Thursday, July 31, 2008

Next Space Tourist, Station Crew Eager to Fly

Staff Writer

Originally Posted: 30 July 2008

6:10 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON - America's next space tourist and a new space station crew are gearing up for an October launch to the International Space Station (ISS).

Computer game developer Richard Garriott, along with U.S. astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov are slated to launch Oct. 12 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport.

Garriott, the son of former NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, who flew aboard the U.S. Skylab station and a U.S. shuttle, is set to become the first second-generation U.S. spaceflyer. He is flying under a $30 million deal brokered with Russia's Federal Space Agency by the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures to visit the ISS for about a week.

"To be frank this price tag is the majority of my wealth, to be honest," Garriott said Wednesday at a NASA briefing in Houston. "The reason why it's worth that to me is that this is the goal I've been working toward for a significant portion of my adult life."
The Austin, Texas resident is famous for creating the "Ultima" series of online computer games. His latest release, "Tabula Rasa," is an online science fiction game chronicling humanity's exodus from Earth after a major cataclysm. He plans to carry a so-called "immortality drive," a flash drive repository of information, including digital versions of the DNA from some computer gamers, copies of the avatars in one of his games, as well as an archive of mankind's greatest achievements.

"Since I'm getting a chance to go to space myself, I would be remiss without finding a way to connect to the community of gamers from space," Garriot said.

Garriott will be the sixth space tourist to vacation at the ISS. He plans to devote his stay to research, including protein crystallization and Earth observation experiments, with his father serving as chief scientist. He is scheduled to return to Earth with Expedition 17 Commander Sergei Volkov, himself a second-generation cosmonaut, and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko on Oct. 23 in a Soyuz.

Fincke, who made one previous trip to the space station as a flight engineer on the Expedition 9 crew, is set to lead the new Expedition 18 crew as commander. Lonchakov will serve as flight engineer. The main goal of their mission is to outfit the ISS to host six-person crews, double the population of its current three-person capacity.

"It's going to take us a lot of work, but it's the next step in getting the space station fully operational and we've got the right crew for it," Fincke said. "We think of ourselves as a can-do crew."

Two other members of the Expedition 18 crew, NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, are scheduled to fly on later shuttle missions. Magnus plans to ride aboard the November STS-126mission to become a space station flight engineer, while Wakata intends to arrive on the STS-119 mission in early 2009 to relieve her.

One member of the Expedition 18 crew is already aboard the space station. NASA astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who launched to the ISS in June, is currently serving as a flight engineer with the station's Expedition 17 crew. He plans to stay aboard with Fincke and Lonchakov for the first stage of Expedition 18 before turning his slot over to Magnus in November.

On the Net:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Virgin Galactic Shows Off Mothership Aircraft

Virgin Galactic unveils mothership for passenger rocket trips into space

By ALICIA CHANG AP Science Writer
MOJAVE, Calif. July 28, 2008 (AP) The Associated Press

Virgin Galactic give sneak peek at its secret space tourism program.

The space tourism race marked a milestone Monday as British mogul Sir Richard Branson and American aerospace designer Burt Rutan waved to a crowd from inside the cabin of an exotic jet that will carry a passenger spaceship to launch altitude.

The photo-op was the public unveiling of the White Knight Two mothership before a crowd of engineers, dignitaries and space enthusiasts at the Mojave Air & Space Port in the high desert north of Los Angeles.

The four-engine jet, with its 140-foot single wing, is an engineering marvel. The space between its twin fuselages is where SpaceShipTwo, the passenger rocket being built for Branson's Virgin Galactic, will be mounted.

White Knight Two, billed as the world's largest all-carbon-composite airplane, is "one of the most beautiful and extraordinary aviation vehicles ever developed," Branson proclaimed.

White Knight Two is the brainchild of Rutan, who made history in 2004 when his SpaceShipOne became the first private, manned craft to reach space. SpaceShipOne accomplished it with help from White Knight Two's smaller predecessor, White Knight. After winning $10 million for the feat, Rutan partnered with Branson, chairman of Virgin Group, to commercialize the prototype.

