XCOR’s Path to Space

xcorcoming together 3

Coming together. Image Credit: XCOR Aerospace

Coming on the heels of the 10th anniversary lamentation/celebration of SpaceShipOne’s winning the Ansari XPRIZE, an event which saw more than a little criticism aimed at Virgin Galactic for its frequent delays with SpaceShipTwo, the other company racing to introduce a commercial suborbital spaceplane, XCOR, announced major progress in assembly of its Lynx Mark I vehicle.

XCOR Press Release:

Mojave, CA, October 07, 2014 – XCOR Aerospace® today announced marked progress on the path to commercial space flight with the integration of the cockpit to the fuselage on XCOR’s Lynx® spacecraft. With the fuselage, pressure cabin and strakes delivered, XCOR is bonding these structures together and integrating sub-assemblies, such as the landing gear, at its hangar in Mojave.

“The team at XCOR has been working a long time to reach this goal,” said XCOR CEO Jeff Greason. “We always knew there would be a day when we could see a spacecraft forming in our hangar. Today is that day. These pictures show our ongoing journey to make commercial space flight a reality.”

In addition to the progress noted above, Lynx’s rocket propulsion system continues to be tested on a first generation fuselage that is used to perform cold-flows and hot fires with XCOR’s proprietary rocket propellant piston pump technology.

“After 15 years of development, the excitement in the hangar is palpable,” said XCOR President Andrew Nelson. “Teams are working in parallel to finish Lynx. We are hiring shop staff and engineers to prepare for the final stretch leading up to test flights. I’m proud of what the team has accomplished this year.”

About Lynx:

The Lynx is a two-seat, piloted space transport vehicle that will take humans and payloads on a half-hour suborbital flight to 100 km (330,000 feet) and then return safely to a landing at the takeoff runway. It is the only fully reusable suborbital spacecraft in production.

End press release

As Innerspace noted yesterday, although Virgin Galactic consistently receives the lion’s share of press attention, much of it self-generated, it is the much quieter XCOR which may be on the better track.  A little more on that, and why space enthusiasts should take note. It is about much more than space tourism.

SpaceX ‘s Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic’s over the top flamboyant Richard Branson are both highly visible, outspoken leaders, and both bear the responsibility of running more than one major business at the same time. XCOR’s Jeff Greason is very different individual, more reserved but equally compelling when discussing his passion for the advancement of space exploration. Greason however, an experienced engineer who began his career at Intel, shares with Musk a hands on approach to the technology, and a clear vision for how to evolve it in order to pursue a long term business plan.

There are other similarities as well. Musk and SpaceX began with the smallish Falcon 1 while aiming for Mars. Greason and XCOR began with the EZ-Rocket Plane,  which could only fly for a few minutes, but did so 26 times, continued with the more powerful X-Racer which flew 40 times, and are now focused on prototyping routine suborbital operations with the initial Lynx Mark I which is rapidly coming together.

While the Lynx Mark I, which can only each 60 kilometers, will be used as a pathfinder vehicle, both for flight operations and for commercial service, it will quickly be supplanted by the more capable Mark II, which will be able to carry its pilot and single paying passenger (or experimental payload) all the way past the 100 km threshold and the established boundary of sub-orbital “space.” In this case, quickly means just that, less than a year. At the moment, XCOR, through its marketing arm XCOR Space Expeditions lists, with caveats, Q3/Q4 2015 for the Mark I, and 2016 for the Mark II on its website. A Mark III would come next, offering a external research space or an expendable smallsat launcher contained in a dorsal pod. Given the comparatively sober approach taken by the company, it seems that 2015 will in all probability see the first Lynx spaceplane streaking into the sky.

Lynx Cutaway  Credit: XCOR Aerospace

Lynx Cutaway
Credit: XCOR Aerospace

Why it matters. Compared to SpaceShipTwo which is using expendable hybrid motors which mush be changed out after each trip (the oxidizer tank and plumbing remain), the Lynx, powered by four kerosene and liquid oxygen rocket engines, is 100% re-usable. Equally important, although the thrust is very low, roughly 2,900 lbs. per engine, and the final velocity will be nowhere near that required to attain obit, the proprietary piston pump technology which provides the propellant flow, is scalable. Taken together with the fact that the XCOR plan of operations calls for multiple flights per day, literally a “gas and go” approach to first stage rocket flight, embodied in the diminutive spaceplane are the core elements of routine access to low Earth orbit, unimpeded by evolutionary dead ends such as the expendable hybrid motors on SS2, or the completely expendable solid/liquid combination being pursued by Paul Allen’s StratoLaunch.

