Tag Archives: Virgin Galactic

DIY Space: Space Travel Grants are Go!

Image from SpaceShipEarthGrants.com.

Citizens of Earth:  for as little as $15 you can apply to fly in a rocket ship of your choice.  How?  It’s all thanks to your money, and an inspired program from the people you are giving the money to–Spaceship Earth Grants (SEG).  From the middle of last September, until the end of this year (Dec 31, 2014), you can fill out a form and pay for the chance to ride into space.  The payment price goes as high as $90, but when you consider the lowest ticket to ride, offered by XCOR Aerospace, will eventually be $95,000, you might consider that a bargain.  But XCOR might not be the company you choose for your rocket flight.  Remember, you get to choose which rocket company’s rocket you wish to fly out into space.

There are other, more expensive options than XCOR.  Virgin Galactic comes immediately to mind.  But the thing to remember is that none of the passenger rocket companies are operating commercially yet, and only Virgin Galactic seems to be testing an actual piloted commercial space vehicle right now.  That will change next year, hopefully.  Perhaps the companies will have fielded their rockets just in time for the final phase of the award.

The rules for applying are fairly straightforward and not too onerous.  You do have to be 18 years or older to apply.  But the opportunity to apply seems quite open–they’ll even let you fill out your application in six languages other than English.  Just go here, to see some of the rules, and then click on the link on the page for more rule detail.  One thing to keep in mind is that even though you might win the ticket to ride, American rocket companies have to comply with very tough government rules regarding the intermingling of foreigners and space technology.  The rules are so strict that American companies for this contest might not have or make rockets available to foreigners for a ride.

The application process is basically the first of a four phase process.  By the fourth phase, which starts and ends on April 15, 2015, SEG will announce the lucky soon-to-be astronaut (or spaceship passenger for those picky readers).  Even if you don’t win, if you’re one of the first 5,000 applicants, you’ll have a 1 in 100 chance to get a free ride on a “vomit comet”–an airplane that flies a particular flight profile to help simulate free-fall.

There are a few other application perks, and you can read about them all, here.  As to how reliable the SEG is, they are backed by the Buckminster Fuller Institute.  Will you pay money for the chance to ride to space?

 

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Four New Space Companies Awarded NASA Contracts

Another Clearancejobs.com post of mine about NASA’s announcement last week of their awarding four “new space” companies a few contracts.  Just go there for the details:  New Space Firms Awarded NASA Contracts.

Skylon: They Do it with Smoke and Mirrors?

The proposed Skylon space transport. Looks a little SR-71 derivative, doesn’t it? Image from Wikimedia.org.

Every now and then I’ve heard of this Skylon space transport.  It sounds very interesting and I honestly hope technology like it does come to fruition.  But here’s the thing:  Skylon-related research has apparently been going on for over thirty years.  According to the wiki, which might contain some inaccuracies, the idea of horizontal take-off and landing with a single stage reusable spacecraft was starting to be explored by the United Kingdom government as early as 1982.  Skylon has cost UK taxpayers about $12 billion just in development (at least according to the wiki).  What has the result been thus far?

This is my question, because Skylon sounds very neat.  It seems like it would really be revolutionary if the technology becomes a reality.  But the catch is that I haven’t seen signs of Skylon approaching reality at all.  There are a few BBC videos of engine tests, but I’m not a engine specialist, and they could just be showing off a jet engine.  What I am seeing is a lot of “dog and pony” animations only of what Skylon could look like and what Skylon could do.  Maybe the BBC is part of the cheering section?

It looks like the Skylon animation budget is at least getting its money’s worth.  But the animations seem to be the only product from the Skylon program, which raises red flags to me.

Why?  Well, let’s look at a few other rocket programs, also aiming to be reusable and inexpensive.  SpaceX has been making a lot of noise and news about their Falcon 9 rocket.  Not only has the Falcon 9 been successful for the relatively new rocket company, but SpaceX have been developing many different technologies to make their rocket approach reusability (you can read up on some of those things, here).

