SwRI Scientists Prep for Suborbital Science Missions

SWRI — PR Boulder, Colo. — July 25, 2011 — Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) announced in February that it had contracted multiple suborbital flights for its own astronaut payload specialists as part of a larger effort to promote the development of commercial human spaceflight. Preparations for these flights are proceeding and will be flown on a combination SwRI manifest of XCOR Lynx I and Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 vehicles. The Lynx I missions will reach altitudes of about 200,000 feet; the SpaceShip 2 missions will reach altitudes near 350,000 feet.

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Spaceship Company Ramps Up in Mojave

The Spaceship Company in Mojave is ramping up to produce WhiteKnightTwos and SpaceShipTwos. We have this report from Aviation Week:

TSC was initially tasked with making one WK2 and four SS2s for Virgin Galactic, and Operations Director Enrico Palermo says: “I’m confident we’ll be building more.” Together with the first WK2 and SS2 already built and in test, Virgin plans to operate an initial fleet of two carriers and five spacecraft, though hopes are high that other “spaceline” customers will emerge.

For now, Palermo says, “our blinders are set on serving our first customer, and getting these spacecraft flying.” With flight tests of the first SS2 accelerating and the first rocket-powered flights expected in coming months, the configuration of the production variants of both spacecraft and carrier aircraft are close to finalization. “WK2 is flying and meeting its objectives, so that’s more or less set,” says Joe Brennan, TSC vehicle production manager, who adds that the company is also “pretty happy” with the minor design changes on the SS2 required so far.

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Hey Aussies, Win a Trip into Space

VIRGIN PR — Virgin Money Australia is giving one lucky Australian the chance to fulfil their childhood dream and travel in to space on a Virgin Galactic flight.

The competition is open to all current and new Virgin Money Australia customers (Any Australian resident who holds an active Virgin Money Australia product before 01 October 2011 is eligible to enter).

Enter the competition now at Virgin Money Australia

The winner will be announced on 15 October 2011.

Branson: SpaceShipTwo Will Fly Passengers in 10-15 Months

Will Whitehorn gives a pat on the back to Richard Branson as he greets Virgin Galactic ticketholders during the Oshkosh air show in July 2009.

Virgin Galactic’s Founder says that commercial suborbital flights will take place between May and October 2012:

Sir Richard Branson said that the reason he established Virgin Galactic was because he ‘got sick sick of waiting for NASA.’ He confirmed that space flights for the public will commence in ’10 to 15 months.’ Another endeavour after this milestone will be to launch ‘a 2 to 3 hour London to Australia flight’ via space.

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Branson: SS2 Will Be a Clean Lean Green Flying Machine

BusinessDay.co.nz has a Q&A with Richard Branson in which the British billionaire promotes the “greener” nature of the WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo combo:

We should no longer rely on old, expensive, “dirty” technology to transport satellites into space. The industry must be modernised and made more sustainable, both for financial reasons and for the health of the planet. In response to this challenge, we have been developing a greener solution in Mojave, California — one that will have less impact on the environment and will be more cost effective. Our two-step launch process, which does not employ rockets until the aircraft reaches the stratosphere, uses less energy than other launch systems that rely on rockets to lift off from the ground.

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Oscar Losers to Get Free Virgin Galactic Tickets — NOT!

VSS Enterprise drops from WhiteKnightTwo. (Credit: Clay Observatory)

CORRECTION: Space.com says this story is false. “I can confirm that there was a model of the VG spaceship given to the Oscar VIPs, not a flight,” Virgin Galactic president and CEO George Whitesides told SPACE.com today (Feb. 28).

The New York Post reports that Oscar losers will not be going home empty handed:

The infamous “consolation prize” swag bag — presented by Distinctive Assets the morning after the Oscars to all nominees who don’t win — will include the following trinkets at these estimated retail values:

* $200,000: An orbital space flight on Virgin Galactic (allowing nominees to be among the first to fly the friendly skies of space — kind of).

Read the full story.

Video: The Future Ain’t What It Never Was

A video about the future of transportation featuring Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides and Apollo astronaut/man-about-town (and-everywhere-else) Buzz Aldrin. It’s slickly done, but someone needs to tell them that there are actually flying cars. I saw two of them at Oshkosh back in 2009.

Branson Plans Hotel Overlooking Spaceport America

Richard Branson

The Independent has an interesting update on Richard Branson’s plans for his Virgin Hotels venture, which is set to launch in about two years:

San Diego and Washington DC are likely candidates, and Branson also announced that one of the the first sites will be in New Mexico, overlooking the spaceport which will send his Virgin Galactic tourist flights into space.

He also told conference attendees that each hotel will be different, saying that putting a Virgin stamp on the hotels wasn’t enough and that the goal was to be the “funnest” hotel for guests to go to.

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Attenborough: Virgin Galactic in “Final Stretch”

Gear down. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

Businessworld has a Q&A with Virgin Galactic’s Stephen Attenborough, who says that he expects the company to begin commercial flights by 2012. Some key excerpts:

When will we see the first human going on a private space flight?

