Tag: space tourism

XCOR Layoffs Primarily Impacted Lynx Team

Engine hot fire (Credit: XCOR)

Engine hot fire (Credit: XCOR)

An update on the XCOR layoffs….

The layoffs primarily affected the team working on the Lynx suborbital space plane. Some employees involved in the program remain. However, work on building the spacecraft has been suspended for the time being.

Engineers working on XCOR’s rocket engines have been retained. Their main work will involve an engine for United Launch Alliance’s ACES upper stage. Some work will continue on Lynx’s engine and control thrusters.

Sources are indicating that XCOR laid off about 25 employees on Friday, which they say was just under half of the company. The exact head count before the staff reductions is unclear. Sources say around 50; however, the Midland Reporter-Telegram reported in January that XCOR had 63 employees at the time.

Staff remain employed at XCOR’s main headquarters in Mojave, Calif., and at its hangar in Midland, Texas.

BEAM Fully Expanded & Pressurized

BEAM module (Credit: NASA TV)

BEAM module (Credit: NASA TV)

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams successfully expanded and pressurized Bigelow Aerospace’s BEAM module today. It was a long procedure that took more than 7.5 hours. The module will now go through an 80-hour leak check and other tests before astronauts enter it for the first time in about a week.


A Tale of Two Prizes

SpaceShipOne on the floor beside the Spirit of St. Louis of the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: National Air & Space Museum)

SpaceShipOne on the floor beside the Spirit of St. Louis of the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: National Air & Space Museum)

Two major flight-related anniversaries are being celebrated this week. Today marks the 89th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic aboard the Spirit of St. Louis. Lucky Lindy took off from New York on this date and arrived in Paris some 33.5 hours later, claiming the $25,000 Orteig Prize.

Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of the launch of X Prize (later Ansari X Prize). Inspired by the Orteig Prize, it offered $10 million for the first privately build vehicle to fly to suborbital space twice within two weeks. The Ansari X Prize was won in October 2004 by a team led by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen with SpaceShipOne.

After Lindbergh’s flight, a public that had previously shunned commercial aviation embraced it with a passion. Following the Ansari X Prize, Richard Branson vowed to begin flying tourists to space aboard a successor vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, within three years. Nearly a dozen years and four deaths later, Branson has yet to fulfill this promise.

The SpaceShipTwo program has now taken longer than it took for NASA to go from President John F. Kennedy proposal to land a man on the moon to the completion of the program with the splashdown of Apollo 17. NASA launched the space shuttle Columbia exactly 20 years after the first spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin.

So, why have things taken so long? And why did one prize succeed beyond the dreams of its sponsor, while the space prize it inspired has promised so few practical results? The answer is a complex one that I addressed back in March in a story titled, “Prizes, Technology and Safety.” I’ve republished the story below with links to other posts in a series about flight safety.

Continue reading ‘A Tale of Two Prizes’

WhiteKnightTwo Flies at Spaceport America


SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM (NMSA PR) — Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America Operations teams welcomed WhiteKnightTwo back to the clear blue skies of New Mexico on Monday.

Continue reading ‘WhiteKnightTwo Flies at Spaceport America’

Land Rover – Virgin Galactic Promotional Video


Video Caption: Photographer and adventurer Jimmy Chin joined Land Rover in the Mojave Desert to witness the reveal of our global partner Virgin Galactic’s new VSS Unity. After capturing the moment, Jimmy embarked on the off-road adventure of a lifetime in a Range Rover Autobiography. In this video, he reflects on what it takes to explore unchartered territory, to venture into the unknown and to truly go Above and Beyond.

Find out more about our proud partnership with Virgin Galactic: http://www.landrover.com/experiences/…


Spaceport America Welcomed Over 1,700 Guests at Open House


A speaker addresses an audience at Spaceport America’s open house. (Credit: Spaceport America)

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM, April 4, 2016 (Spaceport America PR) –  Crew members from Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic opened the doors to the world’s first purpose-built spaceport on Saturday to welcome more than 1,700 guests from across the country.  Some flew in, others drove in, and others around the world were able to tune in via the Spaceport America Periscope broadcast that was also trending.  Eighty-six crew members from the New Mexico Civil Air Patrol were on hand to support the activities happening on the ground.

