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NASA Charters Flights Aboard Virgin's SpaceShipTwo

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the branson's-upper-atmosphere-experience dept.

NASA 76

Zothecula writes "Although Virgin Galactic is generally known as a space tourism company, it sees research experiments as a future mission segment and significant business opportunity. To this end, the company has signed a contract with NASA to provide up to three charter flights on its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane. The deal follows the curtain closing on the Space Shuttle program earlier this year and is part of NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, which is charged with providing reduced-gravity environments for research experiments while encouraging the emerging commercial space industry." In related news, a 68,000-sq. ft. facility has opened in California that will assist in the assembly of SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes.

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Space Fight (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37741700)

Before clicking, I misread "flight" for "fight". I was kinda hoping for a story about a zero-gravity fist fight between 2 astronauts.

Re:Space Fight (0, Offtopic)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#37741734)

Before clicking, I misread "flight" for "fight". I was kinda hoping for a story about a zero-gravity fist fight between 2 astronauts.

Meh. Wouldn't be near as popular as that woman driving cross-country in a diaper trying to kidnap a fellow astronaut. That was pure gold (unless you were in NASA PR, where it was a most definite nightmare.)

Re:Space Fight (1)

Moheeheeko (1682914) | more than 2 years ago | (#37741854)

Im sure if there were chartered fights, it would be Beardy Branson V.S. a bear.

Re:Space Fight (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37743090)

*sigh* just like a human to assume there would be fists involved in a space fight. when are earth people going to realize that not all sentient beings are like them? of course, when humans do see and comment on the differences they are usually labeled as 'speciesist'

Re:Space Fight (2)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743498)

We are so sorry. Does Tentacle fight work better?

When they Ask, Where were you. (1, Insightful)

sabs (255763) | more than 2 years ago | (#37741790)

When they ask, what was the moment that the US gave up. This will be the moment we remember. NASA having to charter flights to space, from a Private Company. When was it that, We the People, finally Deep Throated Corporations. It was then.

Our priorities as a nation are completely screwed up.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (5, Insightful)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | more than 2 years ago | (#37741840)

NASA chartered flights to low earth orbit. NASA built a spacecraft that's going to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Oh, and another one that's going closest to the sun. And robots to scoot around Mars for years at a time. And a telescope (Kepler) that's found hundreds of exoplanets already. Just for starters.

If you want a bigger better NASA then call your congresspeople and support their budget.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742366)

Indeed. LEO is not a frontier, NASA should focus on the hard stuff.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742500)

Amen. NASA doesn't build its own trucks either. This just isn't a big deal.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (4, Informative)

pavon (30274) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742404)

NASA chartered flights to low earth orbit.

And in this case, they didn't even do that; they just chartered ballistic zero-G flights. These SS2 flights replace/supplement the vomit comet, not any of NASA's actual space flight. The fact that the Shuttle was recently retired has nothing to do with this deal at all, and was just a red-herring/troll that should have been cut from the summary.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743482)

While they may be doing things that normally would take place on the KC-135 (aka the "Vomit Comet") that NASA has operated in the past, it mainly is being used to replace the sounding rocket research.... which often went to the same altitudes which SS2 is expected to be reaching.

The use of SS2 offers a number of advantages, most significant is that it is simply cheaper than sounding rockets, and furthermore the principle investigator (or somebody working for the investigator) can even ride along with the experiments being used. The acceleration stress loads are also less with SS2, and in terms of continuous zero-g time the duration is considerably longer than it is on something like the KC-135 or the replacement plane which NASA is using.

I agree that the Shuttle was a red-herring, as NASA does and has done other kinds of research on other platforms even when the Space Shuttle was running.

The one area this might have a little bit of influence over is to give some of the newer members of the NASA astronaut corps their "astronaut wings" a bit earlier than they would otherwise get them (at least the gold vs. silver wings) and give something for astronauts to actually work for instead of sitting in an office in Houston. I can certainly envision how a couple hundred thousand dollars being dumped on an astronaut candidate doing research on something like SS2 first for NASA management to figure out if they have the "right stuff" before sending them on a critical assignment like going to a near-Earth asteroid. For the price of a typical Shuttle mission (depending on how you measure that price), you could send hundreds of astronauts into real space situations with real scientific experiments. That sounds like a good thing to me.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

SETIGuy (33768) | more than 2 years ago | (#37745816)

While they may be doing things that normally would take place on the KC-135 (aka the "Vomit Comet") that NASA has operated in the past, it mainly is being used to replace the sounding rocket research.... which often went to the same altitudes which SS2 is expected to be reaching.

And its not much good for that, either. Basically it's only good for experiments that can operate in an oxygen nitrogen environment pressurized at a bit less than one atmosphere. Basically biology experiments. Unless you're going to send up a vacuum chamber complete with pumps, that is. With a person aboard and with significant aerodynamic forces throughout the ride, I wouldn't think its stable enough for most microgravity experiments.

