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Video: A Brief Guide to Space Tourism

Hank takes on the role of our personal space travel agent, giving us the dirt on the various ways in which the exceptionally wealthy will be able to travel to space in the next few decades.

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Virgin Galactic Unveils new Unmanned Satellite Launcher at Farnborough 2012

LauncherOne – Furthering the Space Frontier. Virgin Galactic is proud to announce LauncherOne, a revolutionary new launch vehicle dedicated to enabling dramatically more people and users to benefit from space.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two Has it’s first ‘feathered’ flight

It seems like either Virgin Galactic or SpaceX is in the news every day now. This is a good thing.

The latest milestone for Virgin Galactic is that SpaceShip Two has had its first ‘feathered’ controlled flight.

Here’s a video:

Awesome.

Virgin Galactic Looking for a Few Good Men

In what has to be the coolest job posting ever posted in internet history, Virgin Galactic has put up a call out for potential astronauts for it’s upcoming SpaceShipTwo program.

From their website:

Virgin Galactic has launched its search for Pilot-Astronauts. This unique opportunity initially involves working as part of the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo spaceflight system test and development team in Mojave, CA, then taking the experience gained from that program to the spaceline’s commercial operations at its operating base, Spaceport America in New Mexico.

These will be the very first commercial Pilots-Astronauts, something which will undoubtedly excite the interest of a great many. Successful candidates will have to be very special: both a full course graduate of a recognised test pilot school and highly and broadly experienced. Virgin is looking for pilots with significant experience of both high performance fast-jet type airplanes as well as large multi-engine types – not only that but “prior spaceflight experience is an advantage”.

Virgin Galactic is on track to become the world’s first private spaceline. It is dedicated to becoming a world leader in sub-orbital commercial space tourism with a longer term vision to develop other space technologies that have the potential to open space to significantly more people and users.

Company objectives in the lead up to commercial operations are to confirm that the spaceflight system meets Virgin Galactic’s exacting standards, and to set up an operational base at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic actively strives to promote innovation, value, integrity and a sense of enjoyment in all that it does. It will remain a very high profile part of the Virgin Group and has the potential to become its global, flagship company.

Start Date

Virgin Galactic is recruiting three Pilot-Astronauts to join its initial Pilot-Astronaut ranks. The first Pilot-Astronaut will support the ongoing flight test program of the spaceflight system and will ideally start with us in June 2011. Additional Pilot-Astronauts will be drafted as the flight test program reaches key milestones towards commercial launch activities.

Role Purpose

Reporting to the Chief Pilot, the Pilot-Astronauts primary responsibilities are to operate the spaceflight system in accordance with government regulations and company policies and procedures, delivering a sub-orbital spaceflight service to Virgin Galactic Customer-Astronauts which is as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Key Duties

In addition to flight duties with the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo, Pilot-Astronaut duties will also include flight planning activities, mission control co-ordination and ground-to-air support, record keeping and training obligations.

Flight planning activities will involve route planning and airspace coordination with personnel at Spaceport America, White Sands Missile Range, the local Federal Aviation Authority Air Traffic Control and Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

Mission Control duties include ensuring the safety and continuity of the operation by taking all necessary actions and keeping all relevant parties informed.

Initial Pilot-Astronauts are responsible for training of new company Pilot-Astronauts, supervision of ground and flight training (initial and recurrent), and implementation and supervision of update and improvement programs for Pilot-Astronaut training. Pilot-Astronauts will also be involved in training activities with Customer-Astronauts prior to flight to ensure familiarity and competence with communications systems, seat and harness mechanisms and general flight procedures.

The initial corps of Virgin Galactic Pilot-Astronauts will also take part in the development and flight test of the spaceflight system. Working with Scaled Composites and The Spaceship Company, Pilot-Astronauts will monitor, advise and assist, where appropriate, in the design, development, flight testing and introduction to service of the spaceflight system. Initial Pilot-Astronauts will be responsible for evaluating the fitness-for-purpose of the spaceflight system in terms of systems, handling qualities, performance and pilot workload.

