Next year will mark the fortieth anniversary of man first setting foot on the Moon. Back in the early 1970s it was all systems go for human exploration of space but somehow the momentum was lost, and other priorities took over. Just maintaining an orbital presence above the Earth has been full of challenges with Space Shuttle failures and delays to the International Space Station.
The Bush Administration’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget request for NASA includes an overall increase for space exploration, but aeronautics research continues to fall short, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) said last month. The request totals $17.6 billion, an increase of 2.9 percent from Fiscal Year 2008.
“The launch of a new era in space travel” is the bold claim of EADS Astrium for its Spaceplane, a model of which stands at the company’s booth (C220). Unlike space tourism proposals that involve a space element taken aloft beneath a ‘mother’ aircraft, the Astrium Spaceplane would operate from any airport or airfield that grants permission.
Northrop Grumman finalized its acquisition of Scaled Composites on August 24, increasing its shares from 40 percent to 100 percent. Scaled Composites is the aerospace and specialty composites development company founded and run by Burt Rutan, known most recently for designing the first privately funded rocket-powered spacecraft, SpaceShipOne. The spacecraft made its first supersonic flight on Dec.
Northrop Grumman now owns 100 percent of Mojave, Calif.-based Scaled Composites. On August 24, Northrop Grumman, which already owned 40 percent of Scaled, closed on the purchase of the remaining 60 percent. Scaled continues to work on the program to deliver SpaceShipTwo to Virgin Galactic. “The relationship between Scaled Composites and the Virgin Group is unchanged by this transaction,” a Northrop Grumman spokesman told AIN.
Based on the success of the SpaceShipOne (SS1) suborbital craft’s ascent on June 21 (AIN, July, page 2)–becoming the first privately funded manned spacecraft to reach 100 km (328,000 feet)–designer Burt Rutan is confident that he and his company, Mojave, Calif.-based Scaled Composites, will win the $10 million Ansari X Prize by year-end.
EADS Astrium plans to move into the space tourism market, the company revealed. Rides, including three minutes of weightlessness at an altitude of 330,000 feet, are likely to cost upward of $200,000. The only route to space for non-astronauts today, a ride on the Russian Soyuz to the International Space Station, costs $25 million and involves “six months of horrible training,” the company said.
The Challenger 605, announced this afternoon, will feature upgrades in the cockpit and cabin over the Challenger 604, which will be replaced following expected certification of the 605 in the fourth quarter of next year. In the cockpit, a Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite will replace the Pro Line 4. Cabin improvements include LED lighting and more storage capacity, as well as new galley and lavatory configurations.
A relaxed regulatory environment and increasing development in the fledgling space tourism industry may lead to opportunities for privately owned passenger-carrying space vehicles by the end of the decade, suggested government and industry officials at space-related hearings and conferences in February.
Bombardier’s Challenger 605, announced at the 2005 NBAA Convention, made a nearly 3.5-hour maiden flight on January 22 in Montreal. “The first flight went very well,” pilot Frank Magnusson told AIN. “There were no surprises at all.” The length of the flight was longer than typical. Said Magnusson: “The airplane performed flawlessly so we just kept going” and ended as sunset approached.