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Virgin Galactic Teases Their Timeline For Sending Tourists to Space

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Virgin Galactic has big plans for the future - but how soon will their goal of commercial space tourism be realized? (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic has big plans for the future – but how soon will their goal of commercial space tourism be realized? (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Last week, Virgin Galactic made history when they launched their SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle to space (by one definition) and back with two test pilots on board. This was the first vehicle to launch humans to space from U.S. soil since NASA’s Shuttle program ended in 2011. This was also the first time a commercial craft built to carry paying passengers reached space.

But what’s next for the spaceflight company? Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson says he plans to be the first passenger aboard the space plane, with space tourists to follow soon after.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides is also optimistic about the company’s future as a leader in commercial spaceflight. “Next year is gonna be a huge year for human spaceflight,” Whitesides said in an interview Monday, adding that Virgin Galactic and other companies all have much to work toward.

After last week’s flight, all of that data from the flight will be reviewed. Next, Branson expects that the craft will undergo three more test flights, which the company hopes will begin launching early in the new year. After these flights, the company will move its operations to Spaceport America in New Mexico.

After the move, Branson aims to launch as SpaceShipTwo’s first passenger by the middle of next year with tourists to follow soon after. “In the not too distant future, we’ll have three spaceships operating from New Mexico taking people up,” Branson said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” TV program.

Future of Space Tourism

Still, Whitesides couldn’t say for sure exactly when people will be able to punch their tickets for a ride to the edge of space. He is hopeful that it will be “soon” after flight tests are successfully completed and both Branson and Virgin Galactic employees travel in the vehicle on multiple flights. But, he could not give a concrete date.

Additionally, while Whitesides is optimistic that Branson will be able to achieve his goal and become SpaceShipTwo’s first passenger in mid-2019, this timeline is not certain either. The company, as Whitesides emphasized, is most focused on safety. “I think that there’s going to be risk involved in any space vehicle system,” Whitesides said, so these efforts are critical.

In 2014, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise crashed in the Mojave Desert, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injuring pilot Peter Siebold.

The company says its goal is to keep to taking small steps forward to ensure the safety of the test pilots and future passengers. “We can sort of bite off incremental chunks of newness,” Whitesides said about the company’s progress so far and continued testing.

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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Ecology

That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ecology

Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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