White Knight Two's long-awaited rollout, a year after a deadly explosion rocked Rutan's test site, is the first tangible sign of progress toward making space tourism a reality. Despite the glitz surrounding the event, significant hurdles remain.

The aircraft must undergo at least a year of rigorous flight tests starting in the fall. In addition, workers have to finish building SpaceShipTwo, which will be flown by two pilots and carry six passengers.

Matthew Upchurch, 46, who reserved a future flight, said he felt goosebumps when he saw White Knight Two.

"It was very emotional for me," said Upchurch, who heads a luxury travel company that works with Virgin Galactic. "I thought, `Oh my God, we're getting closer.'"

The mothership rollout also moved Rutan, who has made a career of designing unconventional aircraft.

"Even though this is a pretty weird airplane, we all expect it fly very well," said Rutan, who traded his usual leather jacket for a white button-down shirt with a Virgin Galactic logo.

Meanwhile, SpaceShipTwo, which is 70 percent complete, remained under wraps. It sat in a hangar several hundred feet away from White Knight Two shrouded in a black tarp. A sticker on it read "Coming Soon ... To A Spaceport Near You."

In the history of spaceflight, most astronauts have been in government programs. In recent years, a handful of wealthy people have paid about $20 million each to ride Russian rockets to the international space station.

Virgin Galactic envisions a future where space voyages will become as common as airplane travel. It wants to fly 500 people into space in the first year for $200,000 a head. If it succeeds, that would be on par with the same number of people who have gone up in 45 years of space travel.

So far, more than 250 wannabe astronauts have paid the full amount or put down a deposit to fly with Virgin Galactic, but when they will float in zero gravity is unknown. Rutan has declined to release a schedule. Virgin Galactic stopped predicting after it said in a 2004 press release that flights could begin in 2007.

Virgin Galactic renamed White Knight Two after Branson's mother, Eve. After the rollout, Branson and his mother popped open a bottle of Champagne next to the craft, which sports a decorative motif of a blond woman flying a Virgin flag.

White Knight Two has a wingspan of 140 feet, about the same as a World War II B-29 Superfortress bomber.

The mothership is designed to tuck SpaceShipTwo under the center of its wing and release it at 50,000 feet. After separation, SpaceShipTwo will fire its hybrid rocket and climb some 62 miles above Earth, the internationally recognized boundary of space.

The spaceflight — up and back down without circling the Earth — will include about five minutes of weightlessness. The total trip, from White Knight Two's takeoff to SpaceShipTwo's unpowered landing, will last about 2 1/2 hours.

Monday's unveiling was bittersweet for Rutan's company, Scaled Composites LLC. A year ago, three technicians were killed in an explosion while testing SpaceShipTwo's propellant system. Scaled, which was since bought by Northrop Grumman Corp., held a ceremony last week in honor of the fallen workers.


On the Net:

Virgin Galactic:
Scaled Composites:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Air Hostess Picks Up Chocolate Bar, Wins Space Trip

I thought Willy Wonka only gave away tours of the Chocolate Factory - not space...

Wed Jul 16, 11:02 AM ET

PARIS (Reuters) - A French air hostess will become one of Europe's pioneer space tourists after picking a chocolate wrapper out of the rubbish and finding a winning number in a competition to fly to the upper reaches of the earth's atmosphere.

Mathilde Epron, 32, said she had bought a Kit Kat chocolate bar at her local supermarket but initially threw the wrapper in the bin, telling herself that "it's only others who win."

Two hours later, thinking back to the competition, she decided to try her luck and fished the wrapper out of the bin, only to find a code marked inside.

"For someone who works in air travel it's really a dream come true," she told France Info radio.
A spokeswoman for Nestle in France confirmed that Epron had won the prize to take a flight on a four-seater, fighter-sized aircraft built by Rocketplane, a company that builds aircraft intended to provide cheap flights into space.

She will receive four days of astronaut training in Oklahoma City in the United States before boarding the Rocketplane XP aircraft which will reach an altitude of 100 km (60 miles) and allow a five-minute experience of weightlessness.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Researchers Predict Tourism to the "Final Frontier"

February 25, 2008

Seeking an out-of-this-world travel destination?

