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Burt Rutan Assigned Rights To Winged Spacecraft Reentry System

The 'Shuttlecock' Is Now Patented

It was one of the first true breakthroughs seen in the young commercial spaceflight industry... and as of last month, it's now patented.

Aero-News learned Monday the revolutionary "shuttlecock," or "feathering" wing system seen on Burt Rutan's groundbreaking SpaceShipOne vehicle -- which rotated its empennage to orient the spacecraft in an optimal attitude for atmospheric reentry -- received US Patent Number 7,195,207 on March 27.

According to the US Patent Office, Rutan now has the rights to a spacecraft design including "...a fuselage, right and left wings extending from the fuselage, the wings having hinged aft sections with outer ends supporting rearwardly extending tail booms with vertical and horizontal tails with rudders and elevons, and an elevating system coupled between the fuselage and the aft wing sections for moving the sections from a normal airfoil shape to an elevated position producing high drag for slowing the spacecraft during atmospheric reentry after space flight, the elevating system thereafter retracting the aft wing sections to the normal airfoil shape for a controlled generally horizontal runway landing."

"Atmospheric reentry of a returning spacecraft is a critical flight phase due to high structural and thermal-heating loads," the summary reads. "Horizontal-landing modern spacecraft intended for runway landing require three-axis control and more lift as compared to early blunt-body spacecraft (Mercury, Gemini, etc.), which were lowered by parachute during landing.

"This invention relates to a winged spacecraft which is reconfigurable during reentry to a stable high-drag mode, and then returned to a regular flight condition for runway landing (shown above -- Ed.)"

"The invention is described in terms of a suborbital spaceship, but is applicable to craft capable of orbital flight."

That last statement may provide a tantalizing peek at what's to come, as Rutan's Scaled Composites puts the finishing touches on SpaceShipTwo -- a larger, multipassenger version of SpaceShipOne, that will fly for Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. That spacrcraft is scheduled to begin ferrying passengers into suborbital space in late 2009.

FMI: www.scaled.com, Read The Full Patent

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