Da Vinci Project

The da Vinci Project was a privately funded, volunteer-staffed attempt to launch a reusable manned suborbital spacecraft. It was a contender for the Ansari X PRIZE for the first non-governmental reusable manned spacecraft. The project is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and led by Brian Feeney.

The da Vinci Project is continuing on with its core mission of a manned private spaceflight. The project participated in the X PRIZE Cup 2005 displaying its Wild Fire MK Vl 3 person spacecraft. Plans are to continue participating in the new annual X-Prize Cup series based out of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The team

The da Vinci Project has been staffed by a continually revolving stream of enthusiastic volunteers, more than 600 in all as of 2006. At its most active, the team maintained a normal strength of 20-30. Volunteers have included professionals in aerospace engineering and business, as well as pilots, welders, machinists, students, teachers, writers, and dreamers of all kinds. Brian Feeney established the project in 1996 to compete for the international X PRIZE Competition that challenged its competitors to privately build and fly a manned spacecraft into space. The core of the team is located in Toronto, Canada with Engineering and Ground Operation Teams located across Canada and around the world.

pacecraft design

"Note: The technical information is accurate as of January 2006 and has been added to this site by the projects team leader, Brian Feeney.

The project's design is a rocket-powered spacecraft to be air-launched from a helium balloon at an altitude of about 21 km (70,000 ft). The project has therefore built both the spacecraft and the launching balloon and can be described as manned rockoon.

The spacecraft, Wild Fire, is predominantly cylindrical, with a diameter of 2.00 m and overall length of 8.00 m. It has a crew capsule at one end, rocket motor at the other, and propellant tanks between.

The crew capsule is spherical, with a diameter of 2.00 m. It is designed to accommodate three humans in a pressurised atmosphere, but the crew will wear pressure suits. The capsule can separate from the remainder of the craft if necessary, and has its own emergency parachute. There are six large windows, covering the front half of the capsule, providing a clear view.

The spacecraft has a hybrid rocket engine, with solid paraffin fuel and liquid nitrous oxide oxidiser.

There is also a cold gas reaction control system, using cold gas nitrogen propellant.

The craft uses an INS (Inertial Navigation System) autopilot and can also be flown manually through activation of the RCS system.

In the original design, during reentry, the vehicle deploys a ballute, an inflated conical balloon that makes the vehicle aerodynamically stable, provides drag, and acts as a heat shield. The ballute would remain inflated until landing, where it cushions the impact. Between 7 km and 3 km altitude the vehicle would also deploy a parafoil, which is used both to slow descent and to steer to the landing zone. There would also be a backup parachute for the spacecraft, in addition to a separate parachute for the separable crew capsule.

By 2003, the design had been revised for a more simple design: the ballute concept was abandoned, and the crew capsule and propulsion stage would separate and independently descend with parachutes.

Vehicle specifications

*Name: Wild Fire MKVI;
*Dimensions: 8 m (26 ft) long, 2 m (78 in) in diameter;
*Gross take-off weight: 4,090 kg (9,000 lbm);
*Dry weight: 1,660 kg (3,650 lbm);
*Crew capsule: 2 m (78 in) diameter sphere;
*Crew environment: Pressurized to 1 atm (100 kPa) with pressure suits;
*Payload capacity: 410 kg (900 lbm);
*Propulsion system: Single, pressure-fed, hybrid engine;
*Propellants: Nitrous oxide and proprietary solid paraffin fuel;
*Total thrust: 80,000 N (18,000 lbf);
*Reaction control system: Cold gas nitrogen integrated with GPS and INS for flight guidance;
*Miscellaneous: Two drogue shoots and two mains on the capsule deploy and it repeats again separately for the propulsion section during descent.

