Category Archives: Space Tourism

Richard Branson Doubles Down on His Goal to Build a Space Hotel

Billionaire Richard Branson has poured a lot of money into getting his Virgin Galactic spaceflight company off the ground and turn space tourism into a real, working industry. But when Branson talks about space tourism, he means much more than a system that simply ferries people into orbit and back. He’s talking about all of tourism — and that includes a bona fide hotel floating around high above the earth.

“One day we will have a Virgin hotel in space,” Branson casually remarked during an interview with The Washington Post on Friday. Although the British business mogul certainly has a healthy sense of humor, he was quite serious about achieving such an ambition.

This is far from the first time Branson has talked about building a hotel in space. In 2014, Branson briefly outlined a broader vision of space that included trips to Mars and a colony on the red planet, and asteroid mining.

Branson is far from the only one discussing the potential to build habitats for space tourists. Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance are currently working on a joint project to build and launch commercial space pods which could dock to the International Space Station or other future space structures — which could pave the way for more astronauts and scientists to travel to space and conduct short studies and research projects.

But it’s been a while since Branson has resurfaced with talk about hotels in a great vacuum beyond the planet’s atmosphere. Virgin Galactic has made fast strides since a fatal October 2014 spaceplane crash stalled much of its work. The company will conduct its first test flight later this year.

Branson is optimistic 2018 is the year the company finally sends people into space — though he cautioned on Friday that “I’ve made the mistake of giving dates before and being wrong.

“Space is tough,” he said. “All of us that are in it have found it tougher than we thought.”

And in that respect, Branson sees himself as part of a private spaceflight triumvirate in the U.S., along with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Blue Origin CEO (and Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos. “You’ve got three people who are really putting a lot of time and energy into it,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll create some magic.”

Who will the first lucky individuals be? Branson mentioned the company has nearly 800 “Virgin Galactic astronauts” who have put down $250,000 each for a set on a future trip to space — and that includes physics luminary Stephen Hawking. Branson hopes as things move forward and the launch and trip operations become more streamlined, costs can be reduced, and the flights can be made more energy efficient and greener.

In fact, Branson is in Washington, D.C. this weekend to take part in the People’s Climate March to raise awareness about climate change and persuade the government to enforce bigger restrictions on carbon emissions and encourage more clean energy development. “Even if you are a skeptic,” said Branson, “it makes sense for America and the rest of the world to power the world with clean energy” as a way to create jobs and facilitate a cheap, stable system for delivering power to homes and businesses.

“Generally speaking, the earth is a pretty good place to be,” said Branson. “I don’t believe we all need to go live on the moon, or Mars … But I do think space can play, and has already played, a positive role here on Earth,” such as profoundly augmenting telecommunications systems and applications as a result of satellite infrastructure.

And few places are better at illustrating what clean energy can do than space habitats like the ISS. A future Virgin hotel will almost certainly be a solar power behemoth.

Photos via Getty Images / Rob Kim

Virgin Galactic Aims to Fly Space Tourists in 2018, CEO Says

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is on track to begin commercial passenger spaceflights before the end of next year, the company’s chief executive said. 

For years, Branson has been optimistically forecasting the start of rides aboard SpaceShipTwo, an air-launched suborbital spaceplane that is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots to an altitude of about 62 miles (100 kilometers).  

During the suborbital hop, passengers will be able to experience a few minutes of microgravity and see the limb of Earth set against the blackness of space.

Virgin Galactic's commercial spaceplane Spaceshiptwo, shown here during a glide test in December 2016.

Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceplane Spaceshiptwo, shown here during a glide test in December 2016.

Credit: Virgin Galactic

Branson has been more circumspect in his schedule projections since an October 2014 fatal accident during a test flight of Virgin’s first vehicle. But in an interview with The Telegraph earlier this month, the billionaire entrepreneur said he’d be “very disappointed” if the program isn’t well underway by the end of next year. 

Virgin Galactic is one of three companies in the Virgin Group’s spaceflight division, known as Galactic Ventures. On Wednesday (April 26), Galactic Ventures chief executive George Whitesides, a soft-spoken, former NASA staff chief, said Branson’s expectations for commercial flights in 2018 are realistic. 

