Category Archives: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic and LEGO Ideas Go Together Like Paul and Storm

Image from LEGO Ideas.

There’s some hope out there that Virgin Galactic will eventually start flying passengers to sub-orbit and back sometime this year.  And the spacecraft Virgin Galactic intends to use to do that is SpaceShipTwo, with the help of its airborne launch platform, WhiteKnight Two.  Of course, that particular kind of flight is a bit pricey, about $200,000 per seat per ride.  Unlike regular rockets, a specially modified airplane carries the rocket up to a certain altitude.  Once the correct altitude is reached, the rocket drops from the airplane and fires up its motor.  Below is a video of what the whole thing is supposed to look like.

But what if you could get your hands on a WhiteKnight Two and SpaceShip Two model?  Unless the model was full-scale, it would probably cost a little less than the ticket price.  It just depends on whether you decide to vote on the LEGO Ideas page, here.  Yes!!  You did see that correctly–the models are made out of LEGOs.  And they could be part of a kit you could put together.  You could initially help determine whether the kit gets produced or not.  Then, you could be that LEGO spacecraft project manager and construction engineer and build the Virgin Galactic models.

Another image of SpaceShip and WhiteKnight Two from the LEGO Ideas site.

And again, there’s voting involved.  If you like these LEGO versions  of WhiteKnight Two and SpaceShip Two, then vote on them.  And then when they get produced, buy them.  But maybe you think you can do better?  Well, then maybe YOU should try to build a LEGO model of each one?  Then put those versions up on LEGO Ideas for people like us to vote on them.  That would show us.

The project does need 10,000 votes to move on, though.  Right now, less than 150 people have voted to support it.  Of course, there are over 320 days to get your vote in.  The only negative is the LEGO Ideas site requires registration to vote.  Registration is free, though, and if the whole thing is successful, and you can buy the kit, I bet it’ll be cheaper than buying a ticket with Virgin Galactic…


Google Wants a Piece of Virgin

Google Shopping Spree

Another space announcement from Google and Virgin Galactic last week took many folks by surprise.  Google is supposed to be in talks with Virgin Galactic, and supposedly wants to buy a small stake in the sub-orbital flight company.  One telltale sign of the seriousness of the talks is the companies have signed up and registered the internet domain name Virgle, at least according to Sky News.

This might make sense, if Google is looking to support cheaper options for getting low earth orbiting (LEO) satellites into orbit.  And Virgin Galactic is touting LauncherOne as a way to get payloads into LEO quickly and inexpensively.  The only hitch to this right now is that Virgin Galactic hasn’t really started their initial business of flying passengers into space.  But maybe they’ll get there.

If LauncherOne works, then Google could inexpensively launch a few SkyBox satellites into LEO (they each weigh about 120 kg., or a little less than 265 lbs.).  LauncherOne is stated to have a payload capacity of 225 kg. (500 lbs.) for a “low inclination orbit“–an orbital path that crosses the equator at closer to a 0 degree angle rather than 45 or 90.  Or, if someone wants to put a satellite into LEO sun-synchronous (go here to see what that means), the payload capacity gets cut nearly in half:  100 kg. (225 lbs.).  The weight of the payload is cut because more fuel is required to get the satellite into an orbit which is more inclined.  So, if SkyBox and Google wish to start using Virgin Galactic to launch more SkySat satellites, they’ll need time to reduce the satellite weight a bit.

But since SkyBox signed an agreement with Orbital Sciences earlier this year to launch six more satellites in 2015, SkyBox might be able to get that done.  Then, the other 23 or so satellites SkyBox wants to get into orbit can be accomplished with Virgin Galactic perhaps more cheaply.  And, if something goes wrong with one of their satellites, they can quickly schedule a Virgin Galactic LauncherOne “launch,” and get a new, healthy replacement satellite into LEO quickly.

Just how well the US Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program will compete, pricewise, with this (especially considering Virgin Galactic passengers are paying a mere $200,000–so the satellite launch will be cheaper, too, perhaps)?  And will that program be at least as responsive as Virgin Galactic might be?  Doubtful–but it’s an exciting time for space operators and fans.


