Blue Origin & Virgin Galactic: Can They Be More Than Space Joyrides?

Business 19 July, 2021 - 09:58am 7 views

What time is Blue Origin taking off?

Blue Origin is aiming for the rocket to take off at 9 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, July 20. The company will begin coverage of the launch at 7:30 a.m. on its YouTube channel, or you can watch it in the video player embedded above. The date coincides with the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. nytimes.comJeff Bezos' Blue Origin Launch to Space: Live Updates

Who are going to space with Jeff Bezos?

Billionaire Jeff Bezos will blast into space on Tuesday, in the first crewed flight of his rocket ship, New Shepard. He will be accompanied by Mark Bezos, his brother, Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pioneer of the space race, and an 18-year-old student. BBC NewsJeff Bezos to blast into space aboard New Shepard rocket ship

Did Richard Branson go into space?

But Bezos' company Blue Origin says Branson didn't actually go to space. ... And Richard Branson was the first to go to space in a craft he helped fund…or was he? The supersonic space plane created by his company Virgin Galactic took off from New Mexico on July 11 and reached 53.5 miles above the earth. KHOU.comWhy Blue Origin says Richard Branson didn’t reach space

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson and his team successfully flew to the “edge of space” on the Unity 22 mission aboard a Virgin Galactic plane on July 12. The event was hailed as the start of space tourism, narrowly beating the planned launch on 20 July by fellow billionaire business magnate Jeff Bezos and his firm Blue Origin.

But does the 85km (53 miles), the altitude of the recent Virgin Galactic flight, actually count as space? And what are these companies likely to achieve going forward?

The definition of where space begins is very subjective. The Kármán line is a distance of 100km (62 miles), determined in 1957. This line has been adopted by the Swiss Air Sports Federation (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) to determine if an activity is aeronautical or astronautical.

Alternatively, the US Air Force and Nasa determine their boundary as 80km (50 miles), which is where military personnel get their “astronaut wings”. This altitude has been reached by a number of specialist planes including the X-15 and notably the privately funded SpaceShipOne, reaching 112km (70 miles) – well above VSS Unity’s current achievement. The Blue Origin launch is aiming for 106km (66 miles).

While this altitude allows some excellent views of the Earth, it is not an orbit. To be orbiting at this altitude you need to be travelling at a minimum speed of 7.85km/s (17,500mph) in a horizontal direction. Unity was just an acceleration straight up and then a controlled drop back down. This is relatively simple to do, but it’s significantly more difficult, both in terms of energy and engineering, to turn this into an orbit.

The definition of the edge of space is not trivial. Space is not where you feel weightless, as this can be achieved for short periods of time in specialist drop chambers or on parabolic flights. And despite the tweet from Virgin Galactic stating the crew were in zero-gravity, the gravitational pull was roughly 9.5 metres per square second – about 97% of that on the surface. The weightlessness experienced is purely due to an extended free fall.

"To all you kids down there…" – @RichardBranson's message from zero gravity. #Unity22

Watch the livestream:

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 11, 2021

The first billionaire in space has excited some, feeling that they too may one day see the Earth from 85km if they can afford US$250,000 for a one-hour trip. However, public opinion has not been unanimous, with many highlighting that the cost of the venture could be used to eradicate poverty or assist with the current pandemic response.

There’s also the environmental impact. According to Virgin Galactic, a single flight on Unity results in carbon emission of 1.2 tonnes – equivalent to a passenger in business class on a return trip from London to New York. Compared to aviation, this is small, but the more regular these flights become the more carbon will be added. Blue Origin’s engines, on the other hand, are powered by liquid hydrogen. While the emissions are therefore minimal, the generation of liquid hydrogen and carbon cost of transporting materials is still an issue.

Although Virgin Galactic has beaten Blue Origin to the punch – SpaceX is ahead of both in terms of private space exploration. It is focusing on launches to the International Space Station and much more adventurous space tourism, such as a trip to the Moon and back, which definitely classes as going into space. The success rate of SpaceX, including the Crew Dragon 2 craft, means that its dearMoon project has a good chance of succeeding, although not for a few years yet. The plan is to develop a new rocket, known as Starship, to launch this first space tourism venture.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic is developing a concept supersonic passenger transporter as a successor to the Concorde that would be able to fly up to 19 people from Los Angeles to Sydney in under seven hours. It also won a small contract with Nasa to do research on its flights.

Blue Origin has also collaborated with Nasa to develop concept and technologies to support future human spaceflight operations. The current development is a concept robotic lunar lander dubbed Blue Moon, which is looking to deliver cargo – and maybe even crew – to the Moon. These projects will certainly provide more experience for the companies, although are a long way off being completed or tested.

