Vega Launcher and Space Plane

ESA Vega-E Space Launcher

ESA Vega-E Space Launcher

 

With a launcher and a reusable spaceplane under development, more people will be sent to space for space tourism in the near future.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has poured in 89.7 million euros ($106.7 million) to jumpstart the development of a new launcher and spaceplane. The former will be a newly advanced iteration of the Vega launcher that will be called Vega E (Vega Evolution), while the latter is a spaceplane demonstrator that will succeed the one that flew in 2015.

The Vega E and Space Rider contracts, according to manufacturer Avio, are both the first tranche for their overall development.

Both Avio and Thales Alenia Space Italy of Italy’s space industry will lead consortiums for both space-designed transportation.

The 89.7 million euros is split between Vega E and Space Rider at 53 million euros and 36.7 million euros, respectively.

What You Need to Know about the Vega Evolution 

It will be developed along with Vega C, a rocket that is slated to fly its first maiden launch in 2019.

Building both rockets concurrently and simultaneously is made possible with the fact that the Vega E is largely based on the same building blocks that were used on Vega. The only difference is that there are four stages instead of just three.

The upper stage of the Vega E will also be “Europeanized” instead of Ukrainian.

An ESA official said during a briefing with reporters that the reason for bifurcation is due to the agency’s inability to meet both short term and long term goals of just one rocket.

As a solution, the agency decided to increase the amount of payload that the Vega can carry into orbit. This is according to the ESA’s Space Transportation Development programs manager for the Vega and Space Rider Giorgio Tumino.

The current iteration of Vega is 800 kilograms less than the lift capacity to low Earth orbit of Vega C which is at 2,300 kilograms.

The Vega today also uses the Ukraine-supplied Attitude and Vernier Upper Module (AVUM) that, Tumino said, will be “Europeanized” as part of ESA’s objective. But because developing the upper stage engine can take up to four years, the Vega will continue to use AVUM until the agency can “Europeanize what is not European”.

With the new Vega E, AVUM and Zefiro-9 third stage will be replaced with something more environmentally friendly. The fuel will be based on liquid oxygen and methane and not UDMH (bipropellant with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine), while the oxidant will be NTO (nitrogen tetroxide).

With the ability to reignite more often, the new upper stage will also make it possible to perform more orbital maneuvers.

What You Need to Know about the Space Rider

In a statement, Donato Amoroso, CEO of Thales Alenia Space Italy, said that Space Rider will pave the way to many challenging applications, “including reusable stages, point-to-point flights, spaceplanes and even space tourism.”

The spaceplane will use the technology found from ESA’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) and will be able to lift 800 kilograms to LEO for missions that will run for up to a couple of months.

One remarkable difference with the new vehicle is that it is designed to land on the ground.

Thales Alenia Space has been tasked to build the reentry module of the Space Rider based on the IXV.

 

Elon Musk SpaceX Space Suit

 

STS-135 was the last mission of the American Space Shuttle program. Its launch on July 8, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida marked the beginning of the end of 30 years of the US manned space flight program. Since then, astronauts have been riding Russian rockets for International Space Station (ISS) trips.

In 2014, the Commercial Crew Development program of NASA raised the possibility of sending back astronauts to the ISS on an American spacecraft once again. The program rewarded contracts to both SpaceX and Boeing to build a craft that could do as such.

Both SpaceX and Boeing set a target date of 2017, but development proved to be more difficult than expected. As such, launch was pushed back to 2018.

SpaceX, headed by Elon Musk, has been launching cargo spacecrafts to transport supplies to the ISS. But the addition of people proved “way more difficult” and that the company needs to get things right.

Despite setbacks, both companies are on track to meet the latest projected 2018 launch. And with that date rapidly approaching, Musk finally unveiled what astronauts would be wearing aboard the Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s craft, on his Instagram in August.

The SpaceX Suit

The first image Musk shared on social media showed an astronaut wearing the suit, with the helmet and the shoulder area visible. SpaceX opted for the traditional white for its spacesuit but this time, with a sleeker look.

Musk didn’t share much about the suit on his Instagram and promised more in the coming days. He, however, did share an important detail: the suit works.

Musk said the suit has “already tested to double vacuum pressure.” The suits will be worn by astronauts during the flight to the ISS. Since they are pressure suits, they aren’t meant for spacewalks. The suit is meant to keep passengers alive until they can get to safety in case the capsule depressurizes.

A few days after he shared to SpaceX suit, Musk unveiled a second one, this time a full-body shot next to the Crew Dragon. More details about the suit can be seen, including the design of the gloves and the boots. The pants feature flex zones, which provides mobility when bending while the back portion looks to be padded to provide comfort while seated. The boots also look optimized for mobility.

Apart from the photo shared through Instagram, Musk hasn’t shared much about the spacesuits astronauts will be wearing.

“Race” with Boeing

Boeing is also developing its own spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to the ISS. The CST-100 Starliner is also on course for a 2018 launch, an unmanned flight in June and a crewed flight in August.

