Category Archives: Companies

World View Enterprises

For those who don’t fancy being launched into space at a few thousand miles an hour, there seems to be another option in the making to experience what it will be like leaving our planet behind for a short period of time. Check out the stunning video below, from a company called World View Enterprises.

World View’s high-altitude balloon lets Voyagers gently soar for hours on end in a comfortable, smartly-outfitted, specially designed space capsule. It won’t technically make you an astronaut, but what an experience it must be. At $75,000 per “Voyager” (i.e. paying customer), flights are planned to commence in 2016. Start putting it on those birthday wish lists!

WhiteKnightTwo ready

Virgin Galactic Breaks Own Altitude Record

Now that 2014 is finally here, Virgin Galactic‘s first commercial flight with its WhiteKnightTwo / SpaceShipTwo combo edges ever so closer to reality with every day that goes past. A few days ago, they launched SpaceShipTwo 71,000ft up in the sky and tested several critical features in the process, as Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot Dave Mackay was at the helm. One of the features being tested were the newly designed thrusters (RCS) which are used by the pilots to maneuver the vehicle in space. The other feature on trial was the tail section’s new coating which reflects heat produced by that massive rocket engine sitting just behind the passenger’s cabin as it were. SS2’s unique feather re-entry system was also tested during today’s flight.

As the company was gathering a ton of transonic and supersonic data, Sir Richard Branson said the following of the successful flight (the third supersonic, rocket-powered test flight of Virgin Galactic): “I couldn’t be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights. 2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space. Today, we had our own Chief Pilot flying another flawless supersonic flight and proving the various systems required to take us safely to space, as well as providing the very best experience while we’re up there.”

For the full article, head over to the Virgin Galactic website but be sure to check out the video below. What an AMAZING way to get 2014 going!

Orbital's Antarest rocket

Orbital Sciences Corporation

Orbital Sciences Corporation (registered on the New York Stock Exchange as ORB, though commonly referred to as Orbital) is an American company which specializes in the manufacturing and launch of small- and medium-class space and rocket systems. Their client base includes the likes of the US Department of Defense and NASA. A pretty sizeable company, counting around 3800 employees of which half are engineers and scientists, Orbital was founded in 1982. The company conducted their 500th mission back in 2006 already and are currently projected to do more than a billion dollars in annual revenue.

Analysing the company very top-level, it consists of three segments. Launch Vehicles is where they develop rockets and engines of all sorts for different purposes, military and civilian. Satellite and Space Systems is where their geosynchronous Earth orbit communication satellites and other space-based communications service come from. Perhaps the most interesting – definitely for our focus here – is the Advanced Space Program where they besides developing small and medium class satellites for national security space systems also keep themselves busy with working on projects for human space flight and planetary exploration.

Orbital is involved with two prominent NASA programs: the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS)/Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) programs and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). More on those another time but the long story short, NASA started using private companies (both SpaceX and Orbital are contracted) recently for cost-effective supply missions to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. The Obama Administration is looking to expand this approach with partnerships to send NASA astronauts to the space station as soon as 2017.

Orbital launched its new Antares® rocket (a two-stage launch vehicle) for the first time in 2013 – see above for a fascinating time lapse video of its preparation for launch – and its Cygnus™ cargo logistics spacecraft is next scheduled to travel to the ISS mid December. They are pretty active on social media, and it is definitely worth checking out their YouTube channel as well where you can find gems like below’s highlights of their Cygnus demo mission – electronic dance tunes included. Definitely a company we will be following closely!

XCOR engine testing

UK Lottery Competition In Partnership With XCOR

Only earlier this month we wrote about Virgin Galactic teaming up with NBC for a new TV show with the top price being a space flight, when we noticed this competition published in a UK newspaper:

In summary, the competition which closes at midnight this Sunday coming requires you to enter your details together with a valid number for a draw entry of up to next Wednesday. If you are feeling lucky, there won’t be a better time to play than the present!