I believe cost per mass is pretty good at $2500/kg for 590kg, but SS2 doesn't go very high.

But then again, I work on instruments where I need direct exposure to space and apogees near 400km. The idea that $4.5M of the suborbital budget is going to this has me worried that there will be less available for sounding rockets. I doubt this is coming out of the balloon budget.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

SETIGuy (33768) | more than 2 years ago | (#37745734)

NASA chartered flights to low earth orbit.

No. Spaceship two is not orbital. It's suborbital.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (2)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37741844)

This will be the moment we remember. NASA having to charter flights to space, from a Private Company.

NASA routinely buys flights to space from private companies; who do you think launches all those Mars rovers? There's no good reason why they shouldn't do the same for manned flights.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37741984)

Why? Because we've finally decided that space travel, exploration, and research should be possible by private enterprise rather than exclusive to the government and military. Seriously, we should have started doing this in the 1950's.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (2)

SETIGuy (33768) | more than 2 years ago | (#37745870)

Seriously, we should have started doing this in the 1950's.

We have been. Thanks for noticing.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (4, Informative)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742008)

Sigh.

Okay, first of all, NASA has been using commercial companies to construct it's rockets for a long time now. The Space Shuttle? Yeah, that was made by Boeing and Lockheed Martin (among others), so it's not like corporations haven't been making basically everything we've put into space already. Same with the Saturn V and I presume most if not all other launch vehicles. They've just been costing us even more because of the combination of government and corporate incompetence (basically, anytime the government contracts out part of it's work to corporations like NASA did, you end up with overpriced and delayed projects. As proof: I offer the entire defense department and it's massive swollen budget. And NASA itself, in part.)

A private company that does everything on it's own is likely to be far (far far) more efficient. Virgin Galactic has already shown this. It's succeed or die for them, while for Boeing (for instance), failure just means more money and a delay. I haven't a clue how you arrived at the conclusion you did. If anything, this makes us less dependent on an individual company. If Virgin fails, we go somewhere else. Free market, bitch. It wasn't a free market before.

Oh, and BTW the other option on the table was to go to the Russians. I'll take an American company long before the Russian government. In a competition of greed and corruption, Russia won about 50 years ago.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

bkmoore (1910118) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743582)

The prime contractor for Shuttle Orbiter was North American Rockwell. Rockwell was a pioneer in many areas from aerospace engineering to early semiconductors. I'm not sure how Lockheed Martin and Boeing entered the picture though.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

Cobalt Jacket (611660) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743768)

Boeing is now the owner of North American. Lockheed and Martin Marietta merged to form Lockheed Martin. Morton Thiokol is now part of Alliant Techsystems (ATK.) The players are the same, but the head offices and business cards are different.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743830)

Well, it's a little odd. Wikipedia (here [wikipedia.org] ) lists Boeing first as the manufacturer, but in the Orbiter page, the only reference to Boeing was the modified 747 that carried the Shuttle. However, on further research Rockwell apparently sold their defense and aerospace divisions to Boeing in 1996, so that's how Boeing enters in. As for Lockheed Martin, they made the external tanks.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37743614)

Even if a private corporation handled all the design, construction, logistics, and operation instead of NASA, I think it'd still go way over cost as long as the government is footing the bill and willing to pay for it (i.e we don't completely slash our space operations budget). These projects are large enough in scope and complexity that nobody can say for sure what kind of snags they'll run into.

Private companies can handle projects with predictable goals and costs. Launching a satellite into space will cost you $x/kg. Sending a tourist into space will cost $x (per kg? :P). The cost will also be partially dictated by how much people are willing to pay; if a satellite launch is worth $500m to investors then they'll pay that or less. Lower the cost of space tourism flights and more people will sign up.

Handling something like deploying a space telescope at the L2 point is decidedly harder to calculate a cost for. Setting a moon base with a mining operation has too many unknowns for anyone to tell if it'll be a worthwhile/profitable investment, given that it'll probably take a couple decades just to establish a base and a couple more decades to set up resource mining/extracting on even a small scale.

So we still need the government, or someone with a vested interest in advancing our progress in space exploration, to decide which projects are worthy and pay the overall cost in exchange for companies accomplishing those goals. And the government isn't very good at that -- project priorities are dictated by politics, project budgeting is bound to involve a lot of bureaucracy. Although it's still better than having bureaucracy at every level of the project instead of just at the top.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

farnham (160656) | more than 2 years ago | (#37764896)

I'm pretty sure the space shuttle was built by Rockwell.

