Panel: Steady Progress in Space Tourism But Challenges Remain

LOSANGELES - While paying for a flight on a commercial spaceship is now closer toreality challenges do remain, with flight safety a high priority. Furthermore,there are regulatory battles still to be waged. And major technical issuesawait resolution.

Still,significant and fast-paced progress is being made advised private space travelauthorities speaking at Transforming Space: Innovation, Infrastructure andIntellectual Capital, sponsored by the California Space Authority and heldhere December 1-2.

Fromspace, the sights are spectacular, assured BrianBinnie, a test pilot and private astronaut for Scaled Composites in Mojave, California. He flew the first and the last powered flights of theSpaceShipOne. That craft in 2004 made back-to-back suborbital voyages to theedge of space, clinching the $10 million Ansari X Prize--a purse offered tokindle private space travel.

The SpaceShipOne design wasled by aerospace inventor, Burt Rutan, now busy at work with his team on afollow-on, multi-passenger spaceliner.

"Idon't care who takes you up there...it's going to be behind a rocketmotor...shuttering, shaking and shrieking at you," Binnie emphasized. "That'sgoing to get the heart pumping and the adrenaline flowing."

Binniesaid that after rocket motor shutdown, a trio of things occurs, almostsimultaneously: The noise stops, the shaking of the vehicle ends, and youbecome instantly weightless.

"That'san uplifting, enlightening feeling that's real enjoyable," Binnie said."Everywhere you look, I'm here to tell you, it's wow...for lack of a moresophisticated word."

Sense of themselves

"Spacetourism is going to succeed," said John Spencer, a space architect andPresident of the Space Tourism Society, "because people want to have a uniquelife changing experience. They desire it. They want it. They crave it. Theyneed it."

"Weare going to be having sex in space...it's a frontier that needs to be explored,just as any other frontier," Spencer predicted.

Fromthe vantage point of space, public space travelers can also gain a sense ofthemselves, as well as the Earth.

"Weare one planet. How do we cooperate better and how do we take better care ofthe planet...and how do we have fun doing it," Spencer advised.

Plenty of reality to celebrate

Theemerging public space travel business is very real and increasingly so giventhe last few years, "but let's not kid ourselves," cautioned Jeff Greason, ChiefExecutive Officer of XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, California. "There is at leastas much work ahead of us as there is behind us,"

Andalong the road, accidents are sure to happen.

"It'snot if...it's when," Greason pointed out. "No mode of transportation has everbeen developed without loss of human life...and this isn't going to be thefirst."

Likeany real industry, real money must be made, along with delivery of realresults, Greason stressed. Nevertheless, he added, the prospect appears soundof placing space transportation on a commercial paying basis for both peopleand passengers.

Greason'scautionary advice to fellow rocketeers: "We don't have to over-promise. We haveplenty of reality to celebrate."

Registered applications

 

Capitalizingon the suborbital flights of SpaceShipOne last year--and putting dollars down oncreating a passenger-carrying spaceliner under the moniker of VirginGalactic--is adventurer and British businessman, Sir Richard Branson.

InJuly, Branson teamed up with Rutan of Scaled Composites to form a new aerospace productioncompany. The new firm, The Spaceship Company, will build a fleet ofcommercial suborbital spaceships and launch aircraft.

AsDirector of Operations at Virgin Galactic, Alex Tai oversees the design andbuilding of the new SpaceShipTwo now on order. He also plans to pilot the firstcommercial flight of the spaceliner.

VirginGalactic has placed an order for five spaceships, Tai said. "We expect these tobe delivered sometime within the next couple of years...we're deep in theengineering program for developing SpaceShipTwo."

Taisaid that Virgin Galactic already has some 33,000 registered applications forsuborbital flights. "We've taken over $10 million in deposits and we've notreally started to advertise," he noted.

Moon travel...and beyond

VirginGalactic intends to be a growing and going business, Tai said. First suborbitalflight, then passenger travel into Earth orbit, he added.

Fromthere, Tai said that Virgin Galactic envisions lunar orbit trips for thepublic, as well as Moon landings. Branson also has his eyes on anotherinterplanetary target.

"Thebusiness case of going to Mars eludes me currently. But I'm sure someone canconvince me soon," Tai told the audience.

Asfor the wellbeing of public space travelers on Virgin Galactic, the group iscommitted to attaining the highest of safety standards possible, Tai said. "Thisembryonic industry will survive or fail on the safety that we can demonstrateduring the first few years," he said.

Taisaid that Virgin Galactic is a real company, with real aims. "And we're goingto make it work," he concluded.

  

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