There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.
Spaceport America has announced that SpinLaunch has signed a lease to conduct tests at the facility in southern New Mexico.
“An addition of 20 new jobs will be added locally, as well as investment by SpinLaunch of $7 million in construction capital and $1 million in local infrastructure development for the company,” the spaceport said in a press release.
SpinLaunch is developing a kinetic energy launch system that would spin in a circle at up to 5,000 miles per hour before it is released to fly to space. The system would not use any propellants.
The California company is leasing acreage from the commercial space hub near Truth or Consequences and will build a facility employing at least 20 people, according to spokeswoman Diane Murphy. It will include a launch site that Murphy said will serve as a testing grounds for its launching technology.
Spaceport CEO Dan Hicks said there was potential for a lease extension. SpinLaunch will invest $7 million in facility construction and $1 million in infrastructure development. The deal is important for the $220 million taxpayer-subsidized Spaceport, which has struggled in the past to secure tenants….
Murphy also said the company considered several locations for the test site, but that Spaceport provided the best mix of affordability and location. New Mexico’s renewable energy potential, universities and young labor pool were also considered assets.
SpinLaunch raised $40 million in venture funding last year. Most of the money came from Airbus Ventures, Alphabet Inc.’s GV (formerly Google Ventures), and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.
The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)
Deborah Stevens, a public affairs specialist with the local office of the Bureau of Land Management, has written an op-ed for the Las Cruces Sun News titled, “Southern road to spaceport a gift to public in 2018,” in which she sing the praises of the newly paved 24-mile long southern road the shortens the drive from Las Cruces and Spaceport America.
For years before it was paved, the southern road was slow and hard on vehicles. It was generally passable by 4-wheel drive vehicles, but presented challenges to visitors in 2-wheel drive and low clearance vehicles, especially after rain storms. That is no longer true of the southern road, which starts from the Upham Exit 32 off Interstate 25 in Doña Ana County to the southeastern boundary of Sierra County.
For public land users, the southern road has now made it easier to access some of BLM’s outstanding public land resources, including the Point of Rocks and Yost Overlooks, the Jornado Del Muerto Trail, and the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail.
With the addition of some erosion control structures, like two concrete box culverts and rock gabions along the roadside, the public doesn’t have to worry about getting stuck in the mud should arroyos flood in the area.
Over time, the southern road will be the gift that keeps on giving, as people make their way between Doña Ana and Sierra counties on a reliable and well-paved road.
The benefits are undoubtedly real. But, let’s not kid ourselves: the road is less a gift to the people of Dona Ana and Sierra counties than an investment in infrastructure paid for by their own tax dollars.
The main reason the road was paved was due to the existence of Spaceport America, a project that has cost the people of the state and those two counties about $225 million (and counting) without much of the return on investment promised by Richard Branson and anchor tenant Virgin Galactic.
Driving up to Truth or Consequences and then doubling back to reach the spaceport, was seen as too long of a trip. So a dirt road was paved at a cost of $14 million to make the trip easier.
One can only wonder at what other pressing projects have not been attended to while New Mexico bent over backwards for Branson’s perpetually delayed plans to send well-heeled billionaires and millionaires on suborbital joy rides.
ARLINGTON, Va. (NASA PR) — DARPA has narrowed the potential launch locations for the DARPA Launch Challenge to eight, with options for both vertical and horizontal launch. The challenge will culminate in late 2019 with two separate launches to low Earth orbit within weeks of each other from two different sites. Competitors will receive information about the final launch sites, payloads, and targeted orbit in the weeks prior to each launch.
Virgin Galactic officials joined New Mexico state and local officials last week to officially open a new road to Spaceport America. The 24-mile road shortens the trip from Las Cruces to the spaceport by about 45 minutes. The new motorway was previously a bumpy dirt road.
Richard Branson is back in the headlines again talking schedules for SpaceShipTwo.
“We should be in space within weeks, not months. And then we will be in space with myself in months and not years,” the Virgin founder and CEO told CNBC’s Nancy’s Hungerford at the Barclays Asia Forum in Singapore Tuesday.
You can read the rest of the interview — in which he repeats the same things he’s been saying for the last 14 years — here.
What I think this means is that another flight test is coming soon. On the last one back in July, they fired the engine for 42 seconds. I would expect the upcoming flight will entail a full engine burn of about 60 seconds. This is a deduction on my part; there’s just not a lot of places to go in terms of burn length.
A full burn would get SpaceShipTwo to some definition of space. The international beginning of space — known as the Karman line — is 100 km (62.1 miles). The U.S. Air Force (USAF) awarded astronaut wings to X-15 pilots who flew to at least 50 miles (80.4 km) during the 1960’s.
Virgin Galactic’s agreement with its ticket holders uses the USAF standard as the minimum altitude promised. Since there are no mile markers up there, the view will be similar but the amount of time in microgravity will be slightly less than if the vehicle gets to the Karman line.
