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The world's first 3D-printed, rocket-powered aircraft will lift off from Spaceport America, New Mexico, in Autumn 2014
The world's first 3D-printed, rocket-powered aircraft will lift off from Spaceport America, New Mexico, as soon as we have FAA approval
The world's first 3D-printed, rocket-powered aircraft will lift off from Spaceport America, New Mexico, as soon as we have FAA approval
653 backers pledged £30,725 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

Balloon launch of the Vulture 2 rocket-powered spaceplane project video thumbnail
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Balloon launch of the Vulture 2 rocket-powered spaceplane

£30,725

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For the last four years, The Register's Special Projects Bureau and a crack team of dedicated volunteers have invested thousands of hours and a not inconsiderable wedge of cash to create the Vulture 2 - the world's first rocket-powered, 3D-printed aircraft, and arguably the most advanced amateur UAV on the planet.

The Vulture 2 hot off the 3D printing press
The Vulture 2 hot off the 3D printing press

The Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission, which started as a modest proposal to print a spaceplane, stick a rocket motor in its rear end, lift it to altitude under a helium-filled meteorological balloon, press the big red button and see what happens, gradually evolved into a far greater challenge.

In summary: Our audacious Vulture 2 mission
In summary: Our audacious Vulture 2 mission

Designed by postgraduate aeronautical design students from the UK's Southampton University, the Vulture 2 has gradually acquired greater avionics power, allowing us to audaciously plan to glide the aircraft back to earth to a predetermined landing spot.

More avionics than you can shake a cleft stick at
More avionics than you can shake a cleft stick at

The project to date has included seven high-altitude avionics and motor ignition electronics flights, an epic struggle to persuade a rocket motor to fire at low temperature and pressure, the construction of a fantastical flying truss launch platform, and other entertaining shenanigans.

A test flight launch in April 2014
A test flight launch in April 2014
Light the blue touchpaper and stand well back: Hypobaric chamber rocket motor test in April 2014
Light the blue touchpaper and stand well back: Hypobaric chamber rocket motor test in April 2014

Thanks to over 30 expert volunteers from around the world, we're now pretty well good to go, but there's a snag. We originally intended to carry out the launch in Spain, and that plan seemed simple enough until the comedy application of local law blocked efforts to import the rocket motor reload.

Pretty well good to go, declares pipe-smoking boffin
Pretty well good to go, declares pipe-smoking boffin

Since we rather inconveniently don't own an explosives factory - a prerequisite for getting the reload over the Spanish border - we were forced to throw in the towel and shift the launch to the United States.

Handily for us and Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America in New Mexico has the permissions for rocket operations, so we're packing up the Vulture 2 and heading west.

So, you're wondering "why on earth does a world superpower website like The Register need to go tin-rattling down at Kickstarter?"

Well, not even their pockets are bottomless, and we're looking for cash to cover the bare-bones extra cost of relocating from Europe to the US. All the campaign profit will be used for spaceport fees, transport of kit and personnel, accommodation plus a starvation diet of beans and rice.

Our European team is working voluntarily, and will be assisted by our soulmates from Colorado-based Edge Research Lab, whose members are also offering their time for minimal financial reward.

We've generated a vast amount of material on the LOHAN mission over the past four years, so please check out the links under "full bio" for detailed coverage, photos and videos.

Next stop: Spaceport America
Next stop: Spaceport America

The Right Stuff

In 2010, we established the Guinness World Record for the "Highest-Altitude Launch of A Paper Plane" when our Vulture 1 dropped from 23,307m during the Paper Aircraft Released Into Space (PARIS) mission.

The record still stands, despite various attempts to claim the crown. There's an entertaining video of the project here.

Our plucky pilot

At the controls of the Vulture 2 will be our intrepid Playmonaut, a veteran of three high-altitude flights and currently in training for what promises to be the white-knuckle ride of a lifetime.

Our diminutive aviator during a risky avionics test
Our diminutive aviator during a risky avionics test

Rewards

There are two versions of our LOHAN logo, which will appear on stickers, mugs, a limited edition engraved pint tankard, t-shirts and embroidered mission patches:

Take your pick...
Take your pick...

You can choose which one you prefer, except in the case of the half dozen sticker pack, which has three of each.

Try this suggestion of just how you might you deploy the stickers, which are 75mm diameter vinyl roundels:

Here's a sample of the US flavour mug for your viewing pleasure. It's printed by dye sublimation on a hefty chunk of white china:

Get yer laughing gear round that
Get yer laughing gear round that

The t-shirt will come in all sizes from S to a lot of Xs before L, and will be properly screen printed on a 100 per cent cotton American Apparel T. Here's what it'll look like:

We're also offering an exclusive Special Projects Bureau shirt, bearing the magnificent motto Tugurium Terminum Nescit ("The Shed Knows No Bounds").

