Archive for the ‘Analog Deathwatch’ Category

Fly The White Knight

Monday, October 25th, 2010




Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport in New Mexico is open and ready to make good on the $50 million in deposits it’s taken in from prospective space tourists after a runway dedication on Friday…

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) today dedicated the nearly two-mile long “Governor Bill RIchardson Spaceway” at Spaceport America, representing significant progress toward launching commercial customers into space from the desert of New Mexico. Governor Bill Richardson, Sir Richard Branson and approximately 30 of more than 380 Virgin Galactic future astronauts attended the event along with guests from around the world and watched a flyover and landing by Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo, in a captive carry with SpaceShipTwo.

“We are celebrating the world’s first spaceway at the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport,” said Governor Richardson. “New Mexico is not only helping to launch the commercial spaceflight industry, but we are launching new jobs and opportunities for the people of southern New Mexico. Today marks a significant milestone on our historic and exciting journey.”

The nearly two-mile long runway was officially named the “Governor Bill Richardson Spaceway” at the event, and Governor Richardson joined Sir Richard in placing their handprints in clay as a permanent commemoration of the historic day.
NMSA Chairman Ben Woods said the board of the NMSA had met early today to formally and unanimously approve the name of the spaceway.

Sir Richard Branson commented, “It is incredible to be here today with Governor Richardson and be part of the runway dedication at Spaceport America. To see for myself how far the construction has come from when I last visited New Mexico is truly inspiring – I for one can’t wait for the grand opening – today has brought it one step closer to reality for me. The last few weeks have been some of the most exciting in Virgin Galactic’s development. Our spaceship is flying beautifully and will soon be making powered flights, propelled by our new hybrid rocket motor, which is also making excellent progress in its own test program. The investment deal with our new partners Aabar has successfully closed, securing funding for the remainder of the development program and we are seeing unprecedented numbers of people coming forward to secure their own reservations for this incredible experience. To be here in New Mexico to witness this historic moment is the perfect end to a great month.”

They’ve got 380 "future astronauts?" Not too shabby.




 Great piece by Diane Alba in the Las Cruces Sun-News

Going into Friday, an unanswered question lingered in the air at Spaceport America: Would Virgin Galactic’s carrier plane and spaceship actually touch down on their inaugural visit to – dare we say – a "virgin" runway?

Since March, officials had advertised that the vehicles, WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceshipTwo, would participate in a "flyover" at Friday’s runway dedication ceremony.

And sure enough, soon after arriving in spaceport air space, the vehicles were piloted over the runway and nearby 600-person crowd several times.

After catering plenty to the spectators and their cameras, the plane disappeared out of sight, presumably to start the 800-mile trip back to Mojave, Calif., its home base.

Meanwhile, spaceport officials and Virgin Group head Richard Branson continued the event with a press conference. And about 10 minutes into it, Branson interrupted with some unsolicited remarks:

"I rang the pilot of the spaceship and said, ‘Look, we’ve got a runway here. Why are you going back to Mojave? Why can’t you come and sort of show it off?"

Branson then encouraged the audience to put their own "vibes" into the sky, in an attempt to persuade the pilots to turn back and get them to land.

The audience obliged, seemingly eagerly, with cheers and squinching finger motions to send out their "vibes." A few people busted out in a jig.

About 10 minutes later, Branson again told the audience to send out vibes and clap until the aircraft returned. And, after a couple minutes of clapping, the plane and spaceship were back in sight. Not long after, the duo had landed.

A plan was in the works all along for WhiteKnightTwo to touch down on the runway, said an official with Scaled Composites, the company partnering with Virgin Galactic to build the airplane.

WhiteKnightTwo, carrying SpaceshipTwo, wasn’t the first aircraft to land on the new, 10,000-foot runway. Earlier in the day, Branson, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and other dignitaries arrived at the ceremony in Branson’s plane, "Galactic Girl." And a spaceport official said another smaller aircraft has landed previously.

 Yeah, there’s video…



Virgin Galactic Spaceship 2

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Nice flight footage via Wired


Hmm, a six-minute flight will cost $200,000? Somebody’s ready to pay.


