Category Archives: Spaceflight & Parabolic Flight

Videos: Launch of the first SpaceX Dragon with crew to the ISS

6:20 pm EDT: The launch was scrubbed at about 15 minutes before liftoff time due to violations of weather constraints. The clouds were starting to clear but not in time for the instantaneous  launch window.

The next launch opportunity is on Saturday at 3:22 p.m. EDT (19:22 UTC). Followed by Sunday, May 31 at 3:00 p.m. EDT (19:00 UTC).

2:01 pm EDT: The launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station is set for 4:33 pm (EDT) today at Kennedy Space Center . The weather forecast currently gives a 50% chance of acceptable conditions for liftoff from Pad 39A during the instantaneous  launch window.  (There are also storms along the US East Coast where the capsule would need to land in an abort.)  If they don’t get off the ground today, the  next opportunities will be on Saturday and Sunday.

SpaceX and NASA are providing joint continuous coverage of the preparations for the liftoff:

Some other videos of interest:

** SpaceX Demo-2: Watch NASA astronauts launch to space for the first time on Crew Dragon –  NASASpaceflight.com

** LIVE only 3 miles away from SpaceX and NASA launching humans to space for the first time!Everyday Astronaut (Tim Dodd)

** Talking to Elon Musk and Jim Bridenstine about SpaceX’s first crewed launch!Everyday Astronaut (Tim Dodd)

I had the opportunity to meet up with SpaceX CEO, Founder and Chief Engineer, Elon Musk as well as NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine to get their thoughts on this new era of human spaceflight! We spoke in the historic Firing Room 4 at Kennedy Space Center where SpaceX will command the rocket to launch for Demonstration Mission 2 with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley!

** SpaceX Demonstration Mission-1 Highlights – NASA – An uncrewed Dragon was launched to the ISS on March 2, 2019

Demonstration Mission-1 (Demo-1) was an uncrewed flight test designed to demonstrate a new commercial capability developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mission began March 2, when the Crew Dragon launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and racked up a number of “firsts” in less than a week. First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket to launch from American soil on a mission to the space station. First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft to dock with the space station. First autonomous docking of a U.S. spacecraft to the International Space Station. First use of a new, global design standard for the adapters that connect the space station and Crew Dragon, and also will be used for the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s future mission to the Moon. NASA and SpaceX teams gathered in the early morning hours at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, to follow the spacecraft’s return journey and ocean splashdown.

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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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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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