Several additional test flights are expected before Branson boards the first official commercial flight at Spaceport America in New Mexico. At this point, I’m guessing that will happen some time in 2019.
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM (NASA PR) — Three NASA technology demonstration payloads launched aboard UP Aerospace’s SpaceLoft 12 mission from Spaceport America in New Mexico on Sept. 12.
The suborbital rocket carried an umbrella-like heat shield called Adaptable Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT). Developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, ADEPT’s unique design could be used for planetary lander and sample return missions. The flight tested the heat shield’s deployment sequence and entry performance.
Another Ames payload called Suborbital Flight Environment Monitor (SFEM-3) measures the internal environment of suborbital rockets carrying experiments. The system monitored acceleration, temperature and pressure within the payload bay during flight and could benefit future suborbital launches.
The third technology is from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and is the Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS). While the termination device was not active during launch, the payload tested hardware and software performance in the high dynamics of suborbital flight.
The payload flight tests were funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Flight Opportunities program, managed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.
Spaceport America, NM and Greenville, TX (EXOS Aerospace/Spaceport America PR) – Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport and EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, Inc., a leading developer of reusable space launch vehicles based in Greenville, Texas, announce a successful test launch of their newest vehicle, SARGE.
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM (NMSA PR) – EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technologies, Inc of Greenville, Texas, has selected Spaceport America for final testing of a reusable space launch vehicle known as SARGE (Suborbital Autonomous Rocket with GuidancE).
EXOS has completed the design, test and build; has received its FAA launch license and completed the final integration and test hovering for the rocket. A successful test flight is needed to solidify the company’s plans to use the technology as the basis for a planned reusable Orbital class vehicle, the company said in a press release issued Tuesday.
The long-awaited southern road that will cut travel time between Las Cruces and Spaceport America is nearing completion, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports.
Finally, after years of delays and uncertainties, the roughly 24-mile-long road is paved. Some details remain in the overall project, which Doña Ana County officials expect to be completed in August.
Doña Ana County Manager Fernando Macias said he drove the road on July 9 to see how it looked.
“From my perspective, it’s 98 percent complete,” he said. “Maybe a little bit of touch-ups (are needed) as we go along because we haven’t technically accepted the road or accepted the finality of the project.”
For years, there’s been a dirt road along the southern route, which stretches from the Upham Exit of Interstate 25 to the spaceport. But it was in poor condition, and drivers, especially those in passenger cars, found it impassable. Even people driving trucks reported frequent flat tires.
Currently, motorists must drive north of the spaceport on I-25 to Truth or Consequences and then double back on local roads to reach the spaceport.
The $14 million project is being paid for by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, which runs Spaceport America. The state of New Mexico has spent about $225 million on the spaceport project, whose anchor tenant is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic continues to test SpaceShipTwo Unity at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The ship is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots on suborbital flights.
There’s some news from Cornwall on the spaceport front:
Cornwall Council has admitted that it is ‘anticipating a positive announcement’ on the bid to have the UK’s first spaceport in Newquay bringing thousands of new jobs and an £1bn a year into the local economy.
Newquay is among eight UK sites vying to become the first spaceport in Europe as the Government aims to meet the growing interest in space tourism.
The Government is expected to announce the location of the spaceport at the Farnborough Air Show which starts on July 16.
If successful, horizontal rocket launches could take place from Newquay , which has one of the longest runways in the country, to see small size satellites put into orbit. The space sector could be worth more than £1 billion by 2030, which is more than 10 per cent of the current economy.
Editor’s Note: It looks like somebody’s got spaceport fever. Also known as Richardson Syndrome, it is a very serious condition that leads people to do and say all sorts of crazy (and often expensive) things. The only cure for that is reviewing the history of commercial spaceports. Preferable with a couple of pints on hand, which you’ll need once you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into.
I’ve lived for six years near Mojave spaceport, which hasn’t seen a spaceflight in almost 14 years. Small rocket launches aside, Spaceport America has stayed largely idle since they dedicated the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space way back in 2011. (You don’t need to spend $225 million to launch sounding rockets.) Midland’s spaceport dreams expired when XCOR and Orbital outfitters did. Burns Flat in Oklahoma never saw a launch. Florida’s Cecil Airport is still waiting for its first spaceflight.
Maybe things will be different in Cornwall. Maybe they’ll catch a wave. Maybe the timing is finally right. I don’t know. You never say never in this business.
It’s great that they’re willing to pursue this, but they need to manage expectations. And not go giving things away on sketchy promises. One thing that helps is Newquay won’t be dependent on its space business. It’s not like they’re building a spaceport in suburban nowhere and waiting on something that is always 12 to 18 months away.
LAS CRUCES, NM (Spaceport America PR) — Student rocketeers from around the globe will gather at Spaceport America June 21-23 for the Second Annual Spaceport America Cup, the world’s largest Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition for student rocketry teams. The public in invited to meet the team and see their projects on June 19 in nearby Las Cruces, NM. Spaceport America is located between the cities of Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.