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No More Giggle Factor

Alan Boyle has an interesting report from New Mexico:

The "giggle factor" that often dogged the space tourism industry in the pre-SpaceShipOne era is gone forever. "Now the idea of personal spaceflight can come out of the closet," Michael Kelly, vice president of the X Prize Foundation, told an audience of more than 200 at New Mexico State University here.

Jeff Greason explains the importance of these kinds of events, and the suborbital industry, despite the foolish naysayers who think it has nothing to do with orbit:

"We don't know how to make spaceships that can fly a couple of times a day, every day for years," he said. "We don't know how to fly so safely and so reliably that we can fly people as a business. We don't know how to make money yet. ... If we're ever going to free ourselves from the kinds of fits and starts, one spurt of energy per generation, little incremental bits of progress that characterize government funding in space, we've got to start making a profit. And we don't know how to do that yet. We don't know any of those things. But we think we have pretty good ideas about how to solve them, and we aren't the only ones."

He also had some good news:

"We are off the back burner [with the Xerus project], but we don't have enough money that I can confidently say we can finish working on the vehicle," Greason told

Other interesting news:

Tai told the audience of rocket entrepreneurs and enthusiasts at Thursday's symposium that Virgin Galactic wasn't necessarily locked into using SpaceShipOne design exclusively, just as the Virgin Atlantic airline isn't locked into using a specific kind of airplane.

"We want to partner with all of the people in this industry. ... If you have a better spaceship than Burt Rutan, then Virgin Galactic wants to operate that spaceship," Tai said.

In other words, they want to be a spaceline.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 07, 2005 08:16 AM
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Excerpt: Thanks to Terrestial Musings for pointing out that space tourism is no longer a giggling matter. In factor, the intrepid serial entrepreneur, Richard Branson head of a new company, Virgin Galactic, has collected $10 million from potential customers, ma...
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Tracked: October 23, 2005 09:54 AM

I have this fear that the "suborbital industry" touted by all the gang is a 'non-industry.' What is the point? To say you've 'been there?' To show your friends you can afford it (e.g. the Hummer-buying crowd)? The 'thrill' of the launch? I seem to recall Story Musgrave pointing out in his 'one man show' that launches really are not fun, and you can get kind of the same thrill from some of the newer high-tech roller coasters for alot less money. To experience weightlessness? You can get alot more weightlessness for alot less money on a 'vomit comet' ride.... and even more for less money by learning to SCUBA dive.

Posted by SpaceCat at October 8, 2005 09:13 PM

Hmmm, I suspect the answer is "yes" to most of those questions. People will do it because of the thrill, because they can say they've "done it", and because it's far more exclusive than buying a hummer. Whether's there's enough of these people to fund suborbital flights as an industry? We'll find out.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at October 9, 2005 05:51 AM

There's likely to also be a big market for microgravity research, and once some of the operators manage to develop air breathing engines, high speed intercontinental travel.

Posted by Chris Simons at October 10, 2005 04:43 AM

Right now it's all a thrill ride. But I think the idea is to use this market to finance development that might open up the additional markets that Chris mentioned. It might work - going into space, even just past the 100 km mark, has a lot more cache than flying an airplane (vomit comet).

Posted by KeithK at October 11, 2005 09:47 AM

Does it bother anyone else that the Chinese are starting to demonstrate space capability and all we have is a 30 year old shuttle design that we can't (safely) fly? We had better put boosters on the commercialization of space before the militarization of space by others is complete.


Posted by Scott Johnston at October 15, 2005 10:34 AM

It obviously didn't bother the powers that be when China demonstrated a design, production and manufacturing base (paticularly for electronics) that far exceeds our own.... so why should they worry about China's fledgling space program?

Posted by SpaceCat at October 16, 2005 08:06 PM

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