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What's new in New Space

  • This month, Virginia-based Space Adventures announced that Cirque du Soleil's billionaire founder, Guy Laliberte, is planning to take a multimillion-dollar trip to the international space station in September. But if Laliberte can't go, who is his backup? Today, the company said business and aviation attorney Barbara Barrett was training alongside Laliberte as the backup crew member for the Russian Soyuz flight. Barrett is an instrument-rated pilot, a former U.S. ambassador to Finland, and the wife of former Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. "Training as a backup for the September space launch is an adventure - and education - of a lifetime," Barrett said in today's announcement. The previously quoted price for the backup cosmonaut package (including training and certification at Russia's Star City cosmonaut complex) is $3 million, compared with an estimated $35 million to $40 million for the actual space trip.
  • Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two carrier airplane zoomed through test flight No. 8 last week at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, and observers continue to expect that the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane will have its rollout and begin flight tests later this year. Groundbreaking ceremonies for SpaceShipTwo's future home, Spaceport America in New Mexico, are scheduled on Friday. The festivities should include a White Knight Two flyover, assuming that the weather and the flight test schedules are cooperative. If you can't be there in person, you can watch the webcast on the Spaceport America site. In honor of the event, the spaceport has released a fresh batch of design concepts for its suborbital flight terminal, due for completion in 2010 or 2011.
  • The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is celebrating its new name, its new Web site ... and its new chairman, Mark Sirangelo of Sierra Nevada Corp. The New Space industry group used to be known as the Personal Spaceflight Federation, but at a recent board meeting, members decided that their ventures were about much more than just personal tourism. "There are so many uses for commercial access to space, and we want to emphasize the broad cross-section of potential markets for our members' products and services," the federation's president, Bretton Alexander, said in today's news release. The group's new officers include representatives from companies that are targeting NASA space station resupply contracts and research opportunities as well as the tourist/explorer clientele. 
  • Should NASA modify its multibillion-dollar plan to retire the shuttles, build a new fleet of spaceships and return to the moon by 2020? That question is sure to be addressed on Wednesday during the first public hearing conducted by a independent review panel under the chairmanship of aerospace executive Norman Augustine. The panel, known formally as the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee (and informally as the Augustine 2.0 Commission), is due to meet from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, and NASA will be doing an all-day webcast on its Media Channel.