“We’re well into test flight now,” Whitesides told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Virgin CEO addressed the committee along with other industry leaders during a hearing on reducing regulation barriers in the space industry.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides confirmed on April 26, 2017, that the company plans to fly space tourists in 2018.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides confirmed on April 26, 2017, that the company plans to fly space tourists in 2018.

Credit: Getty Images

“We’re looking forward … to a fairly big transition of our staff to your state of New Mexico,” Whitesides added in response to a question from Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat.

Virgin Galactic intends to base its commercial spaceflight service at New Mexico’s Spaceport America, which was finished five years ago at a cost of nearly $220 million. 

Construction funds for the spaceport came from state oil and gas taxes and from bonds, which were backed by a quarter-cent tax levied by the two counties closest to the 18,000-acre spaceport. 

Spaceport America and many New Mexicans hope to see full commercial spaceflight operations begin as soon as possible,” Udall told Whitesides. 

The second in a planned fleet of Virgin spaceships is undergoing testing in Mojave, California. So far, the ship, known as VSS Unity, has made three glide flights. The company has not said when Unity’s first powered test flight will be, nor how many flights are expected before the start of commercial service. 

About 500 people have signed up to take a ride on SpaceShipTwo. Tickets are currently selling for $250,000. 

Follow Irene Klotz on Twitter. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

Collaboration Between China And European Space Agency To Build Moon Outpost Is Now Brewing

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A potential space collaboration between China and the European Space Agency is looking bright. A senior official of the Chinese space agency has confirmed the bilateral talks.

According to Tian Yulong, China space agency’s secretary general, the talks were focused on the lunar base.

The talks were also confirmed by Pal Hvistendahl, a spokesman for the ESA. Besides the human outpost on the moon, other joint ventures are also in the pipeline, according to the spokesman.

China has already announced that it is planning to reach the darker side of the moon by 2018 and there will be a Mars mission by 2020.

“The Chinese have a very ambitious moon program already in place,” Hvistendahl said and added that the space race of the ’60s is off now.

To explore space for peaceful purposes, international cooperation is essential, the spokesman added.

ESA’s Moon Village A Launch Pad To Mars Mission

Meanwhile, ESA director general Johann-Dietrich Woerner mentioned the proposed “Moon Village” and said it would be an international launching pad for future missions to Mars and serve as a tool to develop space tourism and lunar mining.

The cooperation with ESA on the moon village will be beneficial for China in accomplishing the space goals.

ESA Cooperation As Fillip to Chinese Programs

China has been trying to make rapid strides in space programs the past few years. The first unmanned cargo spacecraft of China was recently launched to the Tiangong-2 unmanned space station to prepare the station for advanced programs and trials of docking and detaching from the station.

China sent its first man into space in 2003. But that was more than 40 years after a Russian cosmonaut hit the orbit.

That is why there is a perception that China has been a laggard in space programs compared with big powers like the United States or Russia. Also, China cannot have space collaboration with the United States as space cooperation with China has been excluded by the latter under a law passed in 2011. China was also kept out of the International Space Station over security concerns.

NASA Plan For Space Station That Orbits Moon

Meanwhile, NASA is also going ahead with its plans to construct a space station at the lunar orbit and has roped in international partners. The science station will fill the vacuum caused by the retirement of the International Space Station in the 2020s.

The size will be a fraction of the ISS. Yet the new station with its location at the cis-lunar orbit will be giving a foothold for all human missions to asteroids, the moon, and Mars. The egg-shaped orbit will be away by 1,500 km to 70,000 km (930 miles to 44,000 miles) from the moon.

The design of the station has been under progress and the first mission may be launched in 2023. The plan is to position a robotic spacecraft called Power and Propulsion Bus or PPB in the orbit around the moon.

That will be followed by the addition of a pair of modules weighing less than 10 tons each to be bolted to the PPB. The new structure can house four astronauts for 90 days. The space facility will also get a Russian-built airlock module in the mid-2020s to enable the crew to walk outside the space home.

Both modules will be backed with four docking ports with mutual connections so that they can receive visiting spacecraft.

The advantage of choosing cis-lunar space is that it is not very congested compared with Earth orbit and designers can afford thinner walls around the space station.

