01 January 2012

2012: Coming Up On the Future of Flight

Wired.co.uk Terrafugia Transition

100 Transitions have been reserved -- that's a backlog worth some $25 million (£16m). Terrafugia hopes to begin delivery of the flying cars late 2012, with a starting price around $279,000. _Wired.co.uk


Burt Rutan and Paul Allen aim to build a giant stratospheric space launch plane out of the parts of two used Boeing 747s. It will use 6 747 jet engines and will have the widest wing span of any plane in the air. Besides saving rocket fuel, an airborne mobile space launcher allows insertion into the widest range of Earth orbits available.

...Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, joins super-wealthy entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos in looking to the heavens for his next venture, as NASA turns to the private sector for help getting to space.

...Carrying a rocket to high altitude means it needs less fuel, thereby saving weight and money. Much of the fuel needed to launch a rocket is needed just to get above the dense lower levels of the atmosphere. At 30,000 feet more than half of the density of the atmosphere would be below the rocket. Beyond saving fuel, air-launching a rocket allows engineers to design more efficient rocket nozzles because they’re operating in the thinner parts of the atmosphere. _Wired
Besides supplying the rocket component of the Stratolaunch system, Elon Musk's SpaceX is moving ahead in the development of a fully reusable 3 stage ground based space launch system:

Fully Reusable SpaceX 3 Stage Launch System

Elon Musk wants to become an important supplier to the International Space Station, as well as a successful satellite launch company. And that's not all. Elon Musk wants to begin sending SpaceX missions to Mars in as early as 10 years time.

Here is a Space.com article looking at some other reusable rocket systems which are aiming to compete with SpaceX.

The "12 Most Anticipated Spaceflight-Associated Missions of 2012":
In 2012, the first of these private vehicles is set to make its maiden voyage to the orbiting laboratory [ISS]. The Dragon space capsule developed by Hawthorne, Calif., company Space Exploration Technology (SpaceX) is scheduled to launch atop the company's Falcon 9 rocket Feb. 7. A few days later, the craft is due to autonomously rendezvous with the space station. When it comes within range, the astronauts aboard the station will grab hold of it with the station's robotic arm and berth it to the outpost.

...Another burgeoning field of commercial spaceflight is the suborbital space tourist industry. A leader in this market is Mojave, Calif.-based Virgin Galactic, headed by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. Virgin Galactic plans to fly paying passengers on suborbital joy rides to the edge of space and back, initially at $200,000 a pop.

Virgin Galactic's vehicles, the space plane SpaceShipTwo and its mothership WhiteKnightTwo, have so far made gliding test flights. The first powered flights have not been announced, but experts are hoping to see SpaceShipTwo's rocket engines ignited for flights sometime in 2012. These test flights will be a major step toward flying space tourists, more than 400 of whom have already paid in full.

...Twelve spaceflyers are scheduled to travel to the space station on four different launches in 2012. These men and women will spend around six months each living and working in space, performing experiments in a wide range of sciences inside humanity's only microgravity laboratory. _Space.com

And don't forget Robert Bigelow and his Bigelow Aerospace inflatable space habitats and hotels. Bigelow has already launched two small versions of his inflatable habitat, and is waiting for reliable private transport to space to get his space hotel business off the ground. In the meantime, he is collaborating with the Arab Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology, to help advance human spaceflight.

Finally, here is a look at some lighter-than-air approaches to both orbital and sub-orbital flight, which may see some advancement during the year 2012.


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