They have forever. (1)

pavon (30274) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742066)

They have been purchasing airplanes from private companies to perform low gravity training/experiments [wikipedia.org] for decades. First they used a Convair C-131 then a Boeing KC-135 then a McDonnell Douglas C-9, and now a Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo. Building airplanes isn't in NASA's mission or goals, so I don't see why using an existing commercial solution is any different than using commercial toilet paper in their offices.

Re:They have forever. (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743674)

The KC-135 was a plane that NASA themselves owned and the pilots flying the planes were on the NASA payroll. Zero-G Corporation has signed a contract with NASA to do some flights using Zero-G's airplanes that normally would have been done the original Vomit Comet, so I agree this isn't exactly new even if you consider that the company who they are contracting out has other business on the side besides NASA. The KC-135 plane was dedicated exclusively to NASA, and when Ron Howard wanted to film Apollo 13 on that vehicle, he had to go through NASA first to get their permission to use that airplane... even if they may have "privatized" some of the support services like the ULA contract to launch the Space Shuttle.

It wasn't like you could earlier put some money down with ULA to fly your own private Shuttle mission. That never was even remotely a possibility even though there were some people who were willing to pay the bill for such a flight. BTW, even the Shuttle used to be completely operated by NASA employees, where they were very much involved with building the vehicle with NASA-payroll engineers involved with the development of that vehicle as well as other aspects of NASA. NASA-payroll engineers were also involved with the development of the Constellation program and the SLS architecture, so it isn't quite like buying light bulbs or toilet paper for some of these issues.

NASA is moving away from that sort of completely in-house development and moving more toward simple fixed-price contracts with outside vendors, which is indeed more like buying light bulbs or toilet paper. This contract with Virgin Galactic is such a contract where it won't even be NASA astronauts who are at the controls of the vehicle. That will be a first when it happens, however. I don't think even that is a settled question.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742076)

Who do you think built their rockets in the past?

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742136)

NASA is a contractor agency which has a large R&D wing. Generally, NASA doesn't build rockets anymore. Rockets have been assembled by maybe by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, but there are contacts out to others.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NASA_contractors [wikipedia.org]

While NASA should receive *more* funding for bleeding edge R&D, like permanent moon base and then Mars, a lot of the money is sent to NASA contractors and subcontractors and subsubcontractors. NASA leverages commercial opportunities and have been doing that since their inception.

Where do you think Integrated Circuits (ICs) come from? NASA private sector contractors. NASA was buying up almost all of the early silicon for the Apollo program. Without these "deep throated corporations", we would not have had computers that we do have today and that is just one example.

Anyway, this is complementary service to sounding rockets. This is not even going to orbit.

http://rscience.gsfc.nasa.gov/srrov.html [nasa.gov]
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1228/1 [thespacereview.com]

Finally, there is really nothing "special" anymore about flying a sounding rocket, or even getting to LEO. This can be done by commercial services. Where R&D is needed is long term projects like survivability in space, Mars, outer solar system and beyond.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

egamma (572162) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742730)

When they ask, what was the moment that the US gave up. This will be the moment we remember. NASA having to charter flights to space, from a Private Company. When was it that, We the People, finally Deep Throated Corporations. It was then.

Our priorities as a nation are completely screwed up.

You're saying it would be better if we put out bids to private companies to build us an identical space ship?

As a tax payer, I would prefer to pay for the use of a space vehicle, rather than the ownership of the space vehicle. NASA' should concentrate research, not shuttle maintenance.

Re:When they Ask, Where were you. (1)

egamma (572162) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742742)

When they ask, what was the moment that the US gave up. This will be the moment we remember. NASA having to charter flights to space, from a Private Company. When was it that, We the People, finally Deep Throated Corporations. It was then.

Our priorities as a nation are completely screwed up.

You're saying it would be better if we put out bids to private companies to build us an identical space ship?

As a tax payer, I would prefer to pay for the use of a space vehicle, rather than the ownership of the space vehicle. NASA' should concentrate research, not shuttle maintenance.

d'oh-- "NASA should concentrate ON research".

Feels better...but is it? (3, Insightful)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 2 years ago | (#37741798)

The military contracts jobs out all the time (think Halliburton). The results are mixed at best. This one feels more likely to be fair, cheaper, and successful, but I still have my doubts. As much heat as NASA catches for the flaws in its designs, space travel is VERY hard. I'm not sure Virgin can do it that much better.

Re:Feels better...but is it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37743252)

It is hard. Thus it's better not to put all our eggs in one basket. By doing this, NASA shows support for other players, which will lead to more players and thus more innovation. The 30 years we depended on the Space Shuttle as our major route to space... Did we really advance much in those 30 years? Heck no, we would have been better off letting private groups get us in to low Earth orbit and having NASA concentrate on bigger stuff, exploring and colonizing the solar system The Space Shuttle was a 30 year long dead end waste of money. I'm not saying we didn't get anything out of it, just that we would have gotten a lot more going in a different direction. Space travel basically stagnated when they built the shuttles, and only now is starting to move again.