Spaceflight mission sequence

*Ascent method to ignition altitude: Reusable helium balloon;
*Ascent duration: 90 to 120 minutes;
*Altitude at ignition: 21 km (70,000 ft);
*Orientation at ignition: 75 degrees up, changing to 90 deg after 8 seconds;
*Max. acceleleration on ascent: 3.5 "g" (34 m/s²) ;
*Altitude at engine cut-off: 62.8 km (206,000 ft);
*Time at engine cut-off: 90 seconds;
*Max. speed: 1,190 m/s (2,670 mph);
*Max. altitude: 115 km (377,000 ft);
*Time in weightless conditions: 3.5 minutes;
*Reentry method: Capsule and propulsion section reenter separately using their own shielding with passive stability;
*Acceleration on descent: 20 s > 3 "g" (30 m/s²); "max" 6.75 "g" (66 m/s²);
*Landing method: Aeroconical parachutes are deployed before landing on airbags. They deploy and soften the 6 m/s landing velocity;
*Total Duration: 90 to 110 minutes;
*Landing distance from take-off location: 50 to 100 km (30 to 60 mi), depending on winds;
*Time Between missions: Days

Vehicle/launch system description

The DVP vehicle is called Wild Fire MKVI and is designed to carry three people to an altitude of 100 kilometres (62 mi) and return them safely to the Earth. The entire launch system is comprised of two parts: the rocket and an unmanned reusable helium balloon which lifts the rocket to altitude before the rocket engines are fired. Guidance is accomplished using an integrated GPS/INS system into the RCS (Reaction Control System). The vehicle is a cylindrical rocket with a blunt nose cone, and uses inflatable base cushions for both the capsule and propulsion sections that land separately (used to cushion the landing). Wild Fire MKVI is approximately 8 meters (26 ft) long and 2 meters (78 inches) in diameter. Its gross initial takeoff weight is approximately 4,090 kilograms (9,000 pounds), including a 410 kilogram (900 pound) payload (passenger) capacity. The rocket is suspended beneath the helium balloon and carried to an altitude of 21 kilometres (70,000 ft) before its engines are fired.

Propulsion system

The propulsion system of Wild Fire MKVI, under development since 1996, is based on the principles of reliability, reusability, and safety. A single engine is used on the Wild Fire MKVI burning nitrous oxide and a proprietary solid paraffin fuel mixture in a pressure fed system to generate 80,000 newtons (18,000 pounds) of thrust. The rocket engines, the entire propulsion subsystem, and the flight guidance system were developed by the DVP propulsion in house team in Canada. Ground firing and flight testing have occurred already.

Mission description

Vehicle ascent

The rocket will be tethered to the world’s largest fully reusable helium balloon and floated to an altitude of 21 kilometres (70,000 ft). The ascent sequence starts with ground launch of the helium balloon with the DVP rocket tethered 250 meters (820 ft) below the base of the balloon at an 75-degree up angle. After approximately one and a half hours, the rocket will arrive at a launch altitude of 21,340 meters (70,000 ft). Following a series of launch procedures, a 120 second computer controlled automatic countdown sequence is initiated and the engines are ignited. Immediately on engine start the rocket releases from the balloon tether and for the next 8 seconds the vehicle flies at a 75 degree angle trajectory. The RCS changes the trajectory of the rocket to 90 degrees (straight up) for the remainder of flight. Main engine cut off occurs at 63 kilometres (39 miles); 3.5 "g" (34 m/s²) have been reached, total time since firing engines is 90 seconds. The speed is about Mach 3.5 or about 1.19 kilometres per second (2,670 miles per hour). The rocket continues up to apogee. At 85 kilometres (53 miles) altitude the capsule separates from the propulsion section – about 100 seconds - 110 kilometres (68 miles) – and then begins free fall for 105 seconds - total zero "g" time about 3 minutes 30 seconds. Drogue chutes deploy at 12,190 meters (40,000 ft) on both the capsule and propulsion section, separately. The main chute on both deploys separately at 3,050 meters (10,000 ft). Landing occurs at 5 meters per second (16 feet per second). During the ascent (and descent) stages, live camera feed from the balloon and rocket occur throughout the flight.


After 100 seconds and at 62.8 kilometres (206,000 ft), the main engines are cut off. The crew has experienced acceleration forces up to three and half times the force of gravity (34 m/s²). The speed of the vehicle at this point is about Mach 3.5, or approximately 1,190 meters per second (2,670 miles per hour). The rocket coasts for about 105 seconds to an altitude of 110 kilometres (68 miles) and then begins free fall for another 105 seconds. The total time the crew experiences microgravity conditions is approximately 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

Vehicle descent and landing

Fifteen seconds after apogee is reached, at 85 kilometres (278,900 ft), the capsule separates from the propulsion section. Both the capsule and propulsion section have passive static stability during reentry. Drogue parachutes are deployed at 12 kilometres (40,000 ft) on both pieces of hardware, followed by main parachute deployments at 3 kilometres (10,000 ft). Both the capsule and propulsion section deploy their reentry shields separately, prior to ground landing, and act as air cushions (in a similar fashion to Mercury capsules of the early 1960s).


The balloon is helium-filled, fully reusable. Its volume fully inflated is approximately 113 154 m³ (4 million cu ft). The material is polyethylene measuring 4.5 mils (110 µm) in thickness. The balloons net weight is approximately 1 818 kg (4,000 lb). The volume of helium needed to carry the weight of the balloon plus spacecraft to the 21 340 m (70,000 ft) launch altitude is approx. 6 200 m³ (219,170 lb) creating some 7 595 kg (16,700 lb) of gross lift. The tether system between the base of the balloon and rocket is a 250 m (820 ft) lightweight spectra fiber cord (also known under the name Dyneema). The 12.7 mm (0.5 in) diameter tether cord weighs just 45.5 kg (100 lb) yet has a breaking strength of 155 kN (35,000 lbf).

History and status

The project was established in 1996. It is named after Leonardo da Vinci, who, among innumerable other inventions, was the first recorded person to design an aircraft. The project is staffed entirely by volunteers, about 600 so far.

The project unveiled their spacecraft, Wild Fire, on August 5, 2004 at a hangar at Downsview Airport in Toronto. At this point it was a contender for the Ansari X PRIZE, and Tier One had just given notice of their planned competitive flights. When announcing the unveiling, the da Vinci Project also appealed for funds to fly Wild Fire. GoldenPalace.com stepped forward, and the project immediately gave the required 60 day notice that they would make Ansari X PRIZE competitive flights.

The da Vinci Project initially announced that it would fly first on October 2, 2004, launching from Kindersley, Saskatchewan. This was only three days after the first expected X PRIZE flight, by Scaled Composites, on September 29, 2004. However, on September 23, 2004 the da Vinci project announced that they would not be ready in time. Scaled Composites won the X PRIZE on October 4, 2004.

It is planned that the first da Vinci Project spaceflight will carry a famous soccer ball which was bought by GoldenPalace.com in July 2004 and which they are exhibiting on tour. The ball is famous for its use in the 2004 European Football Championship, where David Beckham missed a kick from the penalty mark using the ball as part of England's quarter-final defeat to the host nation Portugal.

The project has had little new to report since the successful firing of a scaled-down test engine in late 2004. The project has been hampered by the resignation of many volunteers, and the eviction from their main Toronto facility, in Downsview, following a subsequent, unsuccessful, potentially lethal test fire attempt. Some of their shop inventory, including the project's supply of rocket fuel, was secured by the Canadian Department of National Defence.

ee also

*List of private spaceflight companies - A compiled list of private spaceflight companies

External links

* [http://www.davinciproject.com The da Vinci Project] home page
* [http://www.davinciproject.com/beta/Documents/Canadian%20da%20Vinci_Project_Team_Summary_Aug_2004_V6.0.pdf Team Summary Sheet] , including design specs
* [http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/xprize_spacerace_archive.html SpaceShipOne and Wild Fire to Go For the Gold]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3539018.stm BBC News article: Second team goes for space prize]
* [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/08/06/beckham_ball_lost_in_space/ The Register article: Beckham penalty outrage ball heads for space]
* [http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/xprize_davincilaunch_update_040924.html SPACE.com article: Canadian X PRIZE Team Delays Launch Attempt]
* [http://www.exn.ca/dailyplanet/view.asp?date=9/27/2004 Daily Planet video: Interview with Brian Feeney about launch delay]

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