Highlights from day 1 of ISPCS

Wednesday was the first of two days of the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The conference, now in its sixth year, started as an opening act for the X PRIZE Cup, but has now not only continued after the end of the Cup, but has grown into one of the major commercial spaceflight conferences. Wednesday’s sessions didn’t provide any major breaking developments, but here are a few highlights and other interesting tidbits:

  • In a session titled “Closing the credibility gap”, speakers from Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, and Armadillo Aerospace discussed the importance of testing to demonstrate to customers, investors, regulators, and others that their ventures are, in fact, credible. During her presentation Virgin Galactic operations manager Julia Tizard mentioned that “full scale hot firing” of the rocket motors for SpaceShipTwo is underway in preparation for powered flight tests next year. (It should be noted that the log of RocketMotorTwo test firings was last updated in August.)
  • Neil Milburn of Armadillo Aerospace said in another panel that the company plans to bring out two vehicles, Super Mod and the “tube vehicle”, to Spaceport America by the end of this year for test flights under NASA’s CRuSR program, pending FAA approval. Super Mod will be able to fly to at least 40 kilometers, and perhaps as high as 60 kilometers, while the tube vehicle (Milburn admitted that vehicle needs a better name) could go all the way to 100 kilometers.
  • Earlier, Milburn said that Project M, a low-profile NASA project Armadillo had been associated with, has changed its name to Project Morpheus. The project had originally sought to land a humanoid rover (based on the Robonaut that will be going to the ISS on the next shuttle mission) on the Moon within 1,000 days (hence M, the Roman numeral for 1,000). The name change reflects a change in focus on the program for more terrestrial technology development.
  • Tim Pickens, the founder or Orion Propulsion who now works for Dynetics, said Dynetics’s role in projects like the Rocket City Space Pioneers Google Lunar X PRIZE team is part of an internal investment by the company to become one known for building space hardware. He added that in “the next few weeks” you would see some major investments by the company along those lines.
  • Bigelow Aerospace’s Robert Bigelow said despite the ongoing construction of a 185,000-square-foot factory in Las Vegas devoted to the production of expandable modules, he still considered the company to be in R&D mode. The company is looking for customers, and recently signed several memoranda of understanding with countries interested in leasing modules, but he said the company would not take any money from customers until at least 2012, pending the state of crew transportation development. (The company has a considerable presence at the conference; more on that in a later post.)

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