Thursday, October 19, 2006

News from X Prize Cup

An article on MSNBC has the latest from the International Symposium for Personal Spaceflight precursor to the X-Prize Cup. (A number of neat videos are available here).

It's "Space-Traveler"

Buzz Aldrin, whose encyclopedic knowledge of all things space can be heard in this past interview from The Space Show, believes that "Astronaut" is not the correct term for people who pay to fly to space. My impression of his point was that this is similar to someone who is not in the military -- someone who should not be called a soldier (he suggested that being a NASA astronaut entails personal sacrifice in some way). He prefers the term "Star-flyer" for someone whose paid to fly above 100km and "Star-traveler" for someone who's paid to go to orbit.

Race for the X Prize, race to commercial sub-orbit, race to commercial orbit

It is appearing that the commercial suborbital space race has usurped the race to win the X Prize. This new prize is sure to be followed by the race to orbit. Here are the noteworthy entrants in the race to dub the first Star-flyers:

1) Virgin Galactic
2) Rocketplane Kistler
3) The Benson Space Company
4) PlanetSpace
5) DreamSpace Group
6) Armadillo Aerospace
7) ... and many others

The Da Vinci Project has an offshoot entitled "The Dreamspace Group" whose XF1 concept looks like it was inspired by the Transformers (besides being based on the X-36) and Mobile Suit Gundam.

Suborbital rides may turn out to be a passing craze that lasts only 5-10 years. Bungee Jumping was very new for a while. Commercial enterprises devoted to access to suborbital space are a probably part of a necessary trend and serve as a stepping stone to self-sustaining commercial operations in orbit. So the race that follows the commercial suborbital race will be the race to orbit.

So among the current entrants in the suborbital race who will be able to make the transition to the orbital race?

Venture capital and space tourism?

If Futron Corporation is such a good assessor of the space industry, why don't they start a venture fund? That way institutional investors can have access to an industry that they might otherwise be weary about investing in.

Venture Capital companies seem to be a largely internet and biotech related institution and have yet to branch out into space related ventures. NASA is trying to change that with Red Planet Capital, but a perusal of the their website reveals that they probably won't be investing in any of the space tourism companies. The closes I was able to find after a brief web search was this company: Ranger Aerospace LLC, which invests in aviation services and aerospace support companies in North America and Europe.

SpaceHab still on life support

SpaceHab's business is based mostly around the shuttle. Its stock is somewhere near an all-time low, with a market cap under $9 million. SpaceHab's days (in its current form) seem numbered. Though its payload processing business could conceivably be in the black post-shuttle (related news story here), it would seem that SpaceHab would be a good target for merger or acquisition, post SpaceHab Chapter 7, perhaps by SpaceDev.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Travel Channel - Space Tourism

A show on space tourism has been airing on the Travel Channel. Many of the entrepreneurs involved in this nascent industry are interviewed. See the show schedule here.

The Benson Space Company - Interview

Rockets Away! Media just posted a telephone interview with Jim Benson here. Apparently BSC has received more funding but are still short of their target. More details about the Benson Space Dreamchaser vehicle should emerge by January, when SpaceDev will have completed the proposed design. Listen to the interview for more details.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Armadillo Aerospace is preparing for the $2 Million Lunar Lander Challenge to be held October 20th and 21st at the X-Prize Cup. I'm betting that they take the prize. Video here demonstrates the stability of their lander. Masten Space Systems is the other notable entrant.

Your Next T.V.

