Space: What’s next after the retirement of the Shuttle

I recently read a article about the last flight of the space shuttle Discovery. It points out that the USA is starting to privatize space, and I thought I would expand on that.

There are several companies currently working to get to space, either going a more traditional route of strapping a rocket to the bottom of a payload and pushing the ignition button, or by more unorthodox methods, such as launching a rocket from a mothership.

In the first category is SpaceX. They have been building rockets 2002, got a rocket, Falcon 1,successfully into orbit 2008, although admittedly after several tries, and delivered their first satellite into orbit in 2009. They are currently working on the Falcon 9, which is a larger rocket capable of carrying heavier loads, and even manned missions to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 missions will include a capsule called Dragon, which is quite similar to the capsules used before the shuttle, and currently by the Russians. It is capable of carrying either cargo or people. All of their rockets are reusable, and the planned Falcon X and Falcon XX will be even more capable.

Another company working on the same kind of principle is ArianeSpace, that has been around for several decades now, and have been launching commercial satellites into space from French Guiana, a country located only 4 degrees north of the equator, making it much easier to reach geostationary orbit.

Other companies are Orbital, and the big defence and aeronautics companies Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and EADS.  They are all building methods to get payloads into earth orbit, and beyond.


In the more unorthodox category is Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, Bigelow Aerospace, and Rocket Ship Tours.

Scaled Composites, who was bought by Virgin Galactic, is the first private company that reached space, and won the Ansari X-Prize. The X-Prize was conceived as a competition to give $10 million to the first company who could reach space twice within two weeks, without government intervention. SpaceShipOne did that October 4, 2004. The unorthodox method they achieved this was by flying the space ship attached to a specially designed place, called White Knight, to a altitude of 15km (50,000 feet), from where SpaceShipOne wass released, the rocket motor is ignited, and away they went. They went to the altitude of 100km, the generally accepted point where space starts. When they came down, they changed the configuration of the ship’s wings (is it still a ship if it has wings?), that allows them to descend much slower into the atmosphere without all the heat and stress that normally is associated with reentry. They are currently working on SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo, the combination of which they are calling VSS Enterprise :D, bigger, more capable versions that will be able to send people into sub orbital flights. They are currently taking bookings at $200,000, and looks like the soonest and cheapest way to get into space without spending at least 20 times as much.

Watch the first crewed flight of the VSS Enterprise

XCOR Aerospace and Rocket Ship Tours are a similar venture, but they differ slightly in that they have a craft that looks a lot like the Shuttle, but is much lighter and smaller, which will take off from a airfield, go to the 100km limit, and then glide back down. Check out the video.

Another of the interesting ones is Armadillo Aerospace, a company created by John Carmack, the creator of the Doom PC games. They are working on a rocket that will be able to launch, and then land again on the rocket output of the rocket. To see what I mean, see this video:

This idea has been around a long time, but has always been impractical, until now that we have the computing power to control the rocket direction very quickly.

Beyond sub orbital and low earth orbit, the next step for private companies, as it was in the Space Race, is the moon. Google and the X-Prize foundation launched the Google Lunar X Prize competition. The goal of the competition is to launch and land a lunar rover on the moon. The prize money this time around is $30 million. There are 29 companies competing, some of them university teams.

What quite a few of these companies have in common is that they are funded and created by people who made their money in the internet age, and are geeks. They grew up with modern science fiction, Star Trek, Star Wars, BSG, and other space based movies and series. The vision that good science fiction provides us, gives us the inspiration to do the work to go beyond our little blue planet.

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My Cape Town Trip, Part 5

Last part of the trip was at Golden Gate park. Planned to be there for two nights, but realised that there’s not that much to do. Drove around, took some photos and went home.

Click to enlarge.

This is on the way to the entrance of Golden Gate.


This is called Mushroom rock, the top strata over leaning the bottom.


And some flower pics:




And that’s it.

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My Cape Town Trip, Part 4

After Cape Town I went to Jeffreys Bay, driving through the Little Karoo.