Piston Pump Credit: XCOR Aerospace

Piston Pump
Credit: XCOR Aerospace

XCOR is starting at the other end of the fully reusable development pathway being pioneered with SpaceX by beginning with a rapidly re-usable suborbital vehicle while planning to evolve, whereas SpaceX is attempting to evolve the fully expendable Falcon 9 into a recoverable system which could eventually be made to perform “rapidly.”  Both have a long way to go, and for XCOR, the path is a little less clear because the Lynx, no matter how many “Marks” follow its name, is not intended as an approach to the much more elusive goal of being a Single Stage To Orbit Vehicle. Another stage, or two, must eventually follow, and there is every reason to believe that it will be air-launched. Greason does have plan, but for now it remains a secret.

XCOR is focused, as well it should be, on getting Lynx to the runway, and then flying it over and over, day after day. That nose to the grindstone approach for proving the viability of commercial spaceflight is in its own way just as significant as SpaceX’s attempt to recover and relaunch the Falcon 9 first stage.

Wherever these two approaches ultimately meet, “X” will mark the spot where the revolution really begins.

 

Looking Back, Looking Ahead and Getting the Business of “Rocket Science” Right

VirginGalactic

Still Working…Still Waiting. Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Saturday, October 4th, 2014 was the ten year anniversary of the SpaceShipOne’s winning the Ansari X-Prize, a feat which built on its legacy of becoming the first privately funded, piloted “rocket” to pass the 62.5 mile high Karman line and go into suborbital space.

Ten years later, on the anniversary of its second trip into that ethereal arena, a journey which established its credentials as being reusable, and thus the starting point for a new era commercial “spaceflight ” a number of articles are understandably focusing on the fact that the revolution which seemed so close at hand that day has been, to say the least, rather slow to materialize.

From Time:  “Branson’s Virgin Galactic is the closest to delivering. His SpaceShipTwo is the direct descendant of the original Rutan-Allen ship, and he has signed up a long list of potential passengers who have all put down deposits toward their $200,000 fare. Last year, TIME attended something of a pep rally at the outfit’s Mojave Desert headquarters, during which hundreds of those passengers-on-standby gathered, mingled, ate high-end finger food and cheered speeches and videos hyping the ride to come. But a promised test flight of the ship was scrubbed due to high winds and that day’s much-repeated pledge that the spacecraft’s maiden space trip would occur before the end of the year has slipped—as it has so many times before—this time to what Branson describes only as “earlyish in the new year.” As recently as August, he said he’d be “bitterly disappointed” if he didn’t make his before-2015 deadline.”

Some things seem certain. If we have learned anything from the efforts of companies such as Virgin Galactic, XCOR and Blue Origin, all of which have yet to begin operations, it is that introducing a new system always takes longer (and costs more) than enthusiastic founders believe will be the case. Even SpaceX, which was formed in 2002, well before the X-Prize, was won, has almost invariably been well behind established timetables, and the resulting criticism eventually prompted the always garrulous Elon Musk to begin tempering his predictions with a healthy dose of qualifiers. Nevertheless, Elon Musk and his small group of engineers made a very sound technical and business decision in the earliest days of developing the Merlin engine, committing the company to a kerosene/liquid oxygen architecture which could evolve as needed. ULA and Blue Origin may have done the same with last month’s announcement of the BE-4, Liquefied Natural Gas engine project.

In the case of Virgin Galactic however, the first and best known of the two companies actively pursuing suborbital space tourism as their primary enterprise, (Blue Origin is so secretive regarding its plans it is difficult to characterize what they are actually doing) one has to wonder if the decision to base SpaceShipTwo’s architecture on hybrid rocket motors was a critical mistake which has cost it years, not months as the company would seem to suggest, of fruitless development effort. In other words, if Virgin had elected to develop a liquid fueled engine from outset, as XCOR has done, the story might be a very different one.

It has not been a good summer for hybrids, with VG announcing a switch to a plastic as opposed to a rubber compound, and Sierra Nevada Corporation, which would have supplied VG its motors, dropping hybrids entirely for its Dream Chaser spaceplane.  In the latter case, the relative last minute switch, and concerns about the hybrids it would have used, may have been a determining factor in SNC’s loss in the Commercial Crew program.