© 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Space Tourism: Russia, US Ready to Give You a Lift to Moon Orbit, ISS

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — In August, Solntsev said Energia was preparing a Moon expedition on board an upgraded Soyuz spacecraft, with eight space tourists interested in a trip. Renowned Canadian filmmaker James Cameron and a Japanese family were said to be among the first to express interest in the lunar orbit trip.

In April, Energia’s head said at least four were likely space tourists and were ready to pay for the trip. Energia has also been considering the resumption of the ISS tourist program. In February, Solntsev said a contract for nine tours could be signed before 2021.

“Crafting ISS commercial flight contracts is hard work which depends on many factors. We are discussing contract details with potential clients. The same applies to the Moon orbit trip… We have worked out various options with our partners for sending tourists to the ISS and to the Moon, but the decision is not made just by us, but jointly with the other space powers, as there are issues beyond technical and financial ones, such as legal concerns and so on,” Solntsev said.

Energia has been cooperating with the US-based Space Adventures space tourism company to secure potential clients wishing to fly around the moon. Space Adventures reportedly priced the Moon trip at $150 million, with the launch itself likely to take place by 2020.

The company has so far sent seven tourists to the ISS since 2001, with the tickets ranging between $25 and $35 million. Energia has also been in contact with other partners in the United States, according to Solntsev.

4 Things You Must Know About the Future of Space Travel

Think space travel is just for skilled astronauts and fictional characters from your favorite “Star Wars” films? Think again. You don’t have to be a professional scientist to fly into suborbital space, but you will have to pay a steep price.

[See: The 10 Top Places for Stargazing.]

With a variety of pioneering companies competing to launch humans into space, lunar exploration is taking off. Take SpaceX, the brainchild of Elon Musk, which plans to transport two passengers aboard its SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to cross over the moon and back in 2018. Or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company, which aspires to launch six lucky tourists into space via a capsule, and that’s testing its New Shepard rocket ahead of plans for commercial suborbital journeys in 2018. For those more inclined to board a spaceship, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic aims to send tourists — including world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking — aboard the SpaceShipTwo (a six-passenger aircraft) into space this year.

If you’re not interested in gliding into deep or suborbital space — or you lack the funds to support a $250,000 journey aboard the Virgin Galactic — you can enjoy epic space events from Earth this year, including watching the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, stargazing in prized national parks or even checking out the northern lights.

Thanks to groundbreaking technological advancements, space tourism is no longer a pipe dream. Here are leading astro-tourism trends to watch in 2017 and beyond.

The 21st-Century Space Race Is Heating Up

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard are carving the path for space tourism by utilizing “reusable space vehicles,” explains Bill Gutman, vice president of aerospace operations at Spaceport America, a commercial space complex that aims to unlock the future of space exploration. While refurbishing rockets can be costly, reusing rockets, shuttle space engines and space vehicle parts can significantly reduce costs for space entrepreneurs and ultimately space tourists. “These vehicles have the potential to open the space experience to vastly more people than has been possible heretofore,” he says. Plus, reusable technology could trim the launch costs, advance technology breakthroughs for future exploration and enable a greater volume of launches, making space travel more accessible to tourists, he adds. “It is anticipated that Virgin Galactic will take more people to space in the first few years of operations than have experienced space from the beginning of the Space Age until present,” Gutman explains.

Orbital space travel will also be available to tourists in the near future, he adds. Gutman points to Bigelow Aerospace, which is working to build sophisticated space equipment like the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module for the International Space Station. “Bigelow Aerospace is well along with developing space habitat modules that will enable longer space tourism stays perhaps akin the ‘Orbital Hilton’ as seen in the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,'” he says.

Boeing, in partnership with NASA, also has developed technology that will enable astronauts to experience low-orbit earth journeys aboard the Crew Space Transportation-100 Starliner. While other companies are offering suborbital journeys, the Starliner aims to carry up to seven people per trip to low-earth orbit. Though Starliner’s technology is specifically designed for astronauts to advance space exploration, a future commercial airline is already being tested at Kennedy Space Center and is slated to launch in 2019, explains Kelly Kaplan, communications lead at Boeing Space Exploration.