Continue reading ‘Spaceport America Welcomed Over 1,700 Guests at Open House’

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.

Continue reading ‘So Exactly How Safe Will SpaceShipTwo Be?’

Virgin Galactic Says Bookings on SpaceShipTwo Have Recovered

George Whitesides

George Whitesides

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was in Abu Dhabi this week for a space conference, where he gave an update on the company’s progress since the October 2014 that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed pilot Mike Alsbury.

About 25 of 700 fee-paying clients withdrew from the program after the crash in the Mojave Desert in California caused it to be put on hold just months before the first commercial flight, Virgin Galactic Chief Executive Officer George Whitesides said Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.

“We had a little dip right after the accident, but honestly we’re almost all the way back now,” Whitesides said at a conference organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. “It’s looking very good. There’s a global desire to experience space.”

Virgin Galactic said it had “more than 700 Future Astronauts” signed up as of April 2014. In media appearances in the months before the accident, Branson put the number of tickets sold at or close to 800.

Whitesides also said that Virgin Galactic’s partner, Aabar Investments, might increase its stake in the company.

When asked whether Aabar is planning to increase or decrease their stake in the company, he said they had meetings with their representatives and said the responses had been positive.

In 2009, Aabar paid $280 million for a 31.8 percent stake in Virgin Galactic. The government-owned sovereign wealth fund upped its stake to 37.8 percent with an additional investment of $110 million in 2011.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Industry Lightly Regulated


faa_logoPart 4 of 6

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

U.S. regulations for commercial human spaceflight give the wide latitude to develop and fly their launch systems while providing substantial protections about being sued for injuries and deaths resulting from accidents. What follows is is a brief summary of the provisions, most of which have been in place since December 2004.
Continue reading ‘Commercial Human Spaceflight Industry Lightly Regulated’

Prizes, Technology and Safety

Charles A. Lindbergh (Credit: Library of Congress)

Charles A. Lindbergh (Credit: Library of Congress)

Part 3 of 6

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

At 10:22 p.m. on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh brought the Spirit of St. Louis to a safe landing at Le Bourget Aerodrome in Paris. He had just completed the first non-stop New York to Paris airplane flight, a 33.5-hour journey during which he had covered 3,600 statute miles (5,800 km). As soon as the plane stopped, Lindbergh was surrounded by thousands of people who had gathered to welcome him. The exhausted pilot had been awake for 55 hours.

Continue reading ‘Prizes, Technology and Safety’

XCOR Partners With Clothing Supplier Blåkläder

Lynx cockpit view. (Credit: XCOR)

Lynx cockpit view. (Credit: XCOR)

SVENLJUNGA, Sweden, March 10, 2016 (Blåkläder PR) — Swedish based Blåkläder, widely respected as one of the world’s best producers of quality work clothes, is accustomed to finding its customers at high altitudes and in hazardous work conditions, but the company has been limited to providing clothing for earth-bound humans. This is all set to change with the announcement of an exciting new partnership with American space travel pioneer XCOR Aerospace.

Continue reading ‘XCOR Partners With Clothing Supplier Blåkläder’

Legislative Update: Booze at Spaceport America, Fizz in Washington State

WhiteKnightTwo visited Spaceport America for the first time in three years on Wednesday. Below, you can see a full-scale model of SpaceShipTwo on the ramp. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WhiteKnightTwo visited Spaceport America for the first time in three years on Wednesday. Below, you can see a full-scale model of SpaceShipTwo on the ramp. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Visitors to Spaceport America will soon be able to imbibe under a law signed by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

With commercial spaceflights still a long way off, the cash-strapped New Mexico Spaceport Authority requested a liquor license to expand the number and types of non-aerospace events it can host there.

Meanwhile, two measures aimed at encouraging space development in Washington State have fizzled in the Legislature as elected officials grappled with more urgent priorities. Neither one is expected to make it out of committee during the present legislative session.

One bill would create a space exploration center. The other would have provided tax incentives to spacecraft manufacturers similar to the ones enjoyed by aircraft producer Boeing.