The argument could be made that the delays are not due to the fact that “it really is rocket science” which has become something of a reflexive answer, but in fact due to very poor business decisions about which specific “rocket science” to pursue in the first place. As the old Knight Templar advises Indiana Jones in selecting the holy grail, “you must choose, but choose carefully.”  If that is the case, then the near future may be quite a bit brighter for XCOR, which started with liquid engines and has stuck with them, than it is for Virgin Galactic. which is now committed to a second, and one hopes, better hybrid.

grailknight

 

In the long run, XCOR and Virgin Galactic want to move on to orbital operations, which means even if the new hybrid motor, now supplied by Scaled Composites, is both docile and dependable, it is still not on what would appear to be the appropriate technological path. Tellingly, Virgin Galactic is developing a liquid fueled engine for its LauncherOne smallsat launch vehicle which will ride to altitude under the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

The space tourism, or if you prefer, “spaceflight participant” market is more than one or two companies however, and even if Virgin Galactic has created some problems for nearly everyone by over hyping and under performing thus far, the demand  is not about to subside. Moreover, with the announcement of NASA’s Commercial Crew decision, temporarily issued a stop work order courtesy of the SNC protest, it is now being officially pursued from another direction as well.  Although the program is specifically geared towards meeting NASA’s needs, the agency has also been clear that it wants to see other destinations in LEO open up, and views Commercial Crew as a means to facilitate that goal.

At north of $20 million per seat for today’s expendable vehicles, as opposed to $250,000 for VG’s suborbital jaunts aboard the eventual VSS Enterprise, the market is certain to remain a very limited one,  but perhaps not for too much longer.  Based on its success with first stage recovery thus far, it not unrealistic to expect that SpaceX will have the capability to re-use the Falcon 9 first stage at nearly the same time Dragon V2 is ready to begin flying NASA astronauts to ISS.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that the two operations, astronaut taxi service and resuability will merge any time soon, but they are at least convergent. And while SpaceX has been very circumspect, and in fact almost silent on the subject of general space tourism, it is actively engaged in some sense, along with Boeing, in the contract with Bigelow Aerospace as a transportation provider.

Ten years after the X-Prize, we all know what hasn’t happened, but the good news is we have more than a few reasons to believe that ten years from now, the “revolution” in private spaceflight will be well underway, and perhaps already threatening to spread beyond low Earth orbit.

To some extent, it may bear a remarkable resemblance to a spacelaunch itself. It takes just over nine minutes for a Dragon spacecraft to go from sitting on top of the Falcon 9, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, to flying freely in LEO. Yet four and half minutes into the flight, it is far from halfway there in terms of reaching the velocity required to attain orbit. It is in the second half where everything comes together, and at the seasonally appropriate risk of mixing metaphors, the marching band has just left the field.

Virgin Galactic: More Delays, More Opportunities

SpaceShip2 Rockets Ahead

Image Credit Virgin Galactic

Confirming a schedule slip which comes as no surprise, Virgin Galactic is now estimating that the first passenger flight (with founder Richard Branson aboard) will not take place until February or March of 2015. 2015.  The comments from the flamboyant businessman and adventurer came during an appearance with David Letterman on The Late Show on Wednesday.

Experience suggests the schedule may slip a little further still. Virgin is currently in the process of a last minute switch in the fuel mixture for its hybrid rocket engine, and even though the company did recently perform an unpowered drop test of its all composite space plane, it has yet to conduct a single powered flight with the new engine. Five or six months is a very short time frame to go from zero to ready for operations with such a significant component.

Delays, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber aside, the future is still getting brighter for Virgin Galactic. On Monday, the company was one of four to win a three year contract (with two year extension) to serve as platform for suborbital or high altitude research as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. The award carries a possible two year extension so surely……

There is an angle to this story which may affect the outcome of NASA’s Commercial Crew program as well. The motors Virgin Galactic had been planning to use, which burn nitrous oxide and rubber, were to be supplied by Sierra Nevada Corporation. SNC would have also used two smaller versions burning the same mixture for its Dream Chaser space plane.

Now however, after years of testing and planning based on the SNC motor, Virgin has switched to a plastic based motor which will instead be supplied by airframe builder Scaled Composites. For its part, after the purchase of a small engine manufacturer Orbitec, Sierra Nevada is modifying Dream Chaser to incorporate liquid fueled engines instead. While almost certainly a positive move in the long run (assuming there is one), it also suggests that Dream Chaser may not be far enough along to meet NASA’s short term needs.

 

Range Rover, Virgin Galactic To Award “Tickets to Space”

Waiting 
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Land Rover, in participation with Virgin Galactic, announced yesterday the latest in a series of promotions which has seen KLM and Unilever hold contests to give away a  “ticket to space.”

