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Scientists, Not Just Tourists, Are Getting Tickets to Ride Into Suborbital Space

Roblimo posted more than 3 years ago | from the price-war-at-the-OK-space-corral dept.

Space 52

"Science, perhaps even more than tourism (free reg. may be required to read), could turn out to be big business for Virgin Galactic and other companies that are aiming to provide short rides above the 62-mile altitude that marks the official entry into outer space, eventually on a daily basis." Virgin is looking at ticket prices in the $200,000 range, which is peanuts compared to the millions some scientific space expeditions can cost, even for brief experiments. And if you don't even have *that* much in your research budget, John Carmack has been touting $105,000 space flights for nearly a year now, and Xcor Aerospace has been taking $95,000 space ride reservations since 2008. It looks like the biggest customer for short space flights for scientific experiments so far is the Southwest Research Institute, but many others are lining up, especially since, the article quotes one scientist as saying, “It’s almost impossible to get research on the space station at the moment." Of course, none of these commercial space ventures has actually carried any paying passengers into space yet, but it's only a matter of time before some of them do.

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52 comments

Therein lies the rub... (3, Funny)

Third Position (1725934) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343040)

When the experiments will get to space has not been set. Neither company has yet announced when commercial flights will begin, but eventually SpaceShipTwo could fly once or twice a day, and the Lynx is designed for up to four flights a day.

Until they get some solid dates attached to those flights, this kind of thing remains in the realm of wishful thinking. But I wish them all the best.

Re:Therein lies the rub... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35343146)

The first time one of these things detonates on the pad, or augurs into the the ground on re-entry, the party will be over. No one will want anything to do with them.

Re:Therein lies the rub... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343180)

No way. Planes crash and we still use those, same with cars and trains. Rockets will not be any different.

Re:Therein lies the rub... (0)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 3 years ago | (#35345410)

Your comment made me think of Wild E. Coyote strapping himself to a rocket to catch the Road Runner. Somehow I feel there is a sense of familiarity with this, only it's not a road runner people are rushing to catch.

Re:Therein lies the rub... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35343334)

Oh, I don't know. Might be a good way to achieve immortality. Raise your hand if you're sick of the phrase "...including teacher Christa McAuliffe..."

Re:Therein lies the rub... (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35346050)

The first time one of these things detonates on the pad, or augurs into the the ground on re-entry, the party will be over. No one will want anything to do with them.

So every time an airplane crashes the whole of aviation is shut down world-wide?

There will most certainly be an accident review board if something happens, and if there is reason to blame the engineering of the vehicle there will be perhaps a suspension (temporary or permanent) for that type of spacecraft until the problem is fixed or the spacecraft is pulled from the market. That is true for any aircraft right now as well.

This is of course the reason there needs to be multiple groups of engineers trying very different designs and approaches too, so if one particular design doesn't work then you still have other ways to get around. That was the problem with the Space Shuttle, where a mishap shut the program down for years and there wasn't an alternative.

Re:Therein lies the rub... (1)

thsths (31372) | more than 3 years ago | (#35345664)

> Until they get some solid dates attached to those flights, this kind of thing remains in the realm of wishful thinking. But I wish them all the best.

Indeed, there are three flaws with this offer:

- This is not a reservation, it is an investment. If the technology and the business works, you will be rewarded with a space flight (and the real investors will get real money.)
- It does not fly to outer space, not even close. It just flies pretty high and you get to feel some 0g. Big deal.
- 0g isn't nearly as much fun with your seat belt on.

So I hate to say it, but the budget option does not seem to deliver value for money.

i came (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35343100)

feels good man

How can they pay? (1)

grimJester (890090) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343142)

Most scientific research doesn't have budgets far enough into the future to book $100-200k flights without knowing even which year it'll fly. Seems like a potentially huge market otherwise though.

Meanwhile in some top scientific research lab... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35343156)

Ehrm...where are all our MacBooks?

