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Contestants will compete for a SpaceX trip to the International Space Station in new reality TV show

There’s a reality TV competition show in the works that will feature a 2023 trip to the International Space Station as the grand prize, Deadline reports. The production company behind the show, which will be called “Space Hero,” has booked a seat on a SpaceX Dragon crew spacecraft set to make the trip to the ISS in 2023, and will make it the reward for whoever comes out the winner in a competition among “everyday people from any background who share a deep love for space exploration,” according to the report.

The competition will be an ersatz astronaut training program of sorts, including physical challenges, as well as puzzles and problem-solving tasks, as well as emotionally challenging scenarios, according to Deadline. That will lead up to what producers are currently planning will be a live episode featuring a global viewer vote about who ultimately will win. The show will also include documenting the winner’s ISS trip, including their launch and 10-day space station stay, as well as their return journey and landing.

To bring all these pieces together, the production team is working with Axiom Space, a private space travel services provider and mission operator, as well as NASA, with which it’s discussing what might be done in terms of STEM education add-ons for this planned programming.

Deadline says that “Survivor” creator and reality industry giant Mark Burnett has previously tried multiple times to create a reality show with a trip to space as the main component. One such effort, an NBC-based program called “Space Race,” was created in partnership with Richard Branson and focused on Virgin Galactic, but it was ended after that company’s fatal testing accident in 2015.

There’s also a movie production in the works that’s bound for the space station as a filming location, and those efforts are being spearheaded by Tom Cruise, who will star in the yet untitled project. NASA has repeatedly said it welcomes increased commercialization of low-Earth orbit and the ISS, and it also intentionally sought out private partners like SpaceX for its U.S.-based astronaut launch vehicles, in the hopes that they would be able to book other, private clients for flights to help defray mission costs.

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Report: One of Social Capital’s newest blank-check companies is looking to reverse merge with Opendoor

Some people may have slowed down in 2020, amid a pandemic that has shut down much of the world. Not Chamath Palihapitiya .

According to a new report in Bloomberg, Opendoor, the San Francisco-based company that aims to help people buy and sell homes with the “push of a button,” is in advanced talks to go public through a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp. II.

The outlet says the blank-check company, which raised $360 million in April and is led by Palihapitiya, is “discussing raising fresh equity to help fund the transaction with prospective investors” and that the combined company would be valued at around $5 billion in the deal.

It adds that nothing has been finalized and that the deal could still fall apart.

We reached out to both Opendoor CEO Eric Wu and to Palihapitiya for comment. An Opendoor spokeswoman said the company has no comment; we have yet to hear back from Palihapitiya but will update this story if we do.

Assuming the deal is fairly far along, and at a $5 billion valuation, one could see the appeal for Opendoor, which was last valued by private investors at $3.8 billion and that like many other venture-backed outfits has had a topsy turvy 2020. Indeed, in April, it laid off 600 employees, or 35% of workforce at the time, citing the “unforeseen impact on public health, the U.S. economy, and housing,” prompted by COVID-19.

In recent months, however, home sales around the country have been brisk, spurred by low mortgage rates and a heightened appetite for more space, particularly outside of crowded cities.

According to a late-August report by the National Association of Realtors, U.S. home sales rose an unprecedented 24.7% in July, up 8.7% from the same time last year. Home sales rose 20.7% in June, too (which was a record at the time).

The equation makes sense for Palihapitiya, too. For starters, Opendoor is a brand that many retail investors already know and can easily understand and would likely continue to support as a public company. In fact, its consumer appeal isn’t so unlike that of the space tourism company Virgin Galactic, which Palihapitiya’s first blank-check company ultimately went on to acquire after it raised $600 million in 2017.

The combined outfit went public last October with a $2.3 billion market capitalization; its market cap is now above $4 billion.

As for what Palihapitiya might do with a third special purpose acquisition vehicle that he also whipped together in April — having raised $720 million, it’s the biggest SPAC of the three — stay tuned. The company has said it will use its IPO proceeds to buy a tech company that’s primarily outside of the United States.

