Category Archives: Spaceflight & Parabolic Flight

MIT Media Lab’s Sojourner 2020 art mission to the ISS

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon for the CRS-20 mission to the International Space Station returned today for a safe landing in the Pacific. Five payloads from MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative were among the payloads delivered in March to the Station and returned on the Dragon:  Five MIT payloads deployed on the International Space Station – MIT News.

The payloads were integrated into the Nanoracks BlackBox, a locker-sized platform with mechanical mounting points and electrical connections for power, data, and communication capabilities. Payloads are fully integrated into BlackBox on the ground; when they reach ISS, the astronauts aboard integrate them into ISS experiment racks, then simply leave them alone — the boxes are completely self-contained and remotely commanded via Nanoracks from the ground. This system allows for larger and more complex research payloads on the ISS, as the astronauts aren’t required to come near any potentially hazardous materials and don’t need any special expertise to run the experiments.

“Five MIT Space Exploration Initiative payloads are enclosed within the Nanoracks BlackBox platform, further encased in a sample ISS experiment rack containment box, shown here in preflight testing for launch to the International Space Station in March.” Credits: Ariel Ekblaw, MIT News

Four of the payloads involved technology and scientific projects. The fifth, called Sojourner 2020, contains a group of

artworks, the first-ever international “open call” art payload to the ISS, selected by SEI’s arts curator Xin Liu. Sojourner 2020 features a three-layer telescoping structure. Each layer of the structure rotates independently; the top layer remains still in weightlessness, while the middle and bottom layers spin at different speeds to produce centripetal accelerations that mimic lunar gravity and Martian gravity, respectively. Nine artists contributed works in a variety of different media, including carved stone sculpture, liquid pigment experiments, and sculptures made of transgender hormone replacement meds. Sojourner 2020 highlights the ways in which the arts can contribute to new means of encountering space; by including projects from indigenous peoples and gender minorities, the project additionally emphasizes key values of human dignity, equality, and democratizing access. 

The artists had responded to the Media Lab’s open call issued in 2019 for artworks in low Earth orbit.

Sojourner 2020 (a 1.5U size unit, 100mm x 100mm x 152.4mm ) will be launched into low Earth orbit for about 30 days. It features a three-layer telescoping structure which creates three different “gravities”: zero gravity, lunar gravity, and Martian gravity. Each layer of the structure rotates independently. The top layer remains still in weightlessness, while the middle and bottom layers spin at different speeds to produce centripetal accelerations that mimic lunar gravity and Martian gravity, respectively. Each layer carries 6 pockets that can hold projects.

“Sojourner 2020 features a three-layer telescoping structure. Each layer of the structure spin at different speeds to produce centripetal accelerations that generate artificial gravities. Designed and built by Xin Liu.” Credits: Wenjun Liang & MIT Media Lab

Each pocket is a container with 10mm in diameter and 12mm in depth. Though the space is limited, the artist groups proposed and accomplished artworks in a variety of different mediums, including carved stone sculpture by Erin Genia, liquid pigment experiments by Andrea Ling and Levi Cai, sculptures made of transgender hormone replacement meds by Adriana Knouf, among the others.

With space transport costs dropping, more an more artists can use space for acts of self-expression:

Sojourner 2020 highlights the ways in which the arts can contribute to new means of encountering space. While access to space is becoming more possible due to commercial launch providers, those sending projects often remain scientific or engineering researchers. Sojourner 2020 broadens this to include an unprecedented collection of international artists, thereby both democratizing access to space as well as opening space exploration to transdisciplinary perspectives. By including projects from indigenous peoples and gender minorities, the project additionally enacts key values of human dignity and equality.

See also this artistic Media Labs project that included a parabolic flight : Mollastica – From Deep Sea to Deep Space — MIT Media Lab

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Axiom Space contracts SpaceX to take private astronauts to the ISS

SpaceX gets a second contract for a commercial human mission to low earth orbit on the Crew Dragon just a couple of weeks after the first one:

Axiom Space plans first-ever fully private human spaceflight mission
to International Space Station

HOUSTON – Today Axiom Space announced it is planning history’s first fully private human spaceflight mission to the International Space Station.