The company already unveiled the spacesuits astronauts will be wearing on board their craft in January. They opted for blue and with the suit bearing features such as touchscreen-friendly gloves. The suit is also designed to be worn from the back, rather than being put on like traditional clothes.

Musk hasn’t revealed intricate details about the suits for Crew Dragon astronauts but it is expected to have similar or even better ease-of-use features.

Buzz Aldrin on Travel to Mars

Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon and he has plans for humans to inhabit the Red Planet. Many believe that humans need to look beyond Earth to survive, and Mars is looked upon as the habitat of choice. But what does Aldrin think about the space tourism plans of rich people such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos?

Aldrin on Space Tourism

Aldrin believes that human commercial activities in low-earth orbit, that area where navigation and military satellites are located as is the International Space Station, will be very important. The cost of activities in LEO will be lower than the journey to Mars, but the investment will be significant to Mars missions.

Multihyphenate Elon Musk set up SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company, in 2002 to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonization of Mars. Both the Falcon and Dragon line deliver payloads into earth orbit.

Musk announced in February of this year that his company has been contacted by two space tourists who made a significant deposit to go to the moon. SpaceX announced that the tourists will have to begin training and undergo fitness tests to make them flight ready by 2018.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos also created a company called Blue Origin that will deal with space transport, with plans for a cargo-delivery service to the Moon.

Aldrin clearly appreciates the efforts of both men but he’s much more looking forward to the possibility of humans living on Mars.

Aldrin on Mars

Aldrin is clearly passionate about establishing a human settlement in Mars so much so that he has actually created a plan for it called Cycling Pathways.

The Earth and Mars align every 26 months and travel to Mars should be done during that period. Humans will be transported to the Red Planet on one or two Earth-Mars “Cyclers” with a single launch. Aldrin believes that this model will cost less than the plans outlined by NASA.

Aldrin isn’t much in favor of a one-off mission, but one that continuously cycles between Earth and the Moon, then Earth and Mars. Doing this allows the constant movement of not just people but also equipment and supplies.

Apart from outlining a plan to get to Mars, Aldrin is also raising money through his non-profit ShareSpace Foundation for the education and development of next-generation space innovators who will help secure the habitation of Mars.

Aldrin hopes to get humans on the Red Planet by 2039. The year is significant as it will mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and Aldrin believes that US President Donald Trump should announce a commitment to ensure that it actually happens. Trump signed a NASA funding bill that supports the exploration of Mars in April that set a target date for a manned mission by 2033.

Historical accounts will always recognize Aldrin’s involvement in the lunar landings, but he wants to be remembered as “the man who led the world to Mars.”

 

Space Tourists to Wear Special Spatial Socks

Space tourism might have been a mere idea, decades ago, but when American business tycoon, Dennis Tito spent eight days in space in 2001 after paying $20 million, the possibility of ordinary people going to outer space might become a reality soon. In fact, known balloon company, Zero 2 Infinity, has already created a partnership with Sock’M, a Spanish company that manufactures socks.

What makes this partnership out-of-the-ordinary is the reason behind such as collaboration. These two companies might belong to two different industries but they have one goal: to come up with “space socks” to be worn by tourists while on high-altitude balloon flights in near-space.

Space Socks

The special socks will be designed specifically for people who get the chance to explore near-space under the Barcelona-based company’s program known as Bloon. This will offer commercial high-altitude balloon trips to passengers who want to experience this kind of adventure, high up in the air while wearing comfortable and safe socks.

These socks will be made of non-flammable materials to minimize the possibility of the balloon catching fire. Aside from the fabric, these products will also be capable of keeping the feet warm with its thickness.

When in space, there is no gravity at all and without protection, blood on the feet will rush to the head and blood pressure will drop. The thickness of the socks will give ample heat and keep them warm.

Representatives of the sock company said that synthetic fibers, used in other socks, are not ideal for space since these can cause electrostatic sparks. They also added that treating the socks with silver coating or antimicrobial treatment is necessary.

Meanwhile, those who want to own these specially designed socks but do not have plans of going on high-altitude balloon flights can also have the chance to enjoy the feel of these comfortable products. Sock’M will also be offering “Space Socks” to consumers but with cotton material.

In a statement made by representatives of Sock’M, they said that materials used for space socks need to be natural to enhance moisture absorption and should be stretchable. These include natural materials, such as wool, linen or cotton.

Balloon-assisted Launcher Test Flight

As of today, commercial high-altitude balloon trips for passengers are not yet available but Zero 2 Infinity has been very busy to make this a reality for the near future. The company was able to conduct a test flight when it deployed a small satellite launcher using a balloon, a project they it has been developing for four years.

 

The stratospheric balloon was able to carry the launcher up to around 15 miles, during a test done in March 2017. For its future plans, the company is looking forward to offering space tourism by way of helium balloon flights that have an altitude of up to 22 miles, with passengers onboard.