Re:How can they pay? (2)

miserere nobis (1332335) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343468)

Seems to me that scientists have been regularly booking multi-million dollar flights on the Space Shuttle for the last quarter of a century without knowing even which year it would fly.

Re:How can they pay? (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35347512)

Well it's back to the chicken and egg problem. In order to take off, commercial spaceflights need paying customers. But many would-be paying customers don't want to invest so much money in hardware that hasn't actually flown yet. So we kind of get stuck in this position where some organizations with a bit of extra cash have to take a risk with their money, and some spaceflight organizations with good sales skills have to sell their flights without overselling them (in terms of advertising too much capability).

But these kinds of risks are the same type of thing that any new and groundbreaking industry has to face as it tries to gain a foothold in modern society. The only difference is, this industry is actually attempting to blow its customers up, just in a very controlled manner along a very precise 'upward' trajectory.

What is included? (3, Funny)

bth (635955) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343184)

Is there a $25 baggage check fee?

Re:What is included? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35343902)

Is there a $25 baggage check fee?

No, there's only one rate with no hidden charges, but you have to use SouthwestResearchInstitute.com to book your flight, they don't have tickets on any other site.

What sort of experiments? (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343190)

Out of curiosity (and no I'm not trying to be snarky but actually curious) what sorts of experiments are people looking to carry out in 5 minutes of free fall? Doesn't seem like a lot of time.

Re:What sort of experiments? (3, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343222)

Five minutes is plenty of time for me, even including foreplay and a couple minutes of cuddling afterwards...

Re:What sort of experiments? (2)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343246)

...what sorts of experiments are people looking to carry out in 5 minutes of free fall?

I've written up a proposal to see if anyone can hear me scream.

Re:What sort of experiments? (4, Insightful)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343342)

Plenty of experiments rely on microgravity -- as an aerospace engineer most of my experience has been in testing devices for use in space, but I know theres a lot of biology and materials work done as well.

There is certainly a market. Consider that Zero G Corp and the old Vomet Comet got plenty of research done, and there you were stuck with less than a minute of microgravity at a time. Suborbital flights are a midpoint between parabolic flights and orbital flight both in terms of cost and time.

Also, I know that another point of research that there's a lot of interest in isn't so much for the microgravity environment, but that the vehicles are travelling through the least understood parts of the atmosphere. This provides a great opportunity to learn about the upper atmosphere.

Re:What sort of experiments? (3, Interesting)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343372)

Out of curiosity (and no I'm not trying to be snarky but actually curious) what sorts of experiments are people looking to carry out in 5 minutes of free fall? Doesn't seem like a lot of time.

How much time do you really for Zero-G sex, porn to make millions and promote Zero-G experimentation? Imagination is as limitless as space itself.

Re:What sort of experiments? (4, Informative)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343384)

I don't have much idea myself, but there are some metallurgy applications. You can make some alloys out of otherwise immiscible metals. Melt them on the ground, stir quickly at the start of the free fall period and quench the mix.

There's also some composite materials that consist of a metal and gaseous component. For example, you might have some sort of hollow beads with a metal binder. The radical density differences make this a hard material to build in normal Earth environment. Or you might be trying to make a solid metallic foam.

Another zero gee favorite is large protein crystals (for crystallography). The five minute period might be enough to create fairly large and relatively flawless crystals in some cases.

There's one final reason even when zero gee processes take much longer than five minutes. It's a cheap way to test the equipment before you put it in a really expensive environment.

For example, if you have a kit for making proteins in a week, it would suck to put that on the ISS and find out that you have a horde of technical problems that need to worked out by very expensive astronauts. Even five minutes is enough to get the gear running and find problems that manifest quickly.

Two other choices are planes flying parabolic trajectories (NASA's "Vomit Comet" gives about 25 seconds of free fall, for example) and dropping stuff on the Earth (which gives a few seconds).