Virgin Galactic’s sister company Virgin Orbit, a low-cost, small satellite launch plan, is far more impressive. It has already completed two successful missions, deploying payloads to low Earth orbit. This works in a similar way to Virgin Galactic by having the LauncherOne rockets attached to a carrier plane (Cosmic Girl) and firing at an altitude of 10km. This is a good alternative for launching small, lightweight satellites to about 500km, so that they don’t have to wait for an opening on larger rockets.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Is Washington ready for space tourism to take off?

POLITICO 20 July, 2021 - 07:01am

When it comes to public safety, traffic jams and environmental hazards, there is no framework for regulating private space travel.


The first human space flight for the New Shepard will come on the heels of Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson’s historic trip to the edge of space last week aboard the rocketship SpaceShipTwo.

Together, the milestones are predicted to boost consumer confidence and propel further development of new spacecraft to support a global transportation system via low-Earth orbit.

But many space policy experts and members of oversight committees in Congress are concerned that the government isn’t prepared for it — especially the office at the Federal Aviation Administration that is responsible for regulating the new industry, but is widely viewed as overworked and understaffed.

Whether ensuring public safety, managing growing space traffic or mitigating environmental hazards, there is no framework for regulating private space travel. And while many experts say the industry is still too new to settle on details, they contend federal agencies are already way behind.

“There are many open questions,” said Laura Seward Forczyk, founder of Astralytical, an aerospace consulting firm. “There will come a time when the U.S. government, the FAA, will decide that it needs to regulate this sector in a way that is close to the airline industry. It is not going to be perfectly safe initially — no one expects it to be — but it needs to become safer as it becomes less experimental.

“All of these flights are still labeled as test flights,” she added. “These passengers at some point are going to expect a level of safety that is not currently achievable. When it becomes achievable, I don’t know.”

Keeping passengers alive is a main concern — both in the spacecraft as well as in commercial airplanes sharing some of the same airspace. In the months and years ahead, as spaceports and space flights carrying tourists or cargo become more frequent, they will require designated corridors for takeoff and landing.

The FAA has authority to regulate commercial spacecraft through its Office of Commercial Space Transportation. But there is now a moratorium on regulating the industry until 2023 to encourage innovation.

“The FAA had rightly given these initial commercial space operations wide berth,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Oregon Democrat who chairs the House Aviation Subcommittee, said at a recent oversight hearing on the FAA’s role in space.

But he thinks the time is fast approaching to get serious about what those regulations should look like. “I have serious concerns that some parts of the industry are talking about yet another extension of the moratorium,” DeFazio said.

Yet some leading advocates for commercial space endeavors worry that if regulators move too quickly they could hamstring the industry as it improves its designs.

“The fear is if we are writing regulations based on old vehicles that weren’t very safe, then there’s a potential implication here that these vehicles will also not be safe because the regulations are also not safe,” said Karina Drees, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry association representing space companies. “We are still very much in data collection mode.”

“We want regulation,” she added in an interview. “We just want safe regulation. The vehicles are just now coming online. How does anyone in government know how to regulate those vehicles when they are brand new?”

Drees, who previously was CEO and general manager of Mojave Air & Space Port in California, argues the analogy to the early days of commercial airline travel, which was regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Board founded in 1938, is not quite accurate yet.

Spaceflight is still in its infancy, she said, pointing out that fewer than 10 commercial space flights in the past 17 years have carried people. That means there is ample time to get commercial space regulations right.

“I feel like as a comparison we are at a faster pace than commercial aviation because it took decades to iron out a lot of those regulations back then,” she said.

But as manned and unmanned space flights increase, there will be a need to coordinate them with the air traffic control system.

“There is work to be done,” said Dan Dumbacher, a former top NASA official and executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “We all know that whenever you launch on the central coast of Florida, the launch windows affect the commercial air traffic transportation up and down the eastern seaboard.

Accommodating the return of spacecraft to Earth, including reusable rockets, poses its own set of challenges.

“There is an interface there that's coming and that we need to be ready for as launch rates start to increase,” Dunbacher added. “The various locations of those launches — even return, landing boosters on barges or on land — those also affect the air traffic management system, so we have to be able to sort through and figure out what those problems are and how we address those problems. What technologies are needed? What research is needed to address those issues?”

DeFazio, the aviation panel chair, says the need to ensure coordination with the flying public is also important if space tourism only remains the domain of a select group of wealthy individuals for the foreseeable future.

