At the finish line of suborbital tourism

    Two competitors, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, finally came to the finish line - both companies went to the regular tests. On May 29, the second flight took place with the inclusion of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo engine, and on July 18, the ninth test flight of the New Sheepard from Blue Origin. None of the companies has published exact dates, but if events continue to evolve at the same speed, then less than a year is left before the first suborbital tourist flight.

    New Shepard before the ninth flight, Blue Origin photo

    New shepard

    Test flight New Shepard, starting from 35 minutes

    Blue Origin on July 18 had the ninth flight. The thoroughness of their test program causes respect - in previous launches they checked the failure of one of the parachutes and tested the rescue system on the accelerating rocket. Even earlier, the rescue system was checked in the accident scenario on the launch pad. This time it was tested, but in the response scenario after separation from the launch vehicle. This is a new type of tests in the history of astronautics - on existing and historical orbital ships, the rescue system is dropped at a height of several tens of kilometers, a few minutes before separation from the upper stage of the launch vehicle. It is not so easy to come up with an accident scenario for which the rescue system would have to be turned on when the capsule is flying by inertia - the only reasonable option seems to be the case when, after separation on a rocket, the engine is switched on again unauthorized, and it threatens to hit the capsule with the passengers. Due to the fact that the engine turned on at the height, the test was less spectacular, but, most importantly, successful - the rescue system engines took the capsule away from the rocket. At the same time, both the capsule and the rocket made a safe landing and are ready for reuse.

    Inclusion of CAC, a frame from the Blue Origin video

    For some time passing payloads to New Shepard. A few minutes of weightlessness, an order of magnitude longer than ~ 30 seconds on an airplane-flying laboratory, and this may be enough for a scientific experiment or testing a new instrument. The technology demonstrator of the company Solstar, which is going to become the first space-based Internet provider, has been flying for the second time in the capsule, selling Internet access for satellites and astronauts. In the past, the eighth flight, the device successfully published a tweet, which the company called “the first commercial tweet from space”, has now experienced a new antenna and successfully published the second tweet.

    Speaking seriously, the replacement of special equipment for communicating with satellites with the Internet we are used to should seriously simplify work with satellites from the Earth.

    Also, the second time in the capsule flew equipment from the Space Center to them. Johnson's NASA SFEM-2 for measuring flight parameters - acceleration, pressure, temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels and acoustic loads. The obtained data will allow determining which new payloads will suit the conditions in the descent vehicle.

    And for more demanding loads in flight, a vibration isolation platform from Controlled Dynamics was tested, which can both isolate loads from vibrations and create special conditions required for the experiment.

    On board were also two scientific installations from universities that studied the behavior of fluids in pipes and the electromagnetic field inside the capsule.


    The latest test flight of the SpaceShipTwo spaceplane took place on May 29th. This is the thirteenth flight of the second flight copy, named VSS Unity (the first was lost in the crash of 2014), and the second with the launch of the rocket engine. The configuration of the ship and the flight profile are gradually approaching the planned full-time operation - this time passenger seats and other equipment for future tourists were installed in the cabin, due to which the center of gravity shifted back. The maximum speed achieved almost did not increase, but in terms of height the device rose slightly less than ten kilometers above the previous flight - 34.9 km against 25.7.

    For obvious reasons, there is no sense to transport associated payloads, but Virgin Galactic is actively preparing to seize the future market - in early July, cooperation was announced with the two largest aerospace companies in Italy and plans to build a spaceport for suborbital tourist flights on Italian territory.

    Danger of promises

    More recently, rumors of a Blue Origin ticket price have not yet been announced, it should be in the range of $ 200-300 thousand. The irony is that the price level was announced more than 10 years ago, when Virgin Galactic started selling $ 200,000 SpaceShipTwo tickets, which were separated from even test flights. In 2013, the price was raised to $ 250 thousand, but it is completely incomprehensible whether such a price would be adequate to the cost of the equipment created now. Teal Group analyst Marco Caceres (Marco Caceres) claimsthat the cost of one launch of New Shepard is approximately $ 10 million, which for a six-tourist capsule will result in a loss of at least $ 8 million per flight. The cost of the SpaceShipTwo flight is unknown, but it is highly doubtful that it remained within the framework of calculations of the onset of zero. As a result, it may turn out that Richard Branson (head of Virgin Galactic), calling the price and starting to sell tickets, unwittingly created the main problem of suborbital tourism of the beginning of the 21st century - at such a price flights may be trivially unprofitable, and public expectations will not raise sharply the price.

    The second problem is the assessment of the potential market volume. Virgin Galactic claims that over 700 tickets have already been sold to their spaceplane, but, first, it is not known how many customers changed their mind or for other reasons left the game. Secondly, the 500th ticket was bought in 2012, that is, there were much more willing people in zero than in the tenth years. Will it be possible to create a new stream of customers?

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