The past year has been a mixed bag for the commercial space industry, with successful launches from the likes of SpaceX
, but also a few mishaps
, including a tragic Virgin Galactic crash
that claimed the life of one pilot. That last incident in particular has led some politicians in New Mexico to question the future of Spaceport America
, where Virgin is an anchor tenant, and to even call for the US$200 million facility to be put up for sale.
Arizona-based World View Enterprises has successfully completed its first test flight of a space tourism balloon that, for the price of US$75,000 per person, will lift six passengers into the stratosphere to an altitude of 20 miles (32 km). From there, they will be able to see the curvature of the Earth. The company says it is on track to fly its first passenger in just two years time.
Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America have signed a joint agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for access to airspace for spaceflights from New Mexico. The agreement helps to pave the way for commercial flights of Virgin's SpaceShipTwo, and is the first agreement of its type for a commercial spaceline.
As the still-to-be-announced date of the first commercial flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo
approaches, more and more of the technology involved is getting nailed down. A case in point is the company's announcement that it has decided which fuel will be used in the first passenger-carrying flights of the suborbital spacecraft. The solid fuel grains that will fuel the world’s largest operational hybrid rocket will be a thermoset plastic similar to nylon.
NBCUniversal has signed an exclusive partnership with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to televise the space tourism company's first commercial passenger flight next August. Aboard the VSS Enterprise
, will be Sir Richard, age 63, and his children, Holly, 31, and Sam, 28. The other passengers and crew have not yet been named.
SpaceX made another successful Grasshopper flight last week, which was also the last flight for Grasshopper v1.0. Its swan song lasted some 80 seconds, during which time Grasshopper reached an altitude of 744 meters (nearly half a mile), more than twice the previous record. Grasshopper v1.1 is well along the road to flight tests.
At Newspace 2012, hosted by the Space Frontier Foundation in Santa Clara, California, Armadillo Aerospace announced it has been awarded a two-year launch license by the FAA for the launch of its STIG-B payload-carrying vehicle into suborbital space this (northern hemisphere) summer from Spaceport America
in New Mexico.
Space travel just got another step closer for the masses (at least the well-heeled ones) with the dedication of Virgin Galactic's new "Gateway to Space" facility at Spaceport America
, the world's first purpose-built spaceliner terminal. Situated in the southern New Mexico desert, numerous luminaries were on hand to dedicate the innovative 120,000 square foot terminal/hangar facility (THF), including moon-walking astronaut, Buzz Aldrin and New Mexico governor Susana Martinez.
Virgin Galactic's first generation of commercial space vehicles now have somewhere to land with the completion of the runway at Spaceport America
in New Mexico. The 42-inch thick, almost two mile long "spaceway" was dedicated in a ceremony attended by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Buzz Aldrin, Sir Richard Branson and around 30 soon-to-be space tourists who have signed up as Virgin Galactic
's first customers.
Last July Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2), the VSS Enterprise, made its first manned flight
. For the duration of that flight, the spacecraft remained attached to its jet-powered carrier aircraft. But over the weekend VSS Enterprise left the protective grip of its mothership, VMS Eve
, to successfully achieve its first manned free flight. Released from VMS Eve at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13,700 meters), VSS Enterprise glided for 11 minutes before landing at Mojave Air and Spaceport, successfully completing the two main goals of the flight.