Tag: space tourism

The Long, Sad History of Excalibur Almaz

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Excalibur Almaz's space tourism vehicle concept. (Credit: Excalibur Almaz)

Excalibur Almaz’s space tourism vehicle concept. (Credit: Excalibur Almaz)

Houston Press has a long, sad look at one of the more curious NewSpace projects, Excalibur Almaz, and the man behind it, Art Dula.

Excalbur Almaz is a company based in the Isle of Man whose goal is to refurbish a couple of Soviet-era Almaz space stations and four crew return capsule for some type of space mission. The company has gone through numerous iterations, from space tourism to commercial space station to NASA commercial crew to deep space mining facility.

So far they haven’t raised enough money for any of these ideas, although the company has generated a couple of investor lawsuits alleging fraud, one dismissed and the other still pending.

There are a couple very troubling allegations that are chronicled in the story. One is that the sales agreement between Excalbur Almaz and the Russian seller stipulated that the technology was not to be modified for space flight. This is alleged in a lawsuit filed by Japanese investor Takafumi Horie.

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SpaceShipTwo Update Video

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Readers on Lynx: It’s Dead, Jim

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Lynx_suspended_pollParabolic Arc readers are not real optimistic about the future of the Lynx, the suborbital space plane that XCOR suspended work on recently when it laid off most of the staff working on it.

Sixty-nine percent of voters believe that Lynx is as dead as a door nail despite XCOR’s pledge to revive work on the program at a future date. Only 13 percent of voters believe Lynx will fly at some point in the future.

The remaining 18 percent of voters just didn’t care, viewing suborbital space travel as being about a dozen years past its prime.

We’ve got a new poll up on the site asking whether you would like to go to Mars on one of the human missions Elon Musk is planning to launch beginning in 2024.

As I’ve said before: vote early, vote often. Just vote, dammit! Vote! And remember, no wagering.

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NSRC Day 3 Summary

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Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems' Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems’ Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference finished up today in Colorado. There were provider presentations from Masten Space Systems and Virgin Galactic. Three researchers also presented results from suborbital microgravity flights.

Below are summaries of the sessions based on Tweets.
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John Batchelor Show Appearance This Evening

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The John Batchelor Show

The John Batchelor Show

I will be on The John Batchelor Show this evening (Wednesday) from 9:30 to 945 p.m. EDT (6:30-6:45 PM PDT). I’ll be discussing XCOR’s layoffs and the company’s future with John and David Livingston of The Space Show as part of the show’s weekly Hotel Mars segment.

If you miss the show tonight, it will be archived online on The Space Show website by Friday. I will provide an update when the segment goes live.

XCOR Releases Statement About Layoffs

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Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR)

XCOR ANNOUNCES STRONGER STRATEGIC FOCUS ON LH2 PROGRAM

Midland, May 31, 2016

Following recent breakthroughs in the effort of developing safer, cost-effective, sustainable, reliable and instantly reusable rocket engines for XCOR’s Lynx and other launchers, XCOR Aerospace announced earlier today that it has decided to focus the majority of its resources on the final development of the revolutionary liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen (LH2) program. This innovative propulsion technology has applications to upper stage liquid hydrogen engines suitable for the Atlas V, Delta IV, and the planned NASA Space Launch System (SLS) and further underscores the partnership between XCOR and ULA, USA’s premier launch services provider that was announced March 9 this year.

“Based on the immediate engine opportunities presented to us, we decided we needed to fully focus on the LH2 program for the forthcoming period”, said Jay Gibson, President and CEO of XCOR Aerospace. .“Given that we remain a small-scale company, we are planning to place more emphasis on fine-tuning the hydrogen engine program to achieve an optimal closed loop system for cryogenic rocket engines. We are convinced that this effort will ensure that XCOR is better positioned to finish the Lynx Project in a more efficient, reliable and safer manner. Instantly Reusable Launch Vehicles will make the edge of space accessible for everyone and our efforts with ULA on the LH2 propulsion systems will do the same for deep space.”

XCOR will continue to keep working from both the Mojave and Midland locations.

Editor’s Note: XCOR just laid off about two dozen people. It is customary in these kinds of statements to acknowledge the cuts, express regret that they were required, and thank the departing employees for their service.

XCOR’s problem is — and has always been — funding. There wasn’t enough of it to keep the Lynx staff intact, which is why most of them were laid off.

There are enough people left with Lynx knowledge to restart the program at a future time. However, XCOR would need to raise money to do so, and then hire new engineers and get them up to speed on an unique vehicle. From that perspective, XCOR won’t really be in a better position as a result of this decision.

 

 

XCOR Layoffs Primarily Impacted Lynx Team

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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Land Rover – Virgin Galactic Promotional Video

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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

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spaceport_america_open_house6_april2016

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.

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So Exactly How Safe Will SpaceShipTwo Be?

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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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Virgin Galactic Says Bookings on SpaceShipTwo Have Recovered

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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

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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.
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