Lauren De Niro Pipher, head of astronaut relations at Virgin Galactic, revealed that the company’s founder plans to fly with his family aboard the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo rocket plane in November or December of this year. The flight will launch the company’s suborbital spaceflight business, for which De Niro Pipher said more than 700 customers have so far put down deposits on tickets costing $200,000 to $250,000.
The director of business development for Blue Origin, Bretton Alexander, announced his company’s intention to begin test flights of its first full-scale vehicle within the next year.
Planetary Resources asteroid hunting telescopes
If all goes according to plan, a fleet of Arkyd 100s will first scan the skies from Earth orbit in search of nearby asteroids that might be rich in mineral wealth and water, to be visited by the next generation of Arkyd probes. Water is potentially valuable for future space-based enterprises as rocket fuel (split into its constituent elements of hydrogen and oxygen) and for use in life support systems. Planetary Resources plans to “launch early, launch often,” Lewicki told me after his presentation. To that end, the company is building a series of CubeSat-size spacecraft dubbed Arkyd 3s, to be launched from the International Space Station by the end of this year.
Lunar Lion, based at Penn State University, plans to launch a coffee-table-size spacecraft to the lunar surface in time for the December 2015 deadline of the Google Lunar X Prize. At $30 million, the GLXP, as it is known, is the largest incentive ever offered.
And in what would be by far the most ambitious and expensive tourist trip in history, Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures, the company that got Garriott to the space station, said during his presentation that his company had signed up the two clients it needs to fund a manned lunar flyby. The mission, which is expected to cost at least $150 million per seat and is set to launch in 2017 or 2018, seeks to replicate the feat of NASA’s Apollo 8, which flew around the back side of the moon in 1968. Like the missions the company has been offering to the International Space Station since 2001, it will use Russian-built hardware and will be commanded by a professional cosmonaut. Shelley told me after his presentation that his customers prefer not to be publicly identified until closer to launch date.