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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)