Leroy Chiao Talks about NASA, Commercialization and Excalibur Almaz

Commerce Magazine has an interesting interview with Leroy Chiao, calling the former astronaut a rising star in the area of space commercialization. Chiao talks about his transition from NASA to private industry, the future of space commercialization, and his work as vice president of Excalibur Almaz, which is transforming left-over Soviet military Almaz space station hardware into an orbiting tourist outpost. It’s worth a read.

Space Adventures Buys Zero-G

Space Adventures has consolidated its position in the space tourism market by acquiring a 100 percent stake in Zero-G, a company that provides micro-gravity aircraft flights. No price was disclosed.

“Bringing the companies together allows us to provide a range of exclusive commercial spaceflight services from parabolic flights to orbital missions,” said Zero-G CEO Peter Diamandis.

Diamandis, who also co-founded Space Adventures, remains as Zero-G’s chief executive and becomes a managing director of Space Adventures. Former NASA astronaut Byron Lichtenberg will stay as Zero-G’s chief technology officer.

Space Adventures was already a major investor in Zero-G. The Vienna, Virginia-based company provides tourism flights to the International Space Station and is planning similar missions around the moon. Zero-G is based in Florida and Las Vegas.

Space.com has more information. You can also read Space Adventures‘ press release.

ATK makes progress on Ares I first stage

Alliant Techsystems reports progress on the first stage of NASA’s new Ares I vehicle, according to a story at Flight Global.

ATK has fabricated segments for ground vibration tests and expects to ship hardware to the Kennedy Space Center in July. The five-segment stage, based on the solid rocket boosters used for the space shuttle, will help launch NASA’s new Orion spacecraft.

Billionaires In Space

Forbes has an interesting interview with Richard Garriott, the billionaire software developer who will become the next space tourist to fly to the International Space Station in October.

Garriott, whose father Owen fly in space aboard Skyab and the space shuttle, says that his ambition goes a lot further than just taking an orbital joyride. He wants to contribute to opening up space for everyone.

“I grew up listening to criticisms of space exploration. My mission is to show that this is a useful, profitable activity,” said Gariott, who will conduct experiments during his 10-14 day flight.

French Astronaut Tends Orbital Garden

French astronaut is Leopold Eyharts has been busy tending a small garden aboard the International Space Station as part of efforts to see how crops grow in outer space, according to Space.com.

Eyharts is conducting the Waving and Coiling of Arabidopsis Roots at Different G-levels (WAICO) experiment in ESA’s new Columbus laboratory, which was attached to the orbital outpost last month. He is growing two types of Arabidopsis seeds, which are relatives of the mustard plant. The ISS plants will be compared with a control group on Earth.

Space tourism to rocket in this century, researchers predict

Outer space will rocket into reality as “the” getaway of this century, according to researchers at the University of Delaware and the University of Rome La Sapienza.

“In the twenty-first century, space tourism could represent the most significant development experienced by the tourism industry,” says Prof. Fred DeMicco, ARAMARK Chair at the University of Delaware’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management program.

You can read the full story at UDaily, the University of Delaware website.

ULA Suffers Setback in COTS Program

The Decatur Daily has a story about how United Launch Alliance suffered a setback for its Atlas V vehicle, which was not chosen for the COTS program.

Earlier this week, NASA officials awarded a $170 million contract to Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation to develop a new launch system capable of delivering cargo to the International Space Station. The space agency had earlier awarded a similar contract to California-based SpaceX for a similar project involving both cargo and crew vehicles.

The Atlas V vehicle is being considered as the prime rocket for Bigelow Aerospace’s planned Sundancer space station. The companies are reportedly in negotiations for up to 50 Atlas V cargo and crew launches.

SPACEHAB Releases Statement About COTS Loss

SPACEHAB Press Release

HOUSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–SPACEHAB, Incorporated (NASDAQ:SPAB), a provider of commercial space services, today issued a statement from SPACEHAB Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Thomas B. Pickens, III, regarding NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) announcement on February 19, 2008.

“While we are disappointed that SPACEHAB was not selected as a winner of the COTS competition, we want to be certain to convey to our stockholders that the Company has been aggressively pursuing other valuable opportunities including growing our profitable Astrotech subsidiary, primarily through our expanded long term relationship with the U.S. Government Office of Space Launch and our announced end-to-end ALLSAT satellite service system. Also, by design, most of the costs and advanced engineering that were invested in the COTS ARCTUS Program are also being applied to advance our ALLSAT satellite system.

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More on Cape Breton

The opposition Liberal Party is calling upon the Nova Scotia government to actively support PlanetSpace’s plan to build a commercial spaceport on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

“The government should be saying, ‘What is it that we can do? Is there a role for the province to play to making it a reality? Is it feasible?’ Those kinds of questions need to be asked so that some economic activity will be happening,” said opposition leader Stephen McNeil said.

Meanwhile, a couple of Canadian newspapers also have weighed in on prospects of a spaceport at Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. The Cape Breton Post says that prospects for the spaceport receded after PlanetSpace failed to win a $170 million award from NASA’s COTS program.

