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Thread: What happened to commercial suborbital flight

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    What happened to commercial suborbital flight

    10 years and 3 days ago we thought we were on the threshold of commercial suborbital flight. Thousands of people traveled to a small airport in the high desert of southern California, expecting to witness history and the beginning of a new era in spaceflight. They certainly saw the former. On the morning of June 21, 2004, the White Knight airplane took off from Mojave Airport, with SpaceShipOne attached to the underside of its fuselage. An hour later, at an altitude of 14,300 meters, White Knight released SpaceShipOne. The small spaceplane, with test pilot Mike Melvill at the controls, fired its hybrid rocket motor, soaring to an altitude of just over 100 kilometers before gliding back to a landing in Mojave. SpaceShipOne became the first privately-developed and -funded crewed vehicle to fly in space.

    Read the article to find out what happened.

    http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2540/1

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    I for one am not at all surprised that there is so little interest. What space tourist wants to go up and spend only a couple of minutes in space? The only other unusual experience is a few minutes of zero gravity. I imagine that the price of a ticket is pretty hefty. Someone with millions to spare on that type experience can go full boat in orbit for between 10 and 20 million.

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    I suspect that if it were perceived as safe, easily scheduled, and reliable, there might be a clientele for transoceanic suborbital flights for business reasons... but so far I don't think any of those three have materialized, and it is possible that by the time they do telepresence may have improved enough that it won't be needed.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LoneTree1941 View Post
    I for one am not at all surprised that there is so little interest. What space tourist wants to go up and spend only a couple of minutes in space? The only other unusual experience is a few minutes of zero gravity. I imagine that the price of a ticket is pretty hefty. Someone with millions to spare on that type experience can go full boat in orbit for between 10 and 20 million.
    If I remember correctly, they were aiming for US250,000 per passenger.

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    Haven't Virgin Galactic just finished their space port?

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    If I remember correctly, they were aiming for US250,000 per passenger.

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    And I, as a person greatly interested in manned space flight since the Mercury days, would not pay $5,000 for the joy ride it would provide. Probably half that would have to be a toss-up. I just compare the 3 minute thrill with what else an equal amount of dollars would provide me. On the other hand everything in life is ephemeral.

    Consider that a very adventurous person could buy a very nice fully equipped motorcycle for one tenth that price and enjoy it for years.

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    It's like those who spent £1000 on a bluray player when they first came out. Sure they look like mugs now, but we needed some people to blaze the trail.

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    Virgin Galactic has had problems with insufficient thrust from their rubber/nitrous hybrid fuel grain and has now moved to a nylon/nitrous fuel grain. More power. The next test flight will use the nylon engine.

    The hybrids maker, Sierra Nevada Corp (Dream Chaser), has also purchased ORBITEC - a developer of life support systems and the Vortex liquid engine tech.

    In a Vortex engine propellants are injected into concentric vortices which isolate the chamber wall from the combustion zone. This allows an engine chamber made of light alloys.

    Virgin Galactic is also working on and has tested at least 2 Newton liquid engines for their LauncherOne air launch vehicle. It's not outrageous to assume they may use the Vortex tech in later builds.

    SNC also says they are definitely planning on applying Vortex technologies to their hybrid engines. This should accelerate the fuels burn rate, producing more even more power.

    Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic has several hundred folks signed up for rides, projects with NASA and several research labs for suborbital experiments and a deal with NanoRacks for Shuttle-style experiment bays. There are also spaceports planned the Emirates (a lock), possibly Sweden and somewhere in Asia.

    Construction has started on SS2 #2 (VSS Voyager) and WhiteKnightTwo #2 (Spirit of Steve Foster).
    Last edited by docmordrid; 2014-Jun-25 at 01:34 AM.

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    I've been asking that for years too.
    That's why I started the thread over here when they announced this motor replacement.
    The OP article is just more detail on this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LoneTree1941 View Post
    I for one am not at all surprised that there is so little interest. What space tourist wants to go up and spend only a couple of minutes in space? The only other unusual experience is a few minutes of zero gravity. I imagine that the price of a ticket is pretty hefty. Someone with millions to spare on that type experience can go full boat in orbit for between 10 and 20 million.
    *Raises hand sheepishly*

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    Quote Originally Posted by LoneTree1941 View Post
    What space tourist wants to go up and spend only a couple of minutes in space?
    What skydiver wants to only spend a few minutes falling? What mountain climber wants to scale Everest only to climb right back down after they get to the peak?

    I'd say of those who want to be space tourists in the first place, many of them would take a short flight, just to know they'd actually been in space.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KaiYeves View Post
    *Raises hand sheepishly*
    Sheepishly? There's no reason to be sheepish about it! Raise your hand enthusiastically!
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    Sheepishly? There's no reason to be sheepish about it! Raise your hand enthusiastically!
    Hear hear! Throw your hands in the air! Wave them like you just don't care!
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    It doesn't matter whether you are government or commercial, the physics is the same. LEO requires 18,000 mph, and that means big rockets and re-entry problems (ask NASA). And an environment that will kill the crew in moments anytime between liftoff and touchdown. And you'd better touchdown in the right place. You're looking at big hardware and big costs and deaths. The requirements won't change. Don't try to hold your breath till manned commercial flight happens.
    I'm not a hardnosed mainstreamer; I just like the observations, theories, predictions, and results to match.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Mendenhall View Post
    It doesn't matter whether you are government or commercial, the physics is the same. LEO requires 18,000 mph, and that means big rockets and re-entry problems (ask NASA)....
    If the commercial suborbital players were targeting practically useful flight -- say trans-atlantic -- this would be a big draw. As opposed to an up and down thrill ride, imagine if you could carry passengers across the Atlantic in 45 minutes. This is clearly possible because the shuttle trans-atlantic abort would have achieved that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_S...ding_.28TAL.29

    If the Concorde had not gone anywhere -- simply taken people up to see the curvature of the earth -- not many would have paid for that.

    The problem is practically useful suborbital flight requires nearly the same energy, control and thermal protection as LEO. E.g, the shuttle TAL abort required about 18,000 feet per second, and reentry thermal factors were the same as from LEO. So you are right the physics demands big rockets and LEO-scale reentry.

    But despite the technical difficulty, once achieved there'd be a significant market for both people and cargo. It could even be tested initially unmanned on a smaller scale as cargo only.

    Unfortunately the technical challenges are formidable. Back in 2009 we had an extensive discussion in this thread: http://cosmoquest.org/forum/showthre...nic-transports

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    Well now there is another option to go as high as the stratosphere and for only $75,000 per seat and no rocket involved.

    http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Hi..._feet_999.html

    Forget rockets or airplanes, World View Enterprises wants to take tourists to the edge of space and back via balloon -- and they just may do so sooner rather than later. The company tested an early unmanned prototype last week, successfully floating a high-tech hot air balloon to 120,000 feet.

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    And yes, they do call it the "edge of space". My conclusion is that:

    edge of space = 100km*min(ticket price, 250000$)/250000$

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    Quote Originally Posted by LoneTree1941 View Post
    What space tourist wants to go up and spend only a couple of minutes in space?
    Except it's worse than that, isn't it? Didn't Virgin Atlantic recently announce that the target altitude for SSTwo would be lower than 100km, and thus not "officially" in space? Is that in the other discussion thread?

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    City to city suborbital flights seem like a viable idea. But . . . again, big rockets and re-entry, therefore big expense, and . . . fantastic noise on takeoff and equally fantastic sonic 'boomps' on re-entry. One of the things that crippled the Concorde from the beginning was the unwillingness of overflown countries to allow supersonic flight because of the sonic booms.

    The physics is inexorable. You can't win; you can't even break even; and you can't get out of the game.