In the meantime, Palihapitiya isn’t focused on his own SPACs alone. He’s also investing in Desktop Metal, a Burlington, Ma., company set to go public via a separate SPAC.

Desktop disclosed plans last week to list on the New York Stock Exchange by merging with Trine Acquisition Corp, a blank check company that raised $261 million in March of last year. Palihapitiya had helped lead a $275 million PIPE (for private investment in a public equity) investment to finance the deal.

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New UK-US agreement allows US companies to launch from UK spaceports

In a new move designed to encourage more economic and scientific collaboration between spacefaring nations, the UK and US governments have signed a new agreement that would make it possible for US companies to take part in space launches from the UK, including its many ind=-development spaceports.

The dal sounds one-way – but the nature of the agreement is designed to bolster the supply, development and customer pipeline for UK’s bourgeoning spaceport industry. The agreement now in place not only allows US companies to launch from UK spaceports, but also means that US tech companies active in any portion of the launch industry supply chain will be able to contribute to UK-based launch site setup and operation.

The goal for the UK space industry is to start active launches sometime this year, and UK regulators and government funding sources have come together to achieve this goal. The country is working on a number of spaceports, including both horizontal launch sites for launch vehicles like those operated by Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic, as well as vertical spaceports for more traditional rockets.

Commercial space is an increasingly lucrative market in terms of launch contracts and payload development and integration. UK companies already participate actively in the US-based private launch industry, which is already up and running thanks to private launch companies including SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as active spaceports in the US including the Mojave Air and Spaceport from which Virgin Orbit operates.

Spaceport Cornwall is one of the sites currently in development, and launch startup Skyhrorar has also been launching from a site in Scotland as it continues its own rocket testing and certification program.

UK-based space industry organization Access Space co-founder and director Tony Azzarelli provided the following statement to TechCrunch regarding this development:

We are thrilled that the UK has signed such agreement as it would boost the space sector in the UK, both from lending a hand to US launchers, as well as increasing the importance of the UK as a launching state and thus investment from government to promote its own launch industry sector, e.g., Skyrora, Orbex, Reaction Engines, Rocket Plane, Spaceport Cornwall, Astroscale, etc.

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SpaceX’s astronaut launch marks the dawn of the commercial human spaceflight industry

SpaceX on Saturday launched two NASA astronauts aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the accomplishment is a tremendous one for both the company and the U.S. space agency. At a fundamental level, it means that the U.S. will have continued access to the International Space Station, without having to rely on continuing to buy tickets aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to do so. But it also means the beginning of a new era for the commercial space industry – one in which private companies and individual buying tickets for passenger trips to space is a consistent and active reality.

With this mission, SpaceX will complete the final step required by NASA to human-rate its Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, which means that it can begin operationally transporting people from Earth essentially as soon as this mission concludes (Crew Dragon still has to rendezvous with the space station tomorrow, and make its way back to Earth with astronauts on board in a few weeks). Already, SpaceX has signed an agreement with Space Adventures, a private space tourism booking company that has previously worked with Roscosmos on sending private astronauts to orbit.

SpaceX wants to start sending up paying tourists on orbital flights (without any ISS stops) starting as early as next year aboard Crew Dragon. The capsule actually supports up to seven passengers per flight, though only four seats will ever be used for official NASA crew delivery missions for the space station. SpaceX hasn’t released pricing on private trips aboard the aircraft, but you can bet they’ll be expensive since a Falcon 9 launch (without a human rated capsule) costs around $60 million, and so even dividing that by seven works out to a high price of entry.

So this isn’t the beginning of the era of accessible private spaceflight, but SpaceX is the first private company to actually put people into space, despite a lot of talk and preparatory work by competitors like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. And just like in the private launch business, crossing the gulf between having a private company that talks about doing something, and a company that actually does it, will absolutely transform the space industry all over again.

Here’s how.

Tourism

SpaceX is gearing up to launch tourists as early as next year, as mentioned, and while those tourists will have to be deep-pocketed, as eight everything that SpaceX does, the goal is to continue to find ways to make more aspects of the launch system reusable and reduce costs of launch in order to bring prices down.