The current contest, designed to promote the new Land Rover Discovery Sport, is divided along regional lines, with video submission promoting the spirit of adventure to be judged by an independent panel. Regional winners, each of whom will win a more Earth bound trip in any event, will then be judged again for the final contest, and can select three friends to go along for the ride.

You can enter here.

As Parabolic.arc points out, the provision of four winners for a six passenger cabin tends to support rumors that Virgin Galactic, which is in the process of a last minute switch in its hybrid rocket motors, may have decided to reduce the passenger capacity of its SpaceShipTwo space plane.

Whoever the lucky winners are, they need not get in a big hurry. A close reading of the contest rules states that their ticket will be honored at some point “within the first 1,000 flights.”  And then there is this, although the contest is designed to promote what most would consider a luxury car brand, Land Rover, your flights to adventure are still going to be in coach.

Will Soyuz Beat Orion Around the Moon?

ses launch 042 1

On June 3rd, the Moscow Times reported on a new development in Space Adventure’s plan to launch two tourists on a voyage around the Moon.  Having scored notable success as the first and only company to arrange tourist, or “space flight participant” trips to the International Space Station, Space Adventures has been promoting the lunar circumnavigation plan for some time, having announced in 2011 that it had secured one passenger (at the time rumored to be James Cameron) and was looking for a someone else to occupy the second seat, bringing along the additional $150 million to make it happen.

Apparently that may have happened.  Although neither person’s identity has been revealed, Vitaly Lopota, CEO of Energia, which is Russia’s largest (and quasi-governmental) aerospace company has confirmed that two passengers are seriously interested, and his company is working towards a flight in 2017 or 2018.

Under the scenario envisioned, the two tourists and a single Russian pilot would launch aboard a modified Soyuz featuring an improved heat shield. That craft would in turn dock with a keralox Block DM propulsion stage attached to an extra habitation module launched by a Proton (gulp).

In another interesting twist, according to a report in Spaceflightnow which is based on comments Space Adventures President Tom Shelley made at a Florida conference last week, the mission integration might take place in the vicinity of ISS, with the crew traveling initially traveling to the Station to await the launch and arrival of the transfer vessel. Although no-one is saying so, presumably the ISS visit would serve as a “fall back” provision if something prevented the combined Moon vessel from breaking Earth orbit.

While the story will no doubt continue to garner skepticism until a press conference is called and the names are announced, there are several reasons it may have merit.

In the first place, although the Soyuz may be regarded as a reliable but very dated LEO craft, a stripped down version of the venerable spaceship formed the basis for the Soviet Union’s partially successful Zond lunar program in the in 1960’s. Its flight record though, might give a moment’s pause.

Of the four unmanned Zond circumlunar flights which actually survived a perilous launch aboard the problematical Proton, and completed their journey around the Moon, the results were very mixed.

The first, Zond 5, made a high (20) G force landing in the Indian ocean,  but a pair of turtles which made the trip did survive.  The next mission, Zond 6, did not go as well, with a planned an atmospheric “skip entry,” the velocity shedding technique which Russia is likely to apply to future missions, marred by a cabin depressurization and a premature parachute deployment leading to a crash landing. Had it been piloted, no one would have survived.  Seven was the lucky number for Zond, with that flight resulting in a successful demonstration of the re-entry technique, and ending in a relatively soft landing on target in Kazakhstan. The final mission, Zond 8, made a ballistic reentry, also into the Indian Ocean.

Interestingly Zond capsules were also atop the ill-fated N-1 “Moon rocket,”  and were pulled to safety even as the giant boosters all failed catastrophically during first stage flight.

Even though the Zond program was canceled when the U.S.S.R. lost its race to the Moon with the U.S., the heritage, and the long successful track record of the Soyuz spacecraft  provides a basis for a Russia to get some measure of satisfaction by beating the U.S. back to Moon. Although no-one would call it a race, one should not overlook the fact that the only defined mission for the American Space Launch System calls for it to boost an Orion spacecraft on a similar circumlunar flight in 2021. It is not difficult to imagine that in the light of current tensions, Russia might be motivated to be the first to the finish line this time.

And, while the Soyuz certainly represents a minimalist approach to lunar flights, Russia has made no secret of the fact that it is focusing on the Moon as the “horizon goal” for its space program. In other words, Russia might be more inclined to invest the resources to modify Soyuz, and even conduct a test flight than would otherwise be the case. Even if the passengers who fund the trip are both American,  the pilot/commander  would still be Russian, with the flight being used to provide an early test of some systems intended for its next generation, lunar capable craft.