He wants to avoid a scenario in which airline passengers are informed, “I’m sorry your [airline] flight is going to be delayed, or you’re going to be an hour and a half late and miss your connection because some millionaire or billionaire is going to experience 15 minutes of weightlessness.”

“That’s not right and I want to see that that does not happen,” he said.

The lawmaker says he wants the FAA to speed up a program called the “Space Data Integrator,” which is designed to minimize disruptions caused by commercial space activity.

The FAA’s space office, which is responsible for granting launch licenses for commercial space flights, is understaffed to deal with the growing regulatory challenges, according to Drees, head of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

“There’s so much talk about how we need more regulation, but our regulator is a team of 100 people,” she said. “They have not grown, they have not been able to keep up with industry, they do not have the expertise in-house to be able to regulate what the industry is doing, let alone keep up with the amount of launches they need to license.”

Drees said the FAA already has a huge space workload. “They are doing environmental reviews to process applications for spaceports and launch companies,” she said. “They’ve got a pretty heavy workload in addition to being under pressure to write regulations.”

The environmental implications of private space flight present one of the more complicated challenges, including the potential for contributing to climate change.


“Commercial space launch vehicles emit a stunning amount of carbon dioxide,” DeFazio said. “More carbon dioxide in a few minutes than an average car would in two centuries of driving.”

For now, the industry and its boosters are basking in the glow of a new phase that only a few years ago was the vision of a few billionaires.

The Bezos and Branson flights “will boost consumer confidence in the much-awaited promise the commercial spaceflight industry holds for providing access to space for all,” said Namira Salim, one of the founders of Virgin Galactic and who is set to travel on a future mission.

She thinks they will also drive more government action to help ensure the industry has a viable path forward.

“It’s turning out to be a healthy space race, one not compromising safety so that a commercially viable commercial tourism product can be delivered,” she said. “Successful spaceflights by the two companies will also help set operational and safety protocols for both the commercial operators and the regulators.”

But the challenge will be ironing out the numerous details, large and small, maintains Seward Forczyk, the space industry consultant.

“Do these passengers need to wear pressurized suits?” she asked. “Right now the spaceflight providers, at least Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, have decided no. Maybe that will change. There is no standardization when it comes to seat belt harnesses. Nothing is standardized in the industry.”

But that will soon need to change. “Right now it doesn't necessarily need to be a standard set,” she added. “But as the industry matures, we are going to need to come to some sort of norms and regulations. If we want spaceflight to be like air flight, then we are going to have to develop the safety culture that matches.”

Jeff Bezos expected to fly to space today - Here's what to know & how to watch - NBC2 News

NBC2 News 20 July, 2021 - 03:52am

(CNN) — Jeff Bezos, the richest man on the planet, is preparing for a rocket-powered, 11-minute 2,300-mph excursion to the edge of space, capping off a month filled with rocket news and a bit of drama among the world’s richest people who are dedicating large portions of their wealth to rocket development.

Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000 with the goal of using some of his Amazon fortune to develop rocket technology for a variety of business purposes, will take his extraterrestrial journey just nine days after fellow billionaire and rocket company founder Richard Branson took his own trip.

But Bezos’ flight, and the technology his company developed to get him there, is far different than Branson’s. Blue Origin’s New Shepard is a small, suborbital rocket that takes off vertically from a launch pad, giving a shorter yet higher-speed experience than the aerial-launched space plane created by Branson’s Virgin Galactic. But much like Virgin Galactic’s plane, New Shepard is designed to shuttle paying customers more than dozens of miles above the Earth’s surface for a few moments of weightlessness and panoramic views of the Earth.

New Shepard has flown 15 automated test flights with no people on board, and Bezos announced in early June that he intended to be on the first-ever crewed flight, which is slated for July 20.

The public will be able to watch the whole thing go down on Blue Origin’s livestream, where it will show exterior shots of the rocket and capsule shooting up toward the cosmos. (Shots of the interior — and Bezos’ facial expressions — won’t be released until after the flight.) The mission is expected to kick off Tuesday after 8 am ET, weather permitting.

CNN Business will be sharing the livestream and running a live blog with updates.

Here’s everything you need to know before the big event.

Though the New Shepard capsule can carry up to six people, Bezos is bringing just three others along on this inaugural journey. They include his brother, Mark Bezos; Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pilot and one of the “Mercury 13” women; and an 18-year old recent high school graduate named Oliver Daemen.

Bezos was supposed to fly alongside a mystery bidder who won a recent Blue Origin auction by agreeing to pay $28 million for a seat on the flight, but the company announced Thursday that the person, who asked to remain anonymous for the time being, had to bow out because of “scheduling conflicts.” Daemen — whose father, Dutch investment firm founder Joes Daemen, paid for his ticket — will fly in the auction winner’s place.

