It isn’t just the UK’s belated announcement of the so new it isn’t here yet space agency giving the impression of civilisation readying to take to orbit again, there’s been a few other developments.
Richard Branson has been showing off the Virgin Galactic spaceship, VSS Enterprise, flying attached to the mothership VMS Eve. Tests are expected to continue through 2011 before commercial flights begin.
Meanwhile the private space cargo company SpaceX, has told the US Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation that they plan to eventually compete with Soyuz on the price of a seat to the International Space Station. The company, whose Falcon 9 rockets recently obtained their first commercial satellite launch contract, intends to move onto developing their manned capsule designs as soon as they’ve got the first rocket into orbit. There are worries about how the $50 million a seat price on the Soyuz three seater capsules will be subject to change after the shuttle is retired and a monopoly is established. It is estimated that the launch of a SpaceX capsule would cost in the region of $300-400 million. ESA has also found an excuse to play video games a way of harnessing video games to help prepare astronauts for the challenges of space travel.
More mundane problems are being tackled by the European Space Agency. In the Mars500 experiment, to begin in May, participants are to be holed up in a mocked-up modular spaceship for 250 days. There will then follow thirty days in which half the crew will explore a simulated Martian landscape and then 240 days of return ‘travel’. A time delay between mission control and the spaceship of twenty-minutes will be introduced after two months. The study is to look at the effects of isolation on the crew of a spaceship on a long journey. Much more on the experiment is contained in this BBC report.
Finally, the German Aerospace Centre has been investigating a phenomenon which gives the Vomit Comet (parabolic flights used to simulate weightlessness) its name – motion sickness.