So Exactly How Safe Will SpaceShipTwo Be?

Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 5 of 6

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the recent roll out of VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic marked a symbolic milestone in its recovery from the October 2014 accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed pilot Mike Alsbury.

Two questions loomed large over the celebrity-studded event. When will it fly? And how safe will it be when it does?

Company officials gave no timeline on the first question. Their answers about SpaceShipTwo’s safety differed significantly from previous claims they made over the last 11.5 years.

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Early Aviation & the Safety of Space Tourism

Crashed Boeing Model 299 at Wright Field, Ohio in 1934.
Crashed Boeing Model 299 at Wright Field, Ohio in 1934.

Part 2 of 6

“I question whether our insatiable appetite for total safety is serving the needs of the exploring human inside us.”

– Stu Witt, former CEO & General Manager, Mojave Air & Space Port

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After he won the $10 million Ansari X Prize with SpaceShipOne in October 2004, Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan had two goals for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle he was building for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

He vowed the vehicle would be at least 100 times safer than any human spacecraft that had ever flow. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would certify the spaceship in a manner similar to way the agency certifies aircraft.

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Diamandis: In Lieu of Actual Trips to Space, Try Virtual Reality

Editor’s Note: Wondering when space tourism companies will stop hyping and start flying? Skeptical they will ever make such travel as safe and routine as getting on an airliner? Or bring down costs enough that you’d actually be able to go?

Worry not. The guy who launched the space tourism craze 20 years ago with the Ansari X Prize has a new way for you to experience space without actually ever having to go there.

Video Caption: Virtual reality in space? Augmented reality in space? What kinds of awesome things could we do? Futurist Peter Diamandis answers!

Do you have any questions about space exploration, virtual reality & augmented reality, futurism, or XPRIZE? Comment below with #AskPeter to ask XPRIZE Founder Peter Diamandis anything!

Movie Review — Visioneer: The Peter Diamandis Story

Peter Diamandis and Burt Rutan on stage after SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X Prize on Oct. 4, 2004.
Peter Diamandis and Burt Rutan on stage after SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X Prize on Oct. 4, 2004.

Visioneer: The Peter Diamandis Story
Director: Nick Nanton
Dicks + Nanton Productions
DNA Films
53 minutes
$14.97 to $29.97 (Download & DVD)

If you are a fan of Peter Diamandis, this worshipful 53-minute promotional video is for you. It follows Peter D. through the triumph of the Ansari X Prize, skips ahead to the SpaceShipTwo crash a decade later, and then discusses his work with Singularity University and exponential technology.

If you’re not a fan of all things Peter, or are looking for a modicum of critical analysis, this film is not worth your money or your time.

Visioneer is nominally a documentary, but it’s actually a branding  video for Diamandis.  The first clue came in the press release announcing the film, which spent half of its length promoting the director. Here’s a brief snippet:

Nick Nanton, Esq., is known as the Top Agent to Celebrity Experts®. Nick serves as the CEO of The Dicks + Nanton Celebrity Branding Agency, an international branding and media agency with more than 2200 clients in 33 countries. Nick has produced large-scale events, documentaries, and television shows that have featured the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Anthony Robbins, Steve Forbes, Ivanka Trump, Brian Tracy, President George H.W. Bush, Jack Canfield (Creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series), and many more.

So, if you’re a celebrity or would like to be one, the video is worth watching to determine whether you want Nanton to do a branding film on you. Otherwise, you’d be better off spending your money on Netflix or Hulu, which have a variety of fine documentaries.

Watch Peter Diamandis Movie for Free

Peter Diamandis
Peter Diamandis

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 10, 2016 (DNA PR) — Emmy-Award winning Director Nick Nanton, on behalf of DNA Films along with Jeff Hays films, will be offering a free online pre-screening of the Emmy-Award winning film “Visioneer.” The viewing will be available from February 11-20, 2016 at www.VisioneerMovie.com.

“Visioneer” tells the story of Peter Diamandis’ vision to create the “X Prize,” a $10 million contest meant to encourage the creation of new space vehicles and a whole new space industry. Peter dreamed of outer space his whole life. But since the days of his childhood, when the Apollo program was at its height, America’s excitement for the exploration of space has waned, even if Peter’s obsession never did. He set out to find a way to kick-start the next evolution of spaceflight, inspiring people all over the world to look to the stars again. Through hard work, passion, and a never-say-die attitude, Peter and his colleagues managed to overcome hurdle after hurdle to create the Ansari X Prize and help usher in a new era of private space flight.