Axiom has signed a contract with SpaceX for a Crew Dragon flight which will transport a commander professionally trained by Axiom alongside three private astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The mission, set to launch as soon as the second half of 2021, will allow the crew to live aboard the ISS and experience at least eight days of microgravity and views of Earth that can only be fully appreciated in the large, venerable station.

“This history-making flight will represent a watershed moment in the march toward universal and routine access to space,”

Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said.

“This will be just the first of many missions to ISS to be completely crewed and managed by Axiom Space – a first for a commercial entity. Procuring the transportation marks significant progress toward that goal, and we’re glad to be working with SpaceX in this effort.”

This is the first of Axiom’s proposed “precursor missions” to the ISS envisioned under its Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA. Discussions with NASA are underway to establish additional enabling agreements for the private astronaut missions to ISS.

Axiom plans to offer professional and private astronaut flights to ISS at a rate of up to two per year to align with flight opportunities as they are made available by NASA, while simultaneously constructing its own privately funded space station.

“Since 2012, SpaceX has been delivering cargo to the International Space Station in partnership with NASA and later this year, we will fly NASA astronauts for the first time,”

said SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell.

“Now, thanks to Axiom and their support from NASA, privately crewed missions will have unprecedented access to the space station, furthering the commercialization of space and helping usher in a new era of human exploration.”

With its team’s vast experience in human spaceflight, Axiom serves as a one-stop shop overseeing all elements of its missions. In addition to contracting with SpaceX for a Crew Dragon vehicle to transport its crew to the ISS, Axiom’s turnkey service for the mission – two days in transit and at least eight days aboard the ISS – includes training, mission planning, hardware development, life support, medical support, crew provisions, hardware and safety certifications, on-orbit operations and overall mission management.

A phenomenal view – the world as seen by NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg from the Cupola of the International Space Station.

NASA recently selected Axiom’s proposal to attach its space station modules to the ISS beginning in the second half of 2024, ultimately creating a new ‘Axiom Segment’ which will expand the station’s usable and habitable volume. When the ISS reaches its retirement date, the Axiom complex will detach and operate as a free-flying commercial space station.

By serving the market for immediate access to space while building the future platform for a global user base, Axiom is leading the development and settlement of low Earth orbit now and into the future.

About Axiom Space: Axiom Space was founded in 2016 with the aim of creating humanity’s home in space to ensure a prosperous future for everyone, everywhere. While building and launching the Axiom Segment of the International Space Station to one day form the world’s first commercial space station, Axiom provides access to the ISS today by conducting crewed missions for professional and private astronauts. More information about Axiom can be found at www.axiomspace.com.

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Our Dream Of Spaceflight

Space Adventures to fly private citizens on SpaceX Crew Dragon

Space Adventures and SpaceX announced today plans to fly four private citizens on a Crew Dragon flight. The Dragon would not go to the ISS but would be a “free flyer” mission in which the citizen astronauts would enjoy microgravity and views of Earth in the spacecraft. The spacecraft would go to 2-3 times the altitude of the ISS. The first launch is aimed for the late 2021 to mid-2022 time frame. The mission would last up to five days.

Space Adventures Announces Agreement with SpaceX
to Launch Private Citizens on the Crew Dragon Spacecraft

Mission profile provides opportunity to break a world record

February 18, 2020 – Vienna, Va. — Building on the success of Crew Dragon’s first demonstration mission to the International Space Station in March 2019 and the recent successful test of the spacecraft’s launch escape system, Space Adventures, Inc. has entered into an agreement with SpaceX to fly private citizens on the first Crew Dragon free-flyer mission. This will provide up to four individuals with the opportunity to break the world altitude record for private citizen spaceflight and see planet Earth the way no one has since the Gemini program.

The Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 on Pad 39A before the launch on March 2, 2019 of the uncrewed vehicle for a test mission  to the ISS.

If interested parties are secured, this mission will be the first orbital space tourism experience provided entirely with American technology. Private citizens will fly aboard SpaceX’s fully autonomous Crew Dragon spacecraft launched by the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, the same spacecraft and launch vehicle that SpaceX will use to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.

“This historic mission will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it, and we are pleased to work with the  Space Adventures’ team on the mission,”

said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer, SpaceX.