While SpaceX is testing basically vertically launched and vertically landed rockets, Virgin Galactic seems to be edging more into the horizontally launched and landed rocket territory of the Skylon.  They’ve been test launching their rocket for a few years now, and SpaceShip one, the first of this type of Virgin Galactic rocket, first flew into space over 10 years ago, in June 2004.  There is no similar evidence of progress from Reaction Engines, Limited, which has been working on Skylon for nearly 25 years.

Even more distressing is the fact that Skylon is supposed to make access to space cheaper, which this CNN post states will be about $94 million per flight.  That price is cheaper than Arianespace and ULA rocket flights–however, SpaceX already advertises around a $6o million per rocket flight basic cost–without reusability thrown in.  And Musk has said he believes once his rockets attain reusability, the prices will suddenly be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range, not the ridiculous millions needed currently.

Virgin Galactic is selling seats for $250,000 a pop.  This means it will also be able to sell the option to launch payloads cheaply–definitely cheaper than $94 million.  Just to be more international, even India is managing to get payloads into geosynchronous orbit for about $70 million (and their system isn’t designed to be reusable).

Have either SpaceX or Virgin Galactic actually used their reusable rockets for any commercial launches yet?  No–but they are showing more than animations and engine tests.  They are showing actual rockets in flight with video of what their rockets are doing during testing.  Shouldn’t Skylon, after all of these years, be able to do the same thing?  And for cheaper than $94 million?  If that price is their goal, then isn’t that already heading for failure, because it just won’t be able to compete with cheaper possible reusable options?

Anyway, until they can actually fly a Skylon, the program will all be just smoke and mirrors to me.  And too expensive for my tastes.

Update:  Oh dear!  It seems there are true fans out there of this particular technology, just like with SpaceX.  Some care enough to clarify a few things about REL, Skylon, etc.and point out the initial pricing launch, which comes from ESA via CNN, is too high.  Read those comments if you wish to learn more.

 

DARPA’s Next Generation Spaceplane

This is my most recent Clearancejobs.com post.  It’s about DARPA’s proposed XS-1 spaceplane.  The prime contractors for the first phase of the contract, and they’re working with some of the “new space” companies.  I raise questions about which one of those might be able to help their partner companies succeed in the post:  DARPA’s Next Generation Spaceplane.

She’s Got a Golden Space Ticket!!

Can you guess which one is to human scale?

Lynx Models

Okay, so this is admittedly a nice public relations stunt from XCOR Aerospace.  But for the recipient of this stunt, it’s pretty awesome.  Imagine the scenario:  you’re a typical comic nerd attending the San Diego Comic Con in 2012.  Suddenly, there’s an announcement that certain audience members are eligible for a “golden ticket” for a ride to space.

That’s just what the video below is all about.  And it’s very obvious that the winner, Mercedes Becerra, is extremely excited about going to space.  XCOR’s Lynx (models pictured at top of post), is a sub-orbital spaceplane that will fly to a little over 61 miles above the Earth.  That altitude is high enough to earn her astronaut “wings.”  I know I would be excited–even if it’s just a sub-orbital flight, which is all XCOR is aiming to do right now.  This sort of thing makes me want to attend the San Diego Comic Con even more, in spite of the HUGE crowds.  It would’ve been worth it for a ride into space, don’t you think?

The contest was sponsored by Warner Brothers and the Big Bang Theory sit-com.  If you look in the video, not only does Mercedes get the ride in XCOR’s Lynx, but they are making very sure she’s quite comfortable and familiar with what’s supposed to happen on the ride, since XCOR is taking her up in an airplane simulator, too.  There are some similarities between how XCOR and its apparent competitor, Virgin Galactic, will be achieving their sub-orbital altitudes.  However, XCOR is cheaper–around $95,000 per seat versus Virgin Galactic’s $250,000 per seat.  There’s the little fact, though, that XCOR hasn’t test flown their Lynx yet, while Virgin Galactic has test flown SpaceShipTwo.

But nearly free, as in only having to pay the San Diego Comic Con admission fee, isn’t too shabby, either!  I’m sure the convention was fun.  As an aside related to comic books:  has anyone seen the new “leaked” Deadpool test footage by the way?  Truly, the scene seems to be in the true spirit of the comic book character, which is funny and definitely not safe for work–but you can watch it below, if you dare.

He cracks me up…:-)