“One lucky reader will embark on the journey of a lifetime as they head for the final frontier with commercial Space travel experts XCOR Aerospace. The winner will travel in the Lynx Mark I spacecraft (pictured) sitting alongside the pilot for the duration of the trip, and will experience an exhilarating rocket ride to Space, out-of-this-world views and the feeling of weightlessness. They will join a small and privileged few who have looked back on planet earth.

The winner will also receive £5,000 from The National Lottery which can be used towards any costs incurred by the winner relating to the prize, and prior to the flight, the winner will go through a screening and training process, including g-force training, to ensure that they are fit and ready for their epic adventure.”

Good luck to all participants. Let us know if you win!

Lockheed Martin's Venture Star (aka X-33)

VentureStar, aka X-33 (Cancelled in 2001)

At the end of the 20th century, the United States government was already set to developing a reusable space plane to replace the aging Space Shuttle program. The resulting launch vehicle would be able to launch satellites into orbit as 1/10th of the cost, while also having the ability to carry passengers up. Funded by the federal government, it was Lockheed Martin who started development of the X-33 at its Skunk Works facility in 1996, the same facility that saw the development of the revolutionary U2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes . The space ship, which became known as the VentureStar, showed great promise. As a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch system existing of a lifting body-wing design with no expendable parts, it would launch vertically. But the ship would return to Earth landing like an airplane and because it was lighter by design, it would be able to land at virtually any major airport in case of emergency unlike the Space Shuttle which required much longer runways than those publicly available.

File:VentureStar Shuttle Comparison.PNG

The design would mean considerable savings in time and materials as well as just being safer in general with maintenance happening similar to that of an airplane. Hard to believe, but the Shuttle required around 17,000 man-hours after every flight to check and if needed replace the thousands of heat-resistant ceramic tiles. The VentureStar on the other hand would use a new metallic thermal protection system, which would be much easier and cheaper to maintain. Then there was the basic design of the vehicle, which meant no more large external tank needed for launch, and neither did it need additional booster rockets that had to be recovered from the ocean after launch. Then there was the new engine technology. Unlike the Shuttle which relied on conventional nozzle engines, the VentureStar project would use linear aerospike engines that maintain thrust efficiency at all altitudes and were developed to have thrust reserve just in case things went wrong. Should one of the engines ever have failed, first the opposite engine would immediately shuf off to counterbalance and keep the vehicle going in the right direction. Next, that reserve would mean that the remaining engines were powerful enough to throttle up and ensure the space ship would still safely reach orbit.

Last but not least VentureStar’s main fuels would have been only liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, meaning the exhaust of its engines would have been composed of… water vapor. It was truly next-generation tech! Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Due to spiraling costs, and technical difficulties, NASA scrapped their support for the program in 2001. For Lockheed Martin it didn’t make sense anymore to continue the program on its own and so, VentureStar was scrapped with the prototype 90% complete. Perhaps it did show however that the future of space transportation and exploration would have to be corporate. Ironically that is what Lockheed Martin was attempting to achieve with VentureStar.

After suborbital flights kicking of next year with Virgin Galactic and XCOR to name a few, one of the next logical steps for these pioneers will be to reach orbit and who knows, maybe some day we will see another VentureStar rising from the ashes.

Virgin Galactic in space

Virgin Galactic Teams Up With TV Show

About a month ago, we covered Mars One, the organisation founded by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp that is planning to have people settle on Mars. Interestingly, their main source of income for this enterprise will be a reality-TV program about those colonists… fast forward to this week, and here we have it: Virgin Galactic is partnering up with NBC to create a television series called “Space Race”, which will follow contestants as they compete to win the grand price. And not just any price… a ticket to fly aboard Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShapeTwo and become an astronaut, taking the saying “the trip of a lifetime” very literally!

A date for the series to air is unknown as of yet, since Branson‘s team is still testing the space ship, but with over 600 people signed up already at $200k-$250k each, and now this, you can tell the Virgin PR machine is turning it up a notch. Together with TV producer Mark Burnett who’s responsible for shows as “Survivor” and “The Voice”, they are bound to deliver something unique to our screens very soon.

“‘Space Race’ allows us to extend this opportunity of a lifetime to as many people as possible right at the start of our commercial service — through direct experience and television viewing,” Branson said. Check out the full article here at NBC.

For anyone in the TV industry who’s looking for a similar idea, why not check out Scrapheap Challenge … that would truly be amazing. Until then, let’s all sign up for Branson’s next masterstroke!

Mars One colony in 2023

Mars One

The Netherlands usually gets mentioned in conversations about tulips, cheese, and windmills… but it seems another topic might soon join the mix. Mars One, a non-profit organization (we touched upon them briefly in our previous Mars coverage) founded by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, is closing its registration round for people who are interested in a one-way ticket to Mars as soon as 2023. And you bet that many are interested… within two weeks of its launch, the selection programme received more than 78,000 registrations and to date around 165,000 applications have signed up. So one might wonder, what drives these people to sign up for something they know will mean they will never see family and friends again?

Well, according to the trailer for One Way Astronaut – a documentary about those determined to throw it all away in the hopes of becoming the first human off world settlers – “you’re just never going to know what you’re going to find” while exploring the environment. To many it is a dream, born out of their childhood imagination. Curiosity killed the cat as they say, but it won’t stop these applicants from following their dreams. As the foundation puts it: “Human settlement of Mars is the next giant leap for humankind.” and it would be hard to find anyone who would contest that this feat would be right up there with the moon landing, the discovery of America, and so on as an event that will go into the history books as defining for our species.

For most, 2023 might sound like a very ambitious date but then one cannot underestimate the drive and determination of humankind to explore. The Mars One foundation is not looking to develop its own technology to accomplish its mission, because the private space industry already invented what is needed to go to Mars they claim. After the first missions make sure that supplies are available and a reliable surface habitat is set up before the first crew lands, more settlers and cargo will then follow every two years. This will of course cost a heavy sum, around the $6 billion mark in fact, which Lansdorp says will be funded primarily through a reality-TV program about about the red planet’s first colonists. And just when you thought we would some day see the end of “Big Brother”…

“Mars is the stepping stone of the human race on its voyage into the universe.”

You know, they might be on to something.

Stratolaunch Systems

Stratolaunch Systems

With the space race heating up, there are still new companies throwing their hat into the ring. Enter Paul Allen, who made his fortunes by founding Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, a company he remained its chief technologist of until his departure in 1983. These days he is a prolific investor and philanthropist, whose first major public interaction with the space industry was the funding of Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which won the coveted Ansari X-Prize competition. Allen’s stamp is clearly all over the company, from it being “A Paul G. Allen Project”, to the quotes you can find back on every single one of the pages on their website, coming out of his book Idea Man. So what is this company all about?

In a nutshell, Stratolaunch Systems was founded in 2011, forming a team between Scaled Composites and Orbital, to build a derivative of SpaceShipTwo’s carrier aircraft, the one used by Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic. Based in Huntsvilla, Alabama, the company finished its second hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California earlier this year, and it is there where they will build the next iteration of WhiteKnightTwo on a much larger scale. In fact, its wingspan would be larger than a football field, making it absolutely enormous and by wingspan the largest aircraft to ever fly! It would be able to transport a multi-stage booster – official name: Pegasus II – to high altitude before releasing it, at which point the rocket will continue its journey into orbit prior to delivering its payload. The company doesn’t necessarily qualify yet for what we usually focus on, i.e. human space travel, but with Allen and Rutan at the helm nothing seems impossible. Check out the video below:

By the end of the decade, Stratolaunch will bring airport-like operations to launch.” While no definitive schedule has been produced yet, Stratolaunch hopes to have their carrier plane ready for test flights by 2017. Not to worry though for frequent visitors to JFK or Heathrow, the plane will be far too big to use the tarmac of any normal airport. Definitely a project to follow though, so stay tuned for more on them as it becomes available.