“Creating unique and previously impossible opportunities for private citizens to experience space is why Space Adventures exists. From 2001-2009 our clients made history by flying over 36 million miles in space on eight separate missions to the ISS. Since its maiden mission in 2010, no engineering achievement has consistently impressed the industry more than the Dragon/Falcon 9 reusable system. Honoring our combined histories, this Dragon mission will be a special experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity – capable of reaching twice the altitude of any prior civilian astronaut mission or space station visitor,”

said Eric Anderson, Chairman, Space Adventures.

A view of the Crew Dragon during the uncrewed test flight in March 2019. The vehicle here was on it’s way back to earth after departing the ISS. Credits: NASA TV.

About Space Adventures: Space Adventures, the company that organized the flights for the world’s first private space explorers, is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. metro area. It offers a variety of programs available today, including spaceflight missions to the International Space Station, around the Moon, record-breaking orbital missions, and various training and spaceflight qualification programs. The company’s orbital spaceflight clients include Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth, Greg Olsen, Anousheh Ansari, Charles Simonyi, Richard Garriott, and Guy Laliberté. For more information, please visit www.spaceadventures.com.

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Space tourism roundup – Jan.12.2020

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to commercial human space travel (see also previous space tourism related posts):

** Plan to attend the Space Tourism Conference – “Profiting from the Space Experience Economy”. The STC will be held on April 28, 2020 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Las Angeles, California.

The Space Tourism Conference (STC) is an annual event that will be produced with support from the Space Tourism Society (STS), the world’s leading space tourism advocacy organization for over 20 years.

The April 28 conference date was deliberately chosen as the anniversary of Dennis Tito’s lift-off into the history books in 2001 as the world’s first private space tourist. Tito’s flight jump-started the space tourism industry, generating massive consumer awareness as to the possibilities of private space travel and commercialization of space through earth-based experiences.

Dennis Tito enters the ISS on April 30, 2001.

A hallmark of the STC is a dynamic mix of executives and cross-section of industries:

space tourism flight providers private space station developers space enterprise strategists space investors entertainment executives astronauts media producers architects digital media experts futurists scientists space-themed fashion lifestyle designers consumer brands esports artists musicians high tech leaders

Attendees can expect concrete, actionable information, real-world use cases, and stellar deal-making.

PLUS you’ll have an insider track to the growth areas in space tourism, including earth-based space experiences, such as Zero Gravity aircraft flights. 

** The Space Show – Mon, 12/30/2019John Spencer of the Space Tourism Society, which is organizing the above conference, talked about “space tourism, The Space Tourism Society, earth tourism analogs, social profits compared to financial profits, space tourism careers and opportunities plus more”:

** See You in Orbit? Our Dream of Spaceflight: the Sweeping History and Future of Space TourismAlan Ladwig, formerly of NASA, spoke recently to the Future In-Space Operations (FISO) study group about the history of space tourism and its future prospects. He focused in particular on his experiences with the Teacher in Space Project and other NASA programs that intended to send civilian, non-government employees to orbit on Space Shuttle flights.

Here is the audio of his presentation to the FISO group and his slides (pptx):

Alan covers these topics in detail in his new book, See You In Orbit?: Our Dream Of Spaceflight(Amazon commission link).

** Yusaku Maesawa is looking for a girlfriend to take on a  trip around the Moon aboard a SpaceX Starship:  Yusaku Maezawa’s real decision. Looking for his “life partner”.

** Virgin Galactic update from CEO George Whitesides: Virgin Galactic ticket sales will re-open this year, CEO says – CNBC

    • Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides on Thursday revealed the company has seen steadily increasing demand from prospective space tourists.
    • “Later on in the year we’ll re-open those sales,” to fly to space, Whitesides told CNBC.
    • In the past tickets have gone for $250,000 per person but the company may increase its prices substantially for the first commercial flights.

** Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo nears completion: Second Spaceship in Virgin Galactic’s Fleet Completes Major Build Milestone – Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“VG” or “the Company”), the world’s first commercial spaceline, announced today that it has reached the “Weight on Wheels” milestone in the build of its second commercial spaceship. In this milestone, all major structural elements of the vehicle were assembled, and the vehicle deployed its main landing gear and carried its own weight for the first time. The milestone signals strong progress in the manufacture of Virgin Galactic’s space vehicle fleet by The Spaceship Company, VGH’s wholly-owned aerospace development subsidiary.