Spaceport America: We’re on a Road to Nowhere

Spaceport America Map

“Come on Inside”

“Takin’ that Ride to Nowhere, We’ll take that Ride”

Why the map?  It’s just to show where Spaceport America is relative to everything (or in this case, the nothing) around it.  It’s pretty much in the Middle of Nowhere, New Mexico.  But two companies we’ve heard much about, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, are working on getting flights to space from the almost penal-colony friendly location.  They want to make the middle of nowhere a somewhere–a place worth visiting and not just driving through on the way to El Paso or Albuquerque.

This Toronto Sun article talks about the residents of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and the possible impact of the commercial activities at Spaceport America.  The town, if you have really good eyes, is seen on the map, just northwest of Spaceport America.  Close enough to support the spaceport’s activities.  Of course the residents of Truth or Consequences have hopes and dreams regarding the spaceport.  As do the SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and a few other new space pioneers.  The good news for them is that if any of their launches go wrong, there aren’t many people around to be affected.  Sure, a few horny toads or scorpions might get singed, but we’ve done worse in the New Mexico desert–remember Trinity?

In the meantime, SpaceX will conduct reusable rocket testing there.  And Virgin Galactic will start flying SpaceShip Two out of the port this year, with Sir Richard Branson the first passenger to do so (of course).  That plan is only according to what Branson has stated in the Toronto Sun article.

Will Spaceport America be a space tourist destination?  Will it be a commercial success?  I am unsure.  I don’t think anyone ever anticipated the swamps in central Florida as a tourist destination, but lo, Disney made it so.  Do any of the new space companies have a “Disneyesque” vision?  Maybe.  I hope so.

But the Middle of Nowhere is going to need a lot of work for that to happen.

The New Spaceports Are Here

Just my latest post.  This it’s time about the newer spaceports in the US.  Will there be enough business for them?  With high prices, it’s hard to tell.  You can make a better guess after reading:  New Spaceports Readying for New Spaceship Business.

Space Tourism, the Costly Frontier

In previous articles I’ve talked about cheap small satellites for the general public to buy and even use in orbit.  But what if you want something more?  What if you want to be, if only for a few minutes, an astronaut?  “Space tourism is too expensive!” you say?  Maybe, if you only follow Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital efforts with SpaceShip One and SpaceShip Two.

Virgin Galactic might be the first company out of the gate for space tourism, but other companies are looking to compete with Virgin Galactic.  One company, Bristol Spaceplanes, is going the seemingly faddish route of crowdfunding to get its space tourism plan from website to reality.  The aim for BSL is to build a reusable spaceplane.  The spaceplane is meant to be sub-orbital and will carry only one pilot and one passenger.  It will fly from an airfield like a regular airplane, then start a rocket engine, achieving an altitude slightly over 60 miles.

What’s not so high is the price to ride it, at least when compared to Virgin Galactic’s pricing scheme.  Virgin Galactic’s price for a seat on their ride to space is set at $250,000.  Bristol Spaceplanes overall projected cost for its spaceplane is the same price:  $250,000.  At least that’s the price Bristol Spaceplanes is aiming for on the crowdfunding site.  Unless you’re a registered investor or entrepreneur on the site, you won’t be able to see too many details.

However, this UK Wired article states there are a few perks to be had if you’re interested in investing in Bristol Spaceplanes.  Invest $8,300 and you will get a discounted seat to space on the spaceplane, which Bristol Spaceplanes calls Microsonic.  Invest a little over $33,000, and the ride to space in Microsonic is free.  This is significantly cheaper than Virgin Galactic’s space tourism ride.  If you’re interested in the proposed flight plan, Bristol Spaceplanes also shows what that would be on their Ascender description page.

Bristol Spaceplanes is hoping that Microsonic will interest major aerospace manufacturers enough to build more, and perhaps bigger and better ones.  The best part?  Bristol Spaceplanes think flying to space will become even cheaper.  But until then, if you have an extra $8000 to $33000 to invest in not necessarily a sure thing, and you or a loved one have always wanted a ride into space, what’s stopping you?  Bristol Spaceplanes’ crowdfunding initiative ends sometime May.