Has a Space Trip With King of the World Leo DiCaprio Been Overbooked?

"I'm king of space!"
“I’m king of space!”

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio sure knows how to sell tickets — both on Earth and in space. But, has Virgin Galactic overbooked his flight?

A trip on a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle with the superstar actor was auctioned off for 700,000 euros ($954,000) recently at the annual amfAR auction near Cannes, France. The charity benefits AIDS research.

Space.com reports three other seats on the flight have already been auctioned off on the scheduled 2015 flight for a combined $3.8 million. Richard Branson’s business-jet style space tourism vehicle is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers.

However, reports have come into Parabolic Arc indicating that the passenger load will be reduced to four due to modifications that have added weight to SpaceShipTwo. Reportedly, the reduction is still required even though Virgin Galactic has switched to a more powerful plastic engine from a rubber one.

This raises the question of whether the DiCaprio flight has been overbooked. Imagine spending nearly a million dollars on a flight and getting bumped! Virgin Galactic will have offer more than a $300 toward a future flight and a hotel voucher for something like that.

PISCES Embarks on Lunar Concrete Development Project

Artist rendering of 3-D printed structures on the moon.  (Credit:  Behnaz Farahi and Connor Wingfield)
Artist rendering of 3-D printed structures on the moon. (Credit: Behnaz Farahi and Connor Wingfield)

HILO, Hawaii (PISCES PR) — Hawaii lawmakers passed a Resolution April 15th supporting PISCES and NASA-partnered projects that involve using lava rock, or basalt, as construction material for use on Earth and in outer space.

One of these projects calls for developing ‘lunar concrete’ using basalt. This technology – also known as “basaltic concrete” – could potentially make Hawaii ‘greener’ by reducing the amount of concrete the Aloha State imports from the mainland, as well as creating jobs in manufacturing and technology at home.


What Alexander Gerst Will Research on ISS

German astronaut Alexander Gerst training for experimental work. (Credit: DLR)
German astronaut Alexander Gerst training for experimental work. (Credit: DLR)

DLR PR — On 28 May 2014, the German ESA astronaut flew to the ISS for a six-month stay, during which he is expected to work on some 100 experiments

How can turbine blades be made lighter and at the same time stronger? Can an electrical conductor create a magnetic field capable of protecting a spacecraft from the solar wind? What can we learn from the physiological changes that occur in astronauts’ bodies when they are in space that could be useful for people on Earth?


NASA and Industry Complete First Phase to Certify New Crewed Spacecraft

Development is Major Step toward Returning Human Space Launches to U.S. Soil

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and industry have completed the first step in the certification process that will enable American-made commercial spacecraft safely to ferry astronauts from U.S. soil to and from the International Space Station by 2017. The completion of the Certification Products Contracts (CPC) marks critical progress in the development of next-generation American space transportation systems that are safe, reliable and cost-effective.


SpaceX Unveils Crewed Dragon

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)
Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

I had a chance to attend the unveiling of SpaceX’s crewed Dragon spacecraft last night, and it was damned impressive. Imagine a spacecraft capable of:

  • Carrying seven people in a roomy cabin instead of the three astronauts who now fly in a cramped Soyuz capsule
  • Touching down softly on land anywhere in the world with the precision of a helicopter (“That’s the way a 21st century spacecraft should land,” said SpaceX Founder Elon Musk)
  • Powered by SuperDrago engines with 3D printed combustion chambers that are 160 times more powerful than the Draco engines on the current Dragon spacecraft
  • Capable of being reused up to 10 times without having to replace the heat shield
  • Ready to carry crews to the International Space Station on a commercial basis by the end of 2016, a full year ahead of NASA’s current schedule
  • Costing only $140 million per launch or $20 million per person, well below the current $70 million per seat the Russians are charging for Soyuz.

Sounds pretty good, huh?


Google Backed WorldVu Looks to Provide Global Internet Services

Google_logo_newSpace News has details on what appears to be Google’s bid to provide global Internet services:

A company in Britain’s tax-friendly Channel Islands and backed by Google and the founder of satellite broadband trunking provider O3b Networks has secured radio-spectrum rights to build a low-orbit satellite constellation to provide global broadband to individual consumers, industry officials said.

The company, which uses the name L5 in its regulatory filings and is registered in St. Helier, Jersey, under the name WorldVu Satellites Ltd., has picked up Ku-band spectrum initially planned for use by a now-defunct company called SkyBridge to launch a constellation of 360 small satellites for a global Internet service.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Geneva-based United Nations affiliate that regulates satellite orbital slots and wireless broadcast spectrum, shows L5 filings as promising to start service in late 2019.

