Boldly Going Where 14 Men Have Gone Before

For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.

That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.

(more…)

Will Stratolaunch Have its Wings Clipped?

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

During the New Space Conference in July, I asked Vulcan Aerospace President Chuck Beames whether the company had made a fundamental mistake with Stratolaunch Systems. Shouldn’t it have figured out what sort of air-launch rocket it was going to use first before building the world’s largest aircraft to launch it from?

(more…)

SpaceShipTwo’s PF-04: A High-Risk Flight

Mike Alsbury
Mike Alsbury

Part 1 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Mike Alsbury’s day began with a 3 a.m. wake up at his home in Tehachapi, Calif. He showered, dressed and ate a breakfast that likely consisted of an apple and a granola bar.

Alsbury rarely awoke at so early; but this Oct. 31 was a flight test day. That meant a lot of people were getting up early for the latest milestone in the Tier 1B program. At least that’s what they called it at Alsbury’s employer, Scaled Composites. The rest of the world knew it as WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo – the foundation of Sir Richard Branson’s suborbital space tourism program. Scaled built and tested the vehicles for the British billionaire’s spaceline, Virgin Galactic.

(more…)

Mojave Journal: The Ansari X Prize’s Awkward Family Reunion

Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.
Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.

One Year Ago, the Ansari X Prize Turned 10
It Was an Uncomfortable Birthday

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The planes kept coming and coming. One after another, they swooped out of a blue desert sky and touched down on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way.

And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize. A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period.

(more…)

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be: SpaceShipOne & the Triumph of Hype

Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)
Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)

Eleven years ago today, Brian Binnie flew SpaceShipOne to  an altitude  of 112.014 km (69.6 miles),  breaking a record of 107.8 km (67 miles) set by Joe Walker in the X-15 rocket plane 41 years earlier. As Binnie landed the small, experimental space plane at the Mojave Air and Space Port before a cheering crowd, he clinched the $10 million Ansari X Prize for Burt Rutan and his financial backer, Paul Allen.

The air during the post flight events was full of promises, boasts and hopes that today appear positively cringe worthy.

(more…)

Space Symposium Launch Vehicle Panel

31_space_symposium350
The 31st Space Symposium is taking place all week in Colorado Springs. It’s already generated some news, with ULA unveiling its new launch vehicle [here and here], Paul Allen demanding the company change the rocket’s name, and Rocket Lab showing off its electric motor.

I wasn’t able to attend this year, but I’ve been monitoring the events via Twitter.  Today’s most interesting session appears to have been a launch vehicle panel that included Aerojet Rocketdyne, Arianespace, Blue Origin, Orbital ATK, SpaceX and ULA.

(more…)

ULA’s Vulcan: The Public Has Spoken & So Has Paul Allen

Artist's conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)
Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)

Paul Allen is not amused that ULA has named its new launch vehicle Vulcan, but the company says its all cool.

“Vulcan is a trademark of Vulcan Inc. and we have informed ULA of our trademark rights,” Chuck Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace, a division of Paul Allen-backed Vulcan Inc., told Reuters. “Paul Allen and Vulcan were early leaders within space exploration with the launch of SpaceShipOne more than a decade ago.”

The name, which was determined by a public vote, was cleared by ULA’s legal department prior to being offered as a ballot choice.

ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye is confident the company took all necessary steps to use the name.

“We have done our due diligence regarding the legal right to use the name Vulcan,” she said via e-mail. ” ULA is committed to taking every reasonable step to avoid any confusion with other entities using this name and we are confident we can do so.”

Read the full story.

Paul Allen’s Vision for What’s Next in Space

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

by Chuck Beames
President, Vulcan Aerospace

“What’s next?”

Paul Allen asks me this question frequently, pushing me – and the entire Vulcan Inc. team – to think creatively and push the boundaries of possibility. Not just to improve what exists, but to think about what should exist. Today, we’re announcing an innovative new approach to the commercial space industry—Vulcan Aerospace.

(more…)

Spaceflight Industries Raises $20 Million to Accelerate Growth

spaceflight_logoRRE Venture Capital and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital Co-Lead Investment in Future Expansion of Next-Generation Space Services Company

SEATTLE, March 11, 2015 (Spaceflight Industries PR) – Spaceflight Industries, a next-generation, integrated space products and services company aimed at transforming the use of space, today announced it has secured $20 million in Series B funding co-led by RRE Venture Capital and Vulcan Capital with additional investment from Razor’s Edge Ventures.

Spaceflight Industries (Spaceflight) is the parent company of two well-established Seattle-area aerospace and space logistics companies: Andrews Space and Spaceflight Services. These businesses have now been combined under the Spaceflight brand to form a consolidated space products and services company focused on enabling new applications through the commercialization of space. This funding will accelerate the ongoing growth and development of Spaceflight’s subsidiaries: Spaceflight Systems (formerly Andrews Space), Spaceflight Services and Spaceflight Networks, which together provide comprehensive, cost-effective small-satellite solutions and services from development to launch, communications and operations.

