Virgin Galactic says it’s received the Federal Aviation Administration’s go-ahead to fly customers on its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, marking a significant step in a commercial rollout that could also feature dueling space billionaires.
Virgin Galactic has reached another milestone in their fight test program. The VSS Unity spacecraft carried a third crew member on board, in its fifth rocket-powered test flight. It was the second time that the spacecraft reached space.
SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk made public the first official photo of the commercial space company’s spacesuit design with a post on Instagram today. He indicated he’ll have more details soon and said this first ‘reveal’ isn’t just a prototype design; it’s a real, working spacesuit.
“Worth noting that this actually works (not a mockup)” Musk said. “Already tested to double vacuum pressure.”
The person inside the suit – in what looks to be a computer generated photo – looks much like Musk himself, although the face is rather hard to make out.
Following the design of many previous spacesuits, it comes in white. Musk said in designing the suit, it was “incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function. Easy to do either separately.”
There has been some discussion on social media about the orientation of the flag, as it appears to many to be “backward.” However, this follows US military custom of flags on uniforms, positioned on the right shoulder in this same orientation, with stars facing forward. This gives the effect of the flag “flying in the breeze” as the person in the uniform/spacesuit moves forward.
These are the spacesuits that will be worn by the astronauts who make the first flights on the Dragon Capsule to the International Space Station as part of the commercial crew program. The target for the first humans aboard Dragon is next year, mid-2018.
If you are looking for a spacesuit that has a little more pop of color — as well as a heart-felt mission — NASA also held a special news conference from the International Space Station today revealing a colorful new spacesuit created by children around the world who are suffering from cancer.
The Space Suit Art Project is a collaboration between NASA, spacesuit maker ILC Dover and children in hospitals around the world. This suit, called Unity, is the third in a series of suits. The suits are made of colorful patches made by young cancer patients, giving the kids an opportunity to be part of a lasting and out-of-this-world project.
Astronaut Jack Fischer donned the special (non-functioning) spacesuit and said it was tricky to get into, just like a real spacesuit. But this suit, Fischer said, “gives you the honor to represent the bravest kids in the world, who put it together.” Fischer’s daughter Bethany, is a cancer survivor.
One of the greatest things about being a space enthusiast is all of the discoveries that come out on an almost daily basis. One of the saddest things about being a space enthusiast is all of the discoveries and destinations that are so close, just beyond the horizon of our lifespan.
Will we colonize other planets? Sure, but most of us living will be gone by then. Will we spend time in glorious, gleaming space habitats? Obviously, but we’ll just be epitaphs by then. Sentient, alien species that gift us faster-than-light travel and other wonders? Maybe, but not before my bucket list has its final item checked off.
Citizen space travel? Hmmmm, tantalizingly within reach.
But now, new retro style posters from NASA, designed by the team at Invisible Creature, are making us feel nostalgic about things that haven’t even happened yet, and are helping us leave behind gloomy thoughts of being born at the wrong time.
The Grand Tour celebrates a time when our probes toured the planets, using gravity assist to propel them on their missions.
“Grandpa, do you remember the Grand Tour, when spacecraft used gravity assist to visit other worlds?”
“I sure do. Gravity assist. Those were the days. Swooping so close to Jupiter, you could feel the radiation killing your hair follicles. Only to be sling-shotted on to the next planet.”
“But why didn’t you just use a quantum drive to bend space time and appear at your destination?”
“Quantum drives! Those things ain’t natural. And neither is bending space-time. Give me a good old-fashioned chemical rocket any time.”
Visit the Historic Sites of Mars recalls a time when space pioneers colonized and terraformed Mars.
“Grandpa, what was Mars like in the Early Days?”
“You mean before it was terraformed? Very tough times.”
“Because conditions were so difficult? And food was hard to grow?”
“No. Because of the protesters.”
“Protesters? On Mars?”
“Yup. Every time we found a good spot for a Bacterial Production Facility (BPF), it seemed like there was an expired old rover in the way. The protesters didn’t think we should move ’em. Part of our heritage.”
“So what did you do Grandpa?”
“We created a network of computers that everybody would stare at all day. After that, nobody noticed what we did anymore.”
Visit Beautiful Southern Enceladus invites vacationers to visit Saturn’s sixth largest moon to view the ice geysers there.
“Grandpa, did you ever visit Enceladus?”
“I sure did. A beautiful, haunting place.”
“Was it scary? With all of the ice geysers erupting unpredictably?”
“On no. I always knew when one was going to erupt.”
“What? How did you know?”
“My arthritis would flare up.”
NASA has a growing collection of other posters. You can see them here.
SpaceX has their own posters, which you can see here. They also have cool t-shirts with the same designs.
Back in 2008, Richard Branson outlined his vision for Virgin Galactic’s future. Once tourists are taken into Earth orbit, it seems possible that space hotels could be developed for longer stop-overs in space. He then went on to mention that short “sight-seeing” tours to the Moon could be started from these ultimate hotels. If we are to make travel to the Moon routine enough to send tourists there, the trip would need to be as short as possible.