…The big aircraft has finished its test flights and it has performed flawlessly. The spaceship is at the glide flight path of its programme because it is a reusable vehicle. We will probably have 5-6 glide flights. Then, later this year, we expect to test the rocket launcher for the first time. As soon as the propulsion tests start, provided the first couple of tests go well, we will undertake the first space flight.

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Dizzee Rascal Wants to Go Where No Rapper Has Gone Before

Rapper Dizzee Rascal. (Credit: Tuomas Vitikainen)

British rapper Dizzee Rascal has become the latest high profile figure to join the ranks of Virgin Galactic’s celebritynauts:

In a recent interview with Britain’s Esquire magazine, Rascal said that he has been talking to his friend Sam Branson, son of the famed British entrepreneur, about reserving a spot on one of Virgin Galactic’s future commercial space flight. He even went as far as to say that he hopes to have his cremated ashes spread out in space.

“I’ve asked Sam to reserve my place and I meant it,” he said. “When I die, I want my ashes scattered in space. I just love the possibilities of what could happen. I know it sounds a bit nerdy, but your particles could merge with something.”

Nerdy is one word for it. For those not up on British rap artists, here’s a brief bio from Wikipedia:

Dylan Kwabena Mills (born 1 October 1985), better known by his stage name Dizzee Rascal, is an English rapper, songwriter and record producer. His music is a blend of garage, hip hop, grime, ragga, pop and electronic music, with eclectic samples and more exotic styles. Best known for his number-one hits “Dance wiv Me”, “Bonkers”, “Holiday”, “Dirtee Disco” & “Shout”, his debut album, Boy in da Corner, won him the 2003 Mercury Prize. Follow-up albums Showtime, Maths + English and Tongue n’ Cheek have all been critically acclaimed and certified gold, the latter going platinum for sales exceeding 300,000 units.

Maybe Dizzee will be on the same flight as Australian business manager Wayne Glynne, who won a ticket to space aboard SpaceShipTwo as part of IBM’s Destination X competition. Tickets to space are raffled off to sales staff who sell IBM’s System X at values of more than $100,000.

A father of three, Glynne was “wrestling with the decision” as to whether he would accept the prize.

“I’ve only told my wife, I haven’t told my kids yet. I’ll sit down with them this evening and go through the [Galactic] DVD. My youngest is nine and my eldest is 15, so they will absolutely understand what this means.

“I need a little bit more information before I make a commitment one way or another. I am very excited.”

Best of luck to both Dizzee and Wayne.

UAE Becomes Center of Middle East’s Space Effort

The seven-state United Arab Emirates is quickly becoming the center of the Middle East’s space effort, with agreements with Virgin Galactic for a suborbital spaceport and Bigelow Aerospace to develop an orbital spaceflight program. In the process, it is riding the crest of a new commercial wave in how human spaceflight will be conducted.

UAE might have the first commercial suborbital spaceport outside of the United States should the American government allows Virgin Galactic to export its WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo system.

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Book Your Virgin Galactic Flight Online and Save Up to Zero Percent

Great news, millionauts! You can now book your flights aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo online. Just follow these six easy steps:

  1. Visit www.kayak.com.
  2. Enter “90n” into the “From” box.
  3. Enter “50m” into the “To” box.
  4. Set your departure and arrival dates as the same.
  5. Choose “First” class.
  6. Hit “Search”.
  7. Choose “Select” to be taken directly to the Virgin Galactic booking page.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any saving attached to booking online — yet. I’m guessing that’s on its way — in 18-24 months.  And that will probably be true for the next six to 10 years.

Video: Whitesides, Anderson Talk NewSpace

Watch live streaming video from dldconference at livestream.com

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides and Space Adventures Chairman Eric Anderson talk NewSpace at the DLD Conference in Munich.

Eric Anderson: We’ve sold a $150 million ticket for a circum-lunar mission that will start in 2015. Need to sell a second ticket; finalizing that sale now.

The video cuts off early, but Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) Tweeted some additional notes:

— Whitesides: Virgin will spend about $500M before operations begin in 2012.

— Whitesides: expect Virgin Galactic to be cash flow positive “very quickly” once ops begin, flying ~500 in 1st year.

— George Whitesides says that if the US Gov’t allows the export of the WK2/SS2 system, the 1st place it will go is Abu Dhabi.

Virgin Galactic’s Whitesides: We Don’t Do Schedules…Anymore

Cosmic Log’s Alan Boyle talks to new Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides about the company’s plans for suborbital flight. Eventually, THAT question came up again:

Q: I’m sure anytime you talk about what you’re doing, people ask you when the rides will become available. What are you able to say about how the time frame is developing? What’s the latest?

A: It’s funny, Alan, you’re the first person to ask me that question … in the last 10 minutes. As you know, we do not have a public schedule because we want our flight testing to be focused on building a safe vehicle. But as I think others have expressed, and certainly Richard has expressed, our hope is to get to space this coming year. That’s obviously dependent on flight test. We’ll go into commercial operation as soon as we can, and as soon as we’re able to work with the FAA to get a commercial license. So far, things are progressing well. We’re very excited about the glide test results — we’ve just had another fantastic flight. The vehicle is flying very well. So … so far, so good.

Yep, safety.This thing’s going to safer than a couch in a safe at Fort Knox before Richard Branson and his family climb aboard with designer Burt Rutan in tow.

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