Former Space Shuttle Manager Mike Moses Joins Virgin Galactic

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One of the most respected members of NASA’s space shuttle program has joined Virgin Galactic as the commercial space company’s Vice President of Operations. Mike Moses, NASA’s former Space Shuttle Launch Integration Manager, will oversee the planning and execution of all operations at Virgin Galactic’s headquarters at Spaceport America in New Mexico. In a press release, the company said Moses will develop and lead the team responsible for Virgin Galactic spaceship operations and logistics, flight crew operations, customer training, and spaceport ground operations, with overall operational safety and risk management as the primary focus.

“I am extremely excited to be joining Virgin Galactic at this time,” Moses said, “helping to forge the foundations that will enable routine commercial suborbital spaceflights. Virgin Galactic will expand the legacy of human spaceflight beyond traditional government programs into the world’s first privately funded commercial spaceline.”

Moses talked with Irene Klotz at Reuters and said he thinks the direction NASA is taking is good, but he wants to be where the action is.

“I’m more than onboard with NASA’s plan,” Moses told Reuters. “It’s just that the operations of that system were still eight to 10 years away. I couldn’t just push paper around and write requirements for the next 10 years so I’m going to take another shot at it here in the commercial sector.”

Moses served as the Launch Integration Manager from 2008 until the landing of the final Shuttle mission in July 2011. He was responsible for supervising all Space Shuttle processing activities from landing through launch, and for reviewing major milestones including final readiness for flight.

Moses was part of the team that made regular appearances at launch briefings at Kennedy Space Center and was a media favorite for his no-nonsense, but congenial and sometimes humorous answers to questions. Along with Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach, “The Two Mikes” were responsible for providing ultimate launch decision authority during the final years of the space shuttle program.

Moses also served as chair of the Mission Management Team, making decisions for the final 12 space shuttle flights, and directly overseeing the safe and successful flights of 75 astronauts.

“Bringing Mike in to lead the team represents a significant investment in our commitment to operational safety and success as we prepare to launch commercial operations,” said Virgin Galactic President and CEO George Whitesides. “His experience and track record in all facets of spaceflight operations are truly unique. His forward-thinking perspective to bring the hard-won lessons of human spaceflight into our operations will benefit us tremendously.”

Prior to his most recent NASA role, Moses served as a Flight Director at the NASA Johnson Space Center where he led teams of flight controllers in the planning, training and execution of all aspects of space shuttle missions. Before being selected as a Flight Director in 2005, Moses had over 10 years experience as a flight controller in the Shuttle Propulsion and Electrical Systems Groups.

Sources: Virgin Galactic, Reuters

Watch SpaceShipTwo’s First Feathered Flight

On May 4, 2011 Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo achieved a major milestone by flying for the first time using its “feathered” configuration, and the company has now released a close-up video of the flight. Feathering is designed to create drag and slow the ship down after it reenters the atmosphere from eventual suborbital flights taking tourists into space. This flight confirmed the feathering design should work.

“Now we now have an entry vehicle – now we can come back from space,” said Matt Stiemetze, Program Manager at Scaled Composites
Continue reading “Watch SpaceShipTwo’s First Feathered Flight”

First Look at SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic will unveil SpaceShipTwo (SS2), Monday night, but they did sneak out a few photos prior to the event. SS2 will be the world’s first commercial manned spaceship, with room for several passengers to move (and fly!) around during suborbital flights. “This is truly a momentous day. The team has created not only a world first but also a work of art,” said Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic founder. Burt Rutan, the designer of SpaceShipOne which won the Ansari X PRIZE in 2004 for completing the world’s first manned private space flights said, “All of us at Scaled Composites are tremendously excited by the capabilities of both the mothership and SS2.”

SS2 and VMS Eve in hangar 2.  Credit: Virgin Galactic
SS2 and VMS Eve in hangar 2. Credit: Virgin Galactic

A “theatrical unveil” Monday night at the Mojave Spaceport will be followed by a cocktail party for the 300 plus paying passengers that have already signed up for flights on SS2, along with other VIPs of the space industry.

SpaceShipTwo’s debut marks the first public appearance of a commercial passenger spacecraft. SS2 has been under construction for two years. On board, there will be room for six passengers and two pilots.