So how long is the commute from the Earth to the Moon anyway? Human beings and machines have made that trip on several occasions. And while some took a very long time, others were astonishingly fast. Let’s review the various missions and methods, and see which offers the most efficient and least time-consuming means of transit.
The company lost 26 satellites in the explosion. But within nine days of the Oct. 28 event, Planet Labs had a partial backup plan — send two replacements last-minute on an upcoming SpaceX Falcon 9 launch.
In what Planet Labs’ Robbie Schingler calls “the future of aerospace”, almost immediately after the explosion Planet Labs began working with NanoRacks, which launches its satellites from the space station, to find a replacement flight. Half of Planet Labs’ employees began building satellites, while the other half began working through the regulations and logistics. They managed to squeeze two satellites last-minute on to the next SpaceX manifest, which is scheduled to launch in December.
“In space, each element is very difficult to get right by itself, and it takes an ecosystem to deliver a capability this quickly,” wrote Schingler, a president and co-founder of the company, in a blog post last week.
“Central to making this possible was developing our own custom design of the satellite that is free from specialty suppliers (thus decreasing lead time) and having a spacecraft design optimized for manufacturing and automated testing. Moreover, we certainly couldn’t have done it without the collaboration from NanoRacks and support from NASA, and we thank them for their support. This is a great example for how to create a resilient aerospace ecosystem.”
There’s no word on how they will replace the other satellites, nor how this will affect Planet Labs’ vision (explained in this March TED talk) to have these small sentinels frequently circling Earth to provide near-realtime information on what is happening with our planet. But the company acknowledged that space is hard and satellites do get lost from time to time.
The surviving co-pilot of the Virgin Galactic crash was unaware that SpaceShipTwo’s re-entry system was unlocked prematurely during the flight test, according to an update from the National Transportation Safety Board.
In an interview with investigators, the board said Peter Siebold provided testimony that was consistent with other information gathered so far since the crash. The incident, which killed fellow co-pilot Mike Alsbury when the craft plunged into the Mojave desert, took place Oct. 31.
“The NTSB operations and human performance investigators interviewed the surviving pilot on Friday. According to the pilot, he was unaware that the feather system had been unlocked early by the copilot,” read an update on the board’s website.
“His description of the vehicle motion was consistent with other data sources in the investigation. He stated that he was extracted from the vehicle as a result of the break-up sequence and unbuckled from his seat at some point before the parachute deployed automatically.”
Accidents are due to a complex set of circumstances, which means the NTSB finding that the re-entry system was deployed prematurely is only a preliminary finding. The investigation into the full circumstances surrounding the crash could take anywhere from months to a year, according to multiple media reports.
Virgin was performing another in a series of high-altitude test flights in preparation for running tourists up to suborbital space early next year. A handful of ticket-holders, who made deposits of up to $250,000 each, have reportedly asked for their money back. The Richard Branson-founded company has not revealed when the first commercial flight is expected to take place.
Meanwhile, Virgin does have another version of SpaceShipTwo already under assembly right now, which is considered 95% structurally complete and 60% assembled, according to NBC News. The prototype could take to the skies before the NTSB investigation is complete, the report added.
Yes, there was a thumbs up. Through an interview with the father of the SpaceShipTwo pilot, the Daily Mail has reported more details of the near fatal plunge of Peter Siebold from the explosive event that destroyed Scaled Composites’ space vehicle. The ill-fated test flight resulted in the death of the co-pilot, Mike Alsbury. Siebold was visited by his father, Dr Klaus Siebold of Seattle, Washington, after Siebold was released from the hospital.
The Daily Mail story confirms what had been rumor from anonymous sources inside Scale Composites, the company founded by Burt Rutan that created the first privately developed vehicle to exceed the Karman line and reach the environs of outer space. As has been rumored, pilot Siebold, while on parachute, gave a thumbs up sign to a nearby chase plane to indicate he was conscious.
Dr. Siebold, speaking to a Daily Mail reporter, described how his son fell from 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) after SpaceShipTwo broke apart while traveling at a speed of mach 1.2, that is, 913 mph (1,470 km/hr). Early findings of the NTSB investigation have revealed that SpaceShipTwo’s twin tails feathered, that is, folded up, prematurely, creating excessive forces on the carbon composite air frame and led to the craft’s break up.
Dr. Siebold told the Daily Mail that his son is not sure how he separated from the vehicle during the violent event at supersonic speed. He could not recall any details of the sudden event. Such high speed events can take place in a matter of a second or less.
His co-pilot and close friend, Mike Alsbury, was not able to escape from the broken vehicle and fell with the debris to his death to the floor of the Mojave desert. The fall to Earth of the broken vehicle and the two test pilots took over four minutes traveling at a terminal velocity of approximately 150 mph (220 ft/sec, 67 m/s).
