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Universe Today

Mother and daughter win suborbital space trips

A wellness coach from Antigua and her daughter are getting tickets for a suborbital space trip, thanks to the latest in a line of out-of-this-world sweepstakes going back 20 years. And although not a single spaceflight sweepstakes winner has flown yet, there’s still significant value to such contests, financially and otherwise.

“Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,” Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, said today in a news release.

Branson himself broke the good news to Keisha Schahaff at her home on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Schahaff had entered a contest arranged in collaboration with the Omaze online sweepstakes platform and a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity this summer. She ended up winning the random drawing. Her grand prize? Two tickets for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, plus terrestrial travel expenses.

“I’ve always had a lifelong love of flying and a fascination with space, and this is truly a dream come true for me,” Schahaff said. “It means the world to me. I hope to share this experience with my daughter, so together we can inspire the next generation to follow their dreams.”

In addition to the space ride, Schahaff and her daughter, an astrophysics student, are in line to get a personal tour of Spaceport America, SpaceShipTwo’s home base in New Mexico, with Branson as their guide.

It’s not clear exactly when the mother-and-daughter duo will get their spaceflight. They’ll join about 700 Virgin Galactic customers who have been waiting years to climb aboard SpaceShipTwo. Last month, the company announced that it won’t start commercial tours until late 2022, after a round of refurbishment and upgrades to SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane.

The Omaze charity sweepstakes will benefit Space for Humanity more immediately: More than 164,000 entrants sent in donations to participate in the contest, raising a projected total of $1.7 million in grants for Space for Humanity and its campaign to widen public access to spaceflight.

Space for Humanity is running its own selection process for a program it calls Humanity-1, which will provide training, accommodations and a ticket for a spaceflight to be named later.

Such programs aim to bring the thrill and awe of flying to outer space to folks who can’t spare the $450,000 for a Virgin Galactic suborbital flight, or the tens of millions of dollars required for an orbital trip. (The next suborbital trip for paying passengers is scheduled in December, courtesy of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, while Axiom Space and SpaceX are planning the next commercial orbital trip in February.)

There’s often an additional public-relations objective that can be achieved whether or not the winner actually flies.

For example, consider one of the earliest space sweepstakes, which was organized in 2001 by British-based Bristol Spaceplanes. The contest publicized Bristol’s effort to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize for commercial spaceflight, and promoted membership in the venture’s fan club. One of the supporters, Andrew Hobson, won the promise of a trip on Bristol Spaceplanes’ Ascender suborbital spacecraft.

Bristol Spaceplanes ended up losing out to the progenitor of SpaceShipTwo in 2004. The venture still has a working website, but the Ascender never flew to space — and neither did Hobson.

Other space sweepstakes winners include Doug Ramsburg, who won a Virgin Galactic ticket in 2005, in a contest sponsored by Volvo; and William Temple, who won a ride on Rocketplane Kistler’s suborbital space plane in 2007, in a contest sponsored by Microsoft and AMD.

Unfortunately for Temple, Rocketplane Kistler never got off the ground and went bankrupt in 2010. Ramsburg, meanwhile, is still earthbound, along with Virgin Galactic’s other would-be spacefliers.

In both those cases, however, there are earthly consolations: Along with his now-worthless space ticket, Temple received $50,000 in cash and a nice little stash of hardware, including a Dell PC and an Xbox 360. Ramsburg was given $100,000.

Schahaff could find herself in a similar position. If you look at the fine print for the Omaze sweepstakes, you’ll find a provision that calls for awarding her an alternative cash prize if Virgin Galactic can’t deliver on the space trip within 18 months. That alternative prize would have to equal or exceed the approximate retail value of the spaceflight package — which is a cool $510,000.

Check out Clark Lindsey HobbySpace archive of space tourism ventures for more than two dozen examples of contests and games that offered trips to space as prizes.

This report was first published on Universe Today with the headline “Mother and Daughter Win Tickets for Suborbital Space Ride With Virgin Galactic” and is licensed for republication under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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GeekWire

NASA begins mission to try pushing away an asteroid

A space probe the size of a school bus is on its way to smash into an asteroid the size of Egypt’s Great Pyramid, directed by thruster systems built by Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond, Wash.

This is no “Armageddon,” and there’s no need for Bruce Willis to ride to the rescue. But the experiment is expected to help scientists figure out how to divert a dangerous asteroid heading for Earth should the need arise. That’s one giant leap for planetary defense — and for Aerojet Rocketdyne, whose made-in-Redmond thrusters have been used on dozens of space missions.

