Virgin Galactic’s Next Challenge: The Flight of the Vested?

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

This was supposed to be the Summer of Virgin Galactic. The company would complete the three remaining suborbital flight tests of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, the second one with Richard Branson aboard. The company’s newest space tourism vehicle, SpaceShipIII, would begin its flight tests.

Once VSS Unity tests were complete, engineers would spend four months making a series of repairs and upgrades to the spacecraft and its WhiteKnightTwo mothership, VMS Eve. And then in early 2022, the company would use both spaceships to fly tourists on suborbital joy rides that were originally projected to begin 15 years earlier in 2007.

Sounds easy enough, right? It wasn’t. The Summer of Virgin Galactic went about as well as the Summer of George on Seinfeld. If best laid plans of mice, men and Costanzas often go awry, Virgin Galactic’s schedules are guaranteed to move significantly to the right. Years to the right.

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Eytan Stibbe to Take Historic Jewish Coin, Space Art on Private Axiom Space Mission to International Space Station

Eli Eskosido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and future astronaut Eytan Stibbe. (Credit: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

TEL AVIV (Rakia Mission PR) — In early 2022, the Rakia Mission is scheduled to launch into space, and onboard will be Eytan Stibbe, Israel’s second man in space and the first to fly to the International Space Station (ISS).

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This Week in Elon: Musk Mocks Biden Amid Cooler Political Climate, Federal Investigation of Tesla

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It seems that Elon Musk is a bit peeved that President Joe Biden didn’t congratulate SpaceX on completing the privately-funded Inspiration4 crewed mission last week and helping to raise $210 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“He’s still sleeping,” Musk wrote in response to a question from a Twitter follower about Biden’s silence. It was a clear reference to ex-President Donald Trump’s description of him as “sleepy Joe” during the campaign.

The remark set off the usual battle on social media. Musk’s legion of defenders called the omission unforgivable. Musk’s critics noted his willingness to amply praise authoritarian China where Musk’s Tesla Motors has a manufacturing plant even as he called U.S. officials “fascists” for their efforts to contain the deadly COVID-19 virus.

For his part, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who funded and commanded the Inspiration4 flight, says Biden’s silence is no big deal.

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Report: William Shatner Heading to Space on Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard

William Shatner (Credit: Jerry Avenaim)

TMZ.com reports that Capt. James Tiberius Kirk — actor William Shatner, anyway — will be heading to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital launch system.

We’re told Shatner will be on board in October for the 15-minute civilian flight — similar to the last launch. What we don’t know — BUT WHAT WOULD BE AWESOME — is if he wears his Capt. Kirk getup.

Our sources say the mission will be filmed for a documentary. We’re told Shatner’s people were talking to Discovery about the special, but that didn’t materialize … but our sources say Shatner and Co. have taken the project elsewhere and are in negotiations.

The 90-year old actor would be part of the second crewed flight by Jeff Bezos’ company. He would be the oldest person ever to travel to space.

In 2013, the Daily Mail reported that Richard Branson had offered Shatner a seat aboard Virgin Galactric’s suborbital SpaceShipTwo vehicle. Branson said the actor declined for an unusual reason.

‘He actually said he’s frightened of airline travel – which is slightly disillusioning. Captain Kirk is scared of flying,’ the Sun quoted Sir Richard as saying.

However, Shatner said he turned down Branson’s offer two years earlier because he didn’t want to pay the $200,000 cost.

I said, “Well, that’s not much, how much do you guarantee to come back?” And he didn’t have a price on that,’ quipped Shatner.

‘He wanted me to go up and pay for it and I said: “Hey, you pay me and I’ll go up. I’ll risk my life for a large sum of money.” But he didn’t pick me up on my offer.’

That wasn’t the first time he had indicated his reluctance to be blasted into the unknown.

Five years earlier Shatner said: ‘I’m interested in man’s march into the unknown but to vomit in space is not my idea of a good time. Neither is a fiery crash with the vomit hovering over me.’

Whatever the case, there is sure to be massive worldwide interest if Shatner does boldly go where no Star Trek regular cast member has gone before.

Nine Ways We Use AR and VR on the International Space Station

Credit: NASA

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Even the most highly trained and experienced person sometimes needs a hand. For astronauts aboard the International Space Station, that helping hand comes from other crew members, experts on the ground, and increasingly, in the form of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

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Virgin Galactic’s Former Flight Test Director Disputes Company’s Version of Off Course Flight with Richard Branson Aboard

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s recently fired flight test director claims that pilot error, not upper-level winds, resulted in the company’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle flying outside of its assigned airspace during a July 11 suborbital flight test that carried the company’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson. He suggested an independent investigation instead of a company-led one might be required to address the mishap.

Mark Stucky, who Virgin Galactic fired eight days after Branson’s flight, said his former employer put out an inaccurate statement about why VSS Unity flew unauthorized into Class A airspace for 1 minute 41 seconds during its descent. Class A airspace is primarily used by airlines, cargo operators and higher performance aircraft.