Outer space will rocket into reality as "the" getaway of this century, according to researchers at the University of Delaware and the University of Rome La Sapienza.

In fact, the "final frontier" could begin showing up in travel guides by 2010, they predict.

"In the twenty-first century, space tourism could represent the most significant development experienced by the tourism industry," says Prof. Fred DeMicco, ARAMARK Chair, in UD's Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management program.

"With the Earth under attack from a myriad of environmental impacts, including climate change concerns and pollution, outer space is the next viable frontier to explore and make longtime plans for," he notes. "While there are global policies to be determined relating to private ventures in space, the technology to make space travel safer and cheaper is moving forward."
DeMicco and Silvia Ciccarelli, a geoeconomist who was a recent visiting scholar at UD, co-wrote "Outer Space as a New Frontier for Hospitality and Tourism," which is in review for an upcoming issue of the Hospitality Educator. Ciccarelli is a consultant to the Italian Association of Aerospace Industries.

What kind of person will be lured to space travel? Is it those of us who've loved "The Jetsons," "Star Trek," or peering at the heavens through a telescope?

"This is a destination for the 'extreme tourists'--tourists who want the ultimate new travel adventure and the thrill of outer space," DeMicco says. "They want something new and interesting--the room with the best view of Earth from space."

According to surveys of the demand for space tourism undertaken in 2001 and 2006 by Futron, a U.S. consulting company, the average age of the wannabe space tourist is 55 years old, 72% are males and 28% are females, 46% have above average or better fitness, 48% spend a month or more on vacation annually, and 41% work full-time and 23% are retired. The projected demand is 13,000 passengers in 2021, with the ability of the celestial industry to generate revenues of $700 million annually.

While only a few multimillionaires have been able to afford the current $20 million pricetag to go up in a Russian rocket for a two-week stay at the International Space Station, shorter, more affordable "suborbital" space flights, costing on the order of $80,000 per trip, likely will drive space tourism in the near term, according to Ciccarelli.

"During these flights, a spacecraft reaches space, but it does not enter Earth's orbit," she explains.

Suborbital trips are likely to become available to tourists by 2010-2015, Ciccarelli says, while tourism in space hotels is on a longer trajectory, predicted to become a reality in 2025.
So what will tourists in space do?

"Passengers will enter a world that only astronauts and cosmonauts have experienced--the acceleration of a rocket launch, weightlessness, and a spectacular view of the Earth," Ciccarelli says.

The low-gravity environment 600 to 2,000 kilometers above Earth would suddenly make Leonardo da Vinci's dreams and drawings of human-powered flight possible, using fabric wings attached to the arms, and tails attached to the ankles, according to Ciccarelli.

"Many recreational and sports activities also could exploit this possibility given a fairly large chamber," she notes.

A slowly rotating, cylindrical swimming chamber would enable people to become more like 'flying fish'-to swim in low gravity, but then propel themselves out of the water and 'fly' in a central air space, Ciccarelli says.

A safer, cheaper launch system is critical if space travel is to become more commonplace in the future. An elevator rising tens of thousands of miles into space is one possibility that scientists and entrepreneurs are considering.

"First envisioned some forty years ago, the space elevator will climb an enormous cable, like Jack up the beanstalk, to a terminal where passengers and cargo can board spacecraft for the trip farther out," Ciccarelli says.

"Until recently this was a fantasy because there were no materials strong enough to build such a cable," DeMicco notes. "Today, however, so-called carbon nanotubes up to twenty times stronger than steel are approaching mass production, and engineers say a space elevator could be completed within fifteen years."

The non-profit Spaceward Foundation was formed in 2004 and NASA established a competition in 2005 to accelerate research on the space elevator concept.

While short excursions into outer space may be on the itinerary in the near term, a "space port" currently is being built in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with support from Virgin Galactic and other companies, and hoteliers are scoping out new locations some 238,000 miles above--on the moon.

"Lunar hotels are now being planned," DeMicco says. "Galactic Suites is known as the first space hotel, and they promote delivering 15 sunrises and sunsets in a single day--for the adventure travelers who are willing to spend approximately $4 million for a three-day 'stay' in space," DeMicco says.

