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We all know that for most people access to space is currently pretty limited because space flight services are expensive, as they are in short supply.

Suppose I wanted to bypass an expensive service and get into space as quickly as possible. Could I build a suborbital spaceflight vehicle in my backyard with components that an individual could get access to?

If the components are easy enough to access, but the number of people doing the construction is a limiting factor--could I do it with 5? 10? Any number less than 100 (at which point the line between an organization and a DIY effort is blurry)?

If it is possible to get the components and construct the vehicle with a few people, would it be possible for this small effort to control the construction enough to keep the risk factor manageable?

Would there be any legal considerations?

Video by Roy Dawson

For more information on the pictured DIY Saturn V replica rocket, check out Cool DIY Engineering Projects at Popular Mechanics.


Note: I'm not asking if this could be done on the ordinary man's budget. Supposing the average person could get access to all the money that they needed to get it done, could they do it themselves or with a small group of people? The answer should still mention the cost, however; as it is an important practical determiner of whether or not it will actually be done.

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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking of precisely this quesion earlier this month! If in the USA, you might want to take a gander at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Association_of_Rocketry en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… has, in fact, awards for Rocket modeling achievements too! $\endgroup$ – Everyone Sep 23 '13 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ Are you talking about a manned spaceflight, or unmanned? I would imagine that the work required would go up dramatically when life-support is involved. $\endgroup$ – Ben Miller Sep 23 '13 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ @BenMiller Manned, as implied and tagged. An answer addressing why manned couldn't be done (if that is the case) might also address whether or not unmanned could be done. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 23 '13 at 17:51
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Could you? Well, maybe. Let's take a look at one instance where people were encouraged to do that very feat, for $10 million. I'm of course talking about the Ansari X-Prize of 10 years ago. This did a few things that were difficult for the time, giving a cash incentive, and helping with some of the permits and other required items to make it happen. Most of the teams were small, but the winner, Scaled Composites, was larger than your criteria. To date, no one has matched this feat.

Okay, so what could you do with a large budget, but on your own? Well, you would first need some sort of a life support module. These are fairly readily available, given some work. Next you would need a large rocket engine and fuel tank, again, fairly easy. The rocket fuel would be a problem, as is somewhat humorously demonstrated in the movie "Astronaut Farmer". While I doubt that the project could have actually been built as depicted in the movie, I believe that the government wouldn't care much, until it came time to fuel and launch the rocket. The permit would be challenging as well, it's not easy to get a permit to fly a model rocket to 100,000 feet, and to reach space, you'd have to be even higher. Re-entry gear would be problematic as well.

Bottom line is, you might be able to do it, but it would be a fairly risky enterprise, especially considering the modeling that goes it to most vehicles today prior to launch. But it could be done, given some work, knowledge, and a whole lot of cash, and a bit of luck with the government not getting in the way.

This has been done to an extent in the form of SpaceX, a fairly successful company founded by a billionaire who had to get to space. Elon Musk funded most of the early development, and the company no doubt will someday launch a person in to space, in to orbit. A similar feat has been tried by Jeff Bezos with his company Blue Origin, focusing on sub-orbital missions. It seems likely that Blue Origin will succeed someday as well. Although both of these aim to be commercial companies, it seems more likely that both are just a way to get people to space by really rich people.

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  • $\begingroup$ So in other words, you can if and only if you are rich and influential :p $\endgroup$ – Thomas Sep 24 '13 at 2:01
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer! So, if you have Bill Gates's budget you could do it by yourself, but you could just as easily start a new company to do it better. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 24 '13 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ Pretty much. It'll probably be cheaper and quicker to just wait for the Space Ship Two to be done, however... $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Sep 24 '13 at 13:13
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One interesting answer to your question is Copenhagen Suborbitals. They're almost a back-yard project.

Our mission is very simple. We are working towards launching a human being into space.

This is a non-profit suborbital space endeavour founded and led by Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen, based entirely on sponsors, private donators and part time specialists. Since May 2008 we have been working full time to reach our goal of launching ourselves into space and to show the world that human space flight is possible without major government budgets and administration.

Their interesting solution to the legal problem is to launch from international waters.

Blog

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  • $\begingroup$ They do appear to operate with less than 100 people which meets the requirements of my question. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Nov 5 '13 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ The more time I spend reading about Copenhagen Suborbitals, the more convinced I am that they will eventually to achieve manned suborbital spaceflight. I suspect one day I'm going to be wishing I could accept this answer. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Oct 30 '15 at 21:33

protected by TildalWave Oct 17 '15 at 13:17

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