Private commercial space tour company Space Adventures has partnered with Boeing to market seats on the Starliner, but it had not yet released information on what the experience will entail. “Our clients have traveled over 36 million miles and have spent a total of approximately three months in space. We also have plans to fly two clients around the far side of the moon on a modified Russian Soyuz spacecraft,” says Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures.

[See: 10 Best Trips for Adventure Junkies.]

Commercial Space Stations May Become a Reality in the Near Future

Getting materials and supplies transported from Earth to commercial space stations or settlements will have a high initial cost, but in the future, “it is likely that technologies will be developed to recycle materials, to grow food in space and to utilize lunar materials to build and to provide oxygen and water,” Gutman says, enabling costs to go down. To accomplish this, commercial space lines will be vital, he adds. But first, operators must “demonstrate to the FAA that risk to the uninvolved public does not exceed a threshold level,” he explains. In the future, the FAA may license space adventures, he says, noting that the process “will be complex because international law and treaties must be considered.”

Boeing and NASA are also teaming up to help astronauts expand research with a deep space gateway and transport system that will create an environment, similar to the International Space Station, complete with a docking system and technology to shield astronauts from the harsh conditions, enabling an ideal jumping-off point for journeys from the moon to Mars, Kaplan adds.

In the Near-Term, Space Travel Will Cost You

Launching into suborbital space is possible, but it won’t be cheap. While you can purchase tickets to board the Virgin Galactic, prices and ticket reservations for Blue Origin’s New Shepard have not yet been revealed. “As with all new enterprises, we would certainly expect that as more providers enter the market, the price for a space tourism experience will trend lower. The ultimate price point will be determined by supply and demand and by the success of providers in bringing cost-lowering technologies to the market,” Gutman adds.

If you’re interested in visiting the International Space Station with an outfitter like Space Adventures, you can book tickets now. Pricing is contingent on the mission, timing and vehicle, Shelley explains. The cost for a flight to the ISS is roughly $50 million; flights orbiting the moon are priced at $150 million per person, he explains.

You Can Embrace Your Inner Astronaut on Earth

If you don’t have the funds to support a moon mission, you can still enjoy otherworldly experiences on terra firma. “Space Adventures is able to arrange on-the-ground space-related experiences, such as tours to watch rocket launches from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, or the ability for clients to experience elements of the same training required for our private astronaut clients in Star City, Russia,” Shelley explains. Space Adventures also offers zero-gravity flights for roughly $5,000, Shelley adds.

[See: Where to See 2017’s Total Solar Eclipse.]

Meanwhile, Spaceport America offers programs such as interactive exhibits, a g-force simulator and launch videos for enthusiasts.

More From US News & World Report

Space, the final frontier seen for earth's crude oil giants

[SINGAPORE] The Middle East has an outsize impact on energy here on Earth. One analyst thinks some regional powerhouses may leverage that role into the development of natural resources in space.

Countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are developing space programmes and investing in nascent private space commodity initiatives, said Tom James, a partner at energy consultant Navitas Resources. Doing so could give them a foothold in building extraterrestrial reserves of water – a substance likely to fuel travel within space – and other resources that could be used for in-space manufacturing.

“Water is the new oil of space,” Mr James said in Singapore.

“Middle East investment in space is growing as it works to shift from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy.”

Prospecting satellites can be built for tens of millions of US dollars each and an asteroid-harvesting spacecraft could cost US$2.6 billion, in line with mining operations on Earth, Goldman Sachs Group Inc analysts including Noah Poponak said in an April 4 research note. Most resources would be processed and used in space although it may be economic to ship some commodities, such as platinum, back to Earth, according to Mr James and Goldman.

“Space mining is still a long way from commercial viability, but it has the potential to further ease access to space,” Mr Poponak wrote.

“Water and platinum group metals that are abundant on asteroids are highly disruptive from a technological and economic standpoint.”

Water as Fuel

Navitas expects companies to launch satellites searching for rare gases and metals in asteroids within five years, with actual mining happening within eight. A single asteroid might contain 175 times more platinum than the Earth mines in a year, Goldman said, citing a project associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That much platinum could be worth US$25 billion to US$50 billion, although it would likely crater the market for the metal.