“We’ve been to every planet in the solar system,” said Joseph Cassady, Aerojet’s executive director for space. “But this is the first time we’ve ever done something that’s really truly planned as a defense against threats to life on Earth. The test we’re going to do here is really the first step in getting ourselves ready as a species to react and respond if we ever are threatened in that way.”

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, or DART, got off to a showy start with tonight’s launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Liftoff occurred at 10:21 p.m. PT, at the end of a smooth countdown.

Minutes after launch, the rocket’s second stage separated from the first-stage booster and proceeded to orbit, while the booster flew itself back to an at-sea landing on a drone ship stationed in the Pacific. Within an hour after launch, the second stage deployed the DART spacecraft and sent it on its way.

Tonight’s launch marked the first leg of a 10-month journey to a double-asteroid system that’ll be nearly 7 million miles away from Earth at the time of the encounter. The larger asteroid, called Didymos, is about half a mile wide — but that’s not DART’s target. Instead, Aerojet’s thrusters will guide the spacecraft to hit the smaller asteroid, known as Dimorphos.

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OceanGate’s sub is coming home after Titanic trips

After making a series of successful dives to the wreck of the Titanic in the North Atlantic this summer, OceanGate’s flagship submersible is returning to its homeport in Everett, Wash., where it’ll be spruced up for another round of Titanic trips.

OceanGate Expeditions officially announced that its 2022 Titanic Survey Expedition will run from next May through June, with fresh opportunities for mission specialists to take part in the adventure. (Because OceanGate’s customers contribute to operations at sea, the company doesn’t call them “tourists,” even though they’re paying OceanGate a fee of $250,000.)

The five-person Titan submersible’s dives to the Titanic, more than two miles below the sea surface, are aimed at documenting the condition of the wreck on an annual basis. This summer’s dives confirmed previous findings that the world’s most famous shipwreck is rapidly deteriorating — 109 years after the luxury liner struck an iceberg and sank, causing more than 1,500 deaths.

“Mission specialists helped our crew gather and review terabytes of the highest-resolution still images and video of Titanic and the debris field ever collected,” OceanGate Expeditions’ president, Stockton Rush, said today in a news release.

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Blue Origin aims to send astronaut’s daughter to space

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is planning to fly six suborbital space travelers next month, which would mark a first for the company’s New Shepard spaceship. And that’s far from the only first.

If the NS-19 mission proceeds as planned on Dec. 9, the people on board will include the first parent-and-child team in space, the first professional U.S. journalist in space, and the first daughter of an astronaut to go into space herself.

To cap it all off, the astronaut’s daughter is Laura Shepard Churchley — whose father, Alan Shepard, was the first American in space in 1961, providing the inspiration for New Shepard’s name.

“It’s kind of fun for me to say an original Shepard will fly on the New Shepard,” Churchley, 74, said in a video clip released by Blue Origin. “I’m really excited to be going on a Blue Origin flight. I’m very proud of my father’s legacy.”

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Astra soars after first successful orbital launch

Astra Space, the California-based launch company that went public this year with an assist from Seattle-area telecom pioneer Craig McCaw, had a high-flying day on Wall Street today after recording its first successful orbital launch from Alaska.

The company’s share price rose by as much as 42% on the Nasdaq stock exchange before settling at $11.17 for a 17% gain at the end of the trading day.

The successful test launch for the U.S. Space Force on the night of Nov. 19 was the key driver for Astra’s financial rise. Rocket 3.3 LV0007 carried a test payload into orbit from the Pacific Spaceport on Alaska’s Kodiak Island — nearly a year after a previous test mission just missed reaching orbit, and three months after a follow-up launch attempt literally went sideways.

Because this mission was meant purely as a test, the payload didn’t separate from the rocket’s upper stage. Instead, it monitored conditions on the vehicle in flight for the Space Force under a contract from the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit. Going forward, the Space Force is likely to be one of Astra’s prime customers.

“Reaching orbit is a historic milestone for Astra,” Chris Kemp, the company’s co-founder, chairman and CEO, said today in a news release. “We can now focus on delivering for our customers and scaling up rocket production.”

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Walmart and DroneUp set up drone delivery hubs

Walmart is partnering with Virginia-based DroneUp on a network of drone delivery hubs, starting with a neighborhood market in Farmington, Ark.