“The Virgin Galactic fleet.” The second SS2 on right is about 80% complete. Credits: Virgin Galactic

This Weight on Wheels milestone has been reached considerably faster than it took to get to this stage with the first spaceship in the Virgin Galactic fleet, VSS Unity, which is currently in flight test. This pace has been achieved through a more efficient, modular assembly process, as well as experience curve benefits.

With the spaceship now capable of bearing its own weight, the assembly team is hard at work connecting the vehicle’s integrated systems, including the flight control systems from fuselage to tail booms, as well as completing the final structural closeouts.

As this work is completed, the spaceship will be positioned in the hangar for the start of integrated vehicle ground testing, which will verify the integrity of all systems. This step is a precursor to the start of its flight test program.

Beyond today’s Weight on Wheels milestone for the second space vehicle, the Virgin Galactic spaceship fleet is already advancing to its third spaceship, also currently under construction in Mojave. Structural and system part fabrication for that third vehicle is now over 50% complete.

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic said: “Reaching the Weight on Wheels milestone considerably faster than was achieved for VSS Unity is a huge accomplishment and is a testament to the growing expertise and capabilities of the company. We now have two spaceships that are structurally complete, with our third making good progress. These spaceships are destined to provide thousands of private astronauts with a truly transformative experience by performing regular trips to space.’’

**  Virgin Galactic (SPCE) is now a publicly traded company (see last roundup) . Here are some articles about how the stock is doing:

** Virgin Galactic opens a program to prepare customers for rides to space: Virgin Galactic Kicks off Astronaut Readiness Program – Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic has kicked off its Astronaut Readiness Program – the process of preparing Future Astronaut customers for their flights to space. As the first and only private company to have put humans into space in a vehicle built for commercial service, we are now finalizing all elements of the customer experience, including the recently unveiled customer spacesuits, created in partnership with Under Armour, and the interior of our Gateway to Space headquarters at Spaceport America. The next phase in this process is to ensure that Future Astronauts are optimally prepared to fly to space.

The Astronaut Readiness Program launched [last November] at the Under Armour Global HQ in Baltimore where we were joined by Future Astronauts who will be among the first to fly with Virgin Galactic. Guided and instructed by some of our key team members, they carried out a number of flight preparation activities. Through completing this unique program they are helping us to tailor and perfect the program for those who follow.

Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot Dave Mackay talks with future adventure travelers on SpaceShipTwo rocket planes. Credits: Virgin Galactic

** On December 11th, Blue Origin flew an uncrewed New Shepard again (see the report on the flight here). This was the 6th flight of that vehicle, which had only inspections after each flight rather than major refurbishment. Achieving fast, airliner-like turnarounds is key to lowering the cost of flying rocket powered vehicles.

However, there have been long breaks between New Shepard flights and no explanation for the gaps. Company officials say that they need a few more test flights before they will put people on the vehicles so that might mean many months if they do not speed up the flight rate.

Here is an interview from last fall with with Blue Origin chief executive Bob Smith about the company and its space tourism plans:  Blue Origin CEO on rocketry, space tourism and the relationship with Amazon – CNBC

** The sights of earth from space will draw many people to go there, especially after rocket transport ticket prices drop with vehicles like the SpaceX Starship. Most who have gone to space have said it was one of the greatest experiences of their lives and they never tired of watching the ever-changing earthscapes below.

Helen Sharman certainly appreciated the view during her space trip: Helen Sharman: ‘There’s no greater beauty than seeing the Earth from up high’ – The Guardian

A couple of relaxing tours of earth as seen from the ISS:

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Space tourism roundup – Oct.24.2019

A sampling of recent articles, videos, and images related to commercial human space travel (see also previous space tourism related posts):

** Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic move agonizingly slowly towards operational flights. After successful tests early this year (SpaceShipTwo in  February and New Shepard in May ), there seemed to be high momentum in both programs towards more frequent flights,  including New Shepard flights with people finally on board. However, neither program has flown since those tests.

Virgin Galactic has focused instead on outfitting the interior of the SpaceShipTwo with seats and other features needed for the spaceflight participants. VG has also been moving its base of operations from Mojave, California to Spaceport America in New Mexico (see entry below about the spaceport).  Blue has been upgrading the New Shepard for operational spaceflights. Both companies claim they will do a few more test flights and then start flying customers in 2020.

