Saturday, March 15, 2014

S3 Coming to KSC

Click the arrow to watch the S3 promotional video. Video source: SwissSpaceSystems YouTube channel.

Space Florida issued a press release yesterday announcing it had signed an agreement with Swiss Space Systems to bring their horizontal launch project to Kennedy Space Center.

The Kennedy Space Center is one of the locations S3 will evaluate as a main site of operations for small satellite launches, starting in 2018. In the near term, S3 will propose zero gravity (Zero G) flights onboard its latest-generation Airbus carrier aircraft in Florida starting in 2015. These flights will enable passengers and payloads to experience weightlessness like astronauts do in space, during approximately 20 seconds per parabolic flight, with a basic flight “mission” consisting of approximately 15 parabolas during a 2-hour flight. Throughout 2015, S3 will conduct a world tour of Zero G flights, operating in more than 15 locations around the world, including the Kennedy Space Center.

According to a WESH-TV Orlando report, the cost of a parabolic adventure flight will be $2,600.

An artist's concept of the S3 SOAR atop a European Airbus. Image source: Swiss Space Systems.

According to the S3 web site, the company hopes to launch its SOAR spaceplane from atop an Airbus sometime in 2017. Its launch will be similar to how NASA deployed the orbiter prototype Enterprise in the mid-1970s from atop a 747 at Edwards Air Force Base during Approach and Landing Tests. Unlike Enterprise, SOAR will have rocket engines to take it on a suborbital launch path. SOAR could be used for adventure tourism, or to launch satellite payloads.

Former Space Shuttle astronaut Claude Nicollier is the S3 chairman. A Swiss native, he flew on four Shuttle flights.

S3 joins a growing list of commercial space launch and landing programs coming to the former Shuttle runway.

XCOR announced in June 2013 its intention to launch and land the XCOR rocket plane from KSC.

Stratolaunch plans to take off and land from the KSC runway, one of the few runways big enough for the world's biggest airplane. Stratolaunch would horizontally launch an Orbital Sciences rocket at an altitude of 30,000 feet from underneath its wing.

In January 2014, Boeing and Space Florida announced a lease of former orbiter hangar #1 for the X-37B, an uncrewed orbital spaceplane flying research for the U.S. Air Force. The two X-37Bs launch from the Cape's Pad 41 and will land at the former Shuttle runway.

The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, one of the three competitors in NASA's commercial crew program, could land at KSC as soon as November 2016, when it's scheduled for its first uncrewed test flight atop an Atlas V at Pad 41.

Starfighters already operates out of a hangar at the runway. They offer atmospheric and supersonic research, and hope to one day add adventure tourism as well as suborbital payload launches.

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