The latter bill is considered crucial to Blue Origin, which has a production facility located in Kent, Wash. The company is in the process of deciding whether to manufacture its new BE-4 engine in Washington or at a facility under development in Florida.

Bezos Opens Up Blue Origin Factory for First TIme


Blue_Origin_EmblemOn Wednesday, Jeff Bezos gave a tour of the Blue Origin factory in Kent, Wash., to a select group of 11 journalists. It was the first time the company had opened up its factory to the media.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • There will be a fourth test of the New Shepard suborbital rocket and capsule system soon;
  • Bezos said there will be an opportunity to witness a New Shepard flight later this year at the company’s test facility in Texas;
  • The New Shepard system flown in November was refurbished for a cost  “in the small tens of thousands of dollars” and re-launched in January;
  • Bezos says the company plans to rely the system until they lose it in an accident;
  • New Shepard will begin flying scientific payloads later this year;
  • The automated vehicle could begin flying test subjects in 2017, with space tourism flights to follow as soon as 2018;
  • An in-flight abort test is planned during which the New Shepard capsule will blast free from the launch vehicle at maximum dynamic pressure;
  • Six passengers will sit in recline seats, each facing a 3-foot tall large window to give them a view of space and Earth;
  • Passengers would be able to unstrap themselves to float around the capsule;
  • Bezos said the company will be thorough in testing New Shepard before placing anyone on board;
  • Blue Origin could eventually end up flying a small fleet of New Shepard vehicles dozens of times annually;
  • Bezos did not reveal pricing, but said thousands of people have registered interest in flying;
  • Blue Origin hopes to test its BE-4 engine by the end of this year;
  • The BE-4 engine will be used in United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, which is set to make its first flight in 2019;
  • Blue Origin also plans to use the BE-4 in its own launch vehicle, which is nicknamed “Very Big Brother”, beginning in 2020;
  • Bezos plans to reveal more details about the company’s rocket later this year;
  • The BE-4 engine will have 550,000 pounds of thrust, which is five times greater than the BE-3 motor used on New Shepard;
  • The BE-4 engine is being designed for a minimum of 25 uses;
  • The company has been quiet to avoid over promising and under delivering (“Space is really easy to overhype,” Bezos said);
  • The company’s logo features the motto Gradatim ferociter, which is Latin for “step by step, ferociously”, two tortoises representing the victory of the tortoise over the hare, and an hourglass symbolizing human mortality;
  • Blue Origin has 600 employees, with plans to grow to 1,000 within the next year;
  • Bezos has invested much more than 500 million in Blue Origin since he founded the company in 2000;
  • The Amazon.com founder’s goal is to spread humanity out into the solar system, making use of its vast resources and moving most heavy industry out into space;
  • Bezos says he is interested in Mars, but he believes the planet is a forbidding place that makes Antarctica looks temperate by comparison.


Jeff Bezos lifts curtain on Blue Origin rocket factory, lays out grand plan for space travel that spans hundreds of years

Jeff Bezos pulls back the curtain on his plans for space

Behind the curtain: Ars goes inside Blue Origin’s secretive rocket factory

Jeff Bezos Lifts Veil on His Rocket Company, Blue Origin

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.

Continue reading ‘Early Aviation & the Safety of Space Tourism’

New Russian Suborbital Tourism Plan Looks Oddly Familiar

Suborbital tourism vehicle with flight plan. (Credit: CosmoCourse)

Suborbital tourism vehicle with flight plan. (Credit: CosmoCourse)

A new Russian company called CosmoCourse is planning to launch suborbital space tourism in four years using a plan that looks a lot like what Blue Origin’s New Shepard system. The specifics are:

  • Technology: fully reusable launch vehicle and spacecraft
  • Crew: 6 tourists + instructor
  • Ticket price: $200,000 to $250,000
  • Altitudes: 180 to 220 km
  • Cabin volume: 30 m 3
  • Weightless time: 5 to 6 minutes
  • Flight time: 15 minutes
  • First flight: 2020
  • Launch Site: Kapustin Yar

CosmoCourse is a company of Sk0lkovo, a high-tech business incubator located outside of Moscow that was created as Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley.