Monday, March 31, 2008

SpaceX Conducts Three-Engine Test

And on to the next piece in the recent onslaught of news!

SpaceX announced just last week that they have successfully conducted their first rocket burn using three engines. This is a critical step in the development and construction of their Falcon 9 rocket, which will use nine of their Merlin 1C engines.

While they were burning, the engines generated over 270,000 pounds of force, and consumed 1,050 lbs of fuel per second. The next step for them is to test the system with five engines, and then the full nine. The Merlin 1C engines have power similar to the Saturn V engines. Except there will be nine of them.

These tests will likely start coming fast and furious, as the first Falcon 9 is set to be delivered by the end of the year, so I'll keep you updated.

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New WhiteKnightTwo Photos, VG Profits

Virgin Galactic, not to be outdone by the space tourism news that other companies have been releasing this past week, have just released a bunch of new photos of the first SpaceShipTwo! The pictures clearly show the progress of the Enterprise's assembly, and with any luck this will be the first dedicated tourist spacecraft. Take a look yourself!

Edit: This is WhiteKnightTwo, named Eve, and not SpaceShipTwo as I had originally made a fool of myself by assuming.

Also in the news was an interesting little tidbit about Virgin Galactic: they actually reported a slight profit in a recently released financial statement. This is no doubt partially due to the SpaceShipTwo ticket deposits that I mentioned in the last post.

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Friday, March 28, 2008

Space Tourism Viability

Let me take a break from all this new space tourism news for a moment, and voice some thoughts on the viability of the space tourism industry.

While researching some of this week's space tourism news, I ran into this article from Of particular interest to me is a sentence near the bottom where they talk about Virgin Galactic:

"Tai said Virgin Galactic has collected $31 million in deposits from future suborbital space travelers."

$31 million? Think about that; that's incredible! Virgin Galactic is accepting deposits for spaceflight tickets anywhere from $20,000 to the full price of $200,000. That means at least 155 people (and likely well over 300) have already committed tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchasing a flight aboard a spacecraft that has yet to be completed and has never been flown. That's impressive! Can you imagine the onslaught of additional people who will commit to a flight once the first test flights occur? Or once the first actual tourist flights occur? As long as no major disasters happen, my feeling is that the space tourism market is going to be bulging with people clamoring for a flight.

But I'm an optimist like that.

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

XCOR Aerospace Announces a New Spacecraft

Second among the juicy tidbits of space tourism news this week was the significant announcement by XCOR Aerospace of the Lynx spacecraft.

XCOR is a rocket engine development company based in the Mojave Airport. It was founded in September of 1999 by former members of the Rotary Rocket rocket engine development team, and they have long had aspirations of creating a commercial spacecraft. Their accomplishments have included their 5M15 Methane Rocket Engine, which was one the Time Inventions of the Year in 2007. One of the concepts behind the methane rocket engine relies on the fact that methane is abundant in space. In theory, a spacecraft powered by these engines could refuel en-route while on long distance voyages. Rocket engines like these may be used in some fashion for Nasa's next generation Crew Exploration Vehicle.

But back to today's news. The announcement of the Lynx is a great step toward the developement of a tourist spacecraft.

Wait, didn't I say it is a spacecraft?

Well, XCOR is calling it a "spaceship", but technically, it isn't a spacecraft. XCOR is very careful to say that it will take passengers to the edge of space, but in truth, it will only carry passengers a little higher than 60km, where the US gives astronaut wings to anyone reaching 80km, and Europe's standard is 100km. So, you may ask, if it won't take you to space, what will it do?

The Lynx is a small spacecraft with only a rocket engine; it will launch that rocket from the ground. It will use this engine to take one pilot and one passenger up past 60km a few times per day. It won't be space, but the sky will turn black and passengers will get a few minutes of weightlessness, and that will likely be good enough for some.

Once the Lynx is constructed, it will undergo more than 50 test flights before tourist flights begin, and that is expected to happen in 2010. Also of interest is the price; flights are expected to cost around $100,000, which could attract those not interested in spending twice as much just to say that they've technically been in space.

Personally, however, I'm holding out for true space flight. I want my astronaut wings, damn it!

Just sayin'.

Oh yeah, and here's some pictures (credit XCOR):

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rocketplane Acquires a New Test Pilot

Wow, what a week for space tourism!

And what a week to not have time to write about it!

Seriously, folks, I feel kind of pinned down here! This week has been a treasure-trove of news about space tourism, but at the same time, I have a new roommate moving in, I'm in the beginning stages of starting a new business, and several other changes have been occurring with my life (more on all those later), and I have had no time to write about any of this! But I intend to turn that around, one piece of news at a time. I'll start with a bit of news I learned about Sunday; Rocketplane Global has made some organizational changes, including having Paul Metz join the company as Vice President and Chief Test Pilot.

Rocketplane Global was founded in 2001 in Oklahoma City, OK, and they opened their first office in May 2004. Since then, they have grown to over 60 people, mainly designing the planned Rocketplane XP spacecraft. If you think that's not enough people, I would remind you that SpaceShipOne was designed and built by around 120 people, so it's definitely possible.

Rocketplane's immediate plans are the design of the XP, but their long-term plans involve the development of a fleet of various vehicles for suborbital and orbital tourism, and also ultrafast point-to-point travel. The XP itself is expected to be a single craft design, with jet engines that allow it to take off and climb into the atmosphere, and a rocket engine to allow it to climb into space.

Rocketplane is also in development of Spaceport Oklahoma, located near the town of Clinton. Spaceport Oklahoma, located on the Clinton-Sherman air force base, includes the third longest runway in North America and serves as an alternate landing site for the space shuttle.

Paul Metz, before becoming Rocketplane's test pilot, was a test pilot for Lockheed Martin, and earlier in his career, he was a US Air Force fighter pilot.

Beyond these items, information about the company's progress in developing of their space program is sparse, but it appears to be active and advancing, so I'll keep an ear out for more!

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Friday, March 21, 2008

On My Own

Well, I believe we are way overdue for more of my reflections on how I got to where I am, so I think I'll bore you just a little more.

When we left off, my roommate was moving out! I finally had a job, though at the time it was a temp job, and I wasn't making enough to pay rent on my own. I needed a new roommate, or I'd have to move out too.

I had at least three friends who were still living with their parents, so I went to them first. One was making payments on his car and didn't want to make rent payments as well, so that was a no-go. The other two didn't want to move out either, but didn't care to explain why. I'm sure they had their reasons, and I don't fault them for that. For the record though, two of those three still live with their parents to this day. Anyway, with my acquaintances exhausted, I was forced to resort to (duh duh duh) Craigslist. Actually, I had had good experiences with Craigslist before. I don't think I've mentioned it, but I actually found my job on that site, so I was willing to give it a try for a roommate too. Several people called me saying they were interested (it was actually good timing; this was a month or two before classes started at the nearby university). I eventually settled on a guy who was moving in to town from Chicago, and already had a job in the area.

Rule 4: Stay Vigilant.

My fourth rule for getting into space stems from my experience with this guy. Looking back, yeah I was naive, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt when they run into tough times. To cut a long, depressing story short, he disappeared without a trace five months after he moved in. He had only paid rent once, he used my social security number to open a credit card to which he charged $500, He stole a collection of rare items that I had been working on for ten years and that was worth at least another $500, and he left his room in shambles. Two weeks after he disappeared, my friends and I decided he probably wasn't coming back, and we went into his room to clean it out. A glance inside is all it took for us to realize that we needed to go buy some thick rubber gloves and one of those long trash-grabber things. A few minutes inside was all it took for us to realize we needed to call the police.

Here is an abridged list of items that we found inside his room: at least twenty drug needles, two social security cards (neither of which were his), criminal conviction paperwork from at least two states, a stained blanket that my mother had given me (that alone was worse than the drug needles), an autographed copy of Lies and the Lying Liars that Tell Them by Al Franken that my brother had given me (throughly stained with something red), a stack of my bank statements, various other ruined posessions of mine, various other drug paraphernalia, at least a hundred used Q-Tips scattered on the floor, at least five sets of womens' clothing (most of them stained), and the list goes on.

Yeah. It was bad. And it was really sad too; the guy was a damn good cook. He could have opened his own restaurant based purely on his handiwork with pasta and his social skills. Looking back on it, I saw the warning signs, and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I should have kicked him out at least two months prior. So remember Rule 4: always be vigilant! You don't have to be an ass; just pay attention to warning signs and investigate. If I had done the slightest bit of digging when I saw those warning signs, I would likely have uncovered all of this and saved myself a boatload of trouble. But it could have been a whole lot worse for me if he had been out to do more than just finance his drug habits.

So I'm going to skip about a year here. My parents bailed me out of my rent issues caused by that incident, and I never had any more trouble with that, because I soon got hired on at my work and got a big raise. I used some of that raise to (finally) start my space tourism savings, and my retirement savings. I convinced one of my friends to move out of his parents' and move in with me, but we weren't really compatible as roommates so he moved out a few months later.

I started the hunt for a new roommate a third time, but then I realized that that huge raise had left me with a ton of extra money that I wasn't using. I was sticking a lot of it in my space tourism savings, but I thought to myself, why can't I ditch the apartment altogether and find myself a house?

So the next (and final) installment of my personal story will detail the Quest for the House! I'm sure you're looking forward to that.

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Space Adventures acquires Zero Gravity

Sorry I haven't posted in a few days. I just got a new roommate, and I have a few other changes going on, so posting may be spotty for a few more days. Anywho, on to the news of the day!

Space Adventures Ltd. announced today that they have acquired Zero Gravity Corporation. Zero Gravity is the U.S. company that provides weightless parabolic flights to the general public at the cost of a few thousand dollars. This isn't altogether a huge shift, since Space Adventures already had a sizable stake in Zero Gravity, and the two companies share a co-founder, Peter Diamandis. Basically, this helps fill out Space Adventures' portfolio of, well, space adventures. Space Adventures Ltd, in case you are unaware, is the company that facilitates tourist trips to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz craft.

I've been tempted over the years to save some money and blow it on one of these weightless parabolic flights. So tempted. Stephen Hawking did this recently. But, as you are probably aware by now, I'm holding out for the real deal.

That's all for now!

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Monday, March 17, 2008

EADS Releases Space Plane Project Details

The Chief Technical Officer of EADS, Robert Laine, was recently interviewed by the BBC concerning EADS Astrium's space tourism plans, and he actually went into quite a bit of detail about how the project is going to work.

EADS is a large European aerospace company that resulted from the 2000 merging of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG of Germany, Aerospatiale Matra of France, and CASA of Spain. They are responsible for creating everything from Airbus aircraft to military helicopters. The EADS Astrium division was created to encompass the space portion of EADS' Aerospace goals, and today, they have 12,000 employees in five European countries.

EADS Astrium is split into three principal roles. Astrium Services sells services that require complex or multiple-satelite setups, such as communications or navigation. Astrium Satellites designs and manufactures satellites, and Astrium Space Transportation supports manned space activities, and researches and develops space vehicles. Astrium Space Transportation has been responsible for such systems as the Columbus module, currently part of the International Space Station, and the European Space Agency's automated transfer vehicle, now in a parking orbit near the International Space Station, waiting for the space shuttle to leave so that it can dock.

Astrium Space Transportation is now in development of a space plane, intended to be used for tourism purposes. In his interview with the BBC, Robert Laine provided several new details concerning the program.

The expected cost of a trip on one of these space planes is €200,000. Astrium's studies of the potential space tourism market suggest that as many as 15,000 people would be willing to shell out this kind of cash every year for a ride on one of its planes. To facilitate that, Astrium plans to manufacture 10 space planes per year once they are in full production. Also, it was revealed that Astrium has no intention to provide the tourist flights itself; it will just sell the planes to others who will.

The plane will operate by using conventional jet engines to fly 12 km into the atmosphere, where it will ignite its rocket. The plane's liquid oxygen-methane rocket engine has been successfully tested for thirty-one seconds at a stretch, and the form of the plane itself has successfully passed initial wind tunnel tests. The plane will be able to carry five people into space (four tourists and one pilot), and the trip will take about an hour and a half.

And here are some pictures! The The first is credited to EADS, and the second to Marc Newson, the designer of the interior. Enjoy!

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Thursday, March 13, 2008

SpaceShipTwo May Fly by the End of 2008

Sir Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin Galactic, suggested this week on the Indian television network NDTV that the first SpaceShipTwo craft (the VSS Enterprise) will be ready for flight tests by the end of the year. And that isn't the only thing he mentioned. He also suggested that the flight testing will take about nine months, after which he hopes that he and his family will be on the first flight. Notably, he said that he won't put the family on the spacecraft until he is sure that is safe, perhaps in an attempt to reassure others that if they want to go up on SpaceShipTwo, they will come back down! You can read a mediocre translation of the interview here. The interview was mostly about India's economy and the Virgin group's plans for expansion in Indian markets, but on space tourism, Branson mentions these and a few other things that are too poorly translated in this transcript to understand. I prefer not to speculate on those, so I recommend reading it for yourself.

This is exciting stuff, though! Before the year is out, we may very well see the Enterprise launched toward space for the first time! And I imagine before then, we'll see Eve (the first WhiteKnightTwo) perform various flight tests. It's shaping up to be a very exciting year!

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Few More Space Tourism Companies

Well, I've done it again! In the process of researching for these posts, I've run across a few more potential space tourism companies that I neglected in my previous lists. So here are three more!

SpaceDev has the stated goal of building a private affordable space program, and they're doing it incrementally by working on designing and constructing various systems and satellites for use in space. They were founded in 1997 by Jim Benson, and started by creating thermal actuator technologies. It has since specialized in (among other things) the design and construction of very small satellites, and it is credited with the design and construction of SpaceShipOne's rocket engine. SpaceDev is currently designing the Dream Chaser spacecraft, which may be used by the Benson Space company for orbital tourist flights. For the record, I have been aware of this company for a long time, but I didn't include them among my space tourism company lists until now because I was not aware that they are the people who are designing the Dream Chaser.

SPACEHAB was founded in 1984, and has specialized since then in many spaceflight-related services. Notably, they have designed and constructed pressurized and non-pressurized cargo containers that have flown on nineteen shuttle missions. They have also provided services that facilitated the launch of over 200 commercial satellites, and they provide many other services and technologies to NASA and other government organizations. They are currently designing a module for the International Space Station, named (of course) Enterprise, with plans of potentially selling its use to miscellaneous interests. These are expected to be mainly scientific interests, but this could potentially open up the International Space Station for more tourism. Yeah, I know, it's a really slim possibility, but it gives me an excuse to fill out the list with one more company.

t/Space (or Transformational Space) was founded specifically to facilitate NASA's needs concerning the President's Vision in Space Exploration. Already, they have competed and become finalists in NASA's COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) program to determine who will provide International Space Station transportation services when the space shuttle is retired. Also, they were one of eight winners in NASA's "Concept Exploration and Refinement" competition to advise them on the best method of getting back to the moon and going on to Mars. They are currently in the process of designing a "Crew Transfer Vehicle" (CXV) to get people to low earth orbit, and potentially the International Space Station. Also, the t/Space website states that the CXV will aid in "opening the public to space for the first time" which suggests space tourism uses.

By my count, those three additions bring the list up to a whopping 31 companies that will potentially be involved in facilitating space tourism! I'm having trouble finding any more though, so maybe I've found most of them? Maybe?

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Tribute

In my life, I have have worked at three companies, held five jobs, and had nine bosses. I have been lucky, not only to have had these jobs, not only to have had the opportunity to work with good people, but to have had 8 of my 9 bosses be absolutely spectacular.