(more…)

Number of Billionaires Investing in Space Projects Grows

Forbes has published its annual list of the planet’s billionaires. A small but growing number of them are either directly supporting major space projects or doing so through the companies that they run.

FORBES RANKNAMEAGE
2015 NET WORTH (BILLIONS)
SOURCE(S) OF WEALTH
SPACE INVESTMENT(S)
 15Jeff Bezos51 $34.8Amazon.comBlue Origin
16Mark Zuckerberg30
 $33.4FacebookGlobal satellite network
19Larry Page41$29.7 GoogleSpaceX, Planetary Resources, Planetary Ventures, Google Lunar X Prize, Skybox
20Sergey Brin 41 $29.2GoogleSpaceX, Planetary Ventures, Google Lunar X Prize, Skybox
43Charles Ergen62$19.8DISH NetworkDISH Network
51Paul Allen62 $17.5 Microsoft, investmentsStratolaunch Systems, SETI, Mojave Aerospace Ventures (SpaceShipOne)
100Elon Musk43$12PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, SolarCitySpaceX
137Eric Schmidt59$9.1GoogleSpaceX, Google Lunar X Prize, Planetary Ventures, Skybox
330Richard Branson
64$4.8Virgin GroupVirgin Galactic, Planetary Resources, OneWeb
1006Kavitark Ram Shriram58$1.9Google, venture capitalPlanetary Resources
1105H. Ross Perot, Jr.56$1.8 Computer services, real estatePlanetary Resources
1324Charles Simonyi 67$1.4MicrosoftPlanetary Resources
1415Peter Sperling55$1.3University of PhoenixEcliptic Enterprises

I’ve added Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to the list this year. His company is reportedly working on a global broadband network that would involve satellites, although details of the plan have not been made public.

I’ve left off Cirque du Soleil’s Guy Laliberte, who came in at number 1006 with a net worth of $1.9 billion. Although he once took a trip to the International Space Station, he is not known to be funding any major space projects at the moment.

Update: I’ve added Charles Ergen and Peter Sperling to the list. Big shout out to Rex Ridenoure over at Ecliptic Enterprises.

Stratolaunch is 40 Percent Complete

The new design of Stratolaunch's carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
The new design of Stratolaunch’s carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

The Seattle Seahawks may have lost the Super Bowl because of an idiotic call on the goal line in the waning seconds, but billionaire owner Paul Allen can take comfort in two things:

He still has billions of dollars. And Birdzilla.

Speaking of which, Stratolaunch System’s giant carrier aircraft is 40 percent complete:

Scaled Composites President Kevin Mickey confirmed the progress in an email Tuesday from that company’s headquarters in Mojave, Calif., where the aircraft is being built….

The wings and fuselage of the 1.3 million-pound Stratolaunch will be new, and about 80 percent of the assemblies are complete, Mickey said….

Progress on the aircraft seems so far to be steady. The first flight is still scheduled for 2016, the same date the company earlier indicated.

If that remains the case, the aircraft is supposed to finish certification flights and launch its first space craft by 2018.

Read the full story.

Google Lunar X Prize Update: Funding Remains an Issue

MTV-1X vehicle in full tether mode. (Credit: Moon Express)
MTV-1X vehicle in full tether mode. (Credit: Moon Express)

The IEEE Spectrum has an interesting update on the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, which recently slipped its deadline for landing a rover on the moon from the end of 2015 to Dec. 31, 2016.

The story confirms what I’ve suspected for quite some time now: it’s much easier to build and test hardware on Earth than it is to get it to the lunar surface. With two years, not one of the 18 remaining teams has locked down a firm launch date. If none of them does by the end of 2015, the competition will end without a winner.

(more…)

Tickets Available for Ansari X Prize Celebration

SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)
SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)

Good news, everyone!

If for some reason you didn’t get an invitation to the big Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary lunchaganza next week, there’s still a chance for you to go.

There’s just one hitch: it’ll cost you $2,500. And you’ll have to come to Mojave. That’s two hitches, actually. But, you only have to stay a few hours.

The X Prize Foundation has launched a crowd funding campaign for its new initiative, the Global Learning X Prize. Anyone who contributes $2,500 will receive a ticket to the invitation-only event on Oct. 4.

So far, two people have taken up the offer out of 100 tickets available. The event includes a two-hour luncheon with speeches, etc. Richard Branson, Paul Allen and Burt Rutan are expected to attend.

Ansari X Prize 10th Anniversary Shindig Set for Mojave

SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)
SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)

Burt Rutan, Paul Allen and Richard Branson are among those who will gather at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Oct. 4 to mark the 10th anniversary of SpaceShipOne winning the $10 million Anari X Prize, Parabolic Arc has learned.

X Prize Foundation Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis will preside over the invitation-only event, which is expected to draw hundreds of guests. The foundation sponsored the prize for the first privately-funded vehicle to fly into space twice in two weeks.

(more…)