I think it would be a useful duration/price point for free fall experiments.

Re:What sort of experiments? (2)

chr1973 (711475) | more than 3 years ago | (#35346120)

Experiments have been performed in microgravity for many years now.
Some methods:
* Drop towers, giving you a few seconds of microgravity
* Parabolic flights, a.ka. vomet comet. About 20 s of microgravity IIRC.
* Sounding rockets, i.e. sub-orbital. Duration depends on rocket motor. For example:
** The REXUS program for students use Nike-Improved Orion, gives you 2-3 min.
** The MASER program for scientists use VSB-30, gives you 6-8 min (250-320 km)
** The MAXUS program use Castor 4B, gives you 12-14 min (>700 km)
* Satellite or ISS. Gives you a long time of microgravity

As for experiments, have a look here: http://ssc.se/microgravity-payloads-2.aspx [ssc.se] You will find links to various experiments. A biological experiemnt could be about the behaviour of blood cells or frog eggs in microgravity. A metallurgical experiment could be how metal behaves as it solidifies in microgravity. Or a fluid experiment, to see how fluids behave in microgravity, e.g. boiling and Marconi bubbles. /C (Note: I work for the Swedish Space Corporation, my department builds experiment payloads for microgravity).

PS. If you are a student, have a look at the REXUS program. http://ssc.se/?id=5863 [ssc.se] . It is _way_ cool to get to build something that flies in space.

"Experiments" (2)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343244)

Yeah, just like we "experimented" with drugs and whatnot in college, some people apparently can now afford to "experiment" with membership in the "37 Mile High Club"!

Re:"Experiments" (1)

Cant use a slash wtf (1973166) | more than 3 years ago | (#35345378)

I don't even want to think about the concept of sex in zero gravity. The end result could be the most expensive mess you've ever made.

Re:"Experiments" (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35346220)

I don't even want to think about the concept of sex in zero gravity. The end result could be the most expensive mess you've ever made.

I just closed the tab on the story about the idiot who was conned out of $200,000 (not sure which country's dollars) for some "online girlfriend" ; The coincidence of prices and stories is highly amusing.

Re:"Experiments" (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35346618)

Heh reminds me of reading this message board where some people were discussing good local spots around town to go as a couple to have sex in a different place.

Someone mentioned how great a local place that rents hot tubs was, and how its ok, and the owners don't seem to mind etc. A couple of other people chimed in about it.

It ended in a rather longer post by the owner of the place saying he is no prude, and totally understands but, they are a business, and if they find out you had sex in the hot tub, they have to drain it, clean it, and that means canceling other peoples appointments.

At least that all stays in the tub, which can be drained. I have to imaging that jizz mopping the cabin of a space flight plane would be less than a fun task.

Re:"Experiments" (1)

martinux (1742570) | more than 3 years ago | (#35347364)

As a person who has never taken drugs I'm tempted to go just to tell my friends, "I've been higher than any of you have ever been".

Re:"Experiments" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35348166)

As a person who has never taken drugs I'm tempted to go just to tell my friends, "I've been higher than any of you have ever been".

How would you know?

WHY (1)

atari2600a (1892574) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343380)

Is this the unusual exception!? This saddens me about the state of our society...

With all these tourists, what about super bugs? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35343490)

Space flight turns Salmonella into super-bug.

http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2009/09/space_flight_turns_salmonella_into_super-bug.php

Who's going to bring the first deadly virus back to Earth?

Nigerian Space Agency (1)

ckeo (220727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343742)

Is now booking flights on its new breakthrough space ship to fly at some unknown flight in the future.
Tickets are set at the breakthrough price of $50,000 US and must be paid in full in advance to my personal offshore bank account.

Profit !!

Huge difference between these and low orbit (3, Interesting)

Frangible (881728) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343746)

Virgin's the furthest ahead here, and has a small fleet of Scaled Composite's SpaceShipTwo currently in testing. It's an aircraft-launched rocket plane, derivative of the Boeing X-20. The earlier SpaceShipOne was derivative of the Bell X-15.