When most people think about spaceflight, they think about an astronaut circling the Earth, floating in space, for at least a few days.

That is not what the Bezos brothers and their fellow passengers will be doing.

They’ll be going up and coming right back down, and they’ll be doing it in less time, about 11 minutes, than it takes most people to get to work.

Visually, Blue Origin’s livestream will look much the same as most of the New Shepard test launches of years past have looked: The rocket and capsule will be sitting on a launch pad at Blue Origin’s private facilities in rural Texas — near Van Horn, which is about 120 miles east of El Paso.

New Shepard’s suborbital fights hit about three times the speed of sound — roughly 2,300 miles per hour — and fly directly upward until the rocket expends most of its fuel. The crew capsule will then separate from the rocket at the top of the trajectory and briefly continue upward before the capsule almost hovers at the top of its flight path, giving the passengers a few minutes of weightlessness. It works sort of like an extended version of the weightlessness you experience when you reach the peak of a roller coaster hill, just before gravity brings your cart — or, in Bezos’ case, your space capsule — screaming back down toward the ground.

The New Shepard capsule then deploys a large plume of parachutes to slow its descent to less than 20 miles per hour before it hits the ground, and Bezos and his fellow passengers will be further cushioned by shock-absorbent seats.

The rocket, flying separately after having detached from the human-carrying capsule, will then re-ignite its engines and use its on-board computers to execute a pinpoint, upright landing. The booster landing looks similar to what SpaceX does with its Falcon 9 rockets, though those rockets are far more powerful than New Shepard and — yes — more prone to exploding on impact.

A smattering of media will also be allowed in to watch the launch and interview Bezos and the other passengers after landing.

Bezos’ flight will come just nine days after British billionaire Richard Branson took his own supersonic joy ride to the edge of space, the result of a surprise announcement that came from his space company, Virgin Galactic, days after Bezos announced his intention to go to space.

The two men’s companies — and their PR machines — have since entered into a public back-and-forth, though the billionaires themselves have said they’re not interested in racing to become the first to actually rocket into space aboard a craft they helped fund.

But suborbital space tourism isn’t all that Branson and Bezos are pursuing with their space ventures. Nor is it the largest or most important sector in the burgeoning commercial space industry.

Branson, Musk, and Bezos, however, have all been compared for years because of their similarities — all three men used fortune they accrued through other lines of business to pursue space-focused ventures. Here’s how they break down:

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has for years been making headlines and breaking records with its rocket technology — and it is far different than what Blue Origin will debut on Tuesday.

First off, SpaceX builds orbital rockets. Orbital rockets need to drum up enough power to hit at least 17,000 miles per hour, or what’s known as orbital velocity, essentially giving a spacecraft enough energy to continue whipping around the Earth rather than being dragged immediately back down by gravity. That’s how SpaceX is able to put satellites into orbit or carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Suborbital flights, however, don’t need to travel nearly as fast. They need only reach an altitude above the 50 miles mark — which the US government considers to mark the edge of outer space — or the 62-mile mark, which is internationally considered the demarcating line. (New Shepard is expected to reach over 62 miles.)

What New Shepard will do on Tuesday will more closely resemble what Richard Branson — the other, other space billionaire — is planning to do with his company, Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic is also planning to launch wealthy tourists to suborbital space, though it developed a much different vehicle to get there. Rather than an autonomous rocket that takes off vertically, Virgin Galactic has built a piloted space plane that takes off from a runway (much like an airplane) attached to a massive winged mothership.

Virgin Galactic has completed test flights of its own, and Branson became the first billionaire to fly to space aboard a rocket he helped fund on July 11.

Blue Origin will be streaming the historic flight LIVE on a YouTube live stream that can be found on the home page of the website

Space travel is, historically, fraught with danger. Though the risks are not necessarily astronomical for Bezos’ jaunt to suborbital space, as his space company Blue Origin has spent the better part of the last decade running New Shepard through a series of successful test flights.

Suborbital flights also require far less power and speed than orbital rockets. That means less time the rocket is required to burn, lower temperatures scorching the outside of the spacecraft, less force and compression ripping at the spacecraft, and generally fewer opportunities for something to go very wrong.

Still, any time a human straps themselves into a rocket, there are risks involved — and Bezos has apparently calculated that, for him, it’s worth it.

“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space,” Bezos wrote in his June announcement on Instagram.

Copyright © 2021 Waterman Broadcasting of Florida, LLC

Copyright © 2021 Waterman Broadcasting of Florida, LLC

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