Bravo to NASA for this move, may it be the beginning of many smart moves that lead us back in to space!

Re:Feels better...but is it? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743786)

Considering that Richard Branson is going to be taking his family up on the inaugural (for regular commercial service) flight of his spacecraft, I think he has a vested interest in making sure the thing will work very well before NASA astronauts get on board. They aren't going into low-earth orbit, but merely re-creating the original Freedom 7 flight profile that Alan Shepard did back in 1961. They are going to get past the Kármán line, however, and certainly be in what will be on the fringe of the atmosphere of the Earth.

There will also be dozens, perhaps hundreds of flights into space by SS2 before this contract is to be done, so the reliability of this vehicle certainly is going to have a proven track record before anybody from NASA steps on board. Indeed that is where Richard Branson is going to be making his money, because he is going to have very regular service which will be operated more like an airline than a typical rocketry venture. A launch might be postponed a day or two, but not several months or years into the future because of "technical difficulties" once the service becomes regular. There is also going to be a whole fleet of these vehicles... all told there will likely be as much actual spaceflight experience by the Virgin Galactic astronauts as the NASA astronaut corps will have when this whole operations starts to happen.

Re:Feels better...but is it? (1)

ckaminski (82854) | more than 2 years ago | (#37763430)

All things said about the Space Shuttle.

Spacecraft are not airplanes - yet. Virgin might change that, but I'm still skeptical until I see reliable 1-2 day turnarounds.

Re:Feels better...but is it? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37769400)

Virgin is suggesting they may even have multiple flights in the same day, and the original Spaceship One had about a 1 week turn around as a specific requirement to win the original X-Prize.

The one problem Scaled Composites has been having is getting their engine to work within the flight performance. It sounds like [scaled.com] they may have that bug licked, but I'm not sure what system they are using. From the summary, it looks like Scaled Composites hasn't settled down on a specific fuel/oxidizer combination yet either although I've heard rumors (completely unsourced) they should be flying SS2 with a rocket motor early next year. We'll see.

The original Spaceship One was using essentially tire rubber and laughing gas (where they could extinguish the rocket simply by turning off the fuel). Burt Rutan certainly was planning on something that simple.... and not pushing the engines to be running at 110% of rated thrust performance like the Space Shuttle. That extra "push" (a late design decision on the Shuttle over what it was originally designed to do) really caused havoc on the SSMEs and forced NASA to essentially rebuild the engines completely after each Shuttle flight.

About the only time it was said about the Space Shuttle that they were going to have the rapid turn around and weekly flights was when NASA originally went before Congress getting authorization to start the Shuttle program. It went downhill from there. Virgin Galactic already has competition from other sub-orbital spacelines, so they aren't going to be too happy if the vehicle doesn't meet up with the specifications agreed upon with the contract. Spaceship Two has also done several "unpowered" landings already, so they are getting a pretty good idea on what things to be looking for.

Re:Feels better...but is it? (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 2 years ago | (#37748216)

The difference between this and usual military contract outs or prior NASA contract outs is this. NASA in the past would come up with something and ask a contractor to build it for them, especially a bespoke product (think the Shuttle).

In this instance, NASA are doing the equivalent of buying airline tickets.

And in today's news... (2)

Caerdwyn (829058) | more than 2 years ago | (#37741866)

In today's news, the nation which sent a man to the moon, but can no longer put a man into orbit, is buying tickets on stunt-planes to recreate the Mercury suborbital missions.

Apparently, we're back in 1961. 50 years of "progress".

Re:And in today's news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37741990)

And in today's news, apparently tossing people in tin cans to go to deadly hostile places that achieve nothing is considered "progress". Do you also consider the fact that we no longer routinely dive the depths of the Pacific Ocean to be a sign of "decline"? Look, the insane, juvenile and naive optimism about space simply never made any sense. There will not be space colonies, McDonald's on the Moon or bungalows on Mars. Get over it.

Re:And in today's news... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742020)

There will not be space colonies, McDonald's on the Moon or bungalows on Mars. Get over it.

Yes there will, unless some catastrophe wipes out the human race.

And if you'd told Alan Shephard that in fifty years anyone with a moderally well-paid job would be able to buy a ticket to do what he was about to do then he'd consider that progress too.

Re:And in today's news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742176)

"Yes there will, unless some catastrophe wipes out the human race."

No, there won't, no catastrophe required. The limits of materials, chemical energy sources and physics are well understood. Or have you failed to notice that nothing really has changed as far as our capacity to move mass?? A 747 from 1969 flies at the same height, same speed, using the same chemical fuels as today, and it is built with the same materials. Yes, there were compressor blades made with carbon fiver in the 1960s already.