The Halifax Chronicle Herald reports that PlanetSpace officials are hoping to get a piece of a $2.3 billion NASA procurement contract expected to be awarded later this year. However, the company believes prospects are good even if they don’t receive the funding.

NASA awards COTS grant for cargo spaceship

And the winner is….Orbital Science Corporation. NASA awarded the Dulles, Virginia-based company $171 million under its COTS program to build and demonstrate a launch system capable of delivering cargo to the international space station.

The COTS program is designed stimulating private development for vehicles capable of transporting cargo and crews to ISS. Orbital Sciences joins SpaceX of El Segundo, California, which is also developing a rocket and vehicle under COTS.

The three-year agreement calls for the development of:

  • Taurus II, a new medium-class launch vehicle
  • Cygnus, an advanced maneuvering spacecraft
  • Several interchangeable modules for pressurized and unpressurized cargo.

NASA awarded the funding after ending a similar agreement with Rocketplane Kistler. The Oklahoma-based company failed to come up with a half billion dollar in private funding to supplement its NASA award.

There had been a lot of media coverage. Below is a sampling of useful links:

NASA awards grant for cargo spaceship: MSNBC (via Brian Berger, Space.com)

Orbital Will Develop Craft With NASA: Associate Press via Forbes

NASA backs private firm to help supply space station: Houston Chronicle

Orbital Sciences COTS Homepage (with illustrations)

NASA Partners With Orbital Sciences for Space Transport Services: NASA Press Release via PR News Wire

One of the unsuccessful bidders was Chicago-based PlanetSpace, which had been hoping to use the money to jump start efforts to build a commercial spaceport on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. Canadian Press has an update.

Interorbital Releases Design for Orbital Neptune Space Tourism Vehicle

Interorbital Press Release

Mojave, CA, February 19, 2008—-Interorbital Systems (IOS) today made public the design of its manned orbital launch vehicle, Neptune, and passed a major milestone by completing the propellant tank construction of its Sea Star MSLV (microsatellite launch vehicle). Sea Star is a subscale version of and testbed for the Neptune six-passenger orbital tourism ship. Both vehicles employ a novel modular, pressure-fed, two-stage-and-a-half-to-orbit configuration. “IOS is now one step closer to the flight-test phase, and one step closer to launching its orbital tourism services. The Sea Star launches will flight-test and space-validate many of the rocket system design elements that the follow-on vehicle, Neptune, will use.” said Roderick Milliron, IOS President and Chief Design Engineer.

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Interviews with Richard Garriott

Air & Space Magazine’s Irene Klotz talks with space tourist Richard Garriott, a computer game developer scheduled to fly to the International Space Station in October. A second generation space traveler, his father Owen flew aboard Skylab and the Space Shuttle.

“While computer games have been my vocation, my personal and private investing and side hobby has been in exploration and adventure travel, with a focus on getting civilians into space. Space Adventures, which made history by sending the first civilian into space, is a company that I was the earliest investor in, and still the largest investor, and I’m thrilled that now we’re finally able to allow me to take that journey.”

Sam Dinkin also has a new interview with Garriott over at The Space Review. Garriott talks about the challenges of learning Russian, the similarities between spaceflight and the video games he designs, and explains the experiments he will be conducting on ISS.

Suited for space

The Economist examines the physical requirements with space tourists with a look at NASTAR, a Pennsylvania firm that provides centrifuge training for Virgin Galactic customers and several ISS tourists. NASTAR’s Glenn King believes that, based on the company’s testing, more people could handle the rigors of suborbital flight than previously believed.

“NASTAR reckons that more than 90% of the population could handle a sub-orbital flight. Nor does Mr King see any reason why children as young as five or six could not go too.”

Bigelow Diversifying Beyond Atlas V?

Although Bigelow Aerospace is reportedly close to securing up to 50 Atlas V launches from Lockheed Martin, the company is open to other transportation providers.

Bigelow Director of Publicity Chris Reed says the company has a reservation on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which is currently under development, and is encouraging the development of other launchers to deliver cargo and crew to the planned Sundancer space station.

You can read more about this at Hobby Space.

Jon Goff Weighs in on LM/Bigelow Atlas V Deal

Space expert Jon Goff has some thoughts about that potential blockbuster deal for Lockheed Martin to provide up to 50 Atlas V’s to support cargo and crew transport to Bigelow Aerospace’s planned space station.

“If he were just running an orbital hotel (he isn’t), I’d be very skeptical. Instead I’m somewhere between skeptical and guardedly optimistic. While there haven’t been large numbers of takers for flights on the Soyuz, what Bigelow’s offering is fundamentally different. Flight opportunities are frequent (which is critical for most microgravity research programs–imagine trying to run an R&D lab that you could only visit once or twice a year!), the situation is more customer friendly, training would likely be more streamlined (I hear that for Soyuz training the “passenger” is actually more of a third crew member than an honest-to-goodness passenger), etc.”

You can read more of his post at Jon’s excellent Selenian Boondocks blog.