Tag: Virgin Galactic

“Earth to Earth” Space Travel With Supersonic Airliners

Article by Thomas Burghardt                                        December 26, 2020                                    (nasaspaceflight.com)

• The future of ‘Earth to Earth’ commercial transportation in the 2020’s appears to lie in two alternatives: ‘suborbital flights’ which fly above the official American boundary of space at 80 kilometers altitude, and ‘supersonic aircraft’ that stay within the Earth’s atmosphere. The suborbital craft will get you there faster (arriving anywhere on Earth in under an hour), while the supersonic aircraft will get you there safer. SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are the only two companies flying humans into space today.

• The CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk, developed the suborbital flight concept in 2017 to transport large payloads to Mars for colonization. By attaching additional ‘Raptor engines,’ the ‘Starship’ craft’s launch system is also able to transport cargo – and eventually passengers – suborbitally from one place to another on Earth without the need for the ‘Super Heavy’ booster rocket (which is required to push the Starship craft fully into space). Test flights of the suborbital Starship system could begin in 2022.

• Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic’s ‘SpaceShipTwo’ is another suborbital craft flying in lower Earth orbit. The spacecraft is carried into the upper atmosphere by piggy-backing on a larger airplane and launches from there. Virgin Galactic and its manufacturing partner, Scaled Composites (a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman), plan to develop a next generation version of SpaceShipTwo (‘SpaceShipThree’?) to provide suborbital trans-continental spaceflights for passengers once it has proven itself with cargo flights.

• Astra is another spacecraft company that has plans to conduct Earth-to-Earth suborbital cargo transportation using its ‘Rocket 3’ design, possibly beginning in 2022.

• Boom Supersonic rolled out its ‘XB-1’ prototype supersonic aircraft in November 2020. It plans to develop its supersonic passenger airliner, ‘Overture’, in 2021, and plans to be operational – carrying up to 88 passengers at ranges up to almost 5000 miles – by 2029. Both Japan Airlines and the Virgin Group have placed orders for the Overture craft. Notwithstanding, Virgin Galactic recently unveiled a partnership with Rolls-Royce to develop its own supersonic aircraft capable of Mach 3, with a passenger capacity of up to 19 people.

• Aerion Supersonic, with headquarters in Melbourne, Florida (just south of Space Force station Cape Canaveral), is developing its ‘AS2 Supersonic Business Jet’, in partnership with Boeing and General Electric. It is designed to carry up to 10 passengers at speeds up to Mach 1.4.

• Both hypersonic suborbital space travel and supersonic atmospheric flight methods produce sonic booms. Supersonic aircraft produce sonic booms along the entire flight path. (This contributed to the demise of the Aérospatiale and the Concorde supersonic craft.) Rockets, on the other hand, only cause audible sonic booms during landing. The shockwaves created during a rocket launch move upwards and away from any observers to hear them.

• Aside from sonic booms, rockets will produce potentially dangerous noise levels and ‘blast danger areas’ during launch, especially those on the scale of SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy booster. Companies such as SpaceX plan to solve this by launching and landing far offshore from population centers, which will require additional transportation between the spaceport and the destination city. Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division is developing the ‘X-59 QueSST’ (Quiet Supersonic Technology) for NASA’s Low-Boom Flight Demonstration Program, to decrease the intensity of the supersonic shockwave so as not to disturb populated areas. Test flights for the X-59 are scheduled to begin in 2023 to inform legislation on approving supersonic air travel over populated areas.

• A safety advantage that winged aircraft have over propulsively landed rockets is the ability to glide in the event of an engine failure. These new supersonic airliners and spaceplane concepts are designed to be able to glide towards a controlled emergency landing. Vehicles which rely on their engines to land safely, such as Starship, do not have this contingency.

• The costs of space launches and the limited capacity on supersonic airliners will mean higher ticket prices. Will the appeal of shorter travel time outweigh the increased price? Some vehicles, such as Blue Origin‘s New Shepard rocket or Virgin Galactic’s own SpaceShipTwo, cater to ‘space tourists’ who will book a flight just to experience high speed air travel or suborbital spaceflight. They may even opt for a ticket on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon or Starship craft to experience low orbit space.

• Companies developing suborbital and supersonic commercial craft are also conscious of their carbon footprint. Their engines are designed to remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as is emitted by the flight system, to achieve ‘carbon neutrality’. SpaceX’s ‘Starship Mars’ is designed to capture methane on Mars in order to refuel the craft for its return trip to Earth.

 

                SpaceX’s ‘Starship’

Commercial spaceflight companies are preparing to enter a new market: suborbital flights from one place to

        Virgin Galactic’s ‘Spaceship Two’

another on Earth. Aiming for fast transportation for passengers and cargo, these systems are being developed by a combination of established companies, such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, and new ones like Astra.