In 1967, in an address to the American Astronautical Society, Barron Hilton, then president of Hilton Hotels, described a "Lunar Hilton" with its entrance on the surface of the moon and most of its rooms located 20 to 30 feet below the surface. The hotel would have an aptly named "Galaxy Lounge."

More recently, companies such as Japan's Shimizu Corporation have focused on the design of an orbital hotel in space, with rotating rings to provide artificial gravity.

Who will run these space-age hotels?

DeMicco says UD's students will be up to the challenge.

"Our Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management students are taught the latest trends in strategic management and forecasting including land, sea, and space among them, and UD is not only a Land Grant, Sea Grant, and Urban Grant university, but also a Space Grant university," he notes.

"Indeed, they are the global travelers today through UD's study abroad programs, with aspirations for the stars in their hospitality and tourism careers of tomorrow."

Private Race to the Moon Takes Off

By Dave Mosher, Anthony Duignan-Cabrera

21 February 2008, 02:01 pm ET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF. -- Google and X PRIZE officials unveiled nine new privately funded teams today that will compete for $30 million in the Google Lunar X PRIZE challenge, a race to the moon.

"It's not just a new mission," said Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, during the announcement here at Google's headquarters. "It's a new way of doing business."

The new teams join the Isle of Man-based Odyssey Moon team that was the first group to take up the challenge.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin said he was amazed that so many competitors had signed up so soon after the prize's announcement.

"I was floored," Brin told the team members and reporters who attended the press conference. "We had no such expectation."

Brin credited Google's participation to conversation he had had with Diamandis and mutual friend and Silicon Valley entrepreneur-turned-rocket builder, Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX.

Large companies often invest money in entertainment ventures or sponsor competitions and competitors in events like boat races, Brin said. But those ventures are limited in their purpose.

"We should be doing new kinds of things as companies," Brin said. "If we're going to sponsoring things it should be for discoveries."

That's Incentive
The Google Lunar X PRIZE Cup organizers also announced their partnership with Space Florida, a group vested in drawing the Sunshine State onto the commercial spaceflight map. Voted into creation in 2006, the local organization is offering launch site services and $2 million in extra prize money to the winning team if they blast off from Florida.

"The folks at Space Florida are really offering to enhance the prize purse at a significant level," Brett Alexander, executive director of space prizes for the X PRIZE Foundation, told "It lowers the bar and makes it easier for teams to compete."

Steve Kohler, Space Florida president, said that launching a commercial spacecraft to the moon from Florida would add to the state's rich spaceflight history as home to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

"Florida's long been recognized as a preeminent leader in any activity that involves our exploration of the moon," Kohler said. "Part of our effort as a state and as an organization is to continue that legacy. We believe [this competition] will allow the state to become a future hub for commercial projects."

According to Google Lunar X PRIZE rules, 90 percent of a winning team's funding must come from the private sector to qualify for a piece of $30 million in total prize money.

The first team to land their robot on the moon and complete a gauntlet of tasks with it by Dec. 31, 2012, will snatch the $20 million grand prize. In 2013, the first-place purse drops to $15 million and will expire on Dec. 31, 2014.

The second team to achieve lunar victory by 2014 will take $5 million in prize money, and another $5 million is on the table for difficult bonus objectives. Such challenges include moving a robot an extra 1,600 feet (500 meters), photographing man-made objects on the moon such as the Apollo 11 flag and surviving more than two weeks in frigid lunar darkness.

On top of the potential to win $25 million with a single launch, Alexander explained that Space Florida's extra funding is quite an incentive — especially to a number of teams aiming for a 2009 or 2010 launch.

"A million dollars is not trivial to any one of these teams, let alone two million dollars," Alexander said. "I definitely think somebody's going to make it and I think it's going to happen earlier than we expect."

Bring It On
Odyssey Moon, a team based out of Europe's Isle of Man, was announced as the first competitor in December 2007. The group is hopeful their "MoonOne (M-1)" spacecraft will take the grand prize.
The nine new teams officially drafted into the competition today have submitted lengthy applications and $1,000 deposits.