How exactly do you see it making sense, at all, ever, to eat a Big Mac on the Moon, given that there's absolutely nothing there?

"And if you'd told Alan Shephard that in fifty years anyone with a moderally well-paid job would be able to buy a ticket to do what he was about to do then he'd consider that progress too."

Complete rubbish. First of all, your definition of moderately well paid is optimistic at best. Second of all, people need to be in shape to go in a rocket. And all it is is an amusement park ride. You go up, you go down. How is that "progress"? Progress of what? Entertainment? But you can already go on a Mig, rent a Cessna, etc... Do you do that? Do you know anyone who does? It's much more fun than being in a sub-orbital ballistic tin can.

Re:And in today's news... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742220)

How exactly do you see it making sense, at all, ever, to eat a Big Mac on the Moon, given that there's absolutely nothing there?

How could anyone possibly believe that the human race will be content to sit on this dirt-ball until the end of time?

First of all, your definition of moderately well paid is optimistic at best.

Most people in decent IT jobs could afford a $200k ticket if they really wanted to go, and Virgin have said they expect that to drop to more like $50k over a few years... save $5k a year for ten years and by then it should buy you a ticket.

I know you're a troll, but you're not even a very good one.

Re:And in today's news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742480)

"How could anyone possibly believe that the human race will be content to sit on this dirt-ball until the end of time?"

Uh oh, you're a space nutter. The other planets and moons AREN'T EVEN dirt-balls! You'd be blessed if they even had dirt at all! Lunatic. Besides, you won't live long enough to see this end of time. So what? You telling me you care deeply about the species? In 100,000 years, think we'll still be human? Evolution is still going on right now. How dare you presume what an entirely different species may want or need?

"Most people in decent IT jobs could afford a $200k ticket if they really wanted to go, and Virgin have said they expect that to drop to more like $50k over a few years... save $5k a year for ten years and by then it should buy you a ticket."

Delusional optimism based on absolutely nothing concrete. Noted. In ten years, I guarantee there won't be a McDonald's on the Moon, you won't have been on the Moon or even in your tin can. You're still going to be here on this "dirt-ball", with the rest of us. "Dirt-ball"... Do you realize how stupid that makes you sound? Make a list of all the things this "dirt-ball" gives you and see if you can even reliably replicate ONE of those things, using nothing more than what you can bring with you, and you can't get more stuff from the "dirt-ball". Still think we'll colonize the universe? Idiot.

Re:And in today's news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742256)

there were compressor blades made with carbon fiver in the 1960s already.

Pentane Turbines: now that would be explosive technology. ;)

Re:And in today's news... (3, Interesting)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742906)

No, there won't, no catastrophe required. The limits of materials, chemical energy sources and physics are well understood. Or have you failed to notice that nothing really has changed as far as our capacity to move mass?? A 747 from 1969 flies at the same height, same speed, using the same chemical fuels as today, and it is built with the same materials. Yes, there were compressor blades made with carbon fiver [sic] in the 1960s already.

You could have said the same thing about horse-drawn carriages in the Middle Ages, and you would have been every bit as wrong. We went from hot-air ballons to the Saturn V in under a century, and now we've plateau'd. Our progress is likely to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary for a while yet, but if you think there is nothing left to discover simply because we haven't seen the same explosive growth in rocket propulsion lately that we saw around the middle of the 20th century, I'd argue that you are either naive or ignorant of history. Just because you can't foresee the next big breakthrough doesn't mean there isn't one.

But you can already go on a Mig, rent a Cessna, etc... Do you do that? Do you know anyone who does?

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I DO know someone who rents Cessnas (...and Citabrias and Pipers and...). I've rented them for about 950 hours of flight time. I have also rented them to others, and taught some of those same people how to fly them themselves.

It's much more fun than being in a sub-orbital ballistic tin can.

Maybe, maybe not. The best part of flying to me was going some place I had never been before; I love exploring and flying opened up new places to explore. However, quite honestly, it only took a couple of years before hundred-dollar-hamburger runs got boring. I loved spin training, so I imagine acrobatic flight would breathe new life into my enjoyment of flying -- for a while -- but I'm sorry...there's something about touching the edge of space and going some place where only a handful of people in the entire history of the human race have ever gone that is beyond comparison to anything else on earth. YMMV, of course, but I'd forsake flying GA for the rest of my life in a heartbeat for a chance to hitch a ride in one of those "sub-orbital ballistic tin cans".

Re:And in today's news... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742600)

In today's news, the nation which sent a man to the moon, but can no longer put a man into orbit, is buying tickets on stunt-planes to recreate the Mercury suborbital missions.

Or, in a less inflammatory tone: ... the nation which sent a man to the moon has continued interested in near earth mechanics and has contracted with a commercial vendor to complete this research in a cost effective manner.