Max altitudes:
- SS2: 110km (est.)
- SS1: 112km
- X-15: 108km
- X-20: 160km (est.)
- Silbervogel: 145km (est.) (WWII German design the X-20 is derived from)
- Me-263 Komet: 14km (WWII German fighter the X-15 is derived from)

(Yes, the "Sputnik moment" of using German technology strikes again)

The ISS is parked at about 186km.

The rocket plane design is cheap, but I'm not sure it's possible to actually get the necessary altitude with it. I don't know if the X-20 would've gotten that altitude or not, but Scaled Composite's estimate of 110km seems more sane given their design carries 7 more people than the X-20.

The ISS's problem isn't the cost involved in getting to it as the Soyuz is pretty cheap -- which is $45k per seat to NASA, or $20k/seat to space tourists -- it's that the number of personnel is limited by the escape spacecraft, which has been a single Soyuz capsule, so there can only be three astronauts there at any one time. NASA was supposed to have made an escape shuttle that would hold more for the ISS, but Congress canceled the funding before it could be completed.

I don't know that these designs are actually that practical for much as they don't achieve low-earth orbit. But if nothing else, it goes to show that Germany had some damn fine rocket engineers in the 1940s.

Re:Huge difference between these and low orbit (1)

Frangible (881728) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343760)

Apologies, the Soyuz prices should be in millions of US dollars, not thousands.

ISS number wrong (2)

grimJester (890090) | more than 3 years ago | (#35343858)

According to Wikipedia, the ISS orbits at 344-359km, or 186-194 nautical miles. [wikipedia.org]

Some calculations give a top speed for SpaceShipTwo at 1/7th of the ISS's orbital velocity, so they're pretty far off.

Parabolic flight != orbit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35345242)

Reaching that altitude versus reaching that orbit are two different things.

Re:ISS number wrong (1)

Frangible (881728) | more than 3 years ago | (#35346086)

Thanks for the correction-- wish I could edit my post to include it. And that's an interesting point about orbital velocity; I hadn't even considered that.

Re:Huge difference between these and low orbit (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35344750)

The earlier SpaceShipOne was derivative of the Bell X-15.

Other than having a completely different engine, completely different electronics, completely different thermal protection, completely different aerodynamics, completely different... Well, you get the picture. SS1 is no more 'derived' from the X-15 than my PC is 'derived' from the Difference Engine. And the same goes for your other 'derivations' - how can the SS1 be 'derived' from the X-15, but the aerodynamically identical SS2 be 'derived' from the X-20, which is radically different from the X-15?
 

The rocket plane design is cheap, but I'm not sure it's possible to actually get the necessary altitude with it. I don't know if the X-20 would've gotten that altitude or not, but Scaled Composite's estimate of 110km seems more sane given their design carries 7 more people than the X-20.

The Space Shuttle reaches it's designed orbital altitude - what makes you think the X-20 wouldn't have been able to?
 

But if nothing else, it goes to show that Germany had some damn fine rocket engineers in the 1940s.

For the 1940's, yeah. But they're no more responsible for the current craft than James Watt is for nuclear power plant.

Re:Huge difference between these and low orbit (0)

Frangible (881728) | more than 3 years ago | (#35346072)

Other than having a completely different engine, completely different electronics, completely different thermal protection, completely different aerodynamics, completely different... Well, you get the picture. SS1 is no more 'derived' from the X-15 than my PC is 'derived' from the Difference Engine.

Woah. Yeah, it has different electronics than something from the 1960s. Why's that surprising? Every aircraft and spacecraft that's been around for a while has seen numerous updates to its electronics (and sometimes avionics) with each block revision.