"To have 10 teams now, so early on, is incredible and great," Alexander said, noting that the 1996 to 2004 Ansari X PRIZE for suborbital spaceflight took years — not a few months — to attract as many teams. "We thought it would take longer for people to organize and get entered into this competition."

"The fact that there are this many teams [competing] does give us some confidence that someone should be able to prevail at the end of the day," Kohler said of the numbers, which he explained will inevitably grow before the Dec. 31, 2010, application cutoff.

The new competitors include:
  • Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ACRA): This Romanian group competed in the Ansari X PRIZE and will enter their "European Lunar Explorer" in the new competition.
  • Astrobotic: Headed by William "Red" Whittaker of Carnegie Mellon University, the team expects their "Artemis Lander" and "Red Rover" spacecraft to touch down first on the moon.
  • Chandah: Adil Jafry leads this team as chairman and CEO of Tara, the largest independent retail electricity provider in Texas. Chendah's spacecraft is called "Shehrezade."

  • FREDNET: Developers, engineers and scientists make up FREDNET, headed by Fred Bourgeois III, president and CEO of Applios Inc.

  • LunaTrex: A mix of U.S. rocket, robotics, aviation, energy and propulsion experts, the LunaTrex team led by Peter Bitar (founder of Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems) is entering "Tumbleweed" into the competition.

  • Micro-Space: Richard Speck of Micro-Space, Inc. and his team hopes their "Human Lunar Lander" will secure the grand prize.

  • Quantum3: This team intends to land "Moondancer" at the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 — the first manned moon mission — touched down in 1969.

  • Southern California Selene Group: Their "Spirit of Southern California" spacecraft will rely on early communications satellite technology along with the latest developments in electronics and sensors.
    Team Italia: This Italian group intends to launch a colony of light, mobile robots on a lander for quick distribution on the Moon's surface.

Alexander said the 10 challengers now entered in the Google Lunar X PRIZE Cup aren't participating for show.

"I'd say that the teams out there have a high degree of credibility," he said. "Several of them are really off and running full-steam ahead already."

China Seeks Space War Capability

March 04, 2008

WASHINGTON - China is developing the ability to limit or prevent the use of satellites by potential adversaries during times of crisis, the Pentagon said March 3 in a report to Congress.

The report, the latest in a series of annual assessments of China's military power, says Beijing views its efforts in space warfare as not only a practical advance of military power but also a boost to national prestige.

In space and other aspects of China's military modernization, the Pentagon stuck to its oft-repeated view that China's first priority is to build a broad-based capability to prevent Taiwanese independence. It said China's focus on space warfare is an important part of that Taiwan strategy.

"China further views the development of space and counter-space capabilities as bolstering national prestige and, like nuclear weapons, demonstrating the attributes of a world power," the report said.
China typically objects to the Pentagon's depiction of its military programs and policies. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the report.

At a Pentagon news conference, David Sedney, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, predicted the Chinese would protest this year that the report is "anti-China" and misleading. Sedney said that for the first time, U.S. and Chinese officials will meet to discuss the report; he said it was briefed March 3 to China's senior military representative in Washington.

The Chinese military, known as the People's Liberation Army, is acquiring technologies to improve its ability to operate in space and is "developing the ability to attack an adversary's space assets," the report said.

"PLA writings emphasize the necessity of `destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance/observation and communications satellites,' suggesting that such systems, as well as navigation and early warning satellites, could be among initial targets of attack to `blind and deafen the enemy," the report said.

The Bush administration was highly critical of China's shootdown in January 2007 of one of its weather satellites, asserting that the orbiting debris created by the attack poses a danger to other assets in space.

Last month, when the Pentagon shot down a dead U.S. spy satellite, China expressed concern, although U.S. officials said the shootdown did not mean the United States had dropped its objections to possessing a permanent anti-satellite capability.

More broadly, the Pentagon report released March 3 asserted that Beijing's reluctance to share details about its military buildup poses a risk to stability in Asia. It said the international community has limited knowledge of the motivations, decision-making and capabilities of China's military modernization. This includes a lack of clarity about China's defense spending. Washington contends that Beijing understates that spending program by the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars.

