Or is it better thought of as an open-source space program?
A team of Danish volunteers has built a rocket capable of carrying a human into space, and will be launching it in a week's time. The project, which has been funded entirely by donations and sponsorship, is led by Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen.Open source. It's not like Denmark, the state, has much to do with it. But that's even more amazing.
The rocket is named HEAT1X-TYCHO BRAHE, and its first test flight will carry a crash test dummy, rather than a human, so that the safety aspects of the design can be analysed. It'll launch from a floating platform that the team has also built, which will be towed into the middle of the Baltic sea by a submarine called Nautilus that the pair built as their last project.
The creators are members of the SomethingAwful web community, and have been posting pictures and answering questions there. In response to one question asking what the chances of the person inside dying are, they replied: "Unlike Columbia we're not moving at orbital speeds so 'dying a gruesome death burning up on re-entry' with our kit has a very low outcome probability."
Despite that, the rocket will still break the sound barrier, and subject the pilot (who is forced to stand inside the capsule) to considerable g-forces. As a result, the astronaut will only be able to move his arms, which will be able to operate a camera, the manual override functionality, the exit hatch, an additional oxygen mask and a vomit bag.
When the rocket hits the team's original target suborbital altitude of 150,000m (500,000 feet) and begins to descend again, parachutes will slow it and the team will track it with a GPS link and a "fast boat". The team said: "We should be able to receive a descent plot which can be used in projecting a splashdown ellipse pretty accurately, if we factor in wind speeds and so on."
The first test launch will be taking place on 31 August, 2010, and will set off from Denmark the previous day, as it takes about 36 hours of sailing to reach the site. The team's website is down at the time of writing, presumably due to the attention the launch is generating, but can be found at copenhagensuborbitals.com.
If successful, Denmark will be the fourth country to put one of its citizens into space, following the USA, Soviet Union and China, and the first in the world to do it without government funding.
P.S. I'd hate to be a standing passenger pulling 5g.