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The quest to get humanity back up and eventually into the stars has long been an ambition for humanity. However, doing so takes a hell of a lot work – and it needs money. That’s why the novel concept of NASA looking at selling tickets to ‘space tourists’ might not sound quite so wild. For a while now, the ideas have been suggested, and now it might just be coming to fruition.

Of course, this isn’t exactly a new idea: Russians were doing so when they charged some of the ultra-rich $20 million a pop to head up to the International Space Station. Of course, they even charged NASA themselves back when they found success with their Soyuz rockets. The shoe is about to be put on the other foot, though, as NASA is seemingly looking at the idea of a bit of good old space tourism itself.

A source of much needed income

It’s seen as a good way to help continue to pay for expensive NASA projects. Indeed, there’s talk that public financing for the ISS could stop come the 2020s, and other sources – such as space tourism – would help to plug the gap. A recent meeting seen the proposal happily backed by NASA. While still some way away from being a genuine reality, it’s certainly closer than it might once have seemed.

SpaceX and Boeing – who NASA now have access to with regards to their aircraft – will be carrying out demonstrations of their crew capsules. All going well, they might even get the go-ahead to take some astronauts up to the ISS. The goal of a first launch at some time in early 2019 by SpaceX might sound ambitious, but the company remains confident of making that time.

A change in diplomacy

This would also mean that NASA would no longer to keep giving money to the Russian Soyuz missions. By having their own vessels to fly up on ‘home soil’, this would give them the chance to sell it on to the rich and the famous. Indeed, this would blow away many of the conventional offers present at the moment. Companies such as Virgin Atlantic offer a few moments in space – for NASA, the aim is a whole lot longer.

Indeed, think how much you could charge for a two-week stay on the ISS, or some form of space museum?

It’s these kind of ideas that will likely become the long-term funding for such kind of projects. While space travel is certainly a valued asset to humanity by many, it’s clear some see it as a secondary priority to more pressing matters on this planet. Moves like this, though, would allow those with the money to help fund the development of more space development through actually taking part. Instead of public financing, it would be a win-win. At the moment, though, it’s all just drifting forward nice and slowly.

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The United Kingdom is, it’s safe to say, held in less esteem than it once was. Seen as a group of nations going backwards rather than forwards economically, socially and politically, good news is often buried beneath several feet of bad. Britons, though, can at least smile at the fact that the UK is set to finally have its first ever spaceport built. The aim is to build it up in Sutherland, Scotland, and comes after close to a decade of discussion and adjustment.

Greg Clark, the UK Business Secretary, made the announcement that the spaceport would be built as part of the Farnborough International Airshow. With around £2.5m in government investment going to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), this interesting development will see the project move forward.

At present, the aim is to have the site ready to witness launches as early as 2020. Indeed, with a total of £50m in grants set aside by the UK Government to help cover the local launch program in time, this is a uniquely exciting opportunity for British aeronautics. Also, Orbex, the British space firm, will receive around £5.5m in funding to help build a form of rocket specifically for the launch site.

Lockheed Martin, too, will controversially pick up a portion of the funding – around £23.5m in total – to help develop the spaceport and then plan the launch of the first rocket on-site.

A Significant Start

The main aim of the new spaceport will be for the launch of small-scale vehicles. Also, it will be used for sending satellites into orbit, namely CubeSats. With demand expected to skyrocket for such a form of satellite, the idea looks to be to get into the production market just as the demand really starts to hit the roof.

With the UK once a pioneer of the development of such satellites, having a place to actually send them off has never been possible. The idea is that this will allow Britain to establish itself as a small satellite nation, offering a unique business opportunity that previously was not possible.

So long as the UK gets the spaceport finished ahead of other competing nations, this could prove to be a shrewd and effective step into one of the most exciting global industries.

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The much anticipated inaugural launch of the first Falcon Heavy, from rocket builder startup SpaceX, is today and many people are excited of its outcome. The time of launch is at 1:30PM EST from Launch Pad 39A at Cape Canaveral.

The weather is looking good so far and forecasters have predicted favorable conditions up to 80-percent. SpaceX’s renowned founder Elon Musk has told the media at a prelaunch conference last Monday that he is as at peace because he knows they’ve done everything they could to make the launch successful.