In my three summers at the factory, I had four bosses. One in particular was really great. Things were tight financially for everyone at that factory, but she always found the means to bring us a couple of pizzas every once in a while. She always resolved disputes in a fair manner, and was nothing but kind to everyone.

At the university, I had three bosses simultaneously, and later on, one person who wasn't technically my boss (we didn't even work in the same department), but she was in charge of telling me what to do all the time. All four of them were just spectacular. Even when there was something difficult to bring up, it was handled with humor and understanding. For example, the tardy policy was explained this way: "The first time you're late, we just laugh about it and joke around. The second time, we get a little more serious and have some big lecture about emerging patterns. There is no third time." Working there was the best. So sad that it was a student job.

Then in my current position, I've only had one boss, but he has been the best. Conditions here can be difficult. I won't go into details because of the typical non-disclosure agreement, but I'll refer you to every Dilbert comic ever created to give you the general idea of life here. However, having the boss I do has made it all worthwhile. Whenever we're lacking of anything we need, it is despite the fact that he has fought tooth and nail to get it to us. When the corporate structure was overlooking us, he has made sure we were heard. He built a great team here (he really did build this team), and has kept everything running smoothly for the two years that I have known him. When the company stopped sponsoring our team events, he paid for them out of his own pocket. The list goes on.

Last night, he passed away.

He was a really great guy, and I feel lucky to have known him. He was actually the butt of some large, unfriendly comments I made a few posts back, but I'm sure if he had seen those, he would have known that it was all in good fun; he was laid back like that. I'm really going to miss him. I don't really know what to say that would really live up to who he was; I hope I've made a dent.

Needless to say,
the beast was stunned.
Whip-crack went his whippet tail,
And the beast was done.
He asked us:
"BE you angels?"
And we said,
We are but men
Ahhh, ahhh, ahhh-ah-ah-ah-ah-ahh,
Ohhh, whoah, ah-whoah-oh!

This is not The Greatest Song in the World, No
This is just a tribute.
Couldn't remember The Greatest Song in the World, No.
This is a tribute!

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

SpaceX Signs Contract with US Department of Defense

SpaceX has just announced that they have formally signed a contract with the Department of Defense for the launch of a payload aboard a Falcon 1 rocket in June.

Woo. The government is launching a satellite. Big deal, right?

Well, actually, there are a couple of things that make this a big deal. First of all, SpaceX has not yet had a successful test flight. So if this launch succeeds, it will be the first time that one of these Falcon 1 rockets has made into orbit. Secondly (and more interestingly), the full payload will likely not be determined until two weeks prior to launch.

That's right, kids. They are planning and putting together this mission without even knowing what the payload is. To give you an idea of the significance of that, many rocket launches go gone through months of careful measurements to make sure the weight is exactly right and is distributed correctly, and integration to make sure the payload fits the rocket. However SpaceX is putting together this Falcon 1 rocket knowing only that there's going to be some "stuff" in it (though there are three known candidates for what that "stuff" will be). That's a fairly impressive timeline, and that's one of SpaceX's goals.

SpaceX has geared themselves up for ultra-low-cost launches, and one of their principal ideas is that when a customer orders a launch, that launch could potentially be performed very quickly from the time that it was requested. This is one of the steps needed to accomplish that.

Here's specifically what they're doing. The main payload will be specified by the Department of Defense. It will be one of three things: an Air Force Research Laboratory satellite bus, a satellite bus designed by SpaceDev (it's funny how the names of these potential space tourism companies constantly appear in eachothers' news stories), or two nanosatellites designed by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. According to the SpaceX Press release, the secondary payload will be "a rideshare adapter experiment for ATSB of Malaysia ... and two CubeSat payloads." I'll probably talk a lot more on this launch as it approaches, and I'll be sure to post more details on the secondary payload at that time. For now, though, I'll have to leave it at that. I just... uh... haven't gotten much sleep lately due to daylight savings time and some other stuff going on. Yeah, that's my excuse.

But this is all very good for the space tourism industry! Not only is this because of the fact that SpaceX could potentially take tourists into orbit someday, but because any space tourism payload will vary in weight just like this Falcon 1 payload. The technology to launch a rocket with minimal alterations, whether it holds 6 children or 6 pie-eating champions, will be necessary in a space tourism setting. While SpaceX's June launch may not be directly related to space tourism, I call it one step closer to the goal.

By the way, have I gone on a rant about daylight savings time yet? No? Well, you can look forward to that in the near future.

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Monday, March 10, 2008

Another Bump Toward my Goal!

Well, my regular monthly contribution toward my space tourism savings went in today! Based on Virgin Galactic's expected suborbital offering, that puts me up to 3.89%, or a hair's width from six minutes' flight time!

I think I'll take the opportunity to talk a little bit about saving money. I understand that different people work a little differently, but for me, I find that the easiest way to save money is to have some put away automatically, so that I never see it. That way, I'm not tempted to use it. So every month, I have a certain amount automatically deducted from my bank account and put in a separate place. And the amount I'm saving each month really isn't enough; at this rate, it will take me over 50 years to save what I need, assuming I only put this same amount away every month. I fully intend to increase the monthly amount when I have the ability (and I have a couple other things going for me that I'll talk about later), but my point is this: I'm saving. And that's rule 3 for getting into space:

Rule 3: Save a little money each month.

That's it. No big secret here. Do it every week if you like, or every other month, but keep saving! Those little bits add up, and with them, you'll be a lot closer to your goal, whatever that may be!

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

Friday, March 7, 2008

Masten Space Tests New Igniter Design

Masten Space has created a few interesting bits of news in the past months, including the complete destruction of their first prototype XA 0.1 engine in December. You can find a great picture of the destruction on their website. This piece of news is relatively minor, but it gives me an excuse to do a profile on the company.

Masten Space is based in Mojave, California, and is currently in the design and construction phases of the first of their many planned spacecraft, the XA 1.0. The various design phases are named 0.1, 0.2, etc., much like designations of early software releases. Their plans are as follows:

XA 1.0, 1.5, 2.0
Suborbital reusable vertical takeoff and landing spacecraft of increasing capacities. Launching items on one of these rockets is expected to cost about $300/kg, and it is anticipated that a single one of these rockets will be able to be launched several times per day. The XA 2.0 would be capable of carrying approximately five people, and is therefore the first of their craft that can service the space tourism market.

B 1.0, 2.0
These will be booster units based on XA 2.0 technology, capable of acting as a first stage for a larger payload, and then land once more so that it can be reused.

O 1.0, 2.0
These will be orbital spacecraft. Specifically, they will be the second stage of a B/O combination craft. These will also be able to re-enter the atmosphere and land so that they can be reused.

XL 1.0, 2.0
At this point in Masten Space's plans, vertical takeoff and landing technology will be mature enough so that it can me used on other worlds. XL stands for eXtraterrestrial Landers, and these will be used in places like the Moon and Mars.

The xT vehicles will be pure extraorbital transfer vehicles based on the O 1.0 and 2.0 technologies.

Payload slots on their first successful spacecraft are already available for purchase, starting at $99 for a 350g payload, all the way up to $1250 for a 5 kg payload.

After the destruction of XA 0.1 last month, Masten has decided to scrap plans for further 0.1 development and to start building XA 0.2! Masten gives out a lot of details of current development process on their website, so I encourage you to read it! As for their current news, they have completed the design of a new igniter with a liquid oxygen tank for the XA 0.2. I have no idea what that means, so if you're interested, you can read up on it in their news section. Also, they're hiring two new interns! So if you're qualified to become a rocket-scientist-in-training, you might want to check them out.

Progress: 3.74%  Flight Time: 0:05:36

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tax return bumps me above five minutes!

Well, my tax return arrived, and I promptly stuck over half of it into my 'trip to space' pot; that's by far my single largest contribution to date! Now granted, it's stuff I had taken out temporarily in December to handle some expenses, but I'm excited anyway. Based on Virgin Galactic's expected suborbital offering, I've now saved up for over five minutes of a flight on SpaceShipTwo!

Of the other half of the tax return, some of it went to fixing up things around the house. The rest went straight into my solar panel savings.

Wait, I haven't mentioned that yet, have I?

Yes, I've kind of been on an environmental kick lately, and I'm trying to save up for a solar array for my roof! I've already bought a couple of solar panels, and I use those to recharge all of the rechargeable batteries that I bought for all of my battery-powered gizmos. My goal is to have saved enough by the summer of 2009 to put a full scale array on my roof and power my whole house. Yeah, it cuts a little into my space tourism savings, but it's for the best. Besides, with the country's population growing with no sign of tapering off, energy prices have nowhere to go but up. If I save enough, maybe I can get a big enough array to start selling some of my own power, and that will only help my space tourism savings over the long term. In your face, Halliburton!


Actually, while on the subject of politics, I think I'll write about a moral quandary that I recently resolved. The government wants to hand out these $600 checks to everyone to "help fix the economy". Now, I know that a lot of people could really use the money, and I don't mean to slight them; they deserve it. However, most economists say that the checks will do little to stimulate the economy, and it seems like more of a political gesture than something that will actually help. In the meantime, these checks are going to increase are already bloated national debt. Did you know that this country is now over nine trillion dollars in debt?

That's Trilion. With a T.

To put that in perspective, each citizen's share of that debt is over $30,000. That's you, me, guys in retirement homes, newborn babies, everybody. That's right; our babies are born $30,000 in debt. That's sad.

To give you an even better idea of the gravity of the situation (har har), 9 trillion is about the average distance from the Earth to Mars. In inches. Yes, that's inches, from here to Mars. That's how much national debt we have. And we're about to increase it by spending a bunch of money to (essentially) make people feel better about the government without creating any significant improvement.

So here's my quandary: If George W. Bush came up to me, gave me $600, and told me that this was to fix the economy, I believe I would be morally obligated (based on the above statements) to throw it in his face and tell him to shove off. And that's if I was feeling exceptionally, unusually polite. But since it's coming in a check in the mail, how could I possibly accept it and look myself in the mirror the next morning?

Well, I pondered this for a week or two, until I realized, hey, I can drop the entire amount into my solar panel savings. They're giving the money to us in the hopes that we will spend it. So by doing this, I will both go against their wishes by saving it, and stick it to Bush and his big oil buddies by saving it toward solar power for my house.

And that, my friends, is poetic justice.

Progress: 3.74%  Flight Time: 0:05:36

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bigelow Aerospace

There are a few companies out there that are taking on the goal of creating space habitats for tourism purposes, but none of them are as promising as Bigelow Aerospace.

Bigelow Aerospace was founded in 1999 by Robert Bigelow. The company purchased rights from NASA to technologies that had been researched for NASA's canceled Translab program. The particular technologies they were interested in were designs for inflatable space station modules. Bigelow Aerospace took these designs and ran with them, quickly beginning design and production of prototype modules based on the technology.

Inflatable technology has several advantages. The modules are launched in a compressed state, allowing for a launch vehicle's typically volume-limited design. After the vehicle reaches orbit and the module has separated, it is inflated with breathable air, creating a much larger orbital habitat. The use of a flexible outer shell also makes the module much lighter then conventional metal habitation modules.

Concern has been raised about the prospect of meteorite impacts potentially puncturing the modules' walls and causing them to deflate. However, those concerns have been at least somewhat discouraged by the fact that the modules' walls are made of several layers of vectran, a material twice as tough as kevlar. If you shot the walls, you would have to dodge the ricochet. Also, a meteor impacting a flexible surface that was tough enough would theoretically bounce off where it might damage a rigid surface, due to the fact that the energy would largely be transferred back to the meteor.

On July 12, 2006, Bigelow Aerospace successfully launched the Genisis I, a 3000 lb, 15 foot prototype module. After achieving orbit, it successfully inflated and deployed its solar panels, and it orbits the Earth to this day. Bigelow hopes to keep it operating for at least another three years. Just a year later, on June 28, 2007, Bigelow launched Genisis II, their second prototype. Genisis II is similar to Genisis I, except that it contains twice as many cameras and a more complex array of sensors and other devices. Also, Genisis II contains an array of random items sent in by interested members of the public for Bigelow's "Fly Your Stuff" program.

Initially, Bigelow had plans to launch a larger prototype craft called the Galaxy, but the success of Genisis was so great, and launch costs are increasing so much, that they canceled the Galaxy program and are skipping to their full-size, human-habitable Sundancer prototype, to launch between 2010 and 2012. The speculation is that the Sundancer will be launched on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but this hasn't been confirmed. If the launch and deployment of the Sundancer is successful, crew may be transported to it to further test its capabilities. Following that will be the launch of the first BA 330 (the first full-scale, production module) from 2012-2014.

And after that, a space hotel becomes a significant possibility. And remains an awesome possibility.

Progress: 3.24%  Flight Time: 0:04:51

Monday, March 3, 2008

SpaceX Releases Mission Manifest

Well, it seems as if SpaceX has really been busy of late, and is ramping up for full-scale operations. They just released their revised mission manifest for launches from this spring all the way to 2011. There is some pretty interesting stuff here! It goes something like this:

CustomerLaunch Date  Launch Vehicle  Launch Site
US Government & ATSBQ2 2008Falcon 1Kwajalein
ATSB (Malaysia)Q3 2008Falcon 1Kwajalein
US GovernmentQ4 2008Falcon 9Cape Canaveral
MDA Corp. (Canada)2009Falcon 9Cape Canaveral
Avanti Communications (UK)2009Falcon 9Cape Canaveral
NASA COTS - Demo 12009Falcon 9Cape Canaveral
NASA COTS - Demo 22009Falcon 9Cape Canaveral
SpaceDev2009Falcon 1Kwajalein
NASA COTS - Demo 32010Falcon 9Cape Canaveral
MDA Corp. (Canada)2010Falcon 1Kwajalein
Swedish Space Corp. (Sweden)  2010Falcon 1Kwajalein
Bigelow Aerospace2011Falcon 9Cape Canaveral

Some of these are simply communications satellite launches. However, the items 5, 6, and 8 that say NASA COTS are of some interest. These are demonstration launches of SpaceX's pressurized Dragon capsule. The NASA COTS program (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) has been set up to finance demonstration flights by several commercial space launch companies to see who might best be able to provide cargo and crew transportation for the international space station after the space shuttle retires, but before the Ares/Orion vehicle project is completed. These three launches will demonstrate the capabilities of the Dragon capsule for NASA, in the hopes that it will be chosen to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. These will also serve as the Dragon's only currently planned test flights (SpaceX is all about the saving of the moneys).

The second interesting item is launch 7. This launch is being performed for SpaceDev, the company that designed SpaceShipOne's rocket, and is a former competitor in the COTS program. The goal of this launch is to put a number of very small satellites in orbit (called micro- and nanosatelites) developed by SpaceDev and others to advance the technologies behind mini floaters of doom. Or something.

The last, but most interesting item is the last on the list, the launch for Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow Aerospace is a company that is developing very exciting space habitat technologies based on an inflatable design originally developed by NASA. The payload on this launch will likely be Bigelow's Sundancer prototype craft, the third of Bigelow's flight prototypes, though this has not been confirmed. If successful, this launch will almost certainly lead to more interesting space tourism potential.

It looks like SpaceX is going to attempt its first satellite launch this spring without having made a successful test flight, so one way or another, this will be an exciting year for the company! I posted in greater detail about SpaceX just last week here, I will post in greater detail about Bigelow Aerospace in the next few days, and a full profile of SpaceDev is on my to-do list later down the road.

Progress: 3.24% Flight Time: 0:04:51