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NASA Creates Two New Mission Directorates for Human Spaceflight

Kathryn Lueders

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced Tuesday the agency is creating two new mission directorates that will best position the agency for the next 20 years.

The move separates the agency’s current Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate into the new Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate.

NASA is making the changes because of increasing space operations in low-Earth orbit and development programs well underway for deep space exploration, including Artemis missions.

Leadership will discuss the change and the future of NASA during an employee town hall broadcast live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website at noon EDT today.

Media are invited to a follow-on teleconference at 2:30 p.m., with audio streaming live online.

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Russian Government Allocates $60.6 Million for Future Soyuz Tourist Flight

The Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft is seen as it lands in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan with Expedition 62 crew members Jessica Meir and Drew Morgan of NASA, and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos, Friday, April 17, 2020. Meir and Skripochka returned after 205 days in space, and Morgan after 272 days in space. All three served as Expedition 60-61-62 crew members onboard the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA/GCTC/Andrey Shelepin)

The Russian government has allocated $60.6 million (4.4 billion rubles) to the Roscosmos subsidiary Glavkosmos to produce a Soyuz 2.1a rocket and Soyuz MS spacecraft for a space tourism flight scheduled for 2024, according to Space Daily.

Glavkosmos head Dmitry Loskutov said in May that the company was already in talks with potential space tourists and was simultaneously working on putting together a reserve of Soyuz spaceships to make the first tourist flight possible in late 2023.

Now that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is carrying astronauts to the station, Russia has restarted spaceflights for paying customers. On Oct. 5, the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft will carry Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the International Space Station (ISS). Peresild and Shipenko will shoot scenes for a movie titled, “Challenge,” during a spaceflight lasting 12 days.

On Dec. 8, the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft will carry Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, and Maezawa’s assistant Yozo Hirano to ISS on a 12-day spaceflight.

SpaceX Projects Higher Commercial Flight Rate; Musk Donation Sends St. Jude Fund-raising Campaign Over the Top

Crew Dragon splashes down with Inspiration4 crew. (Credit: Inspiration4)

A few notes on the Inspiration4 mission:

Big Demand for Flights

SpaceX senior director for human spaceflight Benji Reed said yesterday that the company wants to ramp up to six private commercial human spaceflights per year.

“There’s nothing really that limits our capability to launch. It’s about having rockets and Dragons ready to go and having everything in the manifest align with our other launches,” he said.

SpaceX officials said they received many inquiries about future bookings since the Inspiration4 mission was launched on a three-day Earth orbiting flight on Wednesday.

Axiom Space is sending four people to the International Space Station in January using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission will include three paying passengers and be led by an Axiom executive who is a former NASA astronaut.

Fundraising Campaign Succeeds

SpaceX founder Elon Musk pledge of $50 million to Inspiration4’s fund-raising campaign for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital brought the total raised to $210 million, which is $10 million above the original goal. St. Jude will use the funds to conduct cancer research.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman, who commanded the mission, donated the first $100 million to the campaign. The other $60 million was raised through online donations. There is also an ongoing auction of items flown on the mission that will bring in more money.

Inspiration4 Crew Makes Evening Splashdown, Completing World’s First All-Civilian Orbital Mission to Space

Crew Dragon splashes down with Inspiration4 crew. (Credit: Inspiration4)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., September 18, 2021 (Inspiration4 PR) – After three days orbiting Earth, the astronauts of Inspiration4  flying aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft safely splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 7:06 p.m. EDT. The return marks the completion of the world’s first all-civilian human spaceflight to orbit, which launched on a flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.

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Crew of Russian Commercial Mission to ISS Answers Questions in Preflight News Conference

Soyuz ISS-66 crew members: actress Yulia Peresild, Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and film director Klim Shipenko. (Credit: Roscosmos)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — A pre-flight press conference of the main and backup crews of the ISS-66 Expedition took place at the Cosmonaut Training Center. Journalists, bloggers, social media users from all over the world sent many questions to them. The event was held online in cooperation with TASS, Roscosmos State Corporation, Channel One and the Yu.A. Gagarin.

Recall that the main crew of ISS-66: Hero of the Russian Federation, Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, film director Klim Shipenko, and actress Yulia Peresild. Their understudies are Hero of the Russian Federation, Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemiev, cameraman Alexei Dudin, and actress Alena Mordovina.

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NASA Empowers Workforce to Advance Deep Space Technologies

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 10 proposals led by early-career employees across the agency for two-year projects that will support the development of new capabilities for deep space human exploration.

These proposals were selected under Project Polaris, a new initiative to support the NASA workforce in efforts to meet the challenges of sending humans to the Moon and Mars. Project Polaris seeks to fill high-priority capability gaps on deep space missions like those planned under Artemis and introduce new technologies into human exploration flight programs. The project also aims to create opportunities for early-career employees across NASA centers to gain experience building and testing flight hardware while developing technologies and reducing risk for future human exploration missions.

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