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Stu Witt Retires From Mojave Spaceport in Style

Stu Witt (center) stands with Congressman Kevin McCarthy, X Prize Chairman Peter Diamandis, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides and others in front of a replica of SpaceShipOne. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Stu Witt (center) stands with Congressman Kevin McCarthy, X Prize Chairman Peter Diamandis, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides and others in front of a replica of SpaceShipOne. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

They came to Mojave from near and far — from the dusty desert communities of Lancaster, Boron and Ridgecrest to the snow swept tundra of Sweden — to send Stu Witt off in style. One of the most powerful men in Washington, D.C. played hooky from Congress to wish his friend a happy retirement.

Hundreds of people gathered on Jan. 8 to mark the end of Witt’s nearly 14-year term as CEO and general manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port. The event featured a reception and a long parade of friends and colleagues singing his praises.

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Missing the Significance of Blue Origin’s Landing Milestone

It has occurred to me in recent days that the significance Blue Origin’s landing of its New Shepard rocket and capsule last month has been totally misconstrued by the public, press and most of the commentators on this blog. Now, I don’t really blame them for this; I blame Jeff Bezos.

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The Promise of Spaceport America in the Words of its Supporters

Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

“This business will mark a milestone in world history, and it will launch a new space industry — a private space industry, driven by innovators and entrepreneurs and new technologies and bold thinkers.”
— Richard Branson

“What we are calling the second space age will open up a wide range of commercial opportunities, including point-to-point cargo delivery, with personal and business travel.”
— Gov. Bill Richardson

Ten years ago today, Virgin Galactic and New Mexico announced a deal for development what became known as Spaceport America. New Mexico would built a $225-million spaceport with taxpayer’s dollars in the desert near Truth or Consequences. Sir Richard Branson’s new space company would sign a 20-year lease to fly tourists aboard SpaceShipTwo from the facility beginning in 2008.  New Mexico also expected the spaceport to be used by UP Aerospace, Starchaser Industries, and Peter Diamandis’ Rocket Racing League and X Prize Cup.

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Diamandis Raising $200 Million for Venture Capital Fund

peter_diamandis
Peter Diamandis

X PRIZE Founder Peter Diamandis is attempting to raise $200 million for a new venture capital fund that will target exponential technology companies, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Diamandis is co-founder of the Singularity University, which focuses on exponential technology development.

The filing for Bold Capital Partners, L.P., lists three other executives involved in the limited partnership. They include:

  • Teymour Boutros-Ghali, co-founder and managing partner of Monitor Ventures. A nephew of former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, he was founder and CEO of AllBusiness (acquired by NBC), Zowie Intertainment (sold to LEGO), and Thrive Online (acquired by AOL).
  • Neal Bhadkamkar, co-founder and managing partner of Monitor Ventures. Bhadkamkar previously served as VP of Manufacturing and Engineering at Zowie Intertainment and headed up the commercialization process at Interval Research, which is Paul Allen’s research and commercialization company.
  • Emilio Diez Barroso, a Mexican-American businessman who is chairman and CEO of NALA Investments, which has holdings in communications, energy, transportation, consumer products, real estate, technology and media.

Planetary Resources Raises $12 Million in Financing

planetary_resourcesPlanetary Resources has raised $12.2 million in new financing as part of an offering of $20 million, according to a company filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission. The funding came from 16 unnamed investors.

The Redmond, Wash., company is focused on mining asteroids. It was co-founded by Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson.

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.

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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.

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Google Lunar X Prize Down to the Sweet 16

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

With an end-of-the-year deadline looming for the Google Lunar X Prize to continue, the $30 million competition to land a private rover on the moon has shrunk in half to 16 teams from the original 33 or 34 (more on that later).

At least one of the teams has to demonstrate that it has a firm launch contract in place by Dec. 31 for the competition to continue.  If at least one team can show a contract this year, then the remaining teams in the competition will have until the end of 2016 to secure contracts in order to stay in the race.

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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.

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What Scaled, Virgin & Peter Diamandis Said After Last Fatal SpaceShipTwo Program Accident

Part of SpaceShipTwo's fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Part of SpaceShipTwo’s fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The crash of SpaceShipTwo and the tragic loss of Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury were stark reminders that despite all the promises about the safety of new space tourism vehicles, space travel is a dangerous business where death can come in seconds.

If outsiders were stunned by the tragedy, it had a sickeningly familiar feel to long-time Mojave denizens. Mike Alsbury was not the first Scaled employee to die developing SpaceShipTwo for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceline. He was the fourth. Three engineers preceded him seven years earlier in a horrific accident at the Mojave spaceport.

The  2007 tragedy was quite different from the one that occurred over Jawbone Canyon on Halloween. The response to it was both different and eerily familiar.

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