A Holiday in Space

Who's flying high and how to be a space tourist

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Will space tourism take off in 2012?

Posted by [email protected] on January 4, 2012 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Perhaps more than any, space tourism is an industry where you need to have your head in the clouds and your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Quite literally lofty ambitions need a thoroughly realistic approach, but that doesn't mean that pessimism should replace the optimism felt by so many people when SpaceShipOne made its twin flights eight years ago and Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic. We all thought SpaceShipTwo would be making suborbital hops by 2008, but in today's risk-averse society it's pointless to expect anything but the most cautious approach before you put millionaire tourists into a rocket-powered spaceplane.

So while we've got our fingers crossed that SpaceShipTwo will make its maiden sub-orbital flight this year, let's not forget that the most exciting space tourism news came from outside the USA.

Space Expedition Curacao officially opened for paying customers, and by the end of the year had signed up more than 50 would-be astronauts to ride alongside the pilot on the XCOR Lynx II rocketplane. I don't know about you, but Curacao sounds like a more attractive launch location than the Mojave Desert!

Britain's Excalibur Almaz took delivery of some vintage Russian space hardware, which it hopes to refurbish into an suite of orbital capsules and space hotels. It's one of the more unusual private space ventures, but that just makes space tourism all the more interesting.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic broke ground on its spaceport in Mojave, and regulators got more friendly towards commercial manned spaceflight. SpaceX, the champions of private spaceflight, not only won the chance to fly to the ISS, they revealed plans for even bigger rockets and a fully resuable launch system.

Being realistic, space tourism won't be a real industry until it flies its first real, paying passengers, but it's still far from grounded.

Britain's first commercial astronaut books with Space Expedition Curacao

Posted by [email protected] on November 6, 2011 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (1)

Liverpudlian Anton Kreil is lined up to become Britain's first commercial astronaut on board Space Expedition Curaçao's Lynx II spaceship.

If SXC flies on schedule, 32-year-old Anton's sub-orbital spaceflight will take off in 2014 from of Curaçao in the Dutch Antilles.

The $95,000 ticket will send the investments expert and his pilot to around 100 miles above the Earth, where they will enjoy several minutes of zero-gravity and the best view money can buy before flying back to the Caribbean.

Anton told A Holiday In Space: "It fascinates me to push boundaries. I've travelled around the world a few times, and there's no way to go now except for up.

"They stuck the Hubble in space for a reason, and I'm going because there must be something very special to see up there."


As one of SXC's first 100 fully paid-up customers, Anton even stands a chance of flying on its first flight, currently scheduled for 2014.

In addition to a luxury stay in Curaçao and pre-flight training in a zero-G aeroplane and centrifuge, the 'Founder Astronauts' will draw lots to decide who goes first.

He's also sceptical that Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic will be the first space tourism operator to fly, suggesting that Branson's ambition to fly a larger spacecraft will drag them backwards compared to SXC's two-seater, highly-resuable XCOR Lynx II.

Anton won't be the first British astronaut - Michael Foale had that honour aboard the Space Shuttle and MIr in the 1990s - but he will be the first to pay for his own ticket, and Foale had to take American citizenship in order to join NASA.

News roundup: Resuable SpaceX, new Mars simulation, Virgin's new pilot and Bigelow layoffs

Posted by [email protected] on November 6, 2011 at 8:05 AM Comments comments (0)

In space tourism news this week:

  • SpaceX to develop fully reusable launch system and more
  • Russia proposes Mars mission simulation on ISS
  • Virgin Galactic recruits first commercial space pilot
  • Bigelow Aerospace lays off half of workforce


SpaceX reveals reusable launcher plans and Mars ambitions

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has unveiled a video showing how a fully reusable two-stage launch system could work.

Musk also told the National Press Club the world's super-rich could colonise Mars for around half a million dollars on a a one-way trip.

The reusable version of the Falcon 9 is already code-named Grasshopper, based on an Environmental Protection Agency application published in October detailing SpaceX's test proposals.

The first and second stages won't use parachutes for a water-borne splashdown and recovery like the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters, but will land vertically under their own power on land.

The Dragon Capsule would abandon its service module and make a similar powered landing, using the pusher launch abort system as a retro rocket.

Of course, you need a lot less fuel to return to Earth, since the atmosphere does most of your braking for you, but the real problem is attitude control as you slow a tall rocket stack down to the speeds needed for a soft landing on hydraulic ram legs.