Dr. Siebold went on to describe his son’s narrow escape. Pilot Siebold could not recall the breakup and only recalls waking up at 20,000 feet (6096 meters). Both pilots flew with emergency parachutes. Such parachutes would not deploy or deploy correctly without the pilot separating from his pilot seat. As he awoke, Peter Siebold was sufficiently coherent to realize his circumstances and unbuckled himself. The parachute subsequently deployed but the accounting by the father, Dr. Siebold, did not make clear whether his son pulled the rip cord or the parachute was deployed automatically. Both pilots’ parachutes had mechanisms to force automatic deployment at 20,000 feet altitude. However, when a pilot is still strapped into his pilot seat, parachute deployment would be disabled or if executed, would cause severe injury to the person due to the propulsive forces that push the chute from the bag. Such forces would be forced upon the pilot’s body while locked into his seat.
The break-up led to three coinciding invasive events: sudden deceleration forces, the creation of high velocity projectiles – debris – surrounding the pilots, and a decompression event. The pilots wore simple oxygen masks without pressure suits, so their bodies withstood a split second change from cabin pressure of 1 atmosphere to that of a near-vacuum pressure. Any or all three events at breakup were responsible for the pilots’ losing consciousness within seconds if not immediately. The investigation has not revealed how co-pilot Alsbury lost his life, whether during the break-up or at impact with the Earth.
The story provides more details of Peter Siebold’s life. He has two young sons and was inspired by his father, a private pilot, to learn to fly and ultimately receive a job with Scaled Composites over ten years ago. Having no knowledge of a powered test flight that morning, Dr. Siebold described to the Daily Mail how he received a frantic call from his daughter in-law. Siebold’s wife and children were standing alongside their close friends – the children and wife of Mike Alsbury when the catastrophic event unfolded in the skies above them.
The flight took off during the early hours of October 31, 2014, on what appeared to be the beginning of a final phase of testing to qualify the spaceship for commercial flight. With early findings revealing that the event was apparently triggered by Alsbury’s inadvertently releasing the safing mechanism for feathering the tail sections, Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic are beginning to express a likelihood that test flights will restart in as short as 6 months. Apparently, neither the NTSB nor FAA has enforced any grounding of the test program and vehicle. While pilot error may have been involved, the NTSB has included that the act of feathering the tails to slow down the vehicle during its descent from a high altitude requires unlocking the safing mechanism followed by a second step that folds the tail section. The second action would be similar to the act of lowering one’s landing flaps for landing: something which would be well understood by any private or commercial pilot.
According to reports on Twitter, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo exploded in midflight, and debris was seen scattered on ground in the Mojave Desert in California. Virgin tweeted that the rocket plane suffered an “in-flight anomaly” during a powered test flight on Friday. Other witnesses said it involved a fatal explosion and crashed.
“The ship broke apart and started coming down in pieces over the desert,” tweeted Doug Messier (@spacecom), managing editor of the Parabolic Arc website.
The Associated Press is now reporting that the California Highway Patrol reports 1 fatality, 1 major injury after the SpaceShipTwo accident.
Virgin Galactic provided this statement via Twitter:
Virgin Galactic’s partner Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of #SpaceShipTwo earlier today. During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo. WK2 (WhiteKnightTwo) landed safely. Our first concern is the status of the pilots, which is unknown at this time. We will work closely with relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates ASAP.
Virgin Galactic initially sent the news via this tweet:
#SpaceShipTwo has experienced an in-flight anomaly. Additional info and statement forthcoming.
The ABC News affiliate in California reported the rescue crew was seen “carrying person on stretcher to chopper.”
Doug Messier, who was onsite at Mojave for the test flight, also said via Twitter that he saw one of the crash sites and a “body still in seat.” Also that “Debris from the ship was scattered all over the road.”
SpaceShipTwo holds two pilots; they are each equipped with parachutes, but not ejection seats. Reports indicated at least one deployed parachute was sighted.
Other witnesses reported that SpaceShipTwo exploded after ignition of the engines. According to Spaceflightnow.com, SpaceShipTwo was making its first powered flight since January and was testing a redesigned nylon-based solid rocket motor. This was the 55th flight of SpaceShipTwo and its 35th free flight.
Just after 10 a.m. PDT today, ground controllers at the Mojave Spaceport lost contact with SpaceShipTwo, an experimental space flight vehicle. The incident occurred over the Mojave Desert shortly after the space flight vehicle separated from WhiteKnightTwo, the vehicle that carried it aloft. Two crew members were on board SpaceShipTwo at the time of the incident. WhiteKnightTwo remained airborne after the incident. The FAA is investigating.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) tweeted that they are going “to send Go-Team to investigate Virgin Galactic test flight crash in Mojave, Calif.”
Update: According to the Kern County Sheriff’s spokesman, the co-pilot was killed, but pilot ejected and suffered moderate to major injuries in Virgin Galactic crash. Virgin Galactic did not provide information prior to the flight of who would be on board today’s test flight.
We’ll provide more updates as they become available.