April 11 News Items

Florida Astronaut Part of First Six-Person ISS Crew (Source: St. Petersburg Times)
Nicole Passonno Stott once lived and worked for 18 days on the Aquarius undersea research habitat 60 feet below Florida Bay as part of NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operation. But that's nothing compared with the time she will soon be spending in orbit in the International Space Station. Stott, who grew up in Clearwater, is scheduled to launch Aug. 13 on the space shuttle Discovery on the STS 128 mission to the Space Station, where she will live for four months as a flight engineer and science officer as part of one of the first six-member crews aboard the craft. It will be her first time in space. (4/11)

Space Station Nears an Extension (Source: Wall Street Journal)
The U.S. and major foreign partners on the International Space Station have agreed in principle to keep it operating through 2020, at least five years beyond the current deadline, according to government and industry officials. There had been looming questions about the future of the space station -- which took nearly two decades and more than $100 billion to design and build -- because until now, the major partners hadn't committed to keeping it going past 2015. An extension could give new momentum to the scientific research conducted there, which initially was delayed by false starts and problems finishing assembly of the station. (4/11)

Southeast Arizona Valley Becoming Aerospace Business Hub (Source: Arizona Republic)
With a multibillion-dollar economic impact, the aerospace industry soars as the Southeast Valley's payroll leader, one of the region's largest employers and a workplace for some of Arizona's top research talent. Collectively, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe are home to more than 200 private firms, a state university, community college and an Air Force lab, all of which are engaged in a broad range of aerospace manufacturing and research, from helicopter assembly to space technology. (4/11)

North Korean Rocket Flew Further Than Earlier Thought (Source: SpaceFlightNow.com)
New details emerging from the analysis of data from North Korea's April 5 Taepo-Dong-2 test indicate the vehicle flew successfully several hundred miles further than previously believed and used more advanced steering than has been demonstrated by the North Korean's before. The rocket impacted as far as 2,390 miles from the launch site as opposed to about 1,900 miles as earlier announced by the U. S. and Japan. Smoke puffs from the side of the vehicle at the moment of liftoff and after, indicate the rocket could have been equipped with attitude control thrusters. It also temporarily flew in space before failing and dropping back into the atmosphere at relatively slow speed that enabled debris to survive till impact rather than burning up. (4/11)

Space Tourism: Fly at Your Own Peril (Source: Flight Global)
US law regulating commercial human spaceflight dates to 2004 and the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act (CSLAA), created to balance the needs of public safety with the technological immaturity of a tourism industry that did not yet exist. In December last year a review of that law made a no-change recommendation to the US Congress, which otherwise would have had to act in accord with a 2012 sunset clause in the 2004 Act.

Had that sunset clause kicked in, it would have seen additional rules and might have ended the informed consent principle. Today this principle underpins the CSLAA, which defines space tourists as "spaceflight participants" and states that they fly in an "environment of informed consent". That means the tourist is given documented evidence of the risks, which are also explained to them verbally, and they are required to sign a document indicating they have understood the risks before they can fly. (4/11)

Virgin Expects Other States to Copy Virginia, Florida Legislation (Source: Flight Global)
Virginia and Florida have passed laws giving spaceline operators immunity from litigation where waivers are used--but not from criminal prosecution where an operator has been negligent. While litigants in the USA have the right to sue in a court outside the state in which the company or its operations are based, that other court would be at federal level. According to Virginia Space Flight Authority executive director Billie Reed the CSLAA and its informed consent principle would then be applied.

With Virgin Galactic aiming for a 2010 start in New Mexico at its Spaceport America, that state is preparing to pass an immunity law. "Spaceport America will pursue the liability legislation in the upcoming sessions. There may be a special session later in 2009. The next official legislative session is in January 2010. New Mexico's legislation will be similar to the Virginia and Florida legislation," says New Mexico Spaceport Authority executive director Steve Landeene.

Virgin also expects California to pass a similar law in future. But there are limitations: "The history of waivers is not good. Informed consent has worked quite well in scuba diving, but in other industries it hasn't. You still have to build your business on the basis [that] those protections don't exist because you're talking about people's lives. That is the commercial aviation background coming to the fore." Before anyone signs a waiver, the US Federal Aviation Administration is to issue experimental permits for testing space tourism vehicles and commercial operations are enabled by a licence.(4/11)

Space Tourism: Galactic Gamble - Is the Market Virgin's to Lose? (Source: Flight Global)
This is"a pure piece of risk capital and it is based upon the fact that we perceived at the time that the only way this was ever going to happen was if we did it. This is a high-risk venture," says Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn. For $200,000 per seat that spaceline is offering in the next few years a few minutes of weightlessness with a cabin to float around in at a 110km (68miles) apogee during a 90 minute trip. The journey comprises 1 hour of spiralling to the 50,000-ft air launch altitude with the WhiteKnight Two mothership, seconds of rocket-powered ascent into space at Mach-4 in SpaceShip Two, followed by about 20 minutes of glide back to the runway.

Making it happen means the Virgin group has, says Whitehorn, "carried on investing. You're looking at buying a couple of big commercial planes as the scale of the investment, which for Virgin, with the kind of risk it is in, is a big, big project...getting to commercialism, we'll be up in the $250-350 [million] range." That $350 million is for the prototype WK2 and SS2, all the equipment needed at the company's commercial launch site, New Mexico's Spaceport America, and one more operational mothership and four SpaceShip Twos.

Virgin's $350 million investment looks ambitious in a worldwide credit drought. But Whitehorn is sanguine about Virgin's financial commitment to the project:" We live in a real world, we live in uncharted territory, so I wouldn't ever say it [getting cut off] won't happen but I would certainly say at the moment [Virgin group has] been incredibly supportive." Futron forecast that by 2021 "over 15,000 passengers could be flying [suborbitally] annually, representing revenues in excess of $700 million". Seven years on, Whitehorn is confident Futron got it broadly right: "I think the market is around that number of people over 10 years and in the $100,000-200,000 capacity." After selling hundreds of tickets, Virgin reported an after-tax profit of $193,000 in the first publicly available accounts. (4/11)

Virgin's Competition (Source: Flight Global)
Click here to view a rundown of the handful of commercial human spaceflight competitors who hope to gain a share of the suborbital space tourism industry. These include Blue Origin, XCOR Aerospace, Armadillo Aerospace, RocketPlane, Space Adventures, and EADS Astrium. (4/11)

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