In preparation for the start of commercial operations, the initial Pilot-Astronaut corps will establish the recruitment standard for future Pilot-Astronauts and assist in the selection and training of additional commercial pilot-astronauts. They will also support the operational team in establishing company manuals, in particular defining operating procedures, mission rules, in-flight emergency response procedure, and training syllabi for Pilot-Astronauts and Customer-Astronauts.

Once commercial operations have commenced the Pilot-Astronaut will move from the role of testing the spaceflight system to regularly flying the missions. This will involve close contact with the Customer-Astronauts of Virgin Galactic; taking them through the training prior to each mission flight and ensuring a high level of service and communication are maintained at all times both on the ground and in the spaceflight system. All Pilot-Astronauts will be ambassadors of the Virgin Galactic brand, ensuring the Customer-Astronauts experience the highest customer service standards.

VG essentials for Pilot-Astronaut successful candidates:

  • Must be a US citizen – compliant with ITAR (22 CFR §120.15)
  • A current FAA commercial (or equivalent) pilot license and FAA medical (you will be required to produce evidence of both at interview)
  • Degree level qualification in a relevant technical field
  • Graduate of a recognized test pilot school, with at least 2 ½ years post-graduate flight test experience (you will be required to produce evidence at interview)
  • A diverse flying background with a minimum of 3,000 hours flying to include considerable experience of: large multi-engine aircraft and high performance fast jet aircraft and low lift-to-drag ratio glide experience (e.g. simulated flameout landings) in complex aircraft
  • Operational experience of an aerospace aviation project or business
  • Excellent, current knowledge on a diverse range of aerospace matters
  • Ability to communicate aviation knowledge and safety related information simply, succinctly and clearly
  • Previous responsibility for authorizing and implementing policies and procedures to ensure a safe and efficient operation
  • Be a proven team player

Very limited exceptions to the above may be considered for those with truly outstanding test flying or spaceflight experience.

Preference will be given to those with experience of:

  • Spaceflight
  • Commercial flight operations
  • Flight instruction

Do you have what it takes? Click here to apply.

Richard Branson Sends out Message about Gagarin Night

I thought this was worth sharing – here’s a special message from Richard Branson – someone on the forefront of humanity’s next space revolution – on the magnitude of today, the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s first flight.

“I was one of those lucky kids that spent his most impressionable years in a truly unique decade – the 1960’s. London was a pretty exciting place to be growing up in – anything was possible and most of the conventions of the past were being swept away in a tide of hope for a better future.

Looking back, it is obvious that the source of the optimism and inspiration we shared originated thousands of miles away from London; but it was beamed directly into our homes in glorious black and white and we all felt a part of it. That “it” was of course man’s conquering of the final frontier – a stupendous achievement considering that less than 60 years before, even achieving powered flight remained frustratingly elusive.

So, on the 50th anniversary of human spaceflight it’s right that we should look back and honor all the pioneers, explorers and mavericks who blazed the trail to space and allowed the rest of us to dream. It’s also a good moment to pause and ask where we go from here.

How do we re-inspire a new generation and make real the experience of spaceflight, not just for the lucky few but for all?

I asked myself that question for a good many years and am immensely proud now that with Virgin Galactic we are doing our bit to ensure that space exploration and everything that comes in its wake, thrives in the 21st century.

We owe it to ourselves, we owe to the first human in space – Yuri Gagarin, and we owe to our kids and future generations.

Today, all around the world, thousands of people will be remembering Gagarin in Yuri’s Night Celebrations.

Happy Yuri’s Night fellow space explorers! Can’t wait to host our first party in space courtesy of Virgin Galactic!”

Richard Branson

Video: A Peek Inside Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

The BBC got the first ever inside look at the still under construction SpaceShipTwo.

I think the most interesting bit of news from the video is that launches are planned for 2013 now – I remember they were planned for the end of 2011 or early 2012. I wonder why the delay.

Virgin Galactic Aims for Orbit

This news made the rounds in several news outlets and frankly, when isn’t Virgin Galactic in the news? They’ve barely conquered sub-orbital flights and they’re already planning to go orbital.