    Phooey. I think I'll go read an inter dimensional science fantasy book where everything is done by magic. Sigh,

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Mendenhall View Post
    City to city suborbital flights seem like a viable idea. But . . . again, big rockets and re-entry, therefore big expense, and . . . fantastic noise on takeoff and equally fantastic sonic 'boomps' on re-entry. One of the things that crippled the Concorde from the beginning was the unwillingness of overflown countries to allow supersonic flight because of the sonic booms.

    The physics is inexorable. You can't win; you can't even break even; and you can't get out of the game.

    Phooey. I think I'll go read an inter dimensional science fantasy book where everything is done by magic. Sigh,
    Well, there have been some interesting experiments in muffling sonic booms: http://www.nasa.gov/missions/research/sonic_booms.html
    http://www.popsci.com/technology/art...s-get-rid-boom

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    I thought they had over 700 people that already forked over the deposit for the flights at $250,000 a pop. I think I'd be more worried if they rushed it all. 1 mistake and the whole thing would be over for decades

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Mendenhall View Post
    City to city suborbital flights seem like a viable idea. But . . . again, big rockets and re-entry, therefore big expense, and . . . fantastic noise on takeoff and equally fantastic sonic 'boomps' on re-entry. One of the things that crippled the Concorde from the beginning was the unwillingness of overflown countries to allow supersonic flight because of the sonic booms.

    The physics is inexorable. You can't win; you can't even break even; and you can't get out of the game.

    Phooey. I think I'll go read an inter dimensional science fantasy book where everything is done by magic. Sigh,
    We have rocket tech and thermal tech. If they won't allow supersonic over flights, you just decelerate over the ocean and maybe land at a sea-side city.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by WayneFrancis View Post
    I thought they had over 700 people that already forked over the deposit for the flights at $250,000 a pop. I think I'd be more worried if they rushed it all. 1 mistake and the whole thing would be over for decades
    Indeed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    We have rocket tech and thermal tech. If they won't allow supersonic over flights, you just decelerate over the ocean and maybe land at a sea-side city.
    Exactly right. City-to-city intra-continent suborbital flights were never a serious plan. In general the longest routes in greatest need of speedup are trans-oceanic. Rocket-powered suborbital transport would reduce NYC to London from 7.5 hours to 45 minutes. LA to Tokyo would drop from 11 hr to about 1 hr. If it cost $250,000 per ticket, many people would pay that -- repeatedly. There is a business case for it, considering it's both cargo and human transport. Not that many will pay $250,000 for an up-and-down thrill ride, certainly not businesses.

    The question is could suborbital transport be done for $250k per ticket? Considering Falcon 9 costs about $50 million and carries 23,000 lbs, it's not quite there but getting in the ballpark. Of course Skylon claims they'll be able to carry 300 passengers and cost $50 million per flight but it's a concept not even a sub-scale prototype.

    However the fact is it's already been done -- the space shuttle was capable of suborbital flights. Every single launch was a potential suborbital abort. It had the payload capacity to carry at least 50 passengers in a suitable cargo module. The design was not remotely optimized for this, so it would have cost several million $ per passenger, but it shows the technical capacity is here.

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    What "happened" to suborbital travel? Nothing. Nothing happened to it. It just didn't become a thing, that's all.
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    Well, it hasn't yet become a "thing." Virgin has the most development money, but they made some poor design choices for the SS2. I suspect they might have done better if they bought XCOR.

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    In general the longest routes in greatest need of speedup are trans-oceanic.
    If you have the Americas as departure or destination, yes. Europe-Asia is something else.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CJSF View Post
    Except it's worse than that, isn't it? Didn't Virgin Atlantic recently announce that the target altitude for SSTwo would be lower than 100km, and thus not "officially" in space? Is that in the other discussion thread?
    If you're thinking about the "Virgin Galactic SS2" thread... yes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    We have rocket tech and thermal tech. If they won't allow supersonic over flights, you just decelerate over the ocean and maybe land at a sea-side city.
    On. Concorde again.

    Not convenient. Not practical for businesses due to the cost. A great way to produce a stockholder revolt.

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    Also the rocket tech needs improvement as does the re-entry. See shuttle history. Cost, cost, cost.

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