Daily space tourism flights for SS2 are set to begin in New Mexico from Spaceport America following the completion of test programming and US government licensing. SS2 will be carried by WhiteKnightTwo mothership, a four-engine jet-powered aircraft unveiled last year that features twin fuselages mounted on either side of a huge wing. SS2 will be mounted in the center.

SpaceShipTwo will be released at an altitude of 15,240 meters (50,000 feet.) A hybrid rocket motor burning solid propellant with nitrous oxide then will boost SpaceShipTwo onto a steep trajectory to an altitude of more than 100 km (62 miles.)

Here’s an image comparing SS2 with SpaceShipOne:

Comparing SS1 and SS2.  Click for larger version.
Comparing SS1 and SS2. Click for larger version.

The first SpaceShipTwo test flights are expected to start next year, with full-fledged space launches to its maximum altitude by or in 2011.

The 300 paid passengers have already put down the $200,000 ticket or placed a deposit, according to the company.

This video provides more looks at the vehicle.

Source: Virgin Galactic

Tourists to ISS Two at a Time Starting 2012?

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According to a Russian official, the commercial space company Space Adventures will be sending two space tourists a year into orbit on Soyuz spacecraft from beginning in 2012. “We have been working on this project for a number of years” said Sergey Kostenko, the head of the company’s office in Russia, who was quoted in the Russian news website RiaNovosti. “Each Soyuz will carry two tourists and a professional astronaut. One of the tourists will have to pass a year-and-a-half training course as a flight engineer.”

Space Adventures has been authorized by the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos to select and contract candidates for space tourist trips. According to Kostenko, Russia’s RSC Energia corporation has the capacity to build five Soyuz spacecraft per year instead of four, meaning that Space Adventures will be able to use at least one Soyuz for space tourism purposes.

“The International Space Station (ISS) program requires four Soyuz spacecraft per year, and we have been informed by RSC Energia that they will be able to increase the annual production to five spacecraft,” he said, adding that Space Adventures would pay for the construction of the extra Soyuz, the launch services and the salary of a Russian cosmonaut as crew commander.

Kostenko said Space Adventrues, which bills itself as the only company currently providing human space mission opportunities to the world marketplace, already had a number of candidates who were willing to pay for trips into space, including Russian-born American billionaire and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

The current price of a 10-day trip to the ISS for a tourist is estimated at about $35 million USD.

Guy Laliberte prior to his flight to the ISS.
Guy Laliberte prior to his flight to the ISS.

Space tourists started flying to the International Space Station in 2001 when American businessman and former NASA scientist Dennis Tito flew to the ISS aboard a Soyuz. He was followed by South African computer millionaire Mark Shuttleworth in 2002, and Gregory Olsen, a U.S. entrepreneur and scientist, in 2005.
In 2006, Anousheh Ansari, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, became the first female space tourist.

U.S. games developer Richard Garriott, the son of former NASA astronaut Owen K. Garriott, went into orbit for 11 days in October 2008 on board a Russian Soyuz TMA-13.

U.S. space tourist Charles Simonyi, one of the founders of Microsoft, made two trips to the ISS – in 2005 and 2009.

Guy Laliberte, the Canadian founder of entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, arrived at the ISS on Friday and will stay on board until October 10.

Source: Ria Novosti

Spectacular Soyuz Rollout Images

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NASA photographer Bill Ingalls is in Russia at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, capturing the rollout of the Soyuz TMA-16 rocket today, scheduled to launch on Sept. 30 to the International Space Station. Of course the Soyuz rollout and launch is a whole different experience from the shuttle rollout, and these pictures tell the story. Additionally, this launch has a bit more “festive” feel to it: spaceflight participant Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, is part of the crew. Also on board, Soyuz Commander Max Suraev, and NASA Flight Engineer Jeff Williams are scheduled to launch at 2:14 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, Sept. 30.

Above, a Russian security officers walk along the railroad tracks as the Soyuz rocket is rolled out to the launch pad.

The Soyuz rocket is seen shortly after arrival to the launch pad Monday, Sept. 28, 2009.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The Soyuz rocket is seen shortly after arrival to the launch pad Monday, Sept. 28, 2009. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Soyuz rocket being hoisted to its launch position shortly after arrival to the launch pad Monday.

