Despite progress made since its last space-faring endeavour barely over a year ago, local technology firm IN.Genius’ recent third attempt to send a Singaporean to near-space has once again been thwarted by an unexpected setback.
In a statement released by IN.Genius last Friday (May 31), the company said the launch at Alice Springs, Australia, had to be aborted after capsule depressurisation was detected midway during the flight.
The project, called GoSpace.sg, involves sending an astronaut in a capsule – dubbed the Quantum 1 – lifted by a high-altitude helium balloon to the Armstrong Line, a boundary located 20km above sea level.
The capsule was meant to be released from the balloon upon reaching the Armstrong Line and descend to Earth by means of a parachute at a rate of 5m per second.
As the Quantum 1 was taking off, the balloon disengaged from the launch crane and caused the capsule to suddenly dip, resulting in an impact with the ground that compromised its integrity, said IN.Genius.
Although the craft achieved a steady ascent of over 24,000 ft after 19 minutes, the flight had to be terminated after depressurisation in the capsule caused by the ground impact posed a risk to the mission, the company added.
The company noted that the capsule landed approximately 25km northwest of its initial launch point “as predicted by the pre-flight plan” and was “as smooth as a commercial aircraft landing on the tarmac”.
The uninjured astronaut – who is the founder of IN.Genius and the head of GoSpace.sg, Marvyn Lim Seng – was eventually picked up by rescue helicopter.
Project’s founder volunteered to man flight himself
In an email interview with Business Insider, Lim said that he volunteered to man the capsule himself instead of having other candidates to do it as the flight would involve passage over mountain ranges during its ascent phase.
Based on predicted flight profiles and advice provided by pilots, the team had determined that there was imminent risk and possible danger if an emergency were to occur during the flight over the mountains.
Given that he was the project’s system designer, Lim added that he was confident of the control parameters to navigate the ascent and move out of harm’s way above the mountain range in the event of an emergency.
“Leadership by example,” he said.
Project continues despite multiple failures
The setback marked GoSpace.sg’s third failed attempt to send a Singaporean to near-space.
The first launch – which was planned to take place in 2015 in conjunction with Singapore’s SG50 celebrations – was delayed due to a missing component for the capsule that was said by IN.Genius to be a controlled military grade item.
The second attempt that was slated to happen in May 2018 had to be put on hold for another year after unpredictable wind speeds made the mission too risky.
Nonetheless, the tech visionary said the journey will not end there and continues to believe in the prospects of space flight.
“The success or further development of these projects will pave the way for new technologies. We need the vision to see, and the courage to do,” he said.
Lim said that his motivations for persevering have not changed either, with dreams of showing that Singaporeans are “able and willing to think big and do big things as with other nations” in spite of the country’s geographically small size.
“We are so close. Too close to give up. We the team assessed that if we do not do this, who will? To bring Singapore into space, using our skill, competence, commitment and personal savings,” he added.
Lim noted that it is necessary to inspire Singapore’s youth as it is strategic step for the small nation to survive.
Citing a previous success in sending three rats to near-space from India in 2015 and the achievement of being able to launch on the third attempt (albeit missing the Armstrong Line) Lim said that his team had managed to prove the viability of its completed systems.
When asked if a fourth attempt would be made, he said that his team is now more confident as a result of the successful manned flight launch, adding that they are setting sights on raising funds for the project’s continuation through crowdfunding.
“It is the belief, grit and perseverance of the team that makes us press on positively,” said Lim.
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