The fundamental concept of the rocket plane, launch from an aircraft, performance, and design are quite similar. Google "X-15 spaceshipone", I'm not really presenting a unique idea here. The most significant costs of spacecraft development are the R&D costs -- don't you think Scaled Composites looked over what has been done in the past here and studied it quite carefully?

And the same goes for your other 'derivations' - how can the SS1 be 'derived' from the X-15, but the aerodynamically identical SS2 be 'derived' from the X-20, which is radically different from the X-15?

Are we looking at the same pictures here? They most certainly are not "aerodynamically identical"... their size, profile, performance, and characteristics are completely different. The SS1 is a "flying bullet" design quite similar to the X-15. The SS2, otoh, is more similar to the X-20 than it is to the SS1. Again, Google "X-20 spaceshiptwo" -- I am not making any novel observations here.

My point is this: here are the current spaceplanes, here are the historical ones that share many design and performance similarities. The holy grail for orbital research isn't 5 minutes on a SS2 vomit comet, it's getting the stuff to ISS-- the single most expensive object ever created by man, which we are underusing because of a lack of escape craft that hold more than three astronauts. We need to fix the underlying problem. The ISS was designed for orbital research... it kills me that it's being neglected and our manned space program is falling apart. Commercial spaceplanes aren't a substitute for the Space Shuttle. And given the fact that the design and performance has not changed a whole lot, I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect huge innovation here that can replace the ISS for orbital research.

You know what happened the last time our manned space program lapsed and we had a neglected space station, Skylab? It de-orbited and crashed into the ocean. Oops.

So yeah, maybe I'm just jaded, but the prospect of orbital research being something that zee Germans could've done on a Me-163 back in 1941 doesn't really impress me.

The Space Shuttle reaches it's designed orbital altitude - what makes you think the X-20 wouldn't have been able to?

I don't know if the Space Shuttle's designed orbital altitude was revised during development or testing -- which the X-20 didn't have -- or not. The X-20's was particularly good relative to other spaceplanes, so it seemed a tad optimistic to me. I certainly could be wrong.

For the 1940's, yeah. But they're no more responsible for the current craft than James Watt is for nuclear power plant.

This sounds like one of those "the AK-47 was totally not based on the StG-44..." posts.

Anyway, moar like Enrico Fermi, amirite? The lineage of the two basic German designs can be traced to modern spaceplanes, and even if you believe they're just coincidentally quite similar in design and performance, they're still similar. Neither the SS1/SS2, coincidentally or not, differ much in performance from the X-15/X-20 that were designed 50 years ago, or the Silbervoger's theoretical performance from 70 years ago. "Stagnant" comes to mind here.

Re:Huge difference between these and low orbit (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#35346300)

Are we looking at the same pictures here? They most certainly are not "aerodynamically identical"... their size, profile, performance, and characteristics are completely different. The SS1 is a "flying bullet" design quite similar to the X-15. The SS2, otoh, is more similar to the X-20 than it is to the SS1. Again, Google "X-20 spaceshiptwo" -- I am not making any novel observations here.

The human brain is great for finding nonexistent patterns. I think maybe SS3 shouldn't be based on X-25 [wikipedia.org] though.

The holy grail for orbital research isn't 5 minutes on a SS2 vomit comet, it's getting the stuff to ISS-- the single most expensive object ever created by man, which we are underusing because of a lack of escape craft that hold more than three astronauts. We need to fix the underlying problem. The ISS was designed for orbital research... it kills me that it's being neglected and our manned space program is falling apart.

Let me share a pattern my brain sees. Development of complex US government aerospace projects is high margin. Maintenance of complex aerospace projects isn't though there is going to be something like $2 billion sunk into the ISS each year. Once the construction phase of the ISS wraps up, the contractors will want to move on to the next profitable thing, probably the "SLS" (Space Launch System), an nebulous heavy launch vehicle.

ISS is working as intended.

Instead, if the US, or anyone else for that matter, were interested in zero gee space science and technology development, then they would have made a smaller, useful station rather than a monster that is extremely difficult to maintain.

