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News roundup: Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and SXC

Posted by lx_lane@yahoo.co.uk on October 23, 2011 at 1:10 PM

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.

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