Meanwhile, Raul Espada, CEO of Sock’M mentioned their company’s intention to change the notion of space tourism only being for people who have lots of expendable cash.

 

SpaceX Launches Satellite Using Used Booster Rocket

It’s a well-known fact that launching rockets into space is a costly business. However, SpaceX is poised to change this through the reusable rocket that it has developed and successfully re-launched.

The company, which was founded by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk in 2002, launched the recycled Falcon 9 rocket in March 30, 2017. The rocket had already flown in April 2016, when it was used to send supplies to the International Space Station. After its supply mission last year, the Falcon 9 successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

This time, on its second launch, the booster was used to carry a satellite for Luxembourg-based telecommunications company SES. Once it completed its mission, it performed another successful landing on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic. This marked the first time in history that a space rocket was successfully used more than once and came back secure and unharmed, ready for another use.

This is an excellent feather in the cap for SpaceX, which has suffered highly publicized setbacks over the years as it strove to perfect the technique of recovering used rockets. It also brings the company closer to its goal of launching its first space tourism mission in 2018, although it admittedly has to pass numerous hurdles before this can happen.

However, it’s important to note that this achievement is not just for SpaceX — it’s also a huge step forward for the entire aerospace industry. SpaceX founder Elon Musk points out that this is “ultimately a huge revolution in spaceflight”, comparing it to how people can enjoy dependable commercial airplanes instead of junking them after each flight. He states that the reusability of SpaceX’s rockets can “inform the decisions of other space organizations” and push them to go down the same path in order to stay competitive.

Having reusable boosters will significantly lower their manufacturing cost, which is now at around $60 million. Musk reveals that they might ultimately develop rockets that can be reused hundreds of times, which will further make them less expensive to build. When this happens, space travel and tourism will become cheaper and more available even to ordinary folks.

Musk also points out that future rockets might be designed and built in a way that they can be relaunched within 24 hours after landing. This time frame will considerably cut down the waiting time in space travel and allow companies to run several flights in a day.

Of course, reusable rockets solve one of the biggest dilemmas in space tourism: ensuring that shuttles can take off from the place where they have landed. Right now, this is virtually impossible to do unless shuttles carry another rocket for the return trip or humans build facilities to manufacture boosters on the destination planet/s.

There’s no need to do any of these once relaunchable rockets are developed — if a spacecraft lands on Mars, for instance, it can simply reuse its existing boosters to get back to earth. Through this, SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell assures that people don’t have to worry a “one-way trip to Mars” and that “whoever we take can come back”.

 

Florida WeAreGoFL Campaign for Vacationauts

First, there was Virgin Galactic, founded British Tycoon Richard Branson, a space tourism advocate, that aims to send ordinary people to space and then Elon Musk’s Space X with a vision of Mars colonization by 2025. While it might take years for those who signed up to go to the outer space like Ashton Kutcher and Angelina Jolie and the carbon-fiber tank for the Mars space craft had just been tested, Sunshine State, Florida, is already busy with their space tourism project, that is turn vacationers to  “vacationauts”.

In their bid to convince tourists to not just visit the beaches and theme parks while in Florida, but also, experience space by being able to watch rocket launches from Cape Canaveral sites from view locations like New Smyrna and Cocoa beaches. This is made possible by the space development agency, Space Florida in collaboration with Paradise Advertising, with the former, being funded by the state.

This partnership resulted to the creation of an interactive phone app, We Are Go Vacationauts, a website, social media app and the launching of an advertising campaign “WeAreGoFL” last September 23.

According to the Chief Creative Officer Tom Merrick, their goal is to get the more than 100 million tourists of the state to enjoy beyond just having fun at the beach and become interested about space science. The interactive app includes quizzes and missions about space exploration. Another feature that is quite interesting is the launch compass that points to the launch sites and will direct users to the site of the next launch so they can witness it first-hand.

It also gives suggestions for the best beach locations perfect for watching rocket launches. Moreover, the app also includes other information as well as urges people to drop by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, which is just a drive away from the main tourist spot, Orlando, the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, the Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral and the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.

What is great about this app is that users can sign in for free. Aside from missions, app users can also answer different quizzes that will gauge their knowledge about the galaxies, The Milky Way and Mars, among others. They also have a chance to win a Vacationauts mission kit, complete with Vacationaut supplies, astronaut ice-cream and a classic-looking metal lunch box.

SpaceFlorida is also very much active in social media to keep space enthusiasts in the loop. Active social media users also have a chance to win 26 badges that gives them the rank of “Captain Vacationaut”. WeAreGoFL.com can also help tourists in planning their trip by including other destinations and activities not related to space.

WeAreGoFL spokesperson, Terry Preston also mentioned that they still have other plans to continue reaching out to potential visitors by making their web presence more effective. In the coming months, they will be giving out giveaways online which include patches and pens.

If this campaign picks up and becomes successful, expect more tourists to head to the Space Coast in days to come.