Armadillo and Space Adventures Outline Plans for Human Suborbital Flights

At ISDC today, Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson and Armadillo Aerospace’s John Carmack outlined the two companies’ collaboration on developing a suborbital vehicle to take humans and experiments into space. Jeff Foust and Donnie Lowther covered the talk via Twitter:

@DKLowther Space Adventures has paid Armadillo to start developing suborbital vehicle–ducks in a row–going to ramp things up.
@jefffoust Anderson is showing an animation now: features a cone-shaped vehicle atop four spherical propellant tanks and a central engine, VTVL.
@jefffoust Carmack: no one vehicle concept yet for suborbital, will test a variety of ideas. Armadillo focusing more on suborbital, hiring now.
@jefffoust Carmack: expect in a year to fly science payloads above 100K feet. A year after that, fly payloads above 100 km.
@jefffoust Anderson: won’t say when the first flight will be. Have customers already, including a half-dozen former astronauts.
@DKLowther In ramping things up, Armadillo expects to operate at a loss for the next 2 years.
@DKLowther Armadillo is looking to steal talented people from their competitors. Their vehicle will be remote controlled.
@jefffoust Carmack acknowledges that there’s competition, but doesn’t think Virgin can compete on price, wonders if others are fully funded.
@jefffoust Anderson chose to partner with Armadillo because they have best shot at lowering the cost of spaceflight.

Atlanta Philanthropist/Dare Devil Sets Sight on Virgin Galactic Space Tourism Flight

Atlanta Philanthropist Reaches For Stars As Citizen-Astronaut
WXIA-TV

Since his sold “Barton Protective Services” six years ago, Charles Barton Rice has spent his time and fortune on philanthropy. “My mother…my father…they were always giving” he said. “And that’s where I get it.”

His big project is to transform his hometown, Blakely, Georgia into a twenty first century tech center. That’s for the long term. For the short term he has set his sights a bit higher.

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Stewardess Eats Kitt Katt Bar, Wins Trip to Space

Air hostess picks up chocolate bar, wins space trip
Reuters

“A French air hostess will become one of Europe’s pioneer space tourists after picking a chocolate wrapper out of the rubbish and finding a winning number in a competition to fly to the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere…

“[Mathilde Epron] will receive four days of astronaut training in Oklahoma City in the United States before boarding the Rocketplane XP aircraft which will reach an altitude of 100 km (60 miles) and allow a five-minute experience of weightlessness.”

When precisely that will be is unclear; Rocketplane XP has yet to even conduct a test flight.

XCor Begins Building Airframe, Continues Rocket Tests

XCOR Begins Lynx Build
Rob Coppinger
Hyperbola Blog

Coppinger has photos of XCOR’s Lynx high-altitude tourism vehicle, now being assembled at the company’s facility in Mojave, Calif.

XCOR Rocket Engine to Continue Flight Testing
Rob Coppinger
Flight Global

XCOR Aerospace is by July to restart flight testing its XR-4K14 1,500lb-thrust (6.67kN) liquid oxygen/kerosene engine and the aircraft it propels, the Rocket Racing League’s X-Racer…The XR-4K14 is the predecessor to Xcor’s single-stage-to-suborbit Lynx vehicle’s 5K18 engine and it will have changes made to its piston driven pump’s drive gas consumption before flight testing resumes.

Virgin Galactic to Roll Out WhiteKnightTwo in July; Team to Visit Oshkosh Air Show

Virgin Galactic plans to roll out its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft in Mojave, Calif. on July 28, according to published reports. The London-based company has invited 254 would-be space tourists who have plopped down $20,000 to $200,000 for suborbital joyrides to the ceremony.

WhiteKnightTwo is expected to fly in September, Leonard David reports at Space.com. Company president Will Whitehorn tells David that Virgin has planned an “incredibly conservative” test flight program for the mother ship and SpaceShipTwo before flying passengers on suborbital tourism flights.

The roll out will be coordinated with the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008 air show in Wisconsin, which runs from July 28 to August 3.

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Branson: Tourism Flights Set for Late 2010

The Sunday Mirror quotes Richard Branson as saying that Virgin Galactic tourism flights are still about 30 months away. The British billionaire, speaking in Kenya where his company has rebuilt a school, said that he expects to begin flights in November 2010 after a rigorous test flight program for SpaceShipTwo and its White Knight carrier aircraft.

“NASA have [sic] lost three per cent of all their customers so our testing will be intense,” Branson said. “We are planning 50 test flights before we go up so we will be confident of getting it right.”

He plans to take his parents and children on the first tourism flight – but not his wife, Joan. “She’s not terribly keen on the idea of the kids coming up with me although I think she’s not too bothered about what might happen to me!” Branson joked.

Report: Russian Companies Developing 16-Person Tourism Vehicle

The Russian Interfax news agency reports that the Myasishchev Experimental Machine Building Plant will build a space tourism vehicle capable of carrying 14 passengers and two crew members on suborbital flights.