Another definition of progress.

Re:And in today's news... (1)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743542)

That's not correct. The SpaceX Dragon capsule launched into LEO and recovered certainly has the ability to put a man into orbit. A human would have survived the previous flight. This can be purchased for the relatively bargain-basement price of 50 M$. I think you'll have a hard time

Re:And in today's news... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#37745456)

In today's news, the nation which sent a man to the moon, but can no longer put a man into orbit, is buying tickets on stunt-planes to recreate the Mercury suborbital missions.

Not even close - as SS2 hasn't a fraction of Mercury's performance. What SS2 does is replace something NASA has been using for years - sounding rockets and the Vomit Comet.

Re:And in today's news... (1)

Vectormatic (1759674) | more than 2 years ago | (#37747644)

He said mercury SUBORBITAL missions, AKA the redstone powered flight made by alan sheppard. Sheppard hit apogee at 168 KM altitude, SS2 will hit 110, granted it is only two thirs of the way there, but zero-g time is bound to be somewhere in the same ballpark, not to mention sheppard flew a one man capsule, and SS2 can take more people then the shuttle.

How do they build that? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37741868)

How do they build an aircraft hanger like that? Hundreds of feet on a side with no support columns and built by construction guys?

The planes in them seem believable, because they're made out of aerospace grade unobtanium by $50/hr expert machinists. You expect something with a pedigree like that to hold together.

However, the hangers are even bigger, made out of conventional "stuff" by good ole boys or illegals. The tension in the steel at the center of the door must be astounding...

Re:How do they build that? (1)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742014)

Clearly, it's a cardboard replica. That's why they only have one picture of it.
The conspiracy thickens.

1937 called...... (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742088)

they're miffed that their airship hangers - which were orders of magnitude bigger than this and could withstand 100mph hurricane winds - aren't gettnig any respect.

Re:1937 called...... (3, Funny)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742276)

Did you warn them about WWII?

Re:1937 called...... (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742518)

no... *looks at the floor*

Re:How do they build that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742298)

Imagine extending that technology to other structures! We could build bridges hundreds or (gasp!) even thousands of feet long....

Re:How do they build that? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 2 years ago | (#37744894)

Brilliant!

Re:How do they build that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742398)

It's a regular steel rigid frame building.

http://faculty.arch.tamu.edu/anichols/index_files/courses/arch631/notes7.pdf

NASA: Space Tourists (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37741992)

What more needs to be said?

Three flights for $4.5 million (2)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37741996)

that's not even pocket change for NASA... it's like the lint clinging to pocket change.

NASA employed an army of some 35,000 people to operate the space shuttle. Assuming each worker was paid $60,000 average, and another $40,000 in health benefits, pension, etc (i'm being WAAY conservative here), that amounts to...... well I donno maths but its in the umpteen billions. No wonder Burt Rutan called NASA "a job program, first and foremost".

Contrast that with SpaceX, which employs a few hundred people to run their Falcon program. Now you see why they can do things so much cheaper.

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742068)

But they also haven't put a single person into, or back out of, orbit.

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743876)

But they also haven't put a single person into, or back out of, orbit.

But they have put more than a few spacecraft into orbit, and brought one of them back in one piece.

It was argued that with the last flight all they would have needed to do is to put somebody in some SCUBA gear with a skin suit and a bean bag and they would have had a great ride. I grant it was a bit of a risk and there certainly could be some improved accommodations including a launch escape system that would be very useful, but the basic vehicle is already built by SpaceX.

As for Virgin Galactic..... they have put people into space and brought them back (or at least Scaled Composites has). That it wasn't to orbit.... is that all you are complaining about? What are you expecting for $4.5 million spread out over multiple flights?

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (1)

strack (1051390) | more than 2 years ago | (#37747776)

it dosent really count if its not to orbit. getting to orbit costs about 25 times more energy than going suborbital.

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37749696)

The original grandparent was talking about SpaceX, who has indeed been able to get to orbital velocities and furthermore even been able to "recover" a vehicle through re-entry.

Yes, I'm completely aware that it is 25x the energy, but that is suggesting it is impossible to get up to to higher speeds and larger rockets to get that fast. The fact that rockets have done it sort of implies it is at least possible, and there is no reason it must be a government agency who can perform that action.

Virgin Galactic is planning on going higher and faster, and this way they can do that incrementally rather than having to build the grand mission all at once. If anything, that is the problem with government programs as they are trying to bite off the whole thing at once, like the Apollo missions ended up doing. You certainly don't need to build something the size of the Empire State Building for a mission to Mars.... unless you intend to launch the entire thing all at once in some multi-trillion dollar boondoggle that nobody would realistically be willing to pay for even if you have the resources of a major government.