Even without driving down costs, SpaceX will have a market, however niche, and one that hasn’t yet really had any inventory to satisfy demand. Space Adventures has flown a few individuals by buying tickets on Soyuz launches, but that hasn’t really been a consistent or sustainable source of commercial human spaceflight, and SpaceX’s system will likely have active support and participation from NASA.

That’s an entirely new revenue stream for SpaceX to add to its commercial cargo launches, along with its eventual launch of commercial internet service via Starlink. It’s hard to say yet what kind of impact that will actually have on their bottom line, but it could be big enough to have an impact – especially if they can figure out creative ways to defray costs over successive years, since each cut will likely considerably expand their small addressable audience.

SpaceX’s impact on the launch business was to effectively create a market for small satellites and more affordable orbital payloads that simply didn’t make any economic sense with larger existing launch craft, most of which were bankrolled almost entirely by and for defence and NASA use. Similarly, it’s hard to predict what the space tourism market will look like in five years, now that a company is actually offering it and flying a human-rated private spacecraft that can make it happen.

Research

Private spacefarers won’t all be tourists – in fact, it could make a lot more financial sense for the majority of passengers to and from orbit to be private scientists and researchers. Basically, imagine a NASA astronaut, but working for a private company rather than a publicly-funded agency.

Astronauts are essentially multidisciplinary scientists, and the bulk of their job is conducing experiments on the ISS. NASA is very eager to expand commercial use of the ISS, and also to eventually replace the aging space station with a private one of which they’re just one of multiple customers. Already, the ISS hosts commercial experiments and cargo, but if companies and institutions can now also send their own researchers as well, that may change considerably how much interest their is in doing work on orbit, especially in areas like biotech where the advantages of low gravity can produce results not possible on Earth.

Cost is a gain a significant limiting factor here, since the price per seat will be – no pun intended – astronomical. But for big pharma and other large companies who already spend a considerable amount on R&D it might actually be within reach. Especially in industries like additive manufacturing, where orbit is an area of immense interest, private space-based labs with actual rotating staff might not be that farfetched an idea.

Marketing & Entertainment

Commercial human spaceflight might actually be a great opportunity to make actual commercials – brands trying to outdo each other by shooting the first promo in space definitely seems like a likely outcome for a Superbowl spot. It’s probably not anyone’s priority just now, given the ongoing global pandemic, but companies have already discussed the potential of marketing partnerships as a key driver of real revenue, including lunar lander startup ispace, which has signed a number of brand partners to fund the build and flight of its hardware.

Single person rides to orbit are definitely within budget for the most extreme marketing efforts out there, and especially early on, there should be plenty of return on that investment just because of how audacious and unique the move is. The novelty will likely wear off, but access to space will remain rarified enough for the forseeable future that it could still be part of more than a few marketing campaigns.

As for entertainment, we’ve already seen the first evidence of interest there – Tom Cruise is working on a project to be filmed at least in part in space, apparently on board the International Space Station. SpaceX is said to be involved in those talks, and it would make a lot of sense for the company to consider a Crew Dragon flight with film crew and actors on board for both shooting, and for transportation to ‘on location’ shoots on the ISS.

Cruise probably isn’t the only one to consider the impact of a space-based motion picture project, and you can bet at least one reality show producer somewhere is already pitching ‘The Bachelor’ in space. Again, it’s not going to be within budget for every new sci-fi project that spins up, but it’s within blockbuster budget range, and that’s another market that grew by 100% just by virtue of the fact that it didn’t exist as a possibility before today.

Novel industry

It’s hard to fully appreciate what kind of impact this will have, because SpaceX has literally taken something that previously wasn’t possible, and made it available – at costs that, while high, aren’t so high as to be absurd. As with every other such expansion, it will likely create new and innovative opportunities that haven’t even been conceived, especially once the economics and availability of flights, etc. are clarified. GPS, another great space-based innovation, formed the bedrock of an industry that changed just about every aspect of human life – private commercial spaceflight could do the same.