“‘The enterprise is working on documentation and a draft design and is completing the technical feasibility study for the system. A private Russian company is fully financing the project,’ the enterprise’s press service told Interfax-AVN,” the story states.

Myasishchev has a description of the program on its website. The company has not identified the financial backer of the project.

The 27-metric ton M-91 vehicle would be flown atop a Myasishchev VM-T Atlant aircraft to a high altitude. The space plane would then separate and use its on-board propulsion system to fly to an altitude of 100 kilometers, where passengers would enjoy a period of zero gravity.

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Esther Dyson Backing XCOR Tourism Vehicle

The Antelope Valley Press has an interesting piece on financier and space enthusiast Esther Dyson, who is one of the angel investors backing XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx space tourism vehicle.

“This is a very real-world company. It’s not out here making wide-eyed promises,” Dyson told the Press.

Dyson, founder of EDventure Holdings, has investments in Space Adventures, Zero-G Corporation, Constellation Services International, Airship Ventures and Icon Aircraft. She also helped to fund Flickr and del.icio.us, which were both sold to Yahoo!

Dyson is organizing the fourth annual Flight School, which will be held in Boulder Colorado, on June 6-8. The website describes the confab as “an executive workshop for entrepreneurs who want to identify and address major challenges facing start-ups in private aviation and commercial space.”

David Livingston of The Space Show recently interviewed Dyson. You can listen to the podcast here.

New Mexico Seeks Federal Support for Spaceport

New Mexico officials were in Washington last week, seeking federal support for the establishment of a new commercial spaceport in their state.

Governor Bill Richardson and Spaceport America executive director Steve Landeene made the rounds, meeting with Congressional leaders and NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. Although federal officials offered no funding, they did express support for New Mexico’s efforts, which could payoff over time.

Virgin Galactic Sells First Charter Flight, Plans to Roll Out White Knight 2 in May

Rob Coppinger has posted detailed notes of his January 24 conversation with Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough over at his Hyperbola blog on Flight Global. These notes are in addition to an article that Coppinger wrote examining the company’s business plan and SpaceShipTwo’s rising costs (now estimated at nearly $250 million).

Attenborough had some interesting things to say:

  • The company plans to roll the White Knight 2 carrier aircraft out of the factory in May;
  • Virgin gained 25 new customers in a one-month period from December to January;
  • An American has booked an entire flight as a charter (6 passengers);
  • Many of the space tourists are in their 40’s and 50’s and were inspired by the Apollo program;
  • Six customers have asked for refunds, two for health reasons and the rest due to “changing circumstances.”

Flagsuit delivers first astronaut gloves to Orbiter Outfitters

FLAGSUIT LLC PRESS RELEASE

Southwest Harbor, ME (PRWEB) March 17, 2008 — Flagsuit LLC, a new startup founded by NASA Astronaut Glove Challenge winner Peter Homer, shipped their first commercially produced space suit gloves to Los Angeles-based Orbital Outfitters last month under a joint development agreement.

The gloves are designed to be used with the Industrial Suborbital Space Suit-Crew (IS3C) which was unveiled by Orbital Outfitters in October 2007. The gloves will be used for integrated suit testing and evaluation, and feature a patent-pending joint design that makes the fingers more flexible under pressure, increasing dexterity while reducing hand fatigue.

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Space planes ‘to meet big demand’

EADS projects that up to 15,000 people annually will be willing to fork over 200,000 euros ($300,000) to fly suborbital tourism flights, BBC’s Jonathan Amos reports.

EADS’ Astrium division is now working on space vehicle to rocket tourists up to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles). The company anticipates it will need an assembly line cranking out about 10 spacecraft annually.

Astrium anticipates it be will be producing about 10 spaceplanes a year. “To satisfy the market you will need more planes than you think, because once there is regular operation, the price will decrease which means there will be more customers,” CTO Robert Laine told Amos.

New Zealand lottery winner headed for space; Boxleitner wants price to come down first

A couple of brief items on the who’s going to space front:

An anonymous Auckland man who won a $5.2 million lottery prize plans to pluck down $200,000 for a suborbital Virgin Galactic flight, the Waikato Times reports. He was on a bike ride when he stopped for a drink and bought the winning lottery ticket on a whim.

“People have always told me that you can’t win these big prizes – but now I’m the lucky bugger this week”, he told the paper. “I also want to look at travelling in real style – by booking a trip into space. It would be great to one of the first Kiwis to make that trip.”

Meanwhile, Babylon 5 star Bruce Boxleitner says the price would have to come down first before he books a Virgin flight, PR-insider reports.

“I wish they’d hurry it along and make it cheaper. I’d love to do it, but it’s like $200,000 per person,” he said. “We should get a Screen Actors Guild ride going! I have a feeling it’ll be the Scream Actors Guild.”

Boxleitner is on the Board of Directors of the National Space Society, a non-profit space advocacy group with close ties to the British tourism company. The society’s Executive Director, George Whitesides, also works for Virgin Galactic; he and his wife Loretta will honeymoon aboard one of the suborbital flights. However, this apparently isn’t helping Boxleitner get a discount.