While Boeing and SpaceX move toward flying astronauts to the International Space Station this year, there are two other companies working on restoring the ability to launch people into space from U.S. soil.
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic aren’t attempting anything as ambitious as orbital flight. Their aim is to fly short suborbital hops that will give tourists and scientists several minutes of microgravity to float around and conduct experiments in.
With Richard Branson once again predicting that Virgin Galactic will fly SpaeShipTwo into space before the end of the year, it seems like a good time to take a look at the history of suborbital spaceflight.
The number of manned suborbital flights varies depending upon the definition you use. The internationally recognized boundary is 100 km (62.1 miles), which is also known as the Karman line. The U.S. Air Force awarded astronaut wings to any pilot who exceeded 80.5 km (50 miles).
For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.
That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.
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.
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.
At least that’s what it looked like from our vantage point at Jawbone Station on that fateful Halloween morning ten months ago. And that’s what it looked like in Ken Brown’s photos. Ken had been standing next to me, training his telephoto lens on the small spacecraft nine miles overhead.
Republican Steve Knight was sworn into Congress today as the new House representative for California’s 25th District, replacing retiring Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon.
Knight, who had been a supporter of the space industry while serving in the California State Senate, has been appointed to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, whose responsibilities include NASA, FAA and other agencies.
He is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Small Business Committee.
Virgin Galactic Announced Virgin Galactic Press Release Sept. 27, 2004
Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan made their announcement to the world’s media that Virgin Galactic was now in a position to commence a programme of work that would result in the world’s first affordable space tourist flights in 2 to 3 years time.
If there was a prize for the most isolated memorial to an America astronaut, the one for Maj. Michael J. Adams would win by a wide margin.
From Mojave, it’s a drive of nearly 50 miles through the sagebrush and Joshua trees, around dry Koehn Lake, and through the old mining towns of Randsburg and Johannesburg before you reach the unmarked dirt road leading to the site. A half mile of bad road later, you arrive at the modest but heartfelt memorial to one of America’s forgotten space heroes.
Video Caption: British billionaire [Richard] Branson talks with his typical smile and ultimate optimism. But his body language tells a different story.
Seen at second Dubai Government Summit 2014, February 10.
Editor’s Note: Another sort of firm prediction from the Virgin Galactic founder, delivered in a not very reassuring manner. Branson has been flawless in making inaccurate predictions so far. At some point, he has to be right, but has that time finally arrived?
Maybe. And it depends.
Confused? No problem. I’ll explain. Let’s first look at where things stand here in mid-February to see if this latest schedule makes any sense.
Video Caption: We follow certain entrepreneurs, public officials, and private citizens that are actively shaping a new kind of space race, and in the process, redefining what it means to explore the cosmos. This pilot episode of the new monthly web series Private Space, features an interview with California State Sen. Steve Knight, the lead author of California’s Space Flight Liability and Immunity Act.
The exclusive, multi-platform partnership that Virgin Galactic has forged with NBCUniversal has begun to bear fruit over the past two months. The media giant has signed on to chronicle Sir Richard Branson’s flight aboard SpaceShipTwo and all the events leading up to it.
In November, Sir Richard Branson phoned into CNBC from his Necker Island retreat in the Caribbean to announce that Virgin Galactic would begin accepting the virtual currency Bitcoin for SpaceShipTwo reservations.
A month later, NBC News got into the act, with Science Editor Alan Boyle and a film crew trekking out to Mojave for a powered flight of SpaceShipTwo. They went away disappointed when the test was scrubbed due to a rare patch of bad weather in the High Desert.
Neil Armstrong passed away yesterday at 82. The tributes have been pouring in since the sad news broke. My own encounter with him was brief, but I feel it’s worth sharing.
The only time I saw Neil in person was in February at the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Palo Alto. His appearance there was a surprise. Neil was a very private person who rarely appeared in public. But, there he was, having postponed a European trip to talk about scientific research that he and other pilots had done while flying the X-15 in the 1960’s.
I remember how honored we all felt to be in his presence. Everyone knows Neil as the first man who walked on the moon. But, the X-15 research was another one of his legacies to the world, one that very few people know about. Neil talked about it with evident pride to a new generation of researchers that is taking up where he left off.
It was just a thrill to have him there. I recall that we gave Neil a standing ovation when his talk was over. It is one that the world is repeating this weekend.
Well done, Mr. Armstrong. Rest in peace. And Godspeed.