"The lack of transparency in China's military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation," the report said. "This situation will naturally and understandably lead to hedging against the unknown."

This year's report place increased emphasis on concern about China's space programs and potential for space warfare. It also said China is improving its own satellite capability, including construction of a new satellite launch complex on Hainan Island.

And it said China expects to replace all foreign-produced satellites in its inventory with home-produced models by 2010.

In a similar vein, the report said China appears to be developing a cyberwarfare capability.

"In the past year, numerous computer networks around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, were subject to intrusions that appear to have originated within the PRC," the report said, using the initials for the People's Republic of China. "These intrusions require many of the skills and capabilities that would also be required for computer network attack."

The overall military buildup in China has increased in recent years, the Pentagon said.

"China's expanding and improving military capabilities are changing East Asian military balances; improvements in China's strategic capabilities have implications beyond the Asia-Pacific region," the report said.

The main short-term focus of China's military buildup is the Taiwan Strait, the report said.

As of November 2007, the Chinese military had deployed between 990 and 1,070 short-range ballistic missiles to garrisons opposite Taiwan, according to the Pentagon's latest estimate. That compares with 900 such missiles reported in last year's Pentagon report.

Every spring, the Pentagon is required by Congress to provide a comprehensive assessment of China's security and military strategy, an analysis of developments in its military doctrine and capabilities, and an update on the security situation in the Taiwan Strait.

U.S.-China military relations have been strained in recent years over numerous issues, not limited to American concerns about the scope of Beijing's military buildup. But there also have been some positive moves, including two agreements signed last week in Shanghai - one on installing a telephone hot line between the Chinese Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Defense Department, and the other on research in Chinese military archives related to U.S. MIAs from the Korean War.

A Taste of Space on Earth: Pilots, Passengers Train For Spaceliner Flights

Monday, February 25, 2008
Originally published by:
Space News Business Report

Leonard David
Special Correspondent,

Future space passengers are getting a leg up on appreciating the physiological rigors of suborbital spaceflight they plan to take in the future, but without leaving the Earth. Using state-of-the-art equipment, the National Aerospace Training and Research Center (NASTAR Center) in Southampton, Pa., is helping to train both the pilots and prospective passengers of commercial spaceliners.

The NASTAR Center is a wholly owned subsidiary of Environmental Tectonics Corp. and houses an array of training devices, including a specialized high-performance human centrifuge. Known as the Space Training System-400, the centrifuge mimics the flight dynamics and sustained Gs of a rocket-powered flight to the edge of space, while providing a realistic view from the simulated cockpit windows. Along with G-force exposure, center facilities make available to patrons altitude exposure, spatial disorientation and other physiological effects they will encounter as they enter the space environment.

Major changes in technology — not only in computing power but also in visual display systems — have transformed the training simulator experience over the years, said Glenn King, the NASTAR Center's chief operating officer and a chief instructor at the facility.

"Those old trainers of the past were just a little box that spun about, pulled by bellows and cables," King said. Today, electrical and computer power, along with high motion control algorithms can position training hardware quickly and very dynamically, giving pilots very accurate feelings of flight, he told Space News in a Feb. 18 interview.

Along with handling space travel training, King said the center supports a variety of military and civil aviation needs, making use of highly modular equipment and programs. "We've invested anywhere between $25 million to $40 million in this facility and are privately funded. We receive no funds from the U.S. government or outside sources. We've funded it ourselves," he said.

Serious People, Serious Money

The emerging commercial space travel business is a real market to service, King noted. "There are serious people out there with serious money. This is going to happen," he said, pointing particularly to the ongoing work at Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif., and that firm's building of the passenger-carrying SpaceShip Two suborbital system.

Training at the NASTAR Center is an integral part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic company, which was bankrolled by the U.K. billionaire to create the world's first commercial spaceline based on SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier/drop plane. Seats are selling for $200,000 each.

Dozens of Virgin Galactic spaceflight customers — known as "founders" — have trained at the NASTAR Center for their SpaceShipTwo suborbital encounters.