Technical and business challenges lie ahead for this new frontier, and an important piece is the coming wave of supersonic aircraft which could offer safer but slower alternatives to spaceflight. These two different approaches could face off in the 2020s to be the future of transportation on Earth.
(Lead image via Mack Crawford for NSF/L2)

Suborbital space travel

        Astra’s ‘Rocket 3’

The most prevalent concept for suborbital Earth to Earth transportation comes from none other than Elon Musk and

     Boom Supersonic’s ‘XB-1’ prototype

SpaceX. Primarily designed for transporting large payloads to Mars for the purpose of colonization, the next generation Starship launch system offers a bonus capability for transporting large amounts of cargo around Earth.

Musk first presented this idea in 2017, envisioning suborbital spaceflights between spaceports offshore from major cities. These launch and landing facilities would be far enough to reduce the disruption of rocket launch noise levels and sonic booms produced by landing vehicles, connected to land by a high speed form of transportation such as speedboats or a hyperloop.

Originally, these Earth to Earth flights were expected to use both stages of the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) rocket, since evolved and renamed to the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy booster. In 2019, Musk revealed that these suborbital flights could instead utilize only the Starship vehicle with no booster, achievable for distances of approximately 10,000 kilometers or less. In order to meet thrust requirements, a single stage suborbital Starship would include an additional two to four Raptor engines.

              Boom Supersonic’s ‘Overture’
Aerion Supersonic‘s ‘AS2 Supersonic Business Jet’

Given the inherent danger of rocket powered space travel, the Starship system will complete many, possibly hundreds of flights before flying passengers, with the first Earth to Earth test flights beginning as early as 2022.

Another side effect of the Starship Mars architecture, which requires that methane be captured from Martian resources to refuel spacecraft and return to Earth, is that the same propellant production processes can be used on Earth to make Starship operations carbon neutral.

The idea of carbon neutrality, removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as is emitted by the system, is a crucial part of ensuring that future transportation systems do not contribute to the harmful effects of climate change. Musk has confirmed that carbon neutrality is an important goal of the Starship program.

        Lockheed Martin’s ‘X-59 QueSST’

SpaceX is not the only major commercial spaceflight company with a suborbital transportation concept. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic also has a vision of space travel around Earth. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon flying astronauts to Low Earth Orbit, and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo flying crew on suborbital trajectories above the official American boundary of space at 80 kilometers altitude, are the only two commercial companies actively flying humans to space today. A successor to SpaceShipTwo is planned that could provide trans-continental spaceflights for passengers.

While no technical details of a “SpaceShipThree” have been announced by Virgin Galactic, it is fairly likely that the vehicle would be air launched, similar to the SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplanes. SpaceShipThree was originally intended to be a orbital vehicle, developed jointly by Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites.

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Virgin Galactic to Help Train Astronauts for NASA

Article by Paul R. La Monica                          June 22, 2020                              (weny.com)

• On June 22nd, Virgin Galactic announced that it has signed a deal with NASA to train private astronauts and coordinate trips to the orbiting International Space Station. Virgin Galactic will develop a new private orbital astronaut readiness program to identify candidates who will pay for a trip to space, arrange for their transportation and provide ground and orbital resources.

• Virgin Galactic will probably use the services of SpaceX or Boeing to actually get astronauts to the space station. Boeing has invested $20 million in Virgin Galactic. The company’s own SpaceShipTwo is a suborbital spaceplane that is incapable of making it to the cislunar ISS. Virgin Galactic says it has already received about 600 reservations for suborbital flights at the approximate price of $250,000 per seat.

• Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will continue to use SpaceShipTwo for suborbital training flights, ranging from private citizens to government-backed scientific and technological research missions, to allow passengers to become familiar with the environment in space, such as G-forces and zero-G.

• Enthusiasm for space commerce is apparent in the stock market. Virgin Galactic stock shares have soared, even though the company continues to lose money. There is even a publicly traded investment fund with a ‘UFO’ brand that invests in companies catering to the business of space travel and exploration, having Virgin Galactic at the top of the list. Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s ‘SpaceX’ and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ‘Blue Origin’ also have space travel companies.

 

      Virgin Galactic’s ‘SpaceShip Two’

SpaceX won’t be the only private company bringing people to the International Space Station. Virgin Galactic announced Monday that it has signed a deal with NASA to train private astronauts and coordinate potential trips to the ISS.

Shares of Virgin Galactic soared more than 10% on the news. The stock has surged nearly 45% so far in 2020, largely due to optimism about demand for private space travel, even though it continues to lose money.

As part of Virgin Galactic’s deal with NASA, the company will “develop a new private orbital astronaut readiness program,” it said in a statement.

                   Sir Richard Branson

“This program will include identifying candidates interested in purchasing private astronaut missions to the ISS, the procurement of transportation to the ISS, on-orbit resources, and ground resources,” the company added.

Virgin Galactic will likely need the services of SpaceX or aerospace giant Boeing, which is developing the Starliner space capsule and has invested $20

million in Virgin Galactic, to actually get astronauts to the space station.

Virgin Galactic’s own SpaceShipTwo is a suborbital spaceplane that is incapable of making it to the ISS, and the company has only sent five people to space on two suborbital test flights. The company says it has already received about 600 reservations for suborbital flights at the approximate price of $250,000 per seat.

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Space Law and the Galactic Economy

Article by Abdulla Abu Wasel                               June 8, 2020                            (entrepreneur.com)

• Fifty years ago, outer space was reserved for the most powerful of nations and the most dominant of governments. Today, it is private commercial industry that is inching us closer to the cosmos. There is a growing interdependence between what is happening in space and what is happening down below on Earth. The commercial space industry, with its multi-million-dollar rockets and satellites, is now worth about $400 billion. Space commerce is increasingly playing a part in our everyday lives.

• The International Civil Aviation Organization governs ‘air’ altitudes. So where does ‘space’ begin? The international community has not been able to agree on a common definition. Australia is the only country in the world that defines space as anything beyond 100 kilometers above the ground. While nations may own the ‘air’ over them, ‘space’ is for everybody. No nation can own property in space, and no nation can make any territorial claim in space. You need consent to fly over another country’s airspace. But if you are in ‘outer space’, you can fly over any country without consent, and even legally engage in espionage.

• With the establishment of the United States’ Space Force, we will likely see the rules of war extended into outer space. The language in the Outer Space Treaty about the use of outer space for exclusively peaceful purposes needs interpretation. ‘Peaceful purposes’ only prohibits the aggressive use of military force. So non-aggressive military force is okay? Has the establishment of the U.S. Space Force made the militarization of space perfectly legal?

• At the end of the day, the Space Force is about building political constituency for orbit, while investing in spacecraft that can defend and attack, if necessary. This represents a great deal of money for private companies, with almost half-a-dozen government defense agencies already pumping millions of dollars into space startups to build everything from radar networks to high-tech materials.

• The majority of the money to be made in space lies in satellite-provided services, and these services are likely to surge the space economy. The significant increase in satellites, far beyond the 2,300 operational satellites in space now, will bring a multitude of costs and benefits. We have seen venture capitalists directing millions of dollars towards small satellite companies with big aspirations, such as Spire, Capella Space, Hawkeye360, and Swarm.

• These space economy companies vary in their business models, from communicating with internet devices to tracking radio signals in order to gather radar data, and imaging every angle of the Earth. This all depends on the cost of building and operating the spacecraft needed to accomplish the work that they desire. SpaceX and Boeing are in the final phase of their private space transportation service in cooperation with NASA. Soon, both companies will have permission to start flying wealthy space tourists and corporate point men into space.

• On June 3rd, NASA launched astronauts into space from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011, and took them to the International Space Station via Falcon 9, a vehicle that was purchased from SpaceX. For $250,000, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will take tourists to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere in space. But NASA’s aim is the Moon. Since ice water was discovered on the Moon, starry-eyed space seekers would like to see NASA establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon rather than hiring private companies to build rovers, landers, and spacecraft to carry scientific instruments to the Moon.

• But, as we have seen, the commercial economy benefits greatly from scientific advancements gleaned from space exploration, such as transistors, solar panels, and batteries. It has brought forth the smartphone revolution, the evolution of broadcast media, telecommunications, commerce, and the internet as a whole. The new era of space exploration may be one small step for man, but it is one giant leap for the private sector economy.

 

The commercial space industry is heating up– 50 years ago, outer space was reserved for the most powerful of nations and the most dominant governments, but today, there is a democratization of space. Commercial industry is inching us closer to the cosmos, and in the process, there is a growing interdependence between what is happening hundreds of miles up into space and down below on Earth. Currently, the space market is worth approximately US$400 billion, and the commercial space industry, using multi-million-dollar rockets and satellites, is increasingly playing a part in our everyday lives. Although you may have been hearing about this phenomenon in recent years, this launch into the new world has been ongoing for decades.

This brings about the question of property rights. Where does space begin, and if there is a dispute in space, who decides it? Australia is the only country in the world that defines where space begins; defining it as 100 kilometers up. However, where the air ends (and the air law regime, which is governed by the International Civil Aviation Organization), and where space begins is a matter that the international community have not been able to agree on. People either want to set limits- set a height based on kilometers like Australia has done, or they take the approach of the United States who look at it as a use, i.e. what did you use, are you launching a rocket that is intended to go into orbit, or are you just launching a plane that is going to go high into the air. This is important, because nations own the air over them. Right now, space is for everybody. No nation can own property in space, and no nation can make any territorial claim in space.

You need consent to fly over another country if you are in the airspace, but on the flip side of that, if you believe that you are in outer space, you can fly over any country without consent, and even engage in espionage legally. Espionage is one part of the political military contest, but how else is space dealt with from a military perspective? With the recent establishment of the United State’s Space Force, we will likely see the same rules of war extended into outer space. The language in the Outer Space Treaty about the use of outer space for exclusively peaceful purposes is beautifully aspirational language, but the devil is in the interpretation: what does it mean to use space for peaceful purposes? The way that this has been virtually explained is that peaceful purposes only prohibit the aggressive use of military force, and as long as you are not engaged in naked aggression, then you are peaceful in your use of outer space.

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