Archive for May, 2010

Virgin Galactic Selects Its First CEO

Spaceship Two. Photo Credit: Mark Greenberg

George Whitesides has been selected as the first CEO of Virgin Galactic. Whitesides returns to the private sector after holding the position of Chief of Staff at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Prior to becoming Chief of Staff, he served on the NASA transition team for the Obama administration.

In reference to his new position, Whitesides remarked, “I am honored to be given the opportunity to lead this historic business which will open the experience of space travel to people around the world. There is much to achieve at Virgin Galactic over the coming years as the company moves from the extensive test flying program and FAA licensing process into commercial operation of frequent spaceflights from our new home at Spaceport America in New Mexico. There is a great team at Virgin Galactic and I’m greatly looking forward to growing the business and establishing operations at the Spaceport.”

Whitesides will move Virgin Galactic from the space flight testing phase to actual revenue generating low earth orbit (LEO) space tourism. Currently 335 would be space tourists have paid in full or made deposits for a seat onboard Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Enterprise. The company has generated $65 million in reservations. Commercial space flights are expected to begin in 2012.

Virgin Galactic Completes Second Test Flight

SpaceShipTwo completed its second captive test flight yesterday. The space craft was powered and pressurized from WhiteKnightTwo, the twin fuselage plan that carries SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude. The test flight was used to evaluate pressurization, avionics performance, electrical systems, approaches and post-flight cold soaked systems testing. The flight lasted 4.7 hours during which time SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 51,000 feet.

The first captive carry test flight took place on March 22, 2010

NASA Blasting-off Toward Hiatus

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Image Credit: NASA

Yesterday, Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted-off, heading toward the International Space Station (ISS) for what is scheduled to be the shuttle’s last flight into space. With two more shuttle launches remaining, one each by Discovery and Endeavor, I really am wondering what’s next?

Of course the Obama administration has outlined NASA’s budget and direction for the next few years, which includes preparation for eventual manned exploration of Mars, and private companies such Virgin Galactic are on the brink of making commercial space travel a reality. But, Amercian space exploration will essentially be on hiatus. For an indefinite number of years, American astronauts will hitch rides into space with Russian cosmenauts and then do the same with commercial space companies. But the images of American spaceship launches into low earth orbit will become a memory; a distant one at that.

I understand that priorities and times change for people and governments alike. But, my perspective is one stemming from memories of televisions being rolled into classrooms in the 80s, when I was in elementary school, so that children could stare in amazement as people actually rocketed into space. Before the complete proliferation of GPS units, cell phones, mp3 players, personal computers and the internet in modern day society, space shuttles were the very definition of advanced technology.

I expect that for many in my generation and the generations of my parents and grandparents, It will seem odd not see the United States at the forefront of space exploration. Regardless to the advancements that may be made by NASA in the near future, videos and photographs of rockets launched by other governments and comercial entities will have much more impact than written articles about NASA’s continued progress.

I wonder if the United States will land a manned space vehicle on a near earth object, as proposed by President Obama, or make great and notable strides toward a manned mission to Mars before the next (second) country reaches the Moon. I wonder how I will feel if the next country reaches the Moon while the United States is still…well, still trying to make great strides in space exploration. I really do wonder.

Space Tourism Gets Cheaper

Space AdventuresCan’t afford the $200,000 ticket price of a Virgin Galactic suborbital space flight? For a mere $102,000, you can enjoy up to 5 minutes of weightlessness after rocketing to a destination 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface. The ticket price includes cancelation insurance at the cost of $4000. The complete experience will include a few days training and pre-flight preparation.

Space Adventures has teamed up with Armadillo Aerospace to provide low cost suborbital space flights. The latest offering is in addition a $100 million lunar mission, orbital spaceflights, a spacewalk package, and zero gravity flights.

Armadillo Aerospace was founded in 2000 and has completed over 100 flight tests utilizing over a dozen different vehicles.