The move appears to put Walmart ahead of its retail rival, Amazon, in expanding the frontier for aerial deliveries. Amazon announced its drone development program back in 2013, and two years ago, the company said regular drone deliveries were mere months away. Recent reports, however, have hinted that Amazon Prime Air’s progress has slowed down significantly.

Today’s announcement about the first delivery hubs in Arkansas comes five months after Walmart made a strategic investment in DroneUp and signed a contract that expanded the companies’ pilot project for drone deliveries.

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Rocket Lab launches two satellites for BlackSky

BlackSky’s Earth-watching constellation has grown by two satellites, thanks to Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle and Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.’s logistical help.

Rocket Lab’s previous BlackSky launch ended in failure back in May, but the launch team traced the problem to a computer glitch that was corrected. This week’s mission, nicknamed “Love at First Insight,” went much more smoothly. It was the 22nd Rocket Lab launch, and the fifth since the start of the year.

The two-stage rocket rose from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 2:38 p.m. local time Nov. 18 (5:48 p.m. PT Nov. 17), successfully deploying BlackSky’s eighth and ninth satellite about an hour later.

“Perfect flight by the team,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted.

“Another great launch in the books,” Spaceflight Inc., which handled mission management and integration services for BlackSky’s satellites, said in a tweet.

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Universe Today

Elon Musk updates his vision for SpaceX’s Starship

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has laid out a scenario for space travel that calls for his company’s Starship launch system to take on its first orbital test flight as soon as January.

Starship could go through “a dozen launches next year, maybe more,” and be ready to send valuable payloads to the moon, Mars and even the solar system’s outer planets by 2023, Musk said today during an online meeting of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board and Board on Physics and Astronomy.

But he advised against sending anything too valuable on the first flight to Mars. “I would recommend putting the lower-cost scientific mission stuff on the first mission,” he said, half-jokingly.

The National Academies presentation followed up on big-picture talks that Musk delivered in 2016 (when Starship was known as the Interplanetary Transport System), 2017 (when it was known as the BFR or “Big Frickin’ Rocket”) and 2018 (when Musk settled on “Starship”).

Musk’s basic concept is the same: Starship and its giant Super Heavy booster would be a one-size-fits-all system that could be used for point-to-point suborbital travel, orbital space missions and all manner of trips beyond Earth orbit, including moon landings. It’d be capable of lofting more than 100 tons to low Earth orbit (three times as much as the space shuttle), and sending 100 people at a time to Mars.

This week’s presentation provided some new details.

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Famed designer enlisted for space training complex

The French designer who created the look for Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America and Axiom Space’s orbital habitat has taken on yet another space-centric project: the space training complex planned by a Seattle-based venture called Orbite.

Orbite says Philippe Starck will design its Astronaut Training and Spaceflight Gateway Complex, which is expected to consist of multiple buildings and go into operation at a U.S. location in late 2023 or 2024.

For now, that’s about all that can be said about the project. Further details, including the site selected for the complex and the specifics of Starck’s vision for the facility, will be announced in the months ahead.

“We will have to wait a little more during the winter,” Orbite co-founder Nicolas Gaume said. “We thought it was great to announce that such an amazing designer, who shares so much of our vision for astronaut orientation, preparation and training, could be disclosed.”

The 72-year-old Starck has designed projects ranging from hotels and yachts (including a yacht for the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs) to bathroom accessories. But he’s best-known for his space-related projects, including the Virgin Galactic logo that incorporates a close-up of billionaire founder Richard Branson’s iris.

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TerraPower picks Wyoming site for its first nuclear plant

TerraPower, the nuclear power venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has chosen a soon-to-be-retired coal-fired power plant in Wyoming as its preferred location for a next-generation demonstration reactor.

After an evaluation process that included meetings with community members, the Bellevue, Wash.-based venture selected Kemmerer, Wyo., for the site of its Natrium reactor, which will make use of technology from TerraPower and GE-Hitachi.

The project is one of two projects supported by the U.S. Department of Energy with an initial funding round totaling $160 million. The other project is planned by Maryland-based X-energy, with Washington state’s Hanford nuclear reservation selected as the preferred location. The Department of Energy plans to invest a total of $3.2 billion over a seven-year period to turn the concepts into reality by 2028, with matching funds provided by industry partners.

TerraPower had previously signaled that it planned to build the demonstration reactor at one of PacifiCorp’s four retiring coal-fired plants in Wyoming, but today’s announcement revealed the precise location.