The satellites, tentatively designed to operate in a circular orbits of 800 and 950 kilometers inclined 88.2 degrees relative to the equator, have been given regulatory deadlines of between late 2019 and mid-2020 to enter service, according to ITU records.

The constellation is smaller than rumored. Parabolic Arc had heard that Google might launch up to 1,200 satellites.

Lockheed Martin Purchases Astrotech Space Operations

AUSTIN, Texas, May 29, 2014 (ASTC PR) — Astrotech Corporation (ASTC) today announced a major step in its strategic evolution with the signing of a definitive agreement to sell the assets constituting its Astrotech Space Operations business (ASO) to Lockheed Martin Corporation, including the assets of its wholly owned subsidiary, Astrotech Space Operations, for $61 million.


SpaceX-3 Science Payloads Return to Kennedy

Donald Houzer, a QinetiQ North America mechanical technician, checks out the Advanced Plant Experiment (APEX) during prelaunch preparations in the Space Station Processing Facility. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)
Donald Houzer, a QinetiQ North America mechanical technician, checks out the Advanced Plant Experiment (APEX) during prelaunch preparations in the Space Station Processing Facility. (Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

By Anna Heiney
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

A trio of science payloads have completed their missions on the International Space Station and returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where they’ll be turned over to the scientists who designed them.

The BRIC-18, Biotube-MICRo and APEX-02-2 investigations were created to answer a variety of biological questions critical to future long duration spaceflight, from the prevention and treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections to several mysterious aspects of plant growth.


SpaceX to Unveil Human Dragon Spacecraft Tonight

Greetings from beautiful (?) Hawthorne, California — home of SpaceX and other things.

I am down here for the unveiling later tonight of SpaceX’s Dragon V2, which is the first flight ready hardware of the human vehicle the company7 is developing for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The event will begin in about two hours at 7:00 p.m. PDT/10 p.m. EDT.  SpaceX will be live streaming the event at www.spacex.com/webcast . Registration will be an hour before the event, so look for my Tweets @spacecom.


Space Companies Update Plans for Doing Space Things

Space Adventures vehicle for circumlunar flights. (Credit: Space Adventures)
Space Adventures vehicle for circumlunar flights. (Credit: Space Adventures)

Michael Belfiore has a piece in the MIT Technology Review about a May 1 event at the Explorers Club in New York where 13 commercial space companies showed off their plans. Several key players had updated schedules which anyone paying the slightest bit of attention will know to take with 1.7 metric tons of salt:

  • Virgin Galactic’s head of Astronaut Relations Lauren De Niro Pipher predicted that Richard Branson and his children would fly to space aboard SpaceShipTwo in November or December. Note, this was prior to the announcement of a change in the ship’s engine, which officials insist won’t have a major impact on the schedule.
  • XCOR hopes to fly the Lynx Mark I before the end of the year. The ship is now being assembled in Mojave, Calif.
  • Blue Origin said it would begin test flights of its first full-scale spacecraft within a year.
  • Space Adventures says it has signed up two unidentified customers willing to spend $150 million to fly a modified Soyuz spacecraft around the moon. The flight is set to launch in 2017 or 2018.
  • Penn State Lunar Lion plans to send a coffee-table sized spacecraft to land on the moon in an effort to win the Google Lunar X Prize.
  • Planetary Resources discussed plans to launch its first Arkyd spacecraft from the International Space Station by the end of this year.
  • World View Enterprises said the company would launch a small test vehicle of its high-altitude manned capsule in about a month, which would be right about now.

SpaceX Receives Final Environmental Approval for Texas Launch Complex

Artist's conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.
Artist’s conception of the proposed SpaceX commercial launch facility near Brownsville, Texas.

The FAA has published its final environmental impact statement on SpaceX’s planned launch facility south of Brownsville, Texas. The publication clears the way for the company to build the spaceport, from which it will launch Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

“The FAA has submitted the Final EIS to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” the agency said on its website. “EPA will post a notification in the Federal Register announcing the availability of the Final EIS. The FAA will issue a Record of Decision no sooner than 30 days following EPA’s notice in the Federal Register. The FAA Record of Decision will be published in the Federal Register, which concludes the NEPA process.”

The documents can be viewed here.

Suborbital Operators Face Insurance Unknowns

World_Space_Risk_ForumSo, just how powerless are future millionauts and their heirs in suing companies for injuries and deaths sustained during suborbital joyrides to the final frontier? Nobody is quite sure yet.

Thus far, the FAA has put forth an informed consent regime in which passengers must acknowledge they are undertaking a risky activity. At least six U.S. states have passed informed consent laws that provide space companies with various levels of protection from lawsuits filed over accidents, injuries and deaths during spaceflight operations.