Aerospace Travel: Los Angeles to Tokyo in One Hour

spaceshiptwo_flightGiven my busy schedule of late, some stories have been sitting in my stack for some time and I haven’t been able to write about them. But one’s like this are too cool to pass up, so here’s a belated acknowledgement. It seems that Virgin Galactic, having now demonstrated its ability to conduct aerospace tourism, has decided to enter into phase two of its plans for the future: aerospace travel!

In the scenario they are proposing, their planes would fly customers from Los Angeles to Tokyo, and the transit would take one hour. The takeoff system would be similar to the midair launch the company uses now with the SpaceShipTwo. Basically, a large plane flies the spacecraft off the ground, drops it in midair, a hybrid rocket engine ignites, and the spacecraft ascends into lower orbit.

spaceshiptwo-2nd-flight-2A system like this would allow patrons to fly from the West Coast to Japan in an hour, or from the United Kingdom to Australia in two hours. This is according to statements made by Virgin Galactic’s CEO, George Whitesides, back in September at a company event at New York City’s Museum of Natural History:

You can imagine a SpaceShipThree or a SpaceShipFour going outside the atmosphere, then coming back down outside an urban area and landing. We don’t have to accept the status quo. We can imagine a vehicle using liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen to get us across the Pacific in an hour. You could do that.

For those following Branson’s exploits, this announcement should come as no surprise. For years, he has been attempting to create a supersonic airline of his own. But when a paradigm-shifting idea like “point-to-point suborbital space transportation” becomes possible, he began to sets his sights a little higher (so to speak).

Spaceshiptwo-580x256Naturally, there are a few things that need to be worked out and tested before that’s possible, but it’s entirely within the realm of possibility. In fact, the European Space Agency has been researching the idea and claimed that SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo are the most promising space launch mechanisms they’ve seen to date.

Naturally, there is the nagging question of cost. If aerospace travel does become feasible, who exactly will be able to afford it? So far, Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceflight have attracted hundreds of customers, but at a cost of $250,000 per head. It seems unlikely that these same people would pay a quarter of a million dollars just to travel halfway around the world. And some experts maintain that the industry will fail strictly because of the costs involved.

space-trip-klmDerek Webber, is one such person. As the executive director of Spaceport Associates, he wrote a paper in 2008 that explored the idea:

Credible market studies have not been done, or at least published. The optimum technical design has not been established. The ground infrastructure is not in place… Price levels are uncertain. It is not even clear whether such flights are best characterized as tourism or as transportation; whether the passengers would be primarily tourists or business persons on urgent trips.

Nevertheless, these doubts are doing nothing to stem the flow of investment and research being made by aerospace organizations and companies. For years, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines – the national air carrier of the Netherlands – has been developing a rocket-powered sub-orbital craft of its own. California-based XCOR Aerospace also has the Lynx – a hypersonic plane that could fly between New York and Tokyo in just 90 minutes.

XCORReaction Engines Limited is also developing the Skylon hypersonic engine for commercial spacecraft, much in the same way that Boeing and NASA are  developing the X-37B space plane. While these efforts are aimed at creating reusable spacecraft that could deploy satellites and deliver crew and supplies into orbit, they are also laying the groundwork for commercial transportation that takes people into orbit.

Meanwhile, DARPA and the US Marine Corps have been working on developing their own point-to-point rockets for delivering supplies and people for roughly a decade now and the Federal Aviation Administration’s 2010 report noted that:

[the] potential for the rapid global transport of passengers and the fast distribution of goods and services make point-to-point transportation an attractive space technology concept worth exploiting.

So while a price breakdown may be lacking, and the expected costs limiting, the technology is still in its infancy and it seems likely that the future of transportation lies in space. Beyond rapid transit and space tourism, it may very well be how airlines ferry people to and from their destinations in the not-too-distant future.

Source: motherboard.vice.com

The KLM “Claim You Place in Space” Winner Is…

space-trip-klmWe have a winner in the KLM “Claim your place in space” contest. Just two hours ago, the company announced the winner on their webesite and twitter feed. And it turns out the winner is… not me, dangit! But congratulations are in order to Pedro of Brazil, who won the contest by being closest to the ticket. So it seems he will be the one to fly aboard the SXC Lynx Spacecraft when it makes its maiden passenger flight!

For those who are unaware or don’t recall, the KLM giveaway was a social media promotional contest, where a special team deployed an orbital balloon from the Nevada desert and people were able to vote online as to where it would end up. This consisted of selecting a altitude where the balloon would finally burst (up to 40 km above sea level) and how far it would drift from where it took off from.

KLM_ticketWith his estimate of 31.0 km, a drift distance of 79.8 km and a drift direction of 26 degrees, Pedro was closest to where the balloon actually ended up – with an estimate of 14.7 km above sea level. Myself, I bet it would make it as high as 39.0 km, which seemed to place me in with the majority. In fact, judging from the winning ticket, it seemed no one bettered it would make it less than 31 km, which it didn’t make by half. Boy, were we off!

So good luck Pedro as the Lynx takes you into low orbit and achieve zero gravity. I am… so happy for you, you rotten bastard! All I can say is, you better write about it in excruciating detail and take plenty of cool pics, because I plan to write about it!


Source: space.klm.com