"We began our NASTAR program last year to help test our hypothesis that at least 80 percent of adults were capable of flying to space from a medical and psychological point of view," said Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic in a Feb. 14 e-mail response to a Space News inquiry.

Whitehorn said that during the fall of 2007 more than 80 paid-up founder astronauts, including himself and Sir Richard Branson,
made simulated SpaceShipTwo flights, with a visual simulation of going to space as part of the NASTAR experience. That flight profile involved a span ranging from 3.5 Gs, that pushes a person's back against their seat, to 6 Gs, that drives an individual down into their seat.

"We discovered that over 94 percent of adults are capable of coping with this level of G force including individuals with a medical condition, provided these were properly understood and accounted for," Whitehorn said.

Whitehorn declined to discuss the pricing for the training, but in a Feb. 21 e-mail he said: "There is a product being developed now to give the undecided potential customers the chance to have a centrifuge experience and we will be announcing the price shortly."

Physical and Mental Demands

Earlier this year, Whitehorn said the SpaceShipTwo training at the NASTAR Center was extended to accredited sales agents, the international sales force that is selling seats for Virgin Galactic.

"By giving people that sell seats a direct experience of what the flight will feel like, we have given them the confidence to help potential astronauts understand the experience," Whitehorn said.

The more prepared a person is for the physical and mental demands of a flight, the better, agreed Jane Reifert, president of Incredible Adventures Inc., based in Sarasota, Fla. Her group offers a range of adventure tour packages, including space training and travel experiences.

"Customers need prior experience of high-g and zero-g in order to be capable of fully relaxing and enjoying their space flight," Reifert said. "You don't want someone who's spent $200,000 or more for a suborbital flight to be too nervous or nauseous to enjoy the view. You also don't want to be the passenger sitting next to someone who becomes violently ill or suffers a panic attack at 300,000 feet (91,000 meters)," she told Space News via a Feb. 20 e-mail.

Self-Regulating Industry

NASTAR's King took note of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) role in developing guidelines for commercial space crew and passenger training. "They are taking a hands-off approach at this point in time. I understand their position and their oversight to give the commercial space traveler a safe environment. If you start putting regulations out, it would stifle the industry at this point. It's just too early."

Keeping that hands-off approach
for a few more years is King's advice. "Let the dust settle and we'll figure out what we're doing. Let the industry self-regulate right now. So far that's the FAA approach. They've put out guidelines ... but haven't mandated them to actual regulations. Let's not put out regulations before we see the data," he said.

For one, there are several variations of suborbital spaceships now being designed, King added. "Each one will have its own set of criteria for crew training and passenger training. It's going to be very difficult for the FAA to set up a generic mandate for all the different carriers to comply with," he explained.

Last month, the center began offering two-hour, half-day, full-day and two-day-combo programs that simulate space voyages, as well as jet flights. Dubbed the Air and Space Adventure Programs, the cost per participant is anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, King said, for one-day and two-day programs. "People can come in and get a taste of space."

What if a person finds out they are not space travel worthy? King said the center can work with that individual to learn countermeasures such as anti-G training maneuvers or breathing techniques. "All those things that we've taught fighter pilots for years ... we transfer that directly to the space travelers."

Akin to the evolution of aviation, King senses that commercial space travel will become a very routine enterprise. "There will be some hiccups and bumps along the road. But eventually, it will settle down into a regular commercial endeavor," he concluded.

For more information on the National Aerospace Training & Research Center (NASTAR Center), go to:

New Video: Virgin Galactic: Let the Journey Begin
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

NASA Engineers Work On Alternative Moon Rocket

By JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writer

Mon Jul 14, 4:13 PM ET

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - By day, the engineers work on NASA's new Ares moon rockets. By night, some go undercover to work on a competing design. These dissenting scientists and their backers insist they have created an alternative rocket that would be safer, cheaper and easier to build than the two Ares spacecraft that will replace the space shuttle.

They call their project Jupiter, and like Ares, it's a brainchild of workers at the Marshall Space Flight Center and other NASA facilities. The engineers involved are doing the work on their own time and mostly anonymously, with the help of retirees and other space enthusiasts.