From Gadling:

Today, Virgin Galactic officially announced plans to team up with two U.S companies in pursuit of developing a commercial manned orbital spacecraft.

Backed by fearless entrepreneur Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic has chosen to support Sierra Nevada Space Systems (SNC) and Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDEV2); an initiative designed to stimulate the development of privately-operated space vehicles. This falls in line with the comments Branson made in our exclusive interview at Spaceport America, saying that NASA’s role should transition to apportioning out money to private space companies.

Since it’s conception in 2004, Virgin Galactic has primarily worked alongside Mojave-based company Scaled Composites to develop a reusable sub-orbital craft, dubbed “SpaceShipTwo”. This design will take passengers over 62 miles into space, but lacks the power required to completely escape the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in about 5 minutes of weightlessness. Orbital flights would give passengers a much longer weightless experience and views of the entire surface of the Earth.

SNC and OSC are following Scaled’s lead by researching designs that will utilize lifting-wing bodies and runway landings in an effort to minimize cost and maximize passenger safety.

Source.

Spaceflight Now had some more details on what Virgin Galactic and their partners are planning:

Already cornering the market for brief up-and-down joyrides for space tourists, Virgin Galactic announced Thursday it has an agreement to sell seats on two lifting body spaceships proposed under NASA’s commercial crew development initiative.

Both spacecraft are being designed to rotate government astronauts to and from the International Space Station, but they could serve other markets in low Earth orbit.

Virgin Galactic, founded by wealthy businessman Richard Branson, is supporting spacecraft proposals by Orbital Sciences Corp. and Sierra Nevada Corp., the company said Thursday in a press release.

Both companies are vying for NASA funding under the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program, or CCDev 2.

Orbital and Sierra Nevada are designing separate lifting body space planes designed to take off on top of an Atlas 5 rocket, conduct a mission in orbit, then return to Earth for a runway landing like the space shuttle.

Source.

This is all very exciting news and we’ll be watching this closely!

Report: Virgin Galactic Space Planes Could Replace Space Shuttle

This story comes via Fox News. The article talks about how Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic are already planning to develop orbital capabilities for a craft similar to Space Ship Two.

From the article:

While Virgin Galactic’s public sights are set on offering suborbital space tourist treks on its SpaceShipTwo passenger ships, the company is already quietly eyeing the next step: orbital space travel.

Virgin Galactic founder and president Sir Richard Branson publicly admitted the company’s orbital aims last month at the dedication of the Spaceport America facility under construction in New Mexico. But he and other Virgin execs are keeping mum on the details.

“Obviously, we want to move on to orbital after we’ve got suborbital under our belts, and maybe even before that,” Branson said.

In the last few weeks, Virgin Galactic and the Mojave, Calif.-based aerospace company Scaled Composites have flown several solo glide tests of SpaceShipTwo, most recently on Nov. 17, setting the stage for the first rocket-powered launch trials to follow. Scaled Composites built the first SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic, as well as the spaceliner’s prize-winning predecessor SpaceShipOne.

But how Virgin Galactic plans to take the major step of reaching orbit — and when it plans to do so — remain to be seen.

It goes on to talk about the challenges they’ll face progressing from sub-orbital flights to full on orbital flights. Read the rest of this interesting article here.

VSS Enterprise Lands at Spaceport America for Runway Dedication

The Spaceport terminal itself is still under construction – but it’s going up impressively fast and is going to look amazing. The runway itself has been completed and was dedicated, to much PR applause.

Here’s some video marking the occasion. The first from Gadling – which is well put together and another from Virgain Galactic.

Very exciting times and stayed tuned to Astrotopia for the latest news on Virgin Galactic and other private space operations.

Video: Virgin Galactic Test Flight Video Released

Virgin Galactic recently did a test flight for it’s upcoming space passenger ship. The test was a release from the White Knight 2 craft and an unpowered glide to landing. Pretty amazing stuff. It’s the first step in the testing they need to do to begin ferrying passengers to and from space within the next year or so.

Click to view larger size.