Re:Huge difference between these and low orbit (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35348704)

The fundamental concept of the rocket plane, launch from an aircraft, performance, and design are quite similar. Google "X-15 spaceshipone", I'm not really presenting a unique idea here.

Just because it's not unique doesn't mean it's not an idiotic notion. 'Similar' and 'derived' are not synonyms.
 

The most significant costs of spacecraft development are the R&D costs -- don't you think Scaled Composites looked over what has been done in the past here and studied it quite carefully?

Oh, I have no doubt they did. But again, studying the past does not mean their design is derived from what gone before. In particular, SS1/SS2's success relies on something that has *not* gone before - the 'shuttlecock' re-entry mode which is passively stable (unlike the X-15) and leads to thermal loads much, much lower than the X-15's.
 

Are we looking at the same pictures here? They most certainly are not "aerodynamically identical"... their size, profile, performance, and characteristics are completely different.

Well, no, we aren't looking at the same pictures - because I'm not looking at pictures. I'm looking a specifications, flight performance, operational modes, etc... etc... All the hard stuff that goes into actually evaluating a design.
 
And when you do that, the SS2 is virtually identical to SS1. That's why they built SS1 in the first place - to test and prove those concepts.

Commercial spaceplanes aren't a substitute for the Space Shuttle.

No shit Sherlock. And unsurprisingly any one with a clue knows they aren't intended to be.
 

And given the fact that the design and performance has not changed a whole lot, I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect huge innovation here that can replace the ISS for orbital research.

Again, no shit Sherlock. Anyone with a clue knows they aren't intended to do so.
 
Among your many other intellectual failings, it doesn't seem to have occurred to you that there are classes of experiments that need microgravity but that *don't* need to be on the ISS and for which sounding rockets are unsuitable.
 
Somebody actually familiar with microgravity research (which you aren't) knows this is why NASA does research in the Vomit Comet (and numerous other countries and commercial operators have their own versions). This is also why NASA and others operate zero-G drop tubes.
 

You know what happened the last time our manned space program lapsed and we had a neglected space station, Skylab? It de-orbited and crashed into the ocean. Oops.

Someone who is actually familiar with the history of Skylab knows a few things you don't. Like the fact that it wasn't neglected - it was *dead*. There was no further use for it. Like the fact that it was intended to be raised into a graveyard orbit, but we didn't not because it was neglected but because we couldn't be back in time.
 

So yeah, maybe I'm just jaded, but the prospect of orbital research being something that zee Germans could've done on a Me-163 back in 1941 doesn't really impress me.

If the Germans could have done it back in 1943, you'd have a point. But they didn't have the engines, didn't have the materials for the thermal protection system, didn't have the electronics for the guidance system, etc... etc... You're jaded because you're operating under the mistaken notion that you a clue as to what you're talking about.

Re:Huge difference between these and low orbit (2)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#35348108)

Altitude is not the only concern: you need velocity, too. That, actually, is the biggest impediment to getting into orbit. Altitude allows you to get above most of the atmosphere and develop and maintain that great speed without melting. Although it looks like they go straight up, all orbital craft (rockets, the Shuttle, etc.) do a roll maneuver early in flight so that they "fly" nearly horizontal and start developing significant horizontal velocity. It is the horizontal velocity that allows them to get into orbit: tens of thousands of kilometers per second in LEO. If the space shuttle just blasted off and went straight up, it would get to an altitude of many hundreds of miles...then fall straight back down.

The question we want answered though (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35344230)

Is it possible to have sex in space?

There is quite some controversy about this topic and I should get funded to find out.

Re:The question we want answered though (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35345776)

But you haven't even had sex on Earth yet!

You must learn to walk before you can learn to fly. Or however the saying goes.