As pointed out in the 2011 Space Review article, Bad Moon Rising, a Russian circumlunar flight taking place prior to the American return to “deep space” would present a fascinating public relations challenge for NASA as it seeks to explain why it is that the nation is spending tens of billions of dollars to accomplish what two “tourists” achieved for $150 million each.

Of equal importance, it would present a serious counter example to those who argue that a massive booster is needed because dual launch orbital rendezvous is just too problematic.

Finally, one wonders if the spectacle of a modular lunar mission effectively supported by, and departing from the vicinity of ISS, might not cause a re-examination of the Station’s potential for performing similar functions in the future.

XCOR Receives Capital Investment

Cockpit, with Lox tank in background
Credit : XCOR

Following the delivery of its first flight capable, pressurized cockpit earlier this year, XCOR continues to make steady progress in assembling its two seat Lynx sub-orbital space plane. With fellow intended space tourism provider Virgin Galactic announcing a switch in fuels for the hybrid rocket motor powering SpaceShipTwo, a change which may further delay its introduction, could it be possible that XCOR beats its more flamboyant competitor to to sub-orbit?

Perhaps, but as the old saying goes “No Bucks, No Buck Rogers,” so it may come as a good sign for XCOR that more investments are on the way. This time, Ol’ Buck may speak with a Dutch accent.

XCOR Press Release

CFIUS Approval Clears XCOR Aerospace’s First Close of Series B Financing
XCOR Raises $14.2 Million of Investment Capital Led by Dutch Investors

27 May 2014, Mojave, CA – XCOR Aerospace announced today that the United States Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) has approved the Series B lead investment by Dutch investors. The first closing of XCOR’s new round of finance issued $14.2 million of Series B preferred shares. XCOR will use the funds to bring the XCOR® Lynx® suborbital spaceplane to market.

The Series B financing was led by Space Expedition Corporation (SXC) of The Netherlands. Michiel Mol and Mark Hoogendoorn of SXC will join the current five members on the XCOR Board of Directors. The first round also included many existing and new investors including: board member Esther Dyson, Pete Ricketts (co-owner of the Chicago Cubs), and a number of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and early-stage investors. A smaller second closing is scheduled over the summer.

The SXC investment in XCOR signals a strong commitment to the commercial space industry by the Dutch entity, which is also XCOR’s lead wet-lease customer and general sales agent. Michiel Mol said, “With this investment in XCOR, we’re closing ranks with our most strategic partner. We will take the next step together toward our first commercial spaceflight. I’m proud to become a part of this fantastically dedicated team of ‘future makers’ and game changers.”

Mark Hoogendoorn noted, “Investing in XCOR is much more than investing in innovative technology and a team of highly skilled engineers. Most of all, it’s investing in a long term vision we strongly believe in that will enable a new era of sustainable and regular space access that will positively impact all mankind.”

Jeff Greason, Founder and CEO of XCOR, said, “We are very pleased to have this first closing of the Series B and welcome Michiel and Mark to the Board. This investment will allow us to accelerate and run in parallel several final developments in the critical path to first flight.”

“This first closing of the Series B is a signal to the market that XCOR is moving ahead with its plans for commercial service and that we are nearer to that goal,” said Andrew Nelson, Chief Operating Officer of XCOR. “The Series B will remain open for a limited time as we complete discussions with a few more potential investors.”

Although SXC acquired a minority position without control provisions in XCOR, the company took the cautious route of submitting the investment to CFIUS for review prior to an official public announcement. CFIUS agreed that no control provisions exist and that the investment is not a so-called “covered transaction.”

Virgin Galactic Makes Hybrid Motor Switch

Waiting 
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Based on Virgin Galactic’s marketing arrangement with NBC, it’s a pretty good bet that as the company approaches its first flights, much of the breaking news will come from that source, and hopefully from Alan Boyle.

So, along those lines, we learned on Friday that VG is making a switch in the hybrid fuel mixture which will be used to power VSS Enterprise and its sister ships into sub orbital space.  It is discarding the rubber based compound in favor of one based on plastics instead, as described in this article by Boyle. Although VG’s official position is that the switch will not substantially add to the first date for the maiden passenger flight, prior history and common sense suggests it may slip from late this year into 2015.

The change is not entirely a surprise, given a long running series of reports coming out of Mojave that the previous, rubber based compound was subject to some combustion instabilities.