A key Ares project manager dismisses their design as little more than a sketch on a napkin that won't work.

A spokesman for the competing effort, Ross Tierney, said concerned engineers at NASA and some contractors want a review of the Ares plans but can't speak out for fear of being demoted, transferred or fired.

The Jupiter design is being reviewed by a team of 57 volunteer engineers, from line engineers up to NASA middle managers, Tierney said. Those numbers are dwarfed by NASA's Ares workforce, which has thousands of government workers and contractors.

The head of the Ares office at Marshall said he can't rule out the possibility that some of his people are involved with the underground program.

"I don't know what people do on their own time," Steve Cook said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

But Cook said he is familiar with the Jupiter project, and he's not impressed. NASA informally reviewed plans for the rocket last fall and determined the idea to be a flawed scheme based on shaky numbers.

"It's not feasible. We said, 'It doesn't work' and moved on,'" Cook said.

Meanwhile, he said, work on the Ares I rocket is so far along that the first test flight is less than a year away.
"We're down to the nuts and bolts ... on this rocket. This is not a napkin drawing," he said.

The debate reflects disagreement over the direction of U.S. spaceflight as NASA prepares to retire the shuttle in 2010. By 2015, the agency plans to begin orbital flights with Ares I and a companion heavy-lift cargo rocket, Ares V. Officials hope to return astronauts to the moon by 2020.

Astronauts will ride into orbit in a capsule aboard the Ares I, which will have a modified shuttle booster rocket at its core. They will dock with a lunar stage that was carried aloft separately by an Ares V rocket and head to the moon.

The Jupiter design would also require two separate launches to get to the moon, but its rockets would both rely on a shuttle external tank at their center. Some of the design concepts go back to proposals floated at Marshall in the early 1980s. Others date to the early '90s, when Marshall worked on a new rocket system that never flew.
Besides being a simpler, more powerful system, backers say, the Jupiter rockets would save NASA $19 billion in development costs and another $16 billion in operating costs over two decades.
The Government Accountability Office last year raised questions about the cost of NASA's current plan for returning to the moon, which a report estimated at $230 billion over 20 years. NASA said it already has spent about $7 billion on Ares.

Steve Metschan, an engineer and former NASA contractor who supports the Jupiter team, said the upcoming presidential election could change NASA's plan. He accused NASA of suppressing information that shows Jupiter would perform better than Ares.
"Our concern is that by the time everyone figures this out, we will have destroyed our heavy-lift system," said Metschan, of Seattle. "At the end of the day, all we're asking for is an independent review of all this stuff."
Cook said all the estimates on Jupiter were preliminary, and he denied critics' claims that NASA did a full-fledged study of the Jupiter rocket or the engineers' alternate moon-mission program, which they call Direct 2.0.
NASA has looked at "all sorts" of proposed designs, he said, and none was as powerful or safe as Ares.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Russia Seals Agreement With Private Investor For Space Tourism

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) July 2, 2008

The Russian space agency has sealed a deal with a private investor to build a Soyuz spacecraft specially for tourist hire and operational in 2011, a statement said Wednesday.

"We have concluded an agreement with an investor to begin financing such a Soyuz vessel with an anticipated launch date of 2011," the Roskosmos website stated.

The craft, piloted by a professional astronaut, is designed to carry two so-called space adventurers.

Quizzed by AFP, a Roskosmos spokesman refused to identify the investor despite the agency having signed a deal in June with private American company Space Adventures for a commercial flight to the International Space Station.

Set up in 2001, Space Adventures has already sent five tourists into space on board a Soyuz.
The firm has been in negotiations with Roskosmos to rent the third seat on board a ship which regularly ferries Russian and American astronauts to the ISS.

American Dennis Tito, South African Mark Shuttleworth, Greg Olsen of the United States, Iranian-born Anousheh Ansari and Hungarian-born Charles Simonyi are the five who have each paid up to 25 million dollars (16 million euros) for the thrill of a lifetime.

The next independent space traveller is Richard Garriott, an American electronic games entrepreneur and son of former astronaut Owen Garriott. His flight is due to take off in October.
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