I'm having troubles seeing it (0)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | more than 3 years ago | (#35345140)

Scientists have been sending up experiments on sounding rockets for many decades (and more recently Pegasus [wikipedia.org] has been available also). So there really is only a gain for experiments that require human intervention to run. And can be done in 5 minutes. And don't contain hazardous substances. And are small enough to take on one of these launches. What does that leave?

(The original article is inaccessible to me - sorry if these questions are answered there.)

Space Elevator? (1)

SwampChicken (1383905) | more than 3 years ago | (#35345272)

I remember thinking it was a good idea, simple design and very resuable. Is no-one following up on the design anymore?

Re:Space Elevator? (1)

Neo Quietus (1102313) | more than 3 years ago | (#35345702)

For a space elevator to be practical, we need a way to produce an extremely strong tether in huge lengths. Last I heard, the longest we were able to grow a carbon nanotube (which has roughly the required strength we need for the tether) was about an inch. So in other words I don't think people have forgotten about the space elevator (or other alternative launch technologies), but they are waiting on improvements in material science.

Re:Space Elevator? (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 3 years ago | (#35347420)

Wasn't there a quote about construction on a space elevator won't begin until 50 years after people stop laughing about the idea?

Fools! (2)

zmollusc (763634) | more than 3 years ago | (#35345422)

Those foolish fools! Virgin is an ISP.
Once those scientists pay Virgin, they will be horrified to find themselves strapped into a Cessna 172 for a flight of 'up to' five minutes of freefall at heights of 'up to' 100,000m.

Any environmental consequences to this? (0)

Krokus (88121) | more than 3 years ago | (#35345614)

I don't pretend to know anything about the effects of daily trips to space on the upper atmosphere. Perhaps it's not much different than the effects of all the airplanes already in the sky every day. Anyone have smarts on this?

Re:Any environmental consequences to this? (1)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35346626)

Given all the planes and automobiles, vs these 3 different planes.... it would be hard for them to get to the point of being significant. I don't see this becoming a consumer mode of travel anytime soon.

Re:Any environmental consequences to this? (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 3 years ago | (#35347430)

Aren't these guys propelled by Oxygen and Hydrogen, and the waste was water?

Re:Any environmental consequences to this? (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#35347592)

It depends a bit on what kind of fuels they are using in their vehicles. I haven't done enough research on suborbital craft to know what types of rocket engines they duct taped to the back of their planes, but there is a large trend towards liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen rockets in the industry right now because they burn clean and basically produce steam as a waste product. Of course, there are also rocket designs that burn everything from Kerosene to tire rubber, some of which can produce some pretty noxious crap.

One of the important things to remember about the current space industry, however, is that launches very rarely occur more than once or twice a month, so the actual volume of exhaust produced is relatively low. However, if any of these companies do start scaling up to daily launches, then such effects will need to be studied. Believe it or not, those of us working in this industry are pretty intelligent individuals who do think ahead about consequences (it comes as a prerequisite for this line of work). So we will be paying attention to concerns such as yours, amongst others.

PongSats (1)

JP126 (783000) | more than 3 years ago | (#35350418)

We've been flying experiments and payloads for students researcher to the edge of space for almost a decade. We've flown over 3,400 of them for nearly 10,000 students. A lot of the news articles about the new suborbital vehicle say out right that access to high altitude flight has never been done before. Experimenting where no experiments have gone before, well, except for experiments conducted by eight year olds. They put there experiments into ping pong balls and we fly them to 100,000 feet for free. We call them PongSats. People use them for everything from plant seeds for student inspiration all the way to university class research.The new guys go higher but the environment at 20 miles is basically the same as the one at 63 miles. Not everybody likes PongSats; I've had NASA officials tell me PongSats are of no importance because they are round and too small, big universities tell me PongSats aren't meaningfully because they are free. Yet none of that stops the thousand of researches using the program. All the new space planes and rockets are pretty cool. I just hope the scientists using them can catch up to the eight year olds. http://www.jpaerospace.com/ [jpaerospace.com] JP
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