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742142)

Software Engineering, Systems Engineering, and Aerospace Engineering all lean heavily on research done with public funds with NASA and the DoD. SpaceX isn't building a rocket from scratch. It is building on a public knowledge funded by your (or your parents/grandparents) tax dollars down to the very fundamentals of defining a process. At some point, there is a need to spin off public works to private corporations but that does not undermine the necessity of government involvement in high risk activities.

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37744006)

What in the field of Software Engineering depends heavily on public funds financed from NASA? I'll grant how DARPA and the NSA have done some substantial contributions to the software industry (notably with the internet and cryptographic research from the respective agencies) but NASA?

About the only thing I can think of that was genuinely ground breaking by NASA was the development of time-share computer systems and real-time operating systems done in the 1960's. The Space Shuttle guidance computers developed what I'd call the gold standard of software reliability through an insane level of debugging and testing that no other software team could possibly afford, much less duplicate. There is also the development of deep space (beyond the Moon) communications protocols sometimes referred to as the "interplanetary internet" which may have some practical applications in the future for non-government work.

Besides those few items, what has NASA done for software engineering? Much of their development works with yesterday's technologies operating on computer systems that your grandparents likely would be more familiar with than you are. For crying out loud, they are still working with core memory systems [wikipedia.org] in some of the still active spacecraft. The reason for that very archaic memory system is that it happens to be resistant to cosmic rays and radiation in general.... but I wouldn't call any of that effort to be "groundbreaking" or something that the computer industry "leans heavily upon" for upcoming technologies used in the industry or even for consumer electronics for that matter.

Engineering management..... there you might have a strong case to say that NASA shows what not to do in terms of managing a team of engineers. Perhaps something can be learned from their experience after all.

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 2 years ago | (#37744206)

Particularly in the fields of software testing and VV&A, NASA set the gold standards. As you say, they aren't reasonable for most products but not everyone can use pi to 3 trillion digits either. I need to brush up but I seem to recall some of the standard software process models being NASA documented if not developed. It is not the case for all NASA teams, but in my SE courses NASA was something that came up often.

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 2 years ago | (#37744500)

Sorry I think I see the problem in my wording. NASA software development heavily influenced early Software Engineering as with many other Engineering disciplines. Not that NASA funding somehow supports all of those engineering disciplines. My point was you can't say the private sector is $X dollars more efficient because they say went to the moon at current year dollars Apollo plus $X.

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#37746700)

I'll grudgingly acknowledge that NASA was heavily involved with "High Level Language" development, particular in terms of supporting financially some of the early FORTRAN compiler development efforts. Then again the field was so new that almost anything they did would be beneficial.

The problem here is in part that NASA has been resting on their laurels and not really the same agency they were in the 1960's. It would be wonderful if NASA was pushing the envelope and really advancing technology in some meaningful way and doing something that has never been tried before. Sadly, that doesn't happen at NASA any more but rather is happening in private industry.

NASA isn't working on reusable spacecraft like what SpaceX is doing with the Falcon 9. They bailed out on the DC-X project that Jeff Bezos picked up and is now being used by Blue Origin. NASA also dumped the Trans-Hab module on the ISS, and so Robert Bigelow picked that one up, refined the technology considerably, sent on his own dime (no government contract at all... at least not with any American government agency) sent two of those modules into space and tested them out. Burt Rutan has developed SpaceShip One and introduced the "Shuttlecock" re-entry system which makes that vehicle work in a way far safer than anything NASA has ever come up with. And I'm just starting to get on a roll here with many other people involved in space research who is breaking new ground... all of with without support from NASA or picking up the pieces of failed programs that NASA started then dropped the ball on to be forgotten like yesterday's bad news.

My point here is that NASA isn't really helping out, and by any objective measure it isn't where the real action is in terms of new advances in spaceflight technology. If I were a 20-something year old aerospace engineering graduate, I sure wouldn't want to work for NASA or any of its major subcontractors. Heck, I wouldn't want to be recruited by NASA to become an astronaut at the moment.... because private astronauts are going to be much more likely to actually get into space and do all sorts of interesting things once they get up there. Indeed the current NASA astronaut corps is jumping ship and moving to the private sector so fast that it is just the raw recruits at NASA and old has-beens who can't get jobs elsewhere.

You really don't need to worry about how much more efficient the private sector is right now, because that issue is a moot point. If you are young and ambitious, you don't work for NASA in the 21st Century.

Re:Three flights for $4.5 million (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#37745474)

Contrast that with SpaceX, which employs a few hundred people to run their Falcon program. Now you see why they can do things so much cheaper.

You're absolutely correct - it's always going to be cheaper to operate a mini van than a full size eighteen wheeler. Your mistake lies in confusing one for the other.

