Tragedy won’t crush space tourism, supporters say


virgin_galactic3

The second crash this week of a space craft is a setback for the fledgling field of space tourism, aerospace experts say. But it’s unlikely to stop an industry that has attracted a trio of ambitious, daring billionaires like Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk from trying to open a pathway for ordinary citizens to travel into space.

VirginGalactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which was designed to ultimately carry paying passengers into suborbital space, crashed Friday in the Mojave Desert during a test flight. The accident occurred three days after an Orbital Sciences rocket headed to the International Space Station exploded within seconds of liftoff in Virginia.

Pedro Llanos, who teaches about the commercialization of space at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus, said that space travel has suffered similar, sometimes deadly setbacks, in other stages of its evolution.

“It happened … in the space era with the Apollo. It happened with the shuttle,” he said. “The reason it happened in the past is because we were testing new technologies. It’s happening now because we are pushing technology’s boundaries, to move space exploration forward.”

Such exploration is critical, Llanos said, whether it’s to create the possibility of mining asteroids for resources that are scarce on earth, or perfecting technology that will one day allow a person in California to travel to Australia within a couple of hours. “It will help us,” he says. “It will help society.”

Now XCOR Aerospace, which has been developing its own suborbital vehicle, may get its paying passengers into space first, says John Spencer, founder and president of the West Los Angeles-based Space Tourism Society.

“It may be now that XCOR is first to go into a commercial setting because it will take a while for Virgin Galactic to catch up,” he says.

“Virgin Galactic will eventually recover … because of the extensive experience Branson and the Virgin brand has with one of the world’s most successful airlines. Being first is cool but that doesn’t really matter when you’re creating a long-term vision for an expanding industry,” Spencer said.

Among the hundreds who have paid tens of thousands of dollars for a ticket on one of Virgin Galactic’s flights are actors Ashton Kutcher, Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie. Spencer said those who want to go to space aren’t easily dissuaded.

“One of the inherently unique aspects of space is it is dangerous but people are willing to risk their lives for that experience,” Spencer said. “Just like climbing Mount Everest or sky diving.”

Source : USA TODAY

Virgin Galactic space rocket crash: Richard Branson’s dream of space tourism suffers setback after Mojave crash kills test pilot


375133_630x354

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo went down Friday afternoon, killing at least one while highlighting safety concerns that Richard Branson said could kill the space tourism industry.

Investors see private space travel as the market of the future. According to the Space Angels Network, an organization created to connect investors with entrepreneurs in the private space travel business, in 2012 the global space economy was valued at over $300 billion. The network says it is expected to grow to $600 billion by 2030.

On Tuesday, an unmanned rocket manufactured by Orbital Sciences, a Virginia company NASA has contracted to resupply the space station, exploded during its launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This engine used in the flight, the Antares 130, is powered by old Soviet engines.

For years, Richard Branson, who owns a part of Virgin Galactic, has touted the bright future of space tourism. In February, he said that he and his children would be on the first space tourism flight.

Everybody who signs up knows this is the birth of a new space program and understands the risks that go with that,” Branson said in an interview for Weekend magazine. “But every person wants to go on the first flight.”

He even alluded to the fact that accidents could kill the industry. Right now, tickets to space cost a minimum $250,000 each.

“Space is hard, and today was a tough day,” said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, at a press conference. “We believe we owe to the folks who were flying these vehicles to understand this and to move forward, which is what we’ll do.”

Source : The Independent