Moving Museums

Thursday, May 27th, 2010



Think the world of top-flight museums is a calm, respectable place to work? Like most workplaces, there’s some behind-the-scenes posturing and socially-awkward behavior going on. Comes with the territory, especially where people tend to stay at their jobs longer.

As we climb out of The Great Recession, museums and other cultural institutions are fighting for more revenue and scarce development dollars and it’s getting rough out there. Case-in-point: getting the old space shuttles from NASA after retirement. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Dayton, Ohio, has the Wilmington News Journal on its side

 Throughout the shuttle program, the Air Force has played an essential role in its success. Besides infrastructure and operational support, the Air Force provided NASA with many highly skilled astronauts. The cooperation between NASA and the Department of Defense on the shuttle program dates back to 1969. The Air Force’s satellite launch requirements largely determined the shuttle’s design, and the Air Force saved the shuttle program in lean budget years during development. Recognizing that long partnership, the Secretary of the Air Force has requested a shuttle orbiter be added to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The museum already receives more than one million visitors each year. The addition of a shuttle is a rare opportunity for the museum which would significantly increase that attendance and be a substantial boost to the economy of Dayton and the region. Museum officials are planning for what we hope will be a favorable decision by NASA. The Air Force Museum Foundation is supporting a major construction program that would expand the museum’s current one million square feet of exhibit space by another 200,000 square feet. That building would also house other impressive related exhibits.

Many who have visited the National Museum of the Air Force regard it as an unforgettable experience. There are aircraft from the early years of flight — such as the Wright 1909 Military Flyer and the Curtiss 1911 Model D — and aircraft used in the modern era. There also is an Air Force One display, including the Boeing VC-137C that served as Air Force One on the day President Kennedy was assassinated. The public can also enter presidential aircraft of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. These are only a few of the many aircraft and educational exhibits on display. The addition of a shuttle orbiter would enhance the significant investment that has already been made in the National Museum of the Air Force.

The reality of manned fight was born from the minds of Wilbur and Orville Wright, two Ohioans who worked in Dayton and developed and tested their aircraft at Huffman Prairie, near what today is Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the National Museum of the Air Force. Fast forward to today and the shuttle Atlantis is orbiting the Earth on a mission to support the international space station. It is the last scheduled flight of Atlantis. The orbiter is closing in on flying 120 million miles throughout its career. It is appropriate that Atlantis or Endeavour spend their retirement in Dayton for current and future generations of local residents and visitors to see at the place where aviation was born.

 Any others out there? You bet! Vik Saini put together a great list. Sorry, the Space Farms Museum & Zoo in Beemerville, NJ, is not on the list — nothing to do with space; it’s the dude’s name.

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the world’s most popular, always get the best space stuff. You can’t beat the actual back-up lunar module…






Cirque du Espace

Monday, July 27th, 2009


Guy Laliberté may not be happy about his biography by Ian Halperin, but he must be ecstatic about going into space in September:

He is scheduled for launch September 30 aboard the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. His crewmates will be rookie spacecraft commander Maxim Suraev, a colonel in the Russian air force, and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, a shuttle veteran making his second long-duration voyage on the station.

Laliberté will spend nine days aboard the lab complex before returning to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-14 capsule October 11 with outgoing station commander Gennady Padalka and NASA flight engineer Michael Barratt. Williams and Suraev will remain aboard the space station as part of the Expedition 21 crew.

"First of all, I would like to say how privileged and honored I am to be flying with these two men," Laliberté said in Houston, where he is training for his upcoming flight. "I feel totally confident. They have been generous sharing with me their knowledge and their advice."

And he’s only paying $35 million for the flight. That will pay quite a few rocket scientist salaries.

Think of the ideas he’ll have for his Cirque du Soleil shows after he return. Zero gravity, anyone?


Virgin Says “No”

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

A "no" from Virgin means "NO," dutifully reported by Peter de Selding:

Virgin Galactic Rejects Million-Dollar Offer to Film Sex Video

By Peter B. de Selding
Space News Staff Writer

GLASGOW, Scotland — The private company planning to take wealthy tourists to the edge of the atmosphere starting in late 2009 or early 2010 has refused a million-dollar proposal to film a sex video while the participants are floating gravity free, the company’s president said.

Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, said the offer, from an unidentified party, "was $1 million, up front, for a sex-in-space movie. That was money we had to refuse, I’m afraid."

Whitehorn disclosed the rejected transaction here Sept. 30 during the International Astronautical Congress. He said Virgin Galactic, part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is planning to begin flights of the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft in late 2009 or early 2010 from Sierra County, N.M.

Remember, selling begins with the word "no." Let’s see what other offers pop up.

DIY Friday: HDTV Antenna

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Question: What can you make with 2 forks, an old lamp, and a shoelace?

Answer: A sweet HDTV Antenna!

One of our most popular DIY Friday projects was this post on how to build your own HDTV antenna.

And, this week we’re bringin’ it back with some new tricks.

The $10 lamp version above is a great option. Or you can try the Gray-Hoverman Antenna, which has gotten some great reviews:

"Boy, this antenna is hot. I finally got it pointed right. After I did a search for channels, I got 23 digital channels, and this is from about 30-40 miles, over mountains…This antenna is a vast, and I mean REALLY VAST improvement over anything I have used." – DogT

Space Weddings

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Last month, we read on Pink Tentacle about a company in Japan offering weddings in space via Kistler’s RocketPlane.

Today we read in The Australian they’re accepting reservations:

Each happy couple will spend 240 million yen ($A2.4 million) for the ceremony in a small space vessel, which will shoot up 100km into the sky.

During the hour-long flight, the couple will spend several minutes in zero gravity during which they will exchange their vows with up to three guests present, said Taro Katsura, a spokesman for Japanese firm First Advantage.

The couple would perform most of the ceremony before takeoff "so that they can say their vows and look out the window," Mr Katsura said.

The firm is offering the space marriages in a tie-up with US-based Rocket Plane, which will conduct the flights from a private airport in Oklahoma. From the spaceship, the couple would probably be able to see the outline of the Earth although they will not be far enough into space to allow complete floating, Mr Katsura said.

Despite launching the offer in Japan, the company said it expected most of its customers to be from China or Arab Gulf nations. There are currently no plans to start the space weddings in the United States, Mr Katsura said.

Sure, I’ll look out the window for a few minutes. Other newlywed activities may be more interesting for most people — especially rocket scientists.

I can almost hear Frank Sinatra singing the song now…

Weightless Markets

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Unemployment up. Stock market down. Recession looming. For financial security, maybe you should enter the space plane business. EADS thinks the market will boom:

Aerospace giant EADS says it will need a production line of rocket planes to satisfy the space tourism market.

The European company’s Astrium division, makers of the Ariane rocket, has plans for a commercial vehicle to take ticketed passengers above 100km.

Its market assessment suggests there would be 15,000 people a year prepared to part with some 200,000 euros (£160,000) for the ride of a lifetime.

Astrium anticipates it be will be producing about 10 planes a year.

“To satisfy the market you will need more planes than you think, because once there is regular operation, the price will decrease which means there will be more customers,” Robert Laine, chief technical officer (CTO) of the pan-European company, told BBC News.

For more info on the EADS’ take on space tourism, watch Robert Laine, EADS’ CTO’s speech to the Institution of Engineering and Technology last week.

While Astrium proceeds according to plan, Virgin Galactic and its partner, Scaled Composites, appear to be in the space tourism race lead. And it looks like they are confirming Laine’s prediction for increased production:

Virgin Galactic, billionaire Richard Branson’s space travel venture, plans to order five more spaceships and aims to turn a profit in five years from its commercial launch in 2010, an official told Reuters on Thursday.

Prospective space travelers have so far placed deposits totaling more than $31 million for tickets that cost $200,000 each and would give them five minutes in space, said Alex Tai, the firm’s group director.

“In the short term, we have firm orders for five spaceships and options for seven … We believe there is a very strong market,” Tai said in an interview at the Singapore Airshow.

