Tag: Richard Branson

SpaceShipTwo Outside on Tarmac Again

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Editor’s Note: SpaceShipTwo hasn’t been seen outside for months now. Its last powered flight was on Jan. 10. A week later, it made a glide flight. That was the last time it was seen in the skies over Mojave.

Sources tell Parabolic Arc that the suborbital ship has been modified with wing tanks. One tank will hold methane that will be used along with nitrous oxide to burn the plastic fuel. The other tank will include helium used to smooth out the end of the motor’s burn.

Company officials have said they expect to conduct a series of powered flights over the summer leading up to the first commercial flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico at the end of the year. That flight will carry Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson and his children.

UAE to Create Space Agency, Send Spacecraft to Mars in 2021

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UAE_Coat_of_ArmsThe United Arab Emirates plans to establish a space agency and to launch for the first Arab spacecraft to Mars by 2021 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nation’s founding.

“The UAE Mars probe represents the Islamic world’s entry into the era of space exploration,” said President Sheikh Khalifa, according to state news agency WAM.

“We will prove that we are capable of delivering new scientific contributions to humanity.

Continue reading ‘UAE to Create Space Agency, Send Spacecraft to Mars in 2021′

Spaceport America Seeks Loan for Visitors Center as Road Project Progresses

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The mission control room at Spaceport America. (Credit: Alex Heard)

The mission control room at Spaceport America. (Credit: Alex Heard)

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) has approved borrowing $6.5 million to build a Spaceport America visitors center in Truth or Consequences. Meanwhile, Dona Ana County officials are preparing to bid out a contract to pave a southern road that leads to the remote spaceport.

However, the projects won’t measure up to the original plans for them due to funding limitations. The budget squeeze is a result of years of delay in the start of commercial operations by Spaceport America’s anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic.

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My Appearance on John Batchelor Show is Now Online

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The John Batchelor Show

The John Batchelor Show

David Livingston has now archived my appearance last night on The John Batchelor Show for your listening pleasure. The three of us discussed Virgin Galactic’s switch to a plastic engine, and the concerns over whether the engine will be properly tested on the ground before the resumption of powered flight tests scheduled to begin by late summer. We also talked about whether the plan to fly Richard Branson and his children on the first commercial flight by the end of the year is realistic and safe.

Report: Google in Talks with Virgin Galactic on Equity Share, Satellite Launcher Deal

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Google_logo_newAs I reported here exclusively back on May 11, Google has been in talks with Virgin Galactic for acquisition of its LauncherOne satellite technology and an equity stake in Richard Branson’s space tourism company. Sky News reports:

The talks are likely to lead to a deal with two main elements, according to insiders.

The first will see Google inject hundreds of millions of dollars into a joint venture, with Virgin Galactic folding in the technology it has developed as part of its efforts to build the world’s first space tourism business.

The second component will involve Google spending roughly $30m (£17.8m) in return for a small stake in the Virgin Galactic holding company.

The terms of the alliance have not yet been finalised and could yet be altered before a deal is struck.

A person close to Google said, though, that its £17.8m investment could value Virgin Galactic at as much as £1.2bn, equating to a shareholding of approximately 1.5%.

Continue reading ‘Report: Google in Talks with Virgin Galactic on Equity Share, Satellite Launcher Deal’

UK Wants Spaceport, More ISS Research

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UK_space_agencyBy Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

The UK is looking to spend £25 to £50 million ($41.9 to $83.8 million) on a spaceport because it believes that “after the US, the UK has the best chance to be the second country in the world to enable spaceplane operations.”

That’s the word from the UK Department for Business Innovation & Skills (DBIS), which recently published “Creating the Future: A 2020 Vision for Science & Research: A Consultation on Proposals for Long-Term Capital Investment in Science & Research.”

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Has a Space Trip With King of the World Leo DiCaprio Been Overbooked?

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"I'm king of space!"

“I’m king of space!”

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio sure knows how to sell tickets — both on Earth and in space. But, has Virgin Galactic overbooked his flight?

A trip on a Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle with the superstar actor was auctioned off for 700,000 euros ($954,000) recently at the annual amfAR auction near Cannes, France. The charity benefits AIDS research.

Space.com reports three other seats on the flight have already been auctioned off on the scheduled 2015 flight for a combined $3.8 million. Richard Branson’s business-jet style space tourism vehicle is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers.

However, reports have come into Parabolic Arc indicating that the passenger load will be reduced to four due to modifications that have added weight to SpaceShipTwo. Reportedly, the reduction is still required even though Virgin Galactic has switched to a more powerful plastic engine from a rubber one.

This raises the question of whether the DiCaprio flight has been overbooked. Imagine spending nearly a million dollars on a flight and getting bumped! Virgin Galactic will have offer more than a $300 toward a future flight and a hotel voucher for something like that.

Space Companies Update Plans for Doing Space Things

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Space Adventures vehicle for circumlunar flights. (Credit: Space Adventures)

Space Adventures vehicle for circumlunar flights. (Credit: Space Adventures)

Michael Belfiore has a piece in the MIT Technology Review about a May 1 event at the Explorers Club in New York where 13 commercial space companies showed off their plans. Several key players had updated schedules which anyone paying the slightest bit of attention will know to take with 1.7 metric tons of salt:

  • Virgin Galactic’s head of Astronaut Relations Lauren De Niro Pipher predicted that Richard Branson and his children would fly to space aboard SpaceShipTwo in November or December. Note, this was prior to the announcement of a change in the ship’s engine, which officials insist won’t have a major impact on the schedule.
  • XCOR hopes to fly the Lynx Mark I before the end of the year. The ship is now being assembled in Mojave, Calif.
  • Blue Origin said it would begin test flights of its first full-scale spacecraft within a year.
  • Space Adventures says it has signed up two unidentified customers willing to spend $150 million to fly a modified Soyuz spacecraft around the moon. The flight is set to launch in 2017 or 2018.
  • Penn State Lunar Lion plans to send a coffee-table sized spacecraft to land on the moon in an effort to win the Google Lunar X Prize.
  • Planetary Resources discussed plans to launch its first Arkyd spacecraft from the International Space Station by the end of this year.
  • World View Enterprises said the company would launch a small test vehicle of its high-altitude manned capsule in about a month, which would be right about now.

An Open Letter to Virgin Galactic’s Astronaut Relations Manager

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SpaceShipTwo lights its engine as WhiteKnightTwo flies overhead. (Credit: Ken Brown)

SpaceShipTwo lights its engine as WhiteKnightTwo flies overhead. (Credit: Ken Brown)

Gemma Vigor
Astronaut Relations Manager
Virgin Galactic
London, England

May 26, 2014

Dear Gemma:

We have never met, but I know you are familiar with my work on Parabolic Arc and my coverage of Virgin Galactic as it moves toward its inaugural spaceflight. I understand my posts are read with great interest — if little enthusiasm — by the folks here in Mojave and at the home office in London where you work.

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to be acquainted with some of your writing. Specifically, an exchange you had with one of Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts following my Feb. 18 appearance on The Space Show with David Livingston. It seems that one of your future astronauts listened to the show, and had some questions that he posted on Virgin Galactic’s invitation-only Facebook group called Spacebook.

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Virgin Galactic Hails RocketMotorTwo Milestone

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RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

MOJAVE, Calif., May 23, 2014 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline which is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS, has selected a polyamide-based fuel grain to power its hybrid rocket motor for the remainder of the test flight program and start of commercial operations. This decision follows numerous ground test firings and is supported by data collected over an extensive development program.

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