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.

  • windbourne

    I wonder if space adventure could get say 4 ppl to take a ba-330, combined with a dragon and a tug to go around the moon? 75 million each and better accommodations.

  • Kapitalist

    Lost in space, time and money.

  • Tonya

    Slightly surprised that the Space Adventures lunar trip is still planned. Things seemed to have gone very quiet on that, and that schedule is only three or four years away.

    What is the lead in time on a Soyuz order? Surely they must have placed orders for hardware by now for that schedule to be achievable.

  • savuporo

    I was looking for an ace Javascript coder to build a simple web page with countdown clocks for all these things happening. No whiz kid took the job, as it turns out the math involved is harder than bistromathics

  • delphinus100

    So, how did you arrive at that price, also with hardware that isn’t quite there?

    Though you have to go back to 1968 or so, the Russians at least have some experience in sending unmanned prototypes of a manned vehicle (Zond) around the Moon several times…

  • delphinus100

    This also requires some new, though not particularly complicated hardware,

    *One* man could be sent around the Moon on a single Proton launch (they almost did it in the late 60’s), but this is more involved and requires two launches and a LEO docking.

  • Tonya

    True, I understand all the building blocks are established pieces, but just the integration and new software will take time.

    I mention the Soyuz simply because I remember the lead-in time just for those being the reason why NASA had to decide many year ahead to place orders, even though commercial craft may be ready in time.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    I think you’re severily underestimating the delta-V necessary for the trans-lunar injection. Look how big the tanks are at the tug attached to the Soyuz in the lead picture for this article (you have to discard the shroud of Blok-DM mentally).

  • Tonya

    It’s a slightly fanciful exercise, but if this were an ongoing exercise you could probably match that price using a dragon, falcon heavy plus BA module.

    Of course, that’s assuming everyone mentioned would want to do that and that there are enough customers to amortize the costs.

    That seems questionable, but I think we could now say exactly the same about the willingness and costs for the Russians partners.

  • Casey Stedman

    I’m not sure which of these I’m most excited for…so many bold plans! Probably XCOR. or Blue Origin, since any news from that company is a rare treat.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Dude, I looked at the picture and thought “yeah, may be, may be not”. But it was the mention of Blue Origin that caught my eye also. “Flight tests”, exciting, “full scale spacecraft”, very exciting, “within a year”, I’ve been let down before on this sort of blind date.

  • windbourne

    NASA also has experience in sending things around the moon.
    What is your point?

    I picked 300 million, because 150M / 2 ppl is 75 M.
    So, 4 ppl x 75 is 300M.
    That is why I ASK if it is possible.

    Considering that SpaceX is saying that they can launch 7 ppl for 120-150M with EELV (disposable launcher and capsule), I would suspect that they could drop it to 70-100M with F9R, combined with re-usable capsule.
    And as to tug, BA, I would not be surprised to see these prices come down quickly as well.

    But most importantly, I would think that both SpaceX and Bigelow would love to pick up sending ppl around the moon for say 75 M each, and sending 4-6 ppl at a time.

  • windbourne

    Yeah, space is very much a blind date. I like that description.

  • windbourne

    Why do you say that?
    I have been suggesting for quite sometime that we need some tugs from the private space world.
    I would think that if Space Adventure could get the 4-6 ppl to do this, that all of the equipment would come together quickly.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I know it was once routine for us, but the Russians have never been beyond LEO. I would think an Apollo 8-style mission would be in order before they put a couple of rich dudes in a Soyuz with a cosmonaut for a trip around the Moon.

  • Tonya

    Well the actual mission profile is a free return, so even simpler than Apollo 8. But I think your point was that they should be testing hardware first.

    That raises a few questions. It doesn’t make much sense at all to plan this as a one off, even the simplest design would still have development costs and some unique hardware. Also it’s hard to imagine anyone but a crew of terminally ill millionaires willing to take such a ride.

    But if this is an ongoing proposition, why is it based on Soyuz? That’s a vehicle that will be phased out in the 2020’s, and the replacement is designed to conduct these sort of missions and more.

    There’s a lot that doesn’t quite add up with the proposal as we know it.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    EM has mentioned the possibility (in passing) of sending a flight around the Moon simply to demonstrate capability. Not sure what it would take for him to seriously consider this proposal.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Yep, it usually gets down to funding. Funding affects everything else although occassionally, such as Orion and VG, the wrong decision at the start impacts regardless of funding.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    There’s a lot about most of these plans that induces skepticism. I think that is the nature of New Space plus the fact that we are now privy to every contract and press release. Much will be announced with a great deal of hoopla but less will actually be accomplished. Before the internet, we might hear a little about a new spacecraft but we waited until we saw it fly to get excited about it.
    Free return or not, I would hope that the Russians would at least send a crew of their own around the Moon before allowing Space Adventures to have one (space adventure) of their own with Russian equipment.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I generally don’t get enthused about suborbital (“been there, done that” – 50 years ago) but XCOR’s plan to fly from a runway to 100 km and fly back without a carrier aircraft is exciting. Likewise, Blue Origin is intruiging because they are doing things quietly – as opposed to our favorite British showman.

  • Tonya

    And whilst we’re on the subject of this lunar flyby, a question about the rendering used to illustrate the story. Why is one orbital module covered in black insulation and the other one in white?

    I hate it when I notice something like that, it will bug me for ages!

  • therealdmt

    Elon and Shotwell have, unfortunately, often talked of their lack of interest in both the moon and in space tourism.

    Too bad though, as I think these are the most exciting near term arenas.

    Fortunately, both have also talked about being to work with a customer. If someone’s willing to pay them and, unlike say Stratolaunch, it doesn’t take them too far away from their main business plans, I think they’d be happy to both serve their customer and get another feather in their collective cap. And, like you said, Elon mentioned a possible lunar proof of concept flight.


  • Kapitalist

    The “terminally ill billionaire” market segment is intensly coveted in this industry.

  • Dennis

    Haha, I seriously cracked up over that bistromathics comment 😀

  • OdiousJack

    Only XCOR sounds credible. The rest is mere humbug… probably.

  • Solartear

    “Flight tests” is very exciting. I wonder what they’ll put it on top of since they won’t have a self-built launcher by then. They had been planning initial flight on Atlas V, like CST-100.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I immediately assumed that it would be tests of their sub-orbital system using their reusable first stage in some form or other with or without the actual biconic “spacecraft”. Anyway, have ULA got any Atlas V flights going spare – I hear they might be short of engines.

  • windbourne

    I think what they have said is that the moon is NOT their primary focus. However, I doubt that spaceX will turn down the opportunity to send up multiple FH for the moon, and even more so, doubt that they will not want to use dragon there .
    I just wonder if dragon has the fuel to land and take off from the moon.

  • delphinus100

    “NASA also has experience in sending things around the moon.
    What is your point?”

    I’m sorry, were we discussing a NASA or a Russian project? The circumlunar experience of the latter is what’s relevant here.

    “I picked 300 million, because 150M / 2 ppl is 75 M.
    So, 4 ppl x 75 is 300M.
    That is why I ASK if it is possible.”

    Thank you for that…clarification.