If you want the weightless experience but can’t pony-up 200k, drop 4k and hop on a 727 parabolic flight – G-Force One:

Zero Gravity Corporation ( is a privately held space entertainment and tourism company whose mission is to make the excitement and adventure of space accessible to the public. ZERO-G is based in Las Vegas and Florida and is the first and only FAA-approved provider of commercial weightless flight to the general public, as well as the entertainment and film industries, corporate and incentive market, non-profit research and education sectors, and government. The experience offered by ZERO-G is the only commercial opportunity on Earth for individuals to experience true “weightlessness” without going to space. This is the identical weightless flight experience used by NASA to train its astronauts and used by Ron Howard and Tom Hanks to film Apollo-13. The ZERO-G Experience consists of a brief training session for passengers followed by a 90-minute flight aboard G-Force-One, during which parabolic maneuvers are performed. The controlled ascent and descent of the plane allows Flyers to experience Martian gravity (1/3-gravity), Lunar gravity (1/6-gravity), and zero gravity. The ZERO-G Experience provides its Flyers with twice the amount of weightless time achieved in a typical sub-orbital flight into space. ZERO-G operates under the highest safety standards as set by the FAA (Part-121) with its partner Amerijet International of Ft. Lauderdale Florida. Aircraft operations take place under the same regulations set for large commercial passenger airliners.

SpaceShip Two Unveiled

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

We’ve long been fans of space tourism generally and Virgin Galactic specifically — in large part because of a longstanding admiration for the design skills of Burt Rutan.

Now, we can ooh and ahh at the symmetry of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two and its launch vehicle, WhiteKnightTwo; designs for both were unveiled yesterday.


MSNBC provides the details: 

[Yesterday’s unveiling] was the most detailed look yet at the craft that will carry on the legacy of SpaceShipOne, the first commercially developed spaceship and winner of the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004.

The biggest twist is that the WhiteKnightTwo plane has spread out and sprouted another passenger cabin on its 140-foot-long wing. The two cabins and four Pratt & Whitney jet engines straddle a central mount for the rocket plane, which will be carried to an altitude of 50,000 feet and dropped. Then SpaceShipTwo will light up its hybrid rocket engine for the final push to the edge of outer space, reaching an altitude of at least 68 miles (110 kilometers).

The twin cabins are basically carbon copies of the SpaceShipTwo cabin, so riding on WhiteKnightTwo will give passengers a taste of what the big blast to space will be like. While commercial astronauts are taking their trip to see the curving earth below the black sky of space, the passengers on WhiteKnightTwo will experience a lower-altitude version of the experience – including a bit of zero-G.

Why two cabins on the mothership?

Burt Rutan, the craft’s designer and head of California-based Scaled Composites, imagined a scenario in which a husband riding in the mothership watches his wife take off in the spaceship, sitting only 25 feet away.

"You’ll say, ‘Honey, have a nice flight,’" Rutan told scores of journalists and dignitaries at the American Museum of Natural History. "While she is enjoying black sky and weightlessness, you, in the launch airplane, will be doing parabolas and floating about the cabin."

So what’s it like?

SpaceShipTwo is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space, with enough headroom to allow for free floating. It’s about twice as large as SpaceShipOne, with 18-inch-wide windows and reclining seats for fare-paying fliers.

More than 100 people are already in line for spaceflights, at a cost of $200,000 per person, and Rutan expects there to be thousands more: He said the innovations incorporated into SpaceShipTwo will make human spaceflight "at least as safe as the airliners of the late ’20s."

Hmm. "At least as safe as the airliners of the ’20s" doesn’t really inspire the highest degree of confidence. Maybe they should come up with a better comparison. 


Virgin Galactic is aiming to begin passenger flights in 2010.

Space Diving

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007


That’s Captain Joe Kittinger jumping out of a helium balloon in 1960, at a altitude of 20 miles. According to his Wikipedia entry, he actually made three jumps:

The first, from 76,400 feet (23,287 m) in November, 1959 was a near tragedy when an equipment malfunction caused him to lose consciousness, but the automatic parachute saved him (he went into a flat spin at a rotational velocity of 120 rpm; the G factor at his extremities was calculated to be over 22 times that of gravity, setting another record). Three weeks later he jumped again from 74,700 feet (22,769 m). For that return jump Kittinger was awarded the Leo Stevens parachute medal.

