Virgin Galactic’s Ban on Selling Tickets to Chinese Citizens

SpaceShipTwo ignites its engines on the third powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo ignites its engine above Koehn Lake on its third powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

It was a great story while it lasted, one full of spies, technological espionage, Cold War-style fears, and super power rivalry. And then the story turned into something far stranger.

The news broke two weeks ago that Virgin Galactic is turning away would-be space tourists from China. The reason: strict U.S. export restrictions known as ITAR that are designed to prevent the transfer of sensitive technologies to hostile foreign nations. Visions of Chinese spies signing up for flights and stealing the secrets to this new technology filled numerous news stories in the week that followed.

There was only one problem: the story appears to be only half true.

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Biotech Gone Mad: Meet the Donkephant

The above image appears in a PowerPoint presentation given by Mike Gold of Bigelow Aerospace during the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee meeting this week. Specifically, it represents the bipartisan effort by Republicans (symbolized by the elephant) and Democrats (the donkey) to find common ground on reforming the nation’s restrictive export control laws. Generally, it tells me that these guys should stick to building space hardware and not bioengineer disturbing looking animals.

On a more serious note, prospects for export reform are looking up.

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The Space Show Turns 10

This week on The Space Show….

Monday, May 9, 2011, 2-3:30 PM PDT. For the first hour of the program, we welcome Mike Gold, Director of D.C. Operations & Business Growth for Bigelow Aerospace, LLC. The last 30 minutes of this show will be a discussion related to the interview with Mr. Gold. .

CLASSROOM: Tuesday, May 10, 2011, 7-9 PM PDT. This is the special 10th Anniversary Space Program and the Space Cynics are reuniting for a discussion about the future of human spaceflight and more. Our discussion will includes Space Cynics founder Shubber Ali, fellow cynics Tom Olson and Dr. John Jurist as well as myself.

Friday, May 13 , 2011 , 9:30-11 AM PDT. We welcome back Janice Dunn of the California Space Authority regarding the California Space Center and more.

Sunday, May 15, 2011, 12-1:30 PM PDT. This will be a special and focused quasi-Open Lines program regarding a letter I recently received from an 8th grade student. Prior to the program, I will post the letter on The Space Show blog (without name and address) and I would like to invite the listeners to comment to this student on what he said. This student calls for the reduction of NASA and its budget. This student is articulate and does have an interest and awareness of space and NASA. Keep your responses civil and instructive. This student has in my opinion, earned the right to be treated seriously and with respect and he has an interest in space which I would like to see grow and develop.

Entrepreneurs Transforming U.S. Space Industry

A Boeing CST-100 crew module docks at a Bigelow Aerospace space station. (Credit: Boeing)

Upon arriving in Florida for the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, I was pleased to see the front page of the Orlando Sentinel’s Sunday edition was dominated by a large front-page story about Robert Bigelow and his plans for private commercial space stations. There is not much new in the article, but it does contain this astute observation from Bigelow Aerospace’s Mike Gold:

He said the current crop of new space entrepreneurs — such as Bigelow and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk — bring to the table not only personal wealth but also a business sense developed in other industries, including what Gold called “good subcontractor management.” (SpaceX, for example, designed, built and launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule for less than $1 billion, almost a rounding error in the typical NASA contract.)

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Bigelow Pitches Space Station in Canada

Bigelow's space station would have space to accommodate up to 12 people. (Photo: Douglas Messier)

Bigelow Aerospace was in Canada last week pitching its private space station to potential users:

A company representative was in Ottawa last weekend, delivering a keynote speech and lobbying officials at the annual summit of the Canadian Space Society. Mike Gold, a Bigelow director, called it his first attempt to reach out to the Canadian government and the space industry. He argued that the facility will offer countries a cheaper way into space within five years. In an email Tuesday, the CSA’s director of space exploration, Gilles Leclerc, said that the agency is not involved, “in any way,” in the Bigelow project. But Gold expresses optimism. “I don’t know how much I can say, but let me say if there wasn’t the interest in Canada, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Read the full story.