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Feng Zengkun
Tuesday, Nov 4, 2014

Singapore, Science And Tech

Our space capsule is safer, says S'pore firm

The Straits Times | Feng Zengkun | Tuesday, Nov 4, 2014

The Virgin Galactic VSS Enterprise spacecraft.

A Singapore company's project to send the first Singaporean into near-space on National Day next year reached another milestone yesterday, with the space capsule unveiled at Resorts World Sentosa.

But coming on the heels of Friday's Virgin Galactic spacecraft crash in the United States - which killed one pilot and injured another - the local company took pains to stress its own vessel's safety measures.

IN.Genius hopes to launch its craft at more than 20km above sea level. It will be powered by a helium balloon, with a pilot to guide the craft during landing. IN.Genius founder and director Lim Seng said the Virgin Galactic crash was tragic, and there were risks associated with any space project. But he added that the use of a balloon instead of rockets to launch the Singapore craft lessened the danger.

"We've put in twice the redundancies for every key component of the craft, and exceeded safety requirements for the vessel's shell thickness by nine times," said Mr Lim, who was previously head of the Ministry of Defence's Defence Technology Office in Europe.

The capsule measures 2m by 2m by 3m, and weighs 400kg without a pilot. It consists of a pressurised aluminium vessel, a steel outer frame with a fibreglass shell, and crush pads. The pads alone are made of a 25.4cm-thick cell-paper honeycomb to absorb up to 5 G-forces of landing shock. That is about five times what is felt riding on a high-speed roller coaster.

A base of Kevlar protects the one-man crew from sharp objects. Under the pilot's seat is another layer of shock absorbers that can take another 8 G-forces.

Thirteen pilot candidates have been chosen from more than 150 applicants, and they will be further whittled down before the launch.

A laboratory rat, however, will be used in a test flight in India in January, and the first manned flight, to 4km above sea level, is set to take place in Australia in April next year.

One of the candidates, commercial pilot Patsy Ong, 31, said the physical and technical training so far has convinced her that the project is as safe as it can be.

zengkun@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 02, 2014.
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