He said, ‘I am sure we have done everything we could do to maximize the chances of success for this mission. Once you have done everything you can think of, if it still goes wrong, there is not much more you could have done.”

So even if the mission fails, SpaceX will still be able to gather a lot of relevant data that they can use for future missions.

On that note, the Hawthorne-based rocket builder is also seeking a new funding of $5 million from the state fund of Texas. The fund will be used to build a commercial spaceport in Brownsville, Texas so that the company can expand its launch facility in Boca Chica beach, located outside of Brownsville.

Founded by the genius entrepreneur Elon Musk, the company is aiming to offer space travel to the mainstream by lessening the cost and facilitating human habitation of Mars, when everything is in place. A design center for Elon Musk’s other record breaking company, Tesla Inc. also operates in Hawthorne. He has predicted that they can launch rockets by the end of 2016 and will be able to invest around $100 million at the site, provided their missions are successful. However, his prediction fell short and their self-ultimatum was moved to the end of 2018 at the least.

Although $15.3 million has already been set aside as state funding, less than $3 million has been spent so far and the company has even returned a small portion of the pledged funds. This is because SpaceX was not able to meet its hiring goals due to the project’s delay in keeping up with its intended timetable.

County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. has said that at the request of SpaceX, the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp. applied for the $5 million state fund in behalf of the company. A state economic development fund, the Spaceport Trust Fund will be the source of new money for the said project of SpaceX.

The application is currently in review by Gov. Greg Abbott’s economic development and tourism division. Once approved, we hope that the company will not further suffer delays especially if the Falcon Heavy launch will succeed today.

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ESA Vega-E Space Launcher

With a launcher and a reusable spaceplane under development, more people will be sent to space for space tourism in the near future.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has poured in 89.7 million euros ($106.7 million) to jumpstart the development of a new launcher and spaceplane. The former will be a newly advanced iteration of the Vega launcher that will be called Vega E (Vega Evolution), while the latter is a spaceplane demonstrator that will succeed the one that flew in 2015.

The Vega E and Space Rider contracts, according to manufacturer Avio, are both the first tranche for their overall development.

Both Avio and Thales Alenia Space Italy of Italy’s space industry will lead consortiums for both space-designed transportation.

The 89.7 million euros is split between Vega E and Space Rider at 53 million euros and 36.7 million euros, respectively.

What You Need to Know about the Vega Evolution 

It will be developed along with Vega C, a rocket that is slated to fly its first maiden launch in 2019.

Building both rockets concurrently and simultaneously is made possible with the fact that the Vega E is largely based on the same building blocks that were used on Vega. The only difference is that there are four stages instead of just three.

The upper stage of the Vega E will also be “Europeanized” instead of Ukrainian.

An ESA official said during a briefing with reporters that the reason for bifurcation is due to the agency’s inability to meet both short term and long term goals of just one rocket.

As a solution, the agency decided to increase the amount of payload that the Vega can carry into orbit. This is according to the ESA’s Space Transportation Development programs manager for the Vega and Space Rider Giorgio Tumino.

The current iteration of Vega is 800 kilograms less than the lift capacity to low Earth orbit of Vega C which is at 2,300 kilograms.

The Vega today also uses the Ukraine-supplied Attitude and Vernier Upper Module (AVUM) that, Tumino said, will be “Europeanized” as part of ESA’s objective. But because developing the upper stage engine can take up to four years, the Vega will continue to use AVUM until the agency can “Europeanize what is not European”.

With the new Vega E, AVUM and Zefiro-9 third stage will be replaced with something more environmentally friendly. The fuel will be based on liquid oxygen and methane and not UDMH (bipropellant with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine), while the oxidant will be NTO (nitrogen tetroxide).

With the ability to reignite more often, the new upper stage will also make it possible to perform more orbital maneuvers.

What You Need to Know about the Space Rider

In a statement, Donato Amoroso, CEO of Thales Alenia Space Italy, said that Space Rider will pave the way to many challenging applications, “including reusable stages, point-to-point flights, spaceplanes and even space tourism.”

The spaceplane will use the technology found from ESA’s Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) and will be able to lift 800 kilograms to LEO for missions that will run for up to a couple of months.

One remarkable difference with the new vehicle is that it is designed to land on the ground.

Thales Alenia Space has been tasked to build the reentry module of the Space Rider based on the IXV.

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