOX and Salami, FFS.

  10. b166er

    Not to mention that

    HTPB burns fairly cleanly and is therefore quite a clean option.

  11. Doug


    "Sorry apart from brand name, what the hell does virgin bring to this?"

    Um... a paying customer?

    "Jesus Christ I'm sick of this parasite."

    That's like calling British Airways, Cathay, JAL and all the other airlines parasites "leeching" off the plane manufacturers.

  12. TeeCee Gold badge

    Missing the point.

    You might actually have a valid reason for flying from London to New York.

    Nobody actually needs to go 65 miles straight up and then back down again.

    The size of the eco-footprint of doing this is therefore utterly irrelevant as, whatever it is, it's always going to be infinitely larger than it needs to be (i.e. zero).

    Dear Beardie. If you're that worried about the amount of nasty thingies that your new pointless luxury toy chucks out, try not fucking doing it. Otherwise STFU and enjoy the ride.

  13. Trygve Henriksen

    Stop calling it laughing gas!

    Yes, DiNitrous Oxide IS used as an anaetethic at some dentists offices, but you definitely won't start giggling if they use it on you!

    If you get enough to start giggling, you're getting a dangerous amount of the stuff!

    (Just ask your friendly neighbourhood dentist. )

    Oh, and you'll still feel the pain, you just won't care or be able to concentrate on it for long enough for it to be a bother... ;-)

  14. Lindsay Silver badge
    IT Angle

    "Virgin Galactic tests laughing-gas powered rocket motor"

    That's like saying internal combustion propelled cars are "air powered."

  15. john
    Thumb Up

    I don't

    ...give a f*** about the carbon footprint ! or salami engines. I don't care about farming servers in space either. I just want a ride....on it......for a giggle....

  16. Suburban Inmate

    Why nitrous oxide?

    Why not pure oxygen, as the two-thirds nitrogen does nowt for the combustion anyway?

  17. Matthew


    Isn't the long term goal of this project not to simply take a handful of people for a quick trip into space and back but to fly straight up in one continent and come back down in another with the whole trip taking a fraction of the time it would?

  18. Sureo

    just asking...

    Virgin this, Virgin that...... what is it with the British and Virgins anyway?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Giggle Gas...

    Is most comonly used as propellent in food stuff aerosols, ie squirty cream.

    Oh and btw @Trygve Henriksen Nitrious Oxide does make you go very numb all over, shortly before you pass out.. been there done that.. (broken collar bone manipulation by paramedic with too much gas.)

    @Sureo theres only one beardy brit who like to boast about his inexperience.. its not the rest of us.

  20. David Robinson

    missing the point?

    If you want a point perhaps the trips could be used to test the rather strange theories about what is happening up in these difficult to get at and strangely behaved areas. It might be a good chance to test some of the more questionable climatic theories!


  21. TeeCee Gold badge


    Whether or not it is (and I doubt that's more than Beardie hype) is irrelevant to any claims made about the current joyride and how much greenwash has been slapped on it.

    A gen-u-ine suborbital, transcontinental spaceplane, certified for commercial use and viable financially for such would bear about as much resemblance to what they have now as stilton cheese does to a herd of cows. (i.e. you can see there's a connection in there somewhere, but that's about it.)

  22. Adrian Midgley

    @Suburban Inmate: better oxidiser than oxygen

    N2O releases a lot of energy of dissociation. and is a better oxidising agent than oxygen.

    Thermal lances use it, with oxygen it'll cut through steel, with N20, through concrete.

    I don' think it is really two thirds, either..

  23. Nile Heffernan

    @TeeCee, and a tip of the hat to @Matthew...

    TeeCee is superficially correct to say that: "A gen-u-ine suborbital, transcontinental spaceplane, certified for commercial use and viable financially for such"

    Equally, one might say the same of the Blériot monoplane, or the early 'barnstormers' who provided joyriding trips to the wealthy (and somewhat foolhardy) in the days before commercial passenger transport began. They were, at best, an intermediate stage - and much of the engineering in them was misguided, and later discarded - but they weren't *quite* a dead end.

    The phrase you're looking for is 'Proof-of-concept'; and all such projects 'prove' to the sceptics that the concept is ridiculous n the absence of a fully-developed technology, which will (of course!) never develop in the absence of a demonstrated market.

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