Musk's Mars vision has the tone of a Bond villain-esque plan to ship the super-rich from a dying Earth to a Martian utopia.

He's estimating a ticket price of about $500,000 per person would be affordable to about one in a million of the world's population.

At today's population growth rates, and the time it will take to develop a system for colonising Mars, Musk predicts 8,000 people will be able to afford his tickets.

What he doesn't say is how anyone will convince the world's elite to abandon their comforts, or how many PAs, housekeepers and servants they'll be able to take with them.

To be fair, Musk proposes the world could achieve his Mars colonisation with just one-quarter of one per cent of GDP, but he does seem to see a plutocratic future for humanity.


Russia proposes virtual Mars mission aboard the International Space Station

The ISS could be used for an 18-month simulated round trip to Mars, suggests the Russian Space Agency.

Roscosmos and the ESA have just finished a 500-day simulated Mars mission on Earth, with authentic communications delays and space-suited expeditions onto a simulated Mars.

The Russian space agency suggests the next stage could be to have two cosmonauts staying aboard the ISS for up to 18 months.

It wasn't unusual for Russia's spacemen to stay on earlier space stations for 300 days or more, but ISS tours of duty are limited to six months to limit bone and muscle mass loss.

A 540-day Mars mission would push astronauts to their limits, but simulating the experience in Earth orbit seems like a sensible precaution, perhaps using one of Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable modules to simulate Earth's first interplanetary spacecraft.

ISS work schedules are booked up until 2014, but the space station needs a compelling reason to keep its partners signed up for the long term, especially as America seems to be losing interest in the station it's spent so long building.


Virgin Galactic appoints its first commercial astronaut pilot

Former USAF test pilot Keith Colmer will become the first astronaut pilot to join the commercial spaceline's flight team.

Colmer will begin flight training and testing with chief pilot David Mackay, preparing for operational missions aboard WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic's twinned carrier planes and spacecraft.

Former combat pilot Colmer has more than 12 years of operational, developmental and experimental aircraft test flight experience, and more than 10 years of military experience in USAF spacecraft operations and flying.

He's a graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School, USAF Undergraduate Space Training Programme, Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Programme, and has a BSc in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT.

Virgin Galactic will announce additional commercial pilot crew as it nears the launch of commercial operations.


Tardy private spaceflight progress forces Bigelow to lay off workers

Bigelow Aerospace has laid off half its staff because no-one is ready to fly to its inflatable space habitats.

The company has successfully flown two test modules, and was hoping that commercial spaceflight would be spurred on by NASA's commercial crew delivery programme.

But delays to CCDev have pushed back any hopes of spaceships being ready until at least 2016, including the capsule from Bigelow's partner, Boeing.

Now founder Robert Bigelow has had to reduce its staff from 115 to 51 until the private spaceflight business catches up and other international clients recover from the global recession.

It would be easy to blame Bigelow and other space entrepeneurs for relying on government help, but one of government's roles is to encourage new economic development.

Unfortunately, US industry's greatest enemy today is a House and Senate where the members have become so entrenched in pre-election bipartisan warfare that they've abdicated any pretense of governing responsibly. Perhaps Elon Musk's got the right idea after all.

News roundup: Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and SXC

Posted by [email protected] on October 23, 2011 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

In space tourism news this week:

  • Virgin Galactic opens Spaceport America facilities
  • SpaceX completes launch escape design review
  • SXC launches news portal


Virgin Galactic opens hangar and terminal at Spaceport America

Charismatic Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson opened his new flight terminal and spaceship hangar at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space will support operations of two pairs of White Knight Two and Spaceship Two vehicles, house all of the company’s astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control center, and a friends and family area.

Branson marked the event by abseiling down the building with his children, Holly and Sam, who will be the first commercial passengers on Spaceship Two.

Virgin Galactic CEO and president George Whitesides said the company has conducted 30 SpaceShipTwo flights and 75 WhiteKnightTwo flights to date. It has also been awarded a contract under NASA’s Flight Opportunity Program for research flights to a potential value of $4.5m.

Still, it would be nice to know if that first sub-orbital test flight will gon up before the end of the year.


SpaceX ready to start work on Dragon launch escape system for manned flights

SpaceX can start work on the hardware for the integrated launch escape system of its Dragon capsule, after completing the preliminary design review.

NASA's approval of the latest design review marks the fourth successfully completed milestone under the agency's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) programme.