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Virgin Orbit’s first orbital test flight cut short after rocket released from carrier aircraft

On Monday, Virgin Orbit attempted the first full flight of its orbital payload launch system, which includes a modified Boeing 747 called ‘Cosmic Girl’ that acts as a carrier aircraft for its air-launched rocket LauncherOne. While Virgin Orbit has flown Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne previously for different tests and demonstrations, this was the first end-to-end system test. Unfortunately, that test ended much earlier than planned – just shortly after the LauncherOne rocket was released from Cosmic Girl.

Cosmic Girl took off just before 12 PM PT (3 PM ET) from Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. The aircraft was piloted by Chief Test Pilot Kelly Latimer, along with her co-pilot Todd Ericson. The aircraft then flew to its target release point, where LauncherOne did manage a “clean release” from the carrier craft as planned at around 12:50 PM PT (3:50 PM ET), but Virgin noted just a few minutes later that the mission was subsequently “terminated.”

While the Cosmic Girl crew and all other employees are confirmed safe by the company, this is likely to be a disappointing test. Still, Virgin Orbit’s CEO Dan Hart and VP Will Pomerantz cautioned that many first test missions for new launch systems don’t go quite as planned – which is why you test, after all.

The full planned flight map today for Virgin One’s orbital test.

The company will still likely be able to collect a lot of valuable data from this mission, which should provide insight into what went wrong. Once the company addresses the problems, it’s likely to set another attempt, and that might not be as far away as you might expect because Virgin has been very active on its launch vehicle pipeline and has backup craft nearly ready to fly.

“After being released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket successfully lighted its booster engine on cue — the first time the company had attempted an in-air ignition,” Virgin Orbit said via a spokesperson about today’s mission. “An anomaly then occurred early in first stage flight, and the mission safely terminated. The carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl and all of its crew landed safely at Mojave Air and Space Port, concluding the mission.”

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After an extended quarantine, the next ISS crew arrives in orbit

Working from home is easy for some and difficult for others, but one place it’s downright impossible is the International Space Station . So pandemic or no pandemic, the latest crew had to get themselves up there. They’ve just had a successful launch and arrival, but only after a protracted quarantine period.
To be clear, ISS crews are always quarantined prior to launch to make sure they don’t bring the flu up from a chance encounter, but given the coronavirus situation, this was a special occasion. Quarantine started in April and not even the crew’s families were …

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Virgin Galactic relocates SpaceShipTwo ‘VSS Unity’ to its spaceport for preparations ahead of commercial flights

Virgin Galactic is one crucial step closer to actually flying paying customers to space: The space tourism company just relocated its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, the VSS Unity, from its Mojave, California manufacturing facility to Spaceport America in New Mexico, where it will begin flights with a goal of at least sending company founder Richard Branson to space during the year of his 70th birthday.

VSS Unity made the trip attached to the carrier aircraft that will bring it up to its launch altitude, where it’ll detach from the plane (named ‘VMS Eve’) and climb to the edge of space, providing the customers on board with “several minutes” of weightlessness in near zero-G when the spacecraft’s rocket motor disengages at the peak of its journey.

The 90 minute experience will cost the first tourists around $250,000 per ticket, which sounds steep but will also be the most affordable way that anyone’s experienced a trip to space to date. Those ticket holders will still have to wait a while to enjoy the trip they’ve been waiting for for a few years now, however – this relocation sets up a final round of testing on the spacecraft and its carrier planet that will still take some time to complete.

This round of preparation includes a number of relatively unexciting “capture and carry” flights with the spaceship and carrier aircraft attached to one another to get familiar with the surrounding airspace, as well as tests of rocket powered flight for the VSS Unity on its own. Finally, teams will assess and finalize the spaceship’s cabin, and the overall customer experience that tourists will encounter throughout their quarter-million dollar trip.

Given that not insignificant list of remaining activities prior to an actual flight, expect the inaugural commercial journeys of VSS Unity to still be a little ways out. As mentioned, the company has said that it at the very least is prioritizing a 70th birthday trip for Branson, but depending on how things go it might just be able to get other commercial flights in before year’s end, too.

Source: TechCrunch