Here is a recent ground test using the new compound.

 

 

XCOR Receives Lynx Cockpit, Begins Integrating First Operational Vehicle

Cockpit, with Lox tank in background Credit : XCOR

Cockpit, with Lox tank in background
Credit : XCOR

Although Virgin Galactic has a tendency to draw the headlines, no doubt in part due to its very high profile founder, XCOR Aerospace is pressing equally hard to get its Lynx space plane into commercial service. The company announced a major step forward today with the delivery of the pressurized cockpit for its Lynx Mark I.

XCOR Press Release:

XCOR Aerospace Receives Lynx Mark I Cockpit
Vehicle Integration Commences

April 09 2014, Mojave, CA – XCOR Aerospace announced today that the XCOR® Lynx® Mark I cockpit has been delivered. AdamWorks engineers, along with XCOR engineers, performed several successful pressure tests before it was packed and shipped to XCOR .

The cockpit is the principle major subassembly XCOR needs to begin assembly of the Lynx suborbital spaceplane.

“The successful pressure testing of the Lynx cockpit and its delivery is a major milestone for us,” said XCOR Founder and CEO Jeff Greason. “This will enable us to accelerate toward integration, ground testing and first flight over the rest of this year.”

Andrew Nelson, Chief Operating Officer of XCOR added, “Our clients and partners are very happy to see this significant sign of progress. I could not be more happy with our designers, engineers and team who have worked so hard on this major accomplishment. We are that much closer to suborbital operations.”

XCOR Aerospace: XCOR Aerospace is based in Mojave, California. It is currently creating a Research and Development Center in Midland, Texas, and will be establishing an operational and manufacturing site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. XCOR builds safe, reliable and reusable rocket-powered vehicles, propulsion systems, advanced non-flammable composites and rocket piston pumps. XCOR works with aerospace prime contractors and government customers on major propulsion systems, while also building Lynx. Lynx is a piloted, two-seat, fully reusable liquid rocket-powered vehicle that takes off and lands horizontally. The Lynx family of vehicles serves three primary missions depending on their specific type including: research and scientific missions, private spaceflight and micro satellite launch (only on the Lynx Mark III). Lynx production models (designated Lynx Mark II) are designed to be robust, multi-mission (research/scientific or private spaceflight) commercial vehicles capable of flying to 100+ km in altitude, up to four times per day. Lynx vehicles are available to customers in the free world on a wet lease basis to start their own manned space flight program. Learn more at www.xcor.com.

Swiss Space Systems Announces World Tour Dates

Credit : Swiss Space Systems

Credit : Swiss Space Systems

Swiss Space Systems unveiled its worldwide Zero G flight schedule for 2015 in a March newsletter today. Lifting off from 24 different airfields and every continent except Antarctica, the company’s specially modified Airbus A-300 will span the globe, offering parabolic flights with passengers grouped into three different zones.

Beginning at under 2,000 Euros, the “Party Zone,” located at the rear of the aircraft will host up to 40 passengers per flight making it “the world’s most affordable ZeroG experience.”

The plane’s middle section, described as the “Premium Zone” will host up 24 passengers in a 10 meter long section, each of whom will get to keep their S3 flight suit and receive a Breitling S3 ZeroG timepiece.   Cost, which also includes “special activities such as playing with liquids and balloons” is 5,000 Euros.

Finally, there is the VIP room, located at the front of the plane and hosting up to 12 passengers at a time. This section is priced differently, “at a minimum cost of 50’000 Euros for the whole zone, with several options that can be discussed to offer a tailor-made experience.” Let your imagination go where it will, but the flight suit and the watch will also go home with the participants.  

Service kicks off January 10 in Japan and concludes November 29 in Puerto Rico. North American stops begin in Canada on August 29, going on to Colorado, California and winding up with nearly the entire month of October spent in Florida.

Winklevoss plus Bitcoins equals Zero G

And the Twins Credit: Virgin Galactic

And the Twins
Credit: Virgin Galactic

It has been a wild week in world of digital currency known as bitcoins, beginning with a high profile theft, and culminating with NewsWeeks’s claim that it has identified its enigmatic creator.

Somewhere in the middle comes a new piece of evidence that bitcoins may have a future as interplanetary currency. Virgin Galactic has received another celebrity booking, (in this case a double), but this one comes with a well written blog post by Tyler Winklevoss, explaining why he and his brother Cameron, who together famously accused Mark Zuckerberg of stealing the concept behind Facebook,  used bitcoins to pay for their sub-orbital spaceflight.

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