Click on any to view a larger image.

This is Threewaterskloof Dam, on the bridge that goes over the middle of it.


The wind pumped the whole day travelling to Jbay. There was some clouds over the mountains, which I think clearly demonstrates why the Karoo is so dry.



The clouds just stop,

I planned to stop at the Map of Africa, but forgot where it was. I was determined to visit it. So the next day I drove back in the direction of Cape Town, but along the coast on the N2. The highway drives over some of the highest bridges in South Africa. This is the Storms River bridge:


The Storms River valley is quite a long way down below. Took this right in the middle of the bridge.


Eventually got to the Map of Africa. It’s in Wilderness, a small town on the coast, and is the location where paragliders start their runs.



Final part up next

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My Cape Town Trip, Part 3

Next installment :p

Click on any of them to enlarge.

Almost right on the other side of the peninsula to Simons Town is a little place called Kommetjie. It’s home to the Slangkop lighthouse:



View of Hout Bay.


On the final dive day I strolled around Hout Bay Harbour to kill some time, home to fishing  boats.IMG_9415[1]


And some seals


View from Seidelberg Wine Estate.


Next part will follow.

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My Cape Town Trip, Part 2

The Sunday after diving classes I had some time to kill. I drove Chapmans Peak, such a awesome road, but the speed limit is 40, and getting stuck behind traffic is such a waste.

Click for hi-res.

Anyways, this is the view from the top of one of the viewing points, looking onto Hout Bay.


This was on the Sunday when the Cape Doctor was gusting to 172km/h. Not the best time to try and take landscape photos, but I tried.

Up on Signal Hill, you can see Greenpoint Stadium, the City bowl, Cape Town harbor, and of course Table Mountain. So in that order:





I then drove to Blouberg beach, where some kite and wind surfers taking advantage of the wind.



Waited until sunset (20:00… why is Cape Town not in a different time zone?). The wind made the atmosphere hazy, so not the best time either.



Next part soon

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My Cape Town trip, Part 1

So I went down to Cape Town to do a diving course. Was lotsa fun, and took a whole bunch of photos. So this is the first installment of some photo posts.

Click on any of them to view in hi-res.

On the way to Victoria West

On the way to my first stop in Victoria West I drove through Kimberley and a few one lane only road works. Had a few minutes to kill, a few hours before the sun gets down, shining through the clouds.


Some gas tanks

This was in Kimberley, at the entrance there is a dam, with some flamingoes and other birds flying over the water. That’s the black specks to the right, not the best location to take a photo though.

Simons Town

My stay for the week was in Simons Town. The Cape Doctor was blowing really hard, the third day I was there causing lots of damage in other parts of Cape Town, with winds speeds up to 174km/h.  Simons Town is really picturesque place though. I try to pay it justice.

Some row boats floating in the water.

Simons Town is home to a lot of penguins. They nest at Boulders Beach, which is a nature conservancy. Didn’t go in, but there were some of them outside.

Simons Town harbor from the top of Red Hill road. Awesome road, well covered, lots of really nice turns.

Same location, but a panoramic

Next part will follow

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Oppikoppi photos

Took a whole bunch of photos at Oppikoppi. Had a great time, awesome music, good friends.
Most of the time I was on my own mission, trying to watch as much bands as I could without passing out. Did miss some, just sitting at camp.
Anyways, here’s a list of the bands, links to the photos, and the band’s site.


Andra Battery 9

Bed On Bricks

Black Hotels

Crash Car Burn

Farryl Purkiss
Fokofpolisiekar kidofdoom
Koos Kombuis Laurie Levine

Luke Doucet & Melissa McClelland

Luna Paige|0MelissaMcClelland
Reeburth (Very new band, no website, search only turns up articles) Rikku Latti & Albert Frost|0AlbertFrost
The Dirty Skirts The Parlotones
The Plastics The Sick Leaves
Van Coke Kartel Voodoo Child
Zebra and Giraffe  
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