The second A stands for Administration (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37742092)

NASA's job is to implement the laws written by Congress. These laws state that NASA is not supposed to do things with government employees that can be done with private companies. So if a private company can do the job the government should stop doing it and hire it out. This has already happened with the vomit comet. http://www.gozerog.com/

Good News- Private Space (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#37742184)

It is good news Private corporations are active in space.

First and foremost- this makes the government somewhat accountable. If the government(s) has(have) a monopoly on space they can get away with activities we may not want them to.

As the technology evolves we will require both public and private activity (new technologies often require the ingenuity of the private sector built on the foundations of the public sector). Ironically- the roles seem reversed here- but I suspect the same will hold true.

As many posters have already said... (1)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743620)

Everything NASA has ever flown was manufactured by private contractors. NASA designed a lot of it the contractors designed some of it but built it all.

As other posters have said, almost everything these newbies ( SpaceX, Scaled Composites, etc. ) are flying is all based upon the R&D done by NASA and given freely to these companies.

NASA administered, QA'd, supervised and launched ALL of the vehicles that have put people into orbit or on the moon and brought them home alive with very few exceptions.

Private companies are now launching Satellites and their record is not nearly as good as NASA's but it is getting there, but again riding on the backs of the R&D done by, wait for it..... YOUR TAX MONEY.

So while all of this is happening, are YOU getting a dividend check? Nope. What IS going to happen is that they are going to follow the current Unfettered Capitalism model of paying the least they can, running safety margins razor thin and making a few people really rich and everyone else getting their jobs off-shored as soon as the technology is stable enough.

When it is time to go to MARS or to the nearest star do you really think that private companies are going to fund that? If you do, then you seriously need to get a reality check because that is a seriously long term investment and the ROI is more then likely going to be non-existent for decades and there is not a company that is public that will do that simply because the "Free Market" wont stand for it.

The next big things are going to be done by Governments because that is where the will and resources to do these things comes from and it is political leaders who will sell it to the American, Japanese, French, British and possibly even the Russian people.

Re:As many posters have already said... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37743826)

When it is time to go to MARS or to the nearest star do you really think that private companies are going to fund that?

SpaceX wants to send people to Mars. I don't know about MARS.

Re:As many posters have already said... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37745198)

Private companies are now launching Satellites and their record is not nearly as good as NASA's but it is getting there, but again riding on the backs of the R&D done by, wait for it..... YOUR TAX MONEY.

So while all of this is happening, are YOU getting a dividend check? Nope.

Nope! Instead, all the tax money I paid into the Shuttle is finally coming close to getting me what the Shuttle was originally supposed to provide: Cost-effective and routine orbital capabilities.

What IS going to happen is that they are going to follow the current Unfettered Capitalism model of paying the least they can, running safety margins razor thin and making a few people really rich and everyone else getting their jobs off-shored as soon as the technology is stable enough.

I think you're underestimating the implications of a disaster on a manned vessel for these companies. While I agree with your point in principle, it isn't clear to me if pushing against prudent safety measures for the sake of making money off a single launch is going to be more prevalent than pushing against prudent safety measures for the sake of politics and the need to secure budgets for the next year. I tend to think not.

When it is time to go to MARS or to the nearest star do you really think that private companies are going to fund that?

No, of course not. Government will do that, and it will be VASTLY easier for them to accomplish it -- both politically and practically -- if commercial ventures can handle the trip to LEO cheaply and effectively. In terms of delta-v, once you're in LEO then you are nearly halfway to the Martian surface. The only sane way to get a Mars mission of decent scope is to boost components to orbit and then start the real mission from there.

Commercial spaceflight is going to be a key enabler for this.

Re:As many posters have already said... (1)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 2 years ago | (#37745992)

All good points...

In point of fact what they need to do is take that Saturn V sitting in Houston, carefully take it apart and blue print it as they do. That thing can push 500.000 lbs to LEO.

They need to stop re-inventing the damn wheel and just build the damn thing while there is still some institutional knowledge around. It works, it is proven by many launches and it is a pretty simple beast.

Re:As many posters have already said... (1)

strack (1051390) | more than 2 years ago | (#37747906)

no, not really. they just need to follow the design principles behind the Saturn V, updated with modern engineering and modelling.

Re:As many posters have already said... (1)

strack (1051390) | more than 2 years ago | (#37747880)

ease up on the caps lock and bold tags there cowboy. the most recent rocket research spacex is using probably came from the apollo era. chemical rocket tech hasnt really advanced since the 70s. such is the physical reality of the thing. and what is so wrong about private companies using the results of government research? the entire point of government research is to benefit society as a whole. the boeing and lockheed duopoly have been growing fat on cost plus government contracts in the launch sector for decades, and now some new upstart company comes along, putting stuff into orbit for a fraction of the price per kg of even the russians, and you get mad at them for some sort of profiteering?
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