A number of new display technologies are on the horizon. Mitsubishi plans on having a laser projection TV available by late fall 2007. The claim is that laser display is cheaper and better than LCD and plasma displays. The company formerly known as Applied Nanotech (now known as Xintech) is working on a Carbon nanotube display which apparently is similar to Toshiba's and Cannon's SED technology. SEDs are supposed to be available by 2008. QD Vision is working on quantum dot displays for an uncertain release date, and OLED technology seems best suited for portable displays. At least that's the impression I got after reading an article about Cambridge Display Technologies. The 3D TV from Phillips has a 2008 release date.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

SpaceShipTwo & SpaceShipThree

In an interview published in the November 2006 issue of Popular Mechanics, Burt Rutan revealed more about his approach towards spaceships: "I think the public will be surprised at how large [SpaceShipTwo] is. . . If you're going to send somebody to a resort hotel in orbit, it's okay to cramp him into something small with a little window. . . But with suborbital spaceflight, your destination has to be your transfer van."

Given the details that are emerging about SpaceShipTwo and the statement made by Rutan, I would predict that SpaceShipThree will take the idea of an reconfigurable shape further and that tier three will be a capsule-like vehicle with wings that retract in such a way that a capsule-type reentry is possible, with a horizontal landing.

Virgin Galactic has already stated that if SpaceShipTwo succeeds, development of a commercial orbital vehicle would follow.


Benson Space - Info on Public Relations

I did some digging at the Benson Space site and noticed at the press page that their main media contact is a CEO of B|W|R Public Relations, a subsidiary of the international firm Ogilvy Public Relations. The company conceptualized American Idol and also was in charge of the Quantas Airlines "Spirit of Friendship" campaign with John Travolta as the spokesperson.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Go Directly to LEO

As reported by SpaceDaily, the Lockheed Martin/Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA) has received anti-trust clearance from the Federal Trade Commission. This was apparently the last in a series of hurdles encountered by ULA that began when SpaceX sued the alliance after suffering "significant injury from Boeing and Lockheed Martin's coordinated efforts to exclude competition from SpaceX and others…." The lawsuit against ULA was dismissed. Prediction: ULA will realize that efficiencies can be found in the alliance and their EELVs will be re-priced to rates more competitive with the advertised prices for the Falcon. If Kistler can enter the fray, then along with Orbital, we should see some great disruptions in the launch industry.


Join a tech company.
Get rich.
Leave tech company.
Start a _______ company.

If you answered Very Light Jet, congratulations!

Air & Space magazine has an article about the next revolution in aviation. Although the Jetson-era portrayal of a world filled with air cars has not yet materialized, a number of companies are preparing for that day. Even NASA is helping to find the future with its Personal Air Vehicle Centennial Challenge.

Consider some of the goals of the Personal Air Vehicle challenge to frame the potential impact of the companies mentioned in the article:
According to the article, several of the entrepreneurs who have started very light jet companies are using modern engineering processes from the computer and software industry to challenge the status quo. Here are some of the companies:
I'll be watching Adam Aircraft most closely, since that company is part of the Dream Chaser team.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Space Tourism News Roundup and MSNBC are reporting on a space tourism survey conducted by Incredible Adventures and Spaceport Associates. Good news for Benson Space -- a majority of the respondents prefer vertical takeoff.

Mr. Benson posted a comment in Cosmic Log detailing his intentions for the new venture ("BSC"). He hinted that the aim of BSC is to carry out the vision first conceived for SpaceDev: the commercial exploration of space.

Meanwhile, more celebrities are signing up for a ride with Virgin Galactic. The video at the Virgin Galactic site is quite a Hollywood production. Pretty impressive. Jim Cameron, Benson Space needs your endorsement, now! Actually, after reading this article from Wired, the thought of Jim Cameron becoming involved in a space company doesn't seem so far fetched.

"Dream Chaser, this is SS Titanic actual, you are clear to dock."

Friday, September 29, 2006

General Fusion

2010 is going to be a big year. General Fusion plans to demonstrate commercially viable fusion by then. After that, they should adapt their technology to rocket engines. Heat exchange is apparently their mechanism for converting the energy to electricity; sounds like a steam rocket to me. This is in contrast to the proposed He-3 fusion which would not release neutrons and whose electricity could be captured directly. Apparently it's conceivable that He-3 fusion rockets could be built too. But if General's approach will work, more power to them.

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