"Dragon's integrated launch abort system provides astronauts with the ability to safely escape from the beginning of the launch until the rocket reaches orbit," explained David Giger, co-lead of the DragonRider program. "This level of protection is unprecedented in manned spaceflight history."

The SpaceX design incorporates the escape engines into the side walls of Dragon, eliminating a failure mode of more traditional rocket escape towers, which must be successfully jettisoned during every launch.

The integrated abort system also returns with the spacecraft, allowing for easy reuse and radical reductions in the cost of space transport.

Over time, the same escape thrusters will also provide Dragon with the ability to land with pinpoint accuracy on Earth or another planet.

SpaceX proposes that it will be able to put astronauts into orbit for around $20million per seat, compared to the $62million pricetag of a Soyuz flight.


SXC launches mission report newsletter

Space Expedition Curacao has added a new portal for followers of its space tourism programme.

SXC plans to send tourists on exclusive sub-orbital trips aboard the two-seater XCOR Lynx spaceplane, flying from the Dutch Anitlles isle of Curacao.

The first Mission Report newsletter can be found at http://bit.ly/prQjQu, where you can subscribe for further updates.

SpaceX delays and Virgin Galactic retirement

Posted by [email protected] on October 8, 2011 at 10:25 AM Comments comments (0)

There was bad news for SpaceX and Virgin Galactic this week.

Space X delayed

SpaceX's maiden flight to the International Space Station has been put back by at least three weeks to December 19, and may be in 2012.

The Falcon 9 rocket was due to launch the Dragon capsule on November 30, on a second demonstration flight for the NASA COmmercial Orbital Transportation Services contract.

But Russian Soyuz and Progress flights to the ISS have been rescheduled following the loss of a Progress supply rocket in August.

They're now cleared to fly again, but Russia has yet to confirm its launch timetable.

SpaceX told Florida Today it has requested December 19 as the earliest possible launch, but January is more likely.

The COTS Demo 2 flight will conduct orbital manouvres, and hopefully make a close approach to the ISS to test docking navigation equipment installed by the last Space Shuttle flight in July. If successful, the Dragon capsule will be captured by the ISS remote arm and docked to the station.

A successful mission will open the doors to SpaceX's first commercial supply mission to the ISS using the resuable Dragon capsule.

And SpaceX founder Elon Musk's goal is to have Dragon and the Falcon 9 man-rated so he can deliver passengers to the ISS and other orbital locations.

Virgin Galactic has an empty seat

One of Virgin Galactic's paid-up passengers announced that he'd lost patience with the company's flight schedule after more than four years of waiting.

British-born venture capitalist Alan Walton was one of the first to book when Richard Branson lauched his space tourism company in 2004.

But after watching the predicted flight date slipped from 2007 to 2012, the Miami Herald says Walton asked for his money back on his 75th birthday this year.

His $200,000 ticket would have bought a ride to the edge of space, with up to 15 minutes of weightlessness aboard Spaceship Two.

Walton is an adventurer who has trekked to the North Pole, skydived over Mount Everest and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

He won't fly with Virgin Galactic, but there are still around 450 passengers signed up to fly when their spaceship is ready.


New on HiS: Space Expedition Curacao and Armadillo Aerospace

Posted by [email protected] on September 29, 2011 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Profiles of Space Expedition Curaçao and Armadillo Aerospace join A Holiday in Space today.


A week ago, I hadn't even heard of Space Expedition Curaçao (I've known about the Lynx spaceplane for a while), and the arrival of a third space travel agency makes space tourism look like a genuine industry. And to be honest, if I could afford the ticket price, I'd probably be tempted to fly from the Dutch Antilles than windswept Baikonur or the Mojave desert.


At $95,000, I might be able to afford a ticket if I can just convince my other half that we don't need a house.


Armadillo is hoping to cut the cost of spaceflight to around $100,000, although I think single-stage, vertical takeoff and landing is still a very ambitious goal for any spacecraft. They're a focussed and experienced team who are steadily notching up milestones, and Space Adventures wouldn't have signed them up if they didn't have what it takes.

 

Whenever they fly, the as-yet-unnamed Armadillo craft will be one of the strangest looking sub-orbital vehicles if it looks anything like their demonstrators.

 

Look out for a profile of XCOR Aerospace's Lynx when I get to the "X" section of the spacecraft profiles in a few weeks.

Virgin opens FAITH flight hangar at Spaceport America

Posted by [email protected] on September 27, 2011 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Press release:

The Spaceship Company opens assembly facility at Mojave Air and Space Port to build Virgin Galactic spaceships.

