After 15 years of making extravagant but unkept promises to fly more than 600 “future astronauts” to space, Richard Branson must now please an entirely new group of people who are usually much shorter on patience: shareholders.
Following the completion last week of a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), the British billionaire’s Virgin Galactic suborbital “space line” will begin trading under its own name on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Monday.
Going public now is an unusual move for a space tourism company that hasn’t flown a singlet tourist to space since Branson announced the SpaceShipTwo program in 2004. Some might see it has putting the cart before the horse.
If you had plans for Saturday night, you might want to change them.
SpaceX Founder Elon Musk will provide an update on the progress of the Starship Mk1 vehicle live from the company’s test site at Boca Chica Beach in Texas.
Musk tweeted the presentation will start at 6 or 7 p.m. CDT (7 or 8 p.m. EDT).. There are reportedly plans to webcast the event, most likely via the SpaceX website (www.spacex.com). However, those details have not been confirmed.
When on May 29, 2014, Elon Musk unveiled the Dragon 2 spacecraft at a gala ceremony at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., the future of American human spaceflight seemed assured and tantalizingly close.
By 2017, the new spacecraft would begin making crewed flights to the International Space Station, restoring a capability that had ended with the last space shuttle mission in 2011. NASA’s dependence on Russian Soyuz spacecraft would come to an end.
Four years after its unveiling, Dragon 2 is still months away from making an automated flight test to the space station. A test flight with astronauts aboard might not occur until next year. The Government Accountability Office believes additional delays could push certification of the spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis to December 2019. (Certification of Boeing’s crew vehicle might not occur until February 2020).
It’s good to keep all this in mind as Musk prepares to unveil his latest transportation plan this evening. At 7 p.m. PDT, Musk will hold a town-hall style meeting in Los Angeles to discuss plans by The Boring Company for tunneling under the city. The event will be webcast at https://www.boringcompany.com/.
Musk might have given a preview of the session on Twitter this week when he made a connection between his tunneling work and the mega rocket/spaceship that he is designing to render Dragon 2 and its Falcon 9 booster obsolete.
Boring Company Hyperloop will take you from city center under ground & ocean to spaceport in 10 to 15 mins https://t.co/VhpfhgdXSd
The spaceport in question is apparently the offshore platform where passengers will board the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which Musk says will be capable of going anywhere in the world in about 30 minutes. The rocket is also being designed to launch satellites and transport people and cargo to the moon and Mars.
It sounds as ambitious as anything Musk has attempted to date. If the past is any guide, his estimates on cost and schedules will be extremely optimistic.
Since Elon Musk unveiled his Big [Expletive] Rocket (BFR) in Adelaide last month, there has been a lot of analysis of the engineering aspects. Musk’s Ask Me Anything session on Reddit was an engineer’s dream, with the billionaire providing detailed answers about the Raptor engines, thrust to weight ratios and a host of other technical issues.
Amid all the technical talk, there has been little attention paid to what a giant leap this venture is for Musk, SpaceX and possibly the entire human race. Not only will BFR be larger and more powerful than any other rocket ever built, the audacious things Musk wants to do with it – ranging from point to point transportation on Earth to satellite delivery to sending colonists to the moon and Mars – are on a scale never before attempted. They are certainly beyond anything contemplated by the world’s space agencies.
Elon Musk conducted an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on Saturday. Below are selected responses to questions. A full list of questions and answers is located here.
Will be starting with a full-scale Ship doing short hops of a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance. Those are fairly easy on the vehicle, as no heat shield is needed, we can have a large amount of reserve propellant and don’t need the high area ratio, deep space Raptor engines.
Next step will be doing orbital velocity Ship flights, which will need all of the above. Worth noting that BFS is capable of reaching orbit by itself with low payload, but having the BF Booster increases payload by more than an order of magnitude. Earth is the wrong planet for single stage to orbit. No problemo on Mars. (more…)
Ah, yeah…about that….Maybe if Virgin Galactic was already in powered flights. As it is, they still have at least one more glide flight to conduct. And they haven’t conducted one of those in two months.
It’s possible they only get one powered flight test off the ground by the end of the year. Would that leave them prepared to begin commercial flights by April? Probably not. There are a lot of variables involved — number of test flights, pace of testing, problems they discover — but six months would be pushing it.
John Logsdon has spotted a potentially showstopping problem with Elon Musk’s plans to fly people point-to-point using his humongous rocket.
“It is a very attractive prospect, but I think extremely unrealistic in any relevant time frame,” Logsdon told CNBC in an interview….
Passengers on a spacecraft are subject to forces that are as much as five times the force of gravity as they accelerate into space, then are in microgravity or zero gravity for the duration of the flight. They get hit with the G-force again on landing, he said.
“The idea that a typical airline passenger would be able to go through the experience just doesn’t compute,” he said. “Musk calls all of this ‘aspirational,’ which is a nice code word for more than likely not achievable.”
However, Logsdon did say Musk’s presence and his work is healthy for the industry overall.
“I think the phenomenon called Elon Musk is fascinating and serves as a kind of beacon of hope that there is a better space future ahead of us,” he said, “and the transition from that beacon to reality will almost certainly take longer than Elon and his supporters hope.”
Video Caption: Elon Musk presented the latest updates on SpaceX’s long term plans for their ‘BFR’ at the IAC in Adelaide. I now have an inbox of messages asking for my take on it all so – let’s talk about the plans that he presented.
The main points are the BFR (Big Rocket) is now a lot smaller than the original design, it still uses 2 stages and refuels in orbit enabling it to go to Mars, but now it’ll also be setup as a satellite launch vehicle, cargo ship able to visit ISS and the surface of the moon. But most surprisingly, and perhaps least realistically, he pitched a new passenger design intended to carry people halfway around the Earth at hypersonic speeds.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduced a renamed version of his Martian colonial transport vehicle on Friday that was simultaneously shrunken somewhat in size but much larger in its ambition.
The big change in the newly renamed BFR — for big effing rocket — involved reducing the number of first stage engines from 42 to 31 engines. Despite the reduction, the second stage booster/spacecraft would still be capable of carrying up to 100 people to the Red Planet.
The biggest change involves BFR’s scope. Not only would it the basis for building a Mars colony and moon base, it would completely disrupt terrestrial transportation by taking passengers between any two spots on Earth in less than an hour.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s (R-OK) proposed American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) would bring about significant changes in the nation’s commercial space policy, with a much larger role for the Department of Transportation and a revamping of activities within the Commerce Department.
Sir Richard has invited the theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking to name the new plane at the unveiling. He has already offered the scientist Virgin Galactic’s only free ticket into space – which Professor Hawking has accepted, provided his health allows it.
“Obviously, we had a year’s delay after the accident and it’s tremendous that Stephen Hawking has agreed to come and name the new spaceship,” Sir Richard said.
“He has made it very clear that he thinks mankind and womankind need to work very hard to try to colonise other planets and that space is very important for people back here on Earth,” he said.
Hawking has a free ticket on SpaceShipTwo which now costs a cool $250,000 (up from $20o,000 in 2013). The PR benefits of having the world-famous physicist involved in the roll out ceremony is probably well worth the cost. And it’s the least Hawking can do for such a generous gift.
“We are doing everything we can to try to work towards turning the world into a place that’s run by clean energy, not dirty energy. We’ve managed to reduce the amount of energy, of carbon output, to get somebody into space … to less than a round-trip, economy class, from London to New York,” he said. (more…)
Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson was on CNBC’s Squawk Box the other day talking up his plans to follow up Virgin Galactic’s suborbital space tourism flights with hypersonic point-to-point transcontinental commercial passenger service.