On August 16, 1960 he made the final jump from the Excelsior III at 102,800 feet (31,330 m). Towing a small drogue chute for stabilization, he fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds reaching a maximum speed of 614 mph before opening his parachute at 18,000 feet (5,500 m). Pressurization for his right glove malfunctioned during the ascent, causing his hand to swell. He set records for highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, longest drogue-fall (14 min) and fastest speed by a man through the atmosphere. [1]

The jumps were made in a "rocking-chair" position, descending on his back, rather than the usual delta familiar to skydivers, because he was wearing a 60-lb "kit" on his behind and his pressure suit naturally formed that shape when inflated, a shape appropriate for sitting in an airplane cockpit.

For the series of jumps, Kittinger was decorated with an oak leaf cluster to his D.F.C. and awarded the Harmon Trophy by President Dwight Eisenhower.

A flat spin at 120 RPM, 22 G’s at his extremities? Would you pay to do something like this? While some are looking to profit from a new extreme sport, others see very practical research objectives, according to the Telegraph (U.K.):

Forget about bungee jumping and hang gliding. The next adrenaline pumping daredevil stunt will be hurtling back to Earth by "space diving," if entrepreneurs and extreme sports enthusiasts have their way.

They are preparing skydives from the edge of space to beat a record set by Captain Joe Kittinger of the US Air Force in 1960, who jumped from an altitude of 20 miles, reaching a speed of around 700 miles per hour in his 13 minute descent to the ground.

They aim to start with a jump from 22 miles to break Kittinger’s record, then build up to 57 miles, which would be the first true space jump. If everything works as planned, paying customers might be able to start their fiery descent from space as early as 2009.

Instead of jumping from the gondola of a helium balloon, as Kittinger did, New Scientist reports today that they will be bailing out from the nose-cone of a rocket ship, one of half dozen or so being developed to loft paying passengers into the heavens for a few minutes of weightlessness and a spectacular view of the Earth.

However, there is a serious underlying purpose since space jumpers will rely on the kind of gear that will be needed in case of emergencies if commercial space travel is ever to become routine.

advertisementThat is the driving force of one of the pioneers, Jonathan Clark, a former Nasa flight surgeon and military high-altitude parachutist, whose wife Laurel was killed during the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia in 2003 during reentry.

Developing space diving as a sport for thrill-seekers is the first step towards equipment that may spare future space travellers the same fate. "It’s almost a passion for me," says Clark, who works at the Space Biomedical Research Institute at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Armadillo Aerospace of Mesquite, Texas, has been developing a computer controlled vertical take-off, vertical-landing spacecraft for the tourist trade, and the Space Diver team thinks the craft could offer the perfect jumping-off point.

The diver would trigger an airbag, springloaded seat, or a small parachute to move away from the spacecraft as fast as possible, so as to avoid a collision as he tumbled into the abyss. Then it would be up to the spacesuit to make sure the he copes with frigid temperatures and near vacuum to return safely.

Space promoter Rick Tumlinson, who has created the company Space Diver with Clark and others, also founded Orbital Outfitters, Los Angeles, to design, manufacture and lease spacesuits (motto: "Have space suit – will travel").

At an altitude of 20 miles, the air is so thin that there will be no rushing of air and little impression of falling. Gradually, as the air becomes denser, pressure against the diver’s body will increase and air friction will heat the suit, which will contain a circulating liquid cooling system.

One problem under study is how to prevent divers from going into a spin, which could leave them unconscious.The team is still debating whether a head-first posture or the traditional spreadeagled horizontal position is likely to work best. Once within a mile or so of the ground, the main parachute will deploy automatically.

Armadillo’s craft will be commanded from the ground, so after the diver has ejected it will return to Earth automatically. By early next year, Space Diver aims to begin low-altitude tests with dummies, then people, starting at a modest altitude of about two miles. "We need to show that we can leave the vehicle safely," Tumlinson tells New Scientist.

Ultimately, Tumlinson aims to develop technology to allow astronauts to bail out of orbiting craft and return safely to Earth, for instance in small inflatable "lifeboats".

If you can’t wait until 2009, there’s human gliding in the Alps: