‘Space plane’ readies for launch


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(Click image to Download) The Intermediate experimental Vehicle. Photo: ESA 

Europe’s first-ever “space plane” will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace says after a three-month delay to fine-tune the flight plan.

The unmanned, car-sized vessel will be sent into low orbit by Europe’s Vega light rocket, on a 100-minute fact-finding flight to inform plans to build a shuttle-like, reusable space vehicle.

Dubbed IXV, for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, the plane will be boosted from Europe’s space pad in Kourou, French Guiana, and separate from its launcher at an altitude of 320 kilometres.

The European Space Agency website says it will attain an altitude of around 450k kilometres before re-entering the atmosphere at an altitude of 120 kilometres – representative of a return mission from low orbit.

The vessel is expected to collect data on its hypersonic and supersonic flight phases, before plunging into the Pacific Ocean with a parachute.

The initial launch had been scheduled for November 18, but Arianespace in October announced a postponement “to carry out additional flight trajectory analyses”.

“Based on joint work by ESA [the European Space Agency] and CNES [the French space agency], the date for the IXV mission to be launched by Vega has been set for February 11, 2015,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Developed over five years at a cost of 150 million euros ($225 million), the IXV is the testbed for a reusable vehicle that may one day be able to land on a conventional runway on Earth after a mission to space.

This could be useful for bringing astronauts back from the International Space Station (ISS).

The only craft currently able to ferry astronauts to the ISS and back is Russia’s Soyuz.

Last month saw two major setbacks for the space industry.

On October 28, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded shortly after launch on what was to be a supply mission to the ISS, followed three days later by the crash of Virgin Galactic tourist space plane SpaceShipTwo on a test flight, killing one of two pilots.

Source : smh

Tragedy won’t crush space tourism, supporters say


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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


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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