“You could go massively short on platinum and then show up at settlement with an asteroid, but you probably could only do that once,” Mr James said.

“I don’t think the counter-party would take that trade a second time.”

In the long term, most of the commodities mined in space will stay in space to power a low-orbit space economy built around satellites and space stations, Mr James said. In that scenario, water accumulated in space would become valuable as it could be used for rocket fuel for interstellar voyages. The substance is too heavy and costly to transport from Earth.

Low-Orbit Economy

Water can be used as a propellant in space or split into hydrogen and oxygen, and then recombined and combusted. Deep Space Industries Inc, an asteroid mining company, has developed a thruster that heats water into a steam propellant, according to Goldman.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia already have space programmes, with the Saudis signing a pact with Russia in 2015 for cooperation on space exploration, according to a report from Arab News.  Abu Dhabi is an investor in Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic. In addition to money, the Middle East also has geography on its side.

The closer a country is to the equator, the more surface velocity there is from spinning around the Earth’s axis, meaning space ships need to burn less fuel to exit the atmosphere. That benefits some Middle Eastern countries as launch sites, Mr James said.

“The Middle East builds the tallest buildings, the biggest shopping complexes,” said Mr James. “Certainly they’re having a big impact on the space and satellite industries as well.”

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Space May Be Next Frontier for Earth's Crude Oil Giants: Analyst

The Final Frontier for Energy Giants

The Middle East has an outsize impact on energy here on Earth. One analyst thinks some regional powerhouses may leverage that role into the development of natural resources in space.

Countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are developing space programs and investing in nascent private space commodity initiatives, said Tom James, a partner at energy consultant Navitas Resources. Doing so could give them a foothold in building extraterrestrial reserves of water — a substance likely to fuel travel within space — and other resources that could be used for in-space manufacturing.

“Water is the new oil of space,” James said in Singapore. “Middle East investment in space is growing as it works to shift from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy.”

Prospecting satellites can be built for tens of millions of U.S. dollars each and an asteroid-harvesting spacecraft could cost $2.6 billion, in line with mining operations on Earth, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Noah Poponak said in an April 4 research note. Most resources would be processed and used in space although it may be economic to ship some commodities, such as platinum, back to Earth, according to James and Goldman.

“Space mining is still a long way from commercial viability, but it has the potential to further ease access to space,” Poponak wrote. “Water and platinum group metals that are abundant on asteroids are highly disruptive from a technological and economic standpoint.”
Water as Fuel

Navitas expects companies to launch satellites searching for rare gases and metals in asteroids within five years, with actual mining happening within eight. A single asteroid might contain 175 times more platinum than the Earth mines in a year, Goldman said, citing a project associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That much platinum could be worth $25 billion to $50 billion, although it would likely crater the market for the metal.

“You could go massively short on platinum and then show up at settlement with an asteroid, but you probably could only do that once,” James said in an interview after a presentation at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute. “I don’t think the counter-party would take that trade a second time.”

Platinum futures for July delivery fell 0.6 percent to $972.10 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Monday.

In the long term, most of the commodities mined in space will stay in space to power a low-orbit space economy built around satellites and space stations, James said. In that scenario, water accumulated in space would become valuable as it could be used for rocket fuel for interstellar voyages. The substance is too heavy and costly to transport from Earth.
Low-Orbit Economy

Water can be used as a propellant in space or split into hydrogen and oxygen, and then recombined and combusted. Deep Space Industries Inc., an asteroid mining company, has developed a thruster that heats water into a steam propellant, according to Goldman.

The U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia already have space programs, with the Saudis signing a pact with Russia in 2015 for cooperation on space exploration, according to a report from Arab News. Abu Dhabi is an investor in Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic. In addition to money, the Middle East also has geography on its side.

The closer a country is to the equator, the more surface velocity there is from spinning around the Earth’s axis, meaning space ships need to burn less fuel to exit the atmosphere. That benefits some Middle Eastern countries as launch sites, James said.

“The Middle East builds the tallest buildings, the biggest shopping complexes,” said James. “Certainly they’re having a big impact on the space and satellite industries as well.”
Source: Bloomberg