Commerical space is moving up, companies say
posted by Robert Block  

Two announcements today from some significant commericial space players.First, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, the company owned by Dotcom billionaire Elon Musk, announced it had customers for two "DragonLab" missions ain the wake of a workshop  about the new ship held at SpaceX headquarters in California on November 6.DragonLab, a version of the company’s space faring capsule designed for conducting experiments in space, is SpaceX’s newest commercial offering. [Picture left.]According to SpaceX, DragonLab is “a free-flying, reusable spacecraft capable of hosting pressurized and unpressurized payloads … [that] provides a platform for in-space experimentation … as well as deployment of small spacecraft. As a complete system, DragonLab provides for all aspects of operation: propulsion, power, thermal control, environmental control, avionics, communications, thermal protection, flight software, guidance, navigation and control, entry, descent and landing and recovery.”The capsule is meant to fly atop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, which is still in development and supposed to undergo its first test launch next year from Cape Canaveral. SpaceX said the first two DragonLab flights are scheduled for 2010 and 2011. That depends on SpaceX managing successful test launches next year."We are adding these missions to our … manifest to provide firm launch dates for users to work toward," Max Vozoff, SpaceX Product Manager for Dragon and DragonLab, said in a statement.

A press release said that the November 6 DragonLab workshop was attended by representatives from six NASA centers, NASA headquarters, the Department of Defense, university research departments and commercial aerospace companies. It did not say which groups signed up for the DragonLab flights.

“With the U.S. Space Shuttle retiring in two years, clearly there is great demand from principal investigators, companies and institutions looking for ways to fly payloads in space and return them to Earth," Vozoff said.In other commercial space news, Jules Klar, the founder of Phoenix, Arizona-based RocketShip Tours, has announced that his company will immediately begin selling rides to the edge of space for $95,000 per flight. Participants will fly aboard the Lynx, a two-seat suborbital vehicle being built by California-based XCOR Aerospace. XCOR Chief Test Pilot and three-time Space Shuttle Pilot and Commander, Rick Searfoss said the Lynx will carry people or payloads to the edges of space up to four times a day.The Lynx is a two-seat, reusable launch vehicle that takes off like an airplane, and lands the same way. It will compete with the multi-seat suborbital aircraft called SpaceShipTwo being developed by Virgin Galactic, owned by British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. Flights on Branson’s ship, which is supposed to start test flights in 2009, costs twice as much as Klar’s and is booked in advance for years.XCOR said it already has signed up Danish investment banker Per Wimmer, who will take the first commercial flight aboard the Lynx. The first flights are expected to take place from the Mojave Spaceport in California, though the company is also keen on flying out of Kennedy Space Center, using space shuttle landing string as a takeoff and landing runway.Other places interested in hosting XCOR, spokesman Doug Graham, include a Caribbean Island and a country in the Middle East. The Lynx can use any airport with a 10,000 ft runway. It also needs restricted airspace since it returns to Earth, shuttle-style, like a glider.There is a hitch, however: the company still does not know when it will be flying. The hope is in 2010 but it all depends on how the craft peforms during its test flight program. "It takes as long as it takes," said Graham.According to a press release, a deposit of $20,000 secures a seat and begins the process of assigning the participant to the qualification program. The procedure will include a medical questionnaire and a screening performed by qualified aeronautic physicians. Instruction regarding life support systems, flight physiology, and other aspects of the Lynx suborbital flight will also be provided. "We want to ensure the experience is as safe as possible and that people are adequately trained and prepared," Klar said. "Those who are interested in a suborbital space flight can visit our website, www.rocketshiptours.com, and choose a Space Tourism Specialist who is trained and certified by RocketShip Tours."