Laliberte is paying some $35 million for a seat on the Soyuz and 12 days aboard the ISS. He’s likely to be the last paying private citizen to the station for the next few years. Because of the retirement of the space shuttle, the Soyuz will be the only way to get astronauts and cosmonauts to and from the ISS.

Launch scaffolding is raised into place around the Soyuz rocket.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Launch scaffolding is raised into place around the Soyuz rocket. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
It will take the Soyuz two days to reach the ISS. Docking is scheduled for 3:36 a.m. CDT on Friday, Oct. 2. Waiting on board the orbiting laboratory are commander Gennady Padalka, NASA’s Mike Barratt and Nicole Stott, the European Space Agency’s Frank De Winne, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and the Canadian Space Agency’s Bob Thirsk. After Padalka and Barratt depart the station, De Winne will become commander of the next station mission, designated Expedition 21.

The sun rises behind the Soyuz launch pad shortly before the Soyuz rocket is rolled out.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The sun rises behind the Soyuz launch pad shortly before the Soyuz rocket is rolled out. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Padalka, Barratt and Laliberte will return to Earth on Saturday, Oct. 10, in the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft currently docked to the station. Padalka and Barratt have been on the ISS since March 2009.

To see more images from the Soyuz rollout, check out NASA’s Flickr page.

World’s First Spaceport Begins Construction

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The western United States used to be known as the frontier, and now that region will provide access to the final frontier. On June 19, ground will be broken in New Mexico for Spaceport America, the world’s first commercial spaceport built for launching private citizens into space. Groundbreaking ceremonies will include a flyover by Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo, the mothership that will send tourists on their way to space in SpaceShip2. Virgin Galactic will be the first – if not most important — tenant of Spaceport America, and already more than 250 people have put money down to take trips to the edge of space as early as next year.

Spaceport America’s runway is scheduled to be completed next summer. The terminal and hangar should be ready for tenants in December 2010, when Virgin Galactic hopes to begin taking tourists to space.

White knight Two.  Credit:  FlightGlobal.com.
White knight Two. Credit: FlightGlobal.com.

Competitors such as XCOR Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace are developing spacecraft for $95,000 flights. And as flights become more routine, costs should drop.

Five miles from the terminal is a launching pad for 20-foot rockets used mostly for science experiments, which has been operational for the past two years.

If you are in the Las Cruces/ Truth or Consequences, New Mexico area, check out Spaceport America’s website. The groundbreaking ceremonies are free and open to the public.

Source: AP, Spaceport America

Branson Wants to Fly Space Tourists into the Northern Lights

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For his next big plan for the private space industry, Richard Branson is thinking up new ways to excite affluent space tourists: flying them into the biggest lightshow on Earth, the Aurora Borealis. Although the New Mexico Virgin Galactic Spaceport isn’t scheduled for completion until 2010, the British entrepreneur is already planning his next project intended for cruises into the spectacular space phenomenon from an Arctic launchpad.

Located in the far north of Sweden (in the Lapland province), the small town of Kiruna has a long history of space observation and rocket launches. The Arctic location provides the town with unrivalled views of the Aurora Borealis as it erupts overhead. The Auroral lightshow is generated by atmospheric reactions to impacting solar wind particles as they channel along the Earth’s magnetic field and down into the thickening atmospheric gases.

Once a view exclusive only to sounding rockets, this awe inspiring sight may in the future be seen from the inside, and above, by fee-paying space tourists as they are launched into space from a new spaceport, on the site of an existing base called Esrange. Although launching humans into an active aurora holds little scientific interest (if it did, it would have probably been done by now), it does pose some prudent health and safety questions. As Dr Olle Norberg, Esrange’s director, confidently states: “Is there a build-up of charge on the spacecraft? What is the radiation dose that you would receive? Those studies came out saying it is safe to do this.” Phew, that’s a relief.

The chance to actually be inside this magnificent display of light will be an incredible selling point for Virgin Galactic and their SpaceShipTwo flights. As if going into space were not enough, you can see and fly through the atmosphere at it’s most magnificent too.

Source: The Guardian Unlimited