Space

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Another rare treat this week:

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Commercial spaceflights are rolling out, and they’re being spearheaded by…Virgin Airlines?

I’m surprised. I thought Bezos or Musk would get there first.

Well, you would have thought correct. The articles are all misleading. Virgin is not the first fully commercial space tourism provider. Both SpaceX (Technically Axiom Space using SpaceX as launch provider) and BlueOrigin have launched private ‘tourism’ missions to space. And SpaceX’s were actual orbital flights.

Virgin’s SpaceShipOne was the first private crewed vehicle to reach space but that was almost 20 years ago now and had nothing to do with paid passengers.

The Virgin Galactic concept baffles me. I can only think it’s rich people with a passing interest in space and no interest in rockets, who want clout with those who know nothing that would spend a half-million dollars for a 3 hour flight in which you manage to spend 6 minutes in zero G. Very cool and I’m not saying I wouldn’t go on a SpaceShipTwo flight if given the opportunity, but certainly not the classic astronaut experience and certainly not worth the money that they’d be charging for a tourist.

At least with Blue Origin’s equally paltry 5-ish minutes in space, the whole ride only lasts 11 minutes from liftoff to touchdown and you get to say you were on a launch pad and landed under canopy.

But ultimately longer duration flights are going to be what people want I think. If you’re not spending at least a good hour up there, it’s hard to justify the resources to get there.

To put it in perspective Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok-1 flight spent over 100 minutes in space before returning to Earth. Blue Origin basically recreates the very first US space missions which were suborbital.

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Earlier in this thread I did a comparison between the two and concluded that the Virgin Galactic flight seems like a way better tourist experience:

So my conclusion is clear. As a suborbital space flight tourist, I don’t want a watered down version of what the first part of a rocket launch into space might feel like. Instead, I want a similar experience to some of the coolest space plane missions of the 60’s, but now packaged in a safe and accessible way, with extra bonuses like zero-G flippy time and cool views.

Sign me up for SpaceShipTwo!

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I dunno, there’s definitely something cool about doing the X-15 type experience. But it’s really not about whether you go to space at that point. It would just be “you get to go really goddamn fast really high up, like an X-15” but it’s all polished, and sold as a “you get to go to space” experience more like the PanAm star liner from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Except unfortunately nothing about SpaceShipTwo makes me think “this is what Kubrick was imagining” because you’re doing the space part for about as long as someone might ride Space Mountain.

If it was more rough and raw and you felt like part of a cool mission where you were gonna fly really fast like the Dark Star from Top Gun, then I’d be into it. But right now it seems like diet space. You go up to space on a technicality. There’s no real hope of it being more than what it is.

Now, maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe if SpaceShipThree can do orbital flights and you can go up for a few hours before re-entry THEN they’d have something. Then the form factor makes sense and is cool. Now it’s a serious space plane.

So if a couple people are willing to take these bunny hops for a quarter-mil each, in order to make an orbital class work, then cool. But if the goal is just to do bunny hops in a fancy jet, I think people will get tired of it pretty quick when for a little more operations like Axiom will let you eat, shit, and sleep in orbit. And if I’m gonna pay a few million either way, then I wanna shit in a vacuum toilet.

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Yeah, that’s why I was comparing the two suborbital tourist flight experiences, as those are of a similar height/expense/availability/duration. If I could pick between the two, I’d go for SpaceShipTwo over New Shephard, but of course they are suboptimal in every way compared to an actual orbital adventure.

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Good video showing how Space Ship 2 is basically the coolest plane you can fly/ride (while ,in my opinion, New Shepherd is the lamest rocket you can ride).

All that sounds cool, but I feel like if I’m riding on it, I don’t want the pilot cowboying around up there with direct mechanical linkages etc. Give me the computer in control please.

If it’s a traditional space capsule, yeah, have the computers doing the precise burns to put the thing on the exact path back down.

For a spaceplane, even if there’s a powerful autopilot that can run a hands-off flight all the way to touchdown, good to have an actual pilot at the controls for now. Especially with modern synthetic vision and avionics.

I think seeing the footage from this recent flight and such, yes: SpaceShip2 is a really awesome plane. Flying on it to the upper atmosphere would be really awesome.

But I would take that ride for the idea of taking a cool airplane ride to the edge of space (maybe even to it depending on definitions) in the same way taking one of those MiG flights to the edge of space, or just any fighter jet ride where you do some zoom climbs, would be awesome.

But if I’m strictly paying to go to space for the point being “I’m going to space and want to do space things” I want to do it on something that will get me meaningfully into full space and StarShip2 just cannot do that. And New Shepard can’t really do that either. So in that respect yeah, it’s kindof the lamest rocket vs the coolest airplane. The Virgin ship is not a cool ENOUGH airplane to be worth it for the space content: And its space content is basically equal to the lamest rocket, so there’s that.

So what that means is either StarShip3 needs to have significantly greater space content so that it can be both the coolest airplane experience and also a really good space experience, or it will be quickly beat out when the next Blue Origin generation of commercial rocket becomes an ‘average’ rocket instead of a lame single stage one.

It’ll be really hard to push StarShip3 to be a really good space vehicle. It’ll be a complete redesign of everything IMO to give it the capability to do something like spend even 20-30 min above 100km. OTOH It’s trivial to imagine how New Shepard could be replaced with something like a “New Grissom” that could go higher, further, maybe even to orbit.

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I’m more interested in us learning about the cosmos before we try too hard to get humans too far into it.

But on even a thousand-year timescale? We’re too curious and weird and expansionist to not set foot on Mars. We’re better off going for it than restraining that impulse at least that far. :wink:

Big fat rocket got a bit further this time:

The Starship engines and fire looked really good.

I think theyll make a full successful ascent burn on the next launch, but probably 2 more before the booster return is working as intended. And it’ll take at least 2 re-entry attempts to figure that out. So my guess is by flight 5 should be seeing a situation where the shop and/or booster could survive getting to where they could attempt to land, and by full system launch 10 a successful landing of both booster and ship.

Of course thats assuming they get that far before some combination of internal/external factors skuppers the whole lot.