Once again, this is a proper screenprinted 100 per cent cotton American Apparel T, available in all sizes.

The embroidered mission patch will be a 10cm diameter piece of art hewn from the living cloth. We've got a sample on order and we'll share that with you as soon as it arrives.

The tankard is something really special for the connoisseur. Picture follows...

We only deal in the highest quality merchandise, so rest assured you won't be disappointed with your reward.

Ad Astra Tabernamque?

"To The Stars And The Pub", naturally...

Risks and challenges

Our team members are among the top world experts in the fields of UAVs and High Altitude Ballooning (HAB). However, the success of the LOHAN mission depends to a certain degree to forces beyond our control.

Once the balloon goes up, the fate of the Vulture 2 is pretty well in the lap of the gods. If it were simple, someone else would already have done it. All we can do is everything in our power to mitigate the the risks to the mission, and then suck it and see.

We're currently awaiting final approval from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). While we have no reason to believe it won't be granted, there's the possibility that a delay will knock back the planned launch. Suffice it to say, we'll get in the air.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge £5 or more About $8

    Show your support by chipping in a fiver. All backers will appear on an illustrious roll of honour on The Register.

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    Pledge £10 or more About $17

    Half a dozen LOHAN logo stickers, expertly hewn from the living paper. Mix of US/European logo versions.

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    Pledge £20 or more About $33

    Cough twenty quid and receive a custom LOHAN US version logo mug, brought to you by the wonder of dye sublimation.

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    Pledge £20 or more About $33

    A European version LOHAN logo mug.

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    Pledge £30 or more About $50

    A limited-edition screenprinted, 100% cotton LOHAN t-shirt, lovingly crafted exclusively for our backers. Your choice of US or European logo versions. Available in all sizes.

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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge £30 or more About $50

    Exclusive Special Projects Bureau t-shirt featuring the motto "Tugurium Terminum Nescit" ("The Shed Knows No Bounds")

    Screenprinted onto a 100 per cent cotton white American Apparel T, and available in all sizes from XS to XXXL.

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    Pledge £40 or more About $66

    A pint glass tankard with engraved LOHAN logo. A quality receptacle for your tipple of choice. European logo only.

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    Reward no longer available 100 backers
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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge £50 or more About $83

    Our magnificent embroidered 10cm LOHAN mission patch. The US version, for our American cousins. Get 'em while you can, because once they're gone they're gone.

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  9. Select this reward

    Pledge £50 or more About $83

    The embroidered Eurocentric LOHAN mission patch. The same as the US version, but with the Old World shining forth.

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  10. Select this reward

    Pledge £50 or more About $83

    The t-shirt/mug combo. You choice of European or US logos. 100 per cent cotton t-shirt available in all sizes. A quality package.

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  11. Select this reward

    Pledge £70 or more About $116

    By popular demand, an engraved beer tankard/t-shirt combo. Tankard with European LOHAN logo, t-shirt with your choice of US/European logo, and available in all sizes.

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  12. Select this reward

    Pledge £75 or more About $124

    Your choice of European/US mission patch as flown to the stratosphere by our chums at Edge Research Lab, who are going to send batch up on a balloon flight. Complete with photo and letter of authenticity.

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  13. Select this reward

    Pledge £100 or more About $166

    Deluxe LOHAN merchandising package, including stickers, mug and t-shirt. Your choice of European/US logo versions.

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    Pledge £100 or more About $166

    Embroidered mission patch duo - both the European and US patches in the same envelope.

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  15. Select this reward

    Pledge £120 or more About $199

    Exclusive opportunity meet the LOHAN team's Lester Haines and Paul Shackleton in London, where you'll also be able to cast your eyes over the Vulture 2 spaceplane and shake hands with our plucky Playmonaut.

    You get yourself to The Register's London office (date and time tba), and we'll present you with an engraved LOHAN glass pint tankard and refreshments.

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  16. Select this reward

    Pledge £200 or more About $332

    Have a guess - twice the above £100 reward, should your significant other also require quality spaceplane merchandise. Your choice of European/US logo versions.

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  17. Select this reward

    Pledge £1,000 or more About $1,658

    Corporate opportunity: Your logo on all LOHAN video credits and at the foot of all LOHAN stories on The Register, along with our existing illustrious supporters. If you're a generous individual, we'll put your name and the photo of your choice in there - even if it's your cat playing the piano.

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  18. Select this reward

    Pledge £1,500 or more About $2,487

    Experience the LOHAN preparations and launch in person. Price includes collection from El Paso or Las Cruces, three nights' accommodation, food and drink, and a light aircraft flight to view the launch, courtesy of Edge Research Lab.

    Contact us for details.

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    Pledge £5,000 or more About $8,290

    As our main launch sponsor, you'll have all of the above and your name in lights, Contact us for details.

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Funding period

- (30 days)