The Spaceship Company (TSC), the aerospace production joint venture of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, achieved a significant milestone in making commercial space travel a reality with September 19th’s opening of its Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar, or FAITH, at Mojave Air and Space Port. The $8 million, modern, energy-efficient hangar supports the final stages of production for prime customer Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo, and will add new jobs to the commercial space industry at spaceports in Mojave and New Mexico.

Commenting on the grand opening, Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson said, “Today marks another important step along the road to opening space for everyone. We’re extremely proud of the new FAITH building, which is the world’s first facility dedicated to producing private, commercial manned space vehicles. From this hangar, the talented team at The Spaceship Company will be at the forefront of making space access safe, reliable and affordable.”

Located on taxiway-B, FAITH is a 68,000-square-foot, LEED-certified facility that will be used primarily for the final assembly, integration and testing of TSC vehicles before they are delivered to their customers. FAITH will also be used to support major return-to-base vehicle maintenance, and serve as TSC’s operating headquarters.

“We take great pride in the opening of FAITH as an accomplishment for our company, our current and future customers and our industry,” said The Spaceship Company Vice President, Operations Enrico Palermo. “Within this new facility, we will produce the highest quality commercial spaceflight systems.”

FAITH completes the infrastructure needed to manufacture a fleet of TSC’s two core products: the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) sub-orbital spaceship and the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft. The facility is specifically sized to support fabrication of SS2 and WK2 with room to produce at least two of each ship at the same time.

“Not only are we welcoming a new neighbor at the Mojave Air and Space Port today, we’re ushering in another phase in the development of commercial space travel,” said President of Scaled Composites Doug Shane. “It’s exciting to see the vision becoming a reality.”

FAITH was completed within 10 months, as scheduled, and on budget by Bakersfield-based Wallace & Smith General Contractors. It is one of two facilities that TSC will use to produce commercial spacecraft. The other is a 48,000-square-foot existing building at the Mojave Air and Space Port that TSC recently upgraded to serve as the company’s fabrication and vehicle sub-assembly facility. TSC has secured options to expand the size of the FAITH facility and build an adjacent flight test hangar, as the customer base grows.

The opening of FAITH also means a boost to our local economies with impact in California and New Mexico. TSC currently employs over 80 people and is looking to double its workforce within the next year, with numerous high-tech and engineering positions available in the next 90 days.

“Despite the current state of the U.S. economy and rising unemployment, this is a strong time of growth for The Spaceship Company,” Palermo said. “We are creating excellent, high-skilled job opportunities for individuals with aerospace, engineering and hands-on space program experience. We want employees who are passionate about developing new and innovative ways of accessing space.”

About The SpaceShip Company

Headquartered at Mojave Air and Space Port, The Spaceship Company is the aerospace production company, founded by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, which will be building the world’s first fleet of commercial spaceships (SpaceShipTwos) and carrier aircraft (WhiteKnightTwos) intended to make regular, commercial, manned space travel a reality.

About Scaled Composites

Founded in 1982, Scaled Composites specializes in the design, fabrication and flight testing of prototype aircraft and spacecraft from composite materials. Scaled is a project-oriented company that offers services within a concept-to-completion environment. Our services include conceptual design, aerodynamic and structural analysis and design, tooling, fabrication, structural testing, flight testing and simulation.

 

Lift-off for A Holiday in Space

Posted by [email protected] on September 24, 2011 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Welcome to A Holiday in Space, the internet's best resource for anyone who wants to become a space tourist. 

If you're anything like me, as a child you were promised a glittering future of daily flights into orbit by the end of the 20th century. Now the 21st century is here and I don't even have a robot butler to mix my mojito, let alone a chance that my next holiday could take me into Earth orbit or further.

But I'm done cursing politicians for their lack of vision over human spaceflight. There's a new breed of spaceflight company looking to the skies and they don't live for taxpayer handouts. Lean, mean and keen, businesses like Virgin Galactic, Bigelow Aerospace and SpaceX want to slash a handful of zeros off the cost of getting into zero-G, and this is my way of giving a helping hand.

Over the coming weeks I'll be building an A-Z of the companies who could send you or I into space as paying passengers, and where we might go when we get there. I'll be covering the latest news about commercial manned spaceflight on this blog, along with my opinions of how the industry is shaping up.

Now, where's my bubble helmet?


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