“The New Shepard booster lands during Mission NS-11 on May 2, 2019.” Credits: Blue Origin

Here are some misc. items about the state of the two programs:

** Under Armour debuts specially designed space wear for Virgin Galactic flyers:

** In July, Virgin Galactic announced plans to go public via a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), a publicly traded company created solely to acquire a revenue producing company. The company claims a value of $1.5 billion.  By 2023 they project flying SpaceShipTwo vehicles 270 times per year and carrying over 600 people. Annual profits are predicted to reach $275M.

[ Update: VG statement on the shareholder approval: Virgin Galactic Completes Merger with Social Capital Hedosophia, Creating the World’s First and Only Publicly Traded Commercial Human Spaceflight Company – Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic (“VG”), a vertically integrated aerospace company, and Social Capital Hedosophia (“SCH”), a public investment vehicle, today announced the completion of their previously announced business combination. The resulting company is named Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (“VGH”) and its common stock, units and warrants are expected to commence trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the new ticker symbol “SPCE”, ”SPCE.U” and “SPCE WS”, respectively, on October 28, 2019. The Company manufactures its space vehicles in Mojave, California, through its aerospace development subsidiary The Spaceship Company, with commercial operations centered at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

VG already has customer reservations from more than 600 people in 60 countries representing approximately $80 million in total collected deposits, and over $120 million of potential revenue. The completion of this merger and trading as a public company are the next milestones on the path towards building a thriving commercial service business and investing appropriately for the future.

]

This week the merger was approved by SCH shareholders:  Virgin Galactic merger wins shareholder approval – SpaceNews.com

[SCH] said it expects the merged company to start trading Oct. 28 under the Virgin Galactic name and the ticker symbol SPCE. Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson, speaking at a conference in Israel Oct. 23, said he planned to be at the exchange Oct. 28 to ring the opening bell, according to Israeli media reports.

The merger will make Virgin Galactic the first publicly traded company whose primary line of business is human spaceflight. Large aerospace companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have long been traded on stock exchanges, but space is only a small part of their overall business.

Earlier items about the merger:

** Spaceport America declared ready for operations at open house event in August:

Virgin Galactic today revealed the first look at the interior fit-out of its Gateway to Space building at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The work completed showcased two floors of the building primarily focused on spaceflight operations, which also incorporates communal spaces designed for use in the future by Virgin Galactic customers, along with their friends and families. Completion of this interior work means the spaceport facility is now operationally functional and able to support Virgin Galactic’s flight requirements.

** Profile of a Virgin Galactic spaceflight participant: She was first Pakistani to visit the North and South poles. Now she’ll be the first in space – Orlando Sentinel

After travels to the North and South Poles and skydiving over Mount Everest, Namira Salim wants to go to the next level of adventure:

The Earthly accomplishments were fine, sure, but for Salim, whose dreams have turned skyward since birth, they just filled the gap while she waited to obtain the “first” she’s been after all along.

“I’ve been inspired to do more,” she told the Orlando Sentinel while on a trip to Cocoa Beach for the Apollo 11 moon landing 50th anniversary. “So first of all, I think I should go as far as possible on Earth before I break the orbit.”

That’s right — the “first” that Salim is seeking won’t take place on our planet at all, not really. She wants to become the first Pakistani to fly to space. And with her $200,000 ticket on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital flights, she’s well on her way.

** An overview of space tourism prospects: The Coming of Space Tourism | Via Satellite

As timing for the first Earth-bound launches of space tourists grows near, the public, governments and the innovation sector continue to hold their collective breath.

Many predict that once the first space tourism mission starts flying, it will spur a lot of activity.

To Lopez-Urdiales, the world is currently in the second of three phases of space activity — the first began with government-sponsored programs like the Apollo program and continued to the present day, with space projects backed by billionaires. It’s only in the third phase — when a broader base of entrepreneurs with cool ideas are funded and can compete for market share — will space tourism be sustainable, he says.

“When that happens and the financial sector invests in not only the Musks of the world but also in folks like us, space tourism will truly take off,” he concludes.

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