Commercial Space Travel Training Firm Gets FAA Approval, But NASA’s Role Still TBD
WASHINGTON — Waypoint 2 Space — a Houston startup aimed at helping commercial astronauts train for spaceflight — has received U.S. Federal Aviation Administration safety approval for its plan to train would-be astronauts.
However, finalizing an agreement with NASA to use astronaut training facilities at Johnson Space Center in Houston is taking longer than expected, officials said, so the company now expects to start training commercial spacefliers in late spring at a building it is renting near JSC.
The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation issued its safety approval, which is good for five years, in a Jan. 23 letter.
“This achievement is an important milestone for us and for the commercial spaceflight industry as a whole,” Kevin Heath, chief executive of Waypoint 2 Space, said Jan. 28 in a statement. “The FAA is working very hard to assure that space vehicles, launch sites and training programs are the safest they can be and we believe this safety approval for our programs is another step in that direction. If someone wants to go to space or just wants to experience what it is like to train like an astronaut, Waypoint 2 Space is their first step.”
Heath told SpaceNews in December that Waypoint 2 Space was finalizing a Space Act Agreement with NASA that would allow the company to access — on a cost-reimbursable basis — select astronaut training facilities at and around JSC.
Heath said Waypoint 2 Space’s use of these facilities — for its initial crop of students and on an ongoing basis for the development and testing of new training techniques of mutual interest to both Waypoint and NASA — would be handled under the umbrella of Jacob Engineering’s $1.9 billion JSC Engineering, Technology and Science contract.
Although finalizing the agreement with NASA is taking longer than anticipated, a spokeswoman for the company said that will not prevent Waypoint 2 Space from opening up shop later this year.
“It has always been [Waypoint 2 Space’s] plan to use NASA facilities temporarily while they built their own facility. They have spent the month of January identifying the facility, and in the month of February will be acquiring the necessary hardware that meets the NASA standard,” spokeswoman Grace Younger wrote Jan. 30 in response to a SpaceNews query
A Space Act Agreement remains in the works, according to Heath, “but due to delays … the scope of use will be redefined.”
In the meantime, Waypoint is moving into a 900 square meter facility near Johnson “to set up all the same equipment that NASA has (i.e. Simulators, Gravity offset equipment for Lunar, Martian and Orbital EVA’s, Virtual Reality, Normobaric Chambers, Space Suits, etc.),” Younger wrote. “Since NASA is taking some time and they don’t know exactly which facilities and/or equipment they will be able to use, Waypoint is accelerating their plan to have their own facility to meet their deadline of offering training in late Spring.
“With that said, regardless of what happens with the facility usage authorization Waypoint will continue to work with NASA to advance technologies beneficial to human spaceflight for both commercial and government,” Younger wrote.
Waypoint 2 Space’s one-week “spaceflight fundamentals” program costs $45,000, and the company is currently offering 300 slots for people who want to train in the program starting in April. Full trips to space on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, for comparison, sell for $250,000 a ticket. Zero Gravity Corp., meanwhile, offers weightless trips on a modified jet for about $5,000 per trip.
The spaceflight fundamentals program is one of three commercial spaceflight training options offered by Waypoint 2 Space. The fundamental program is designed to give participants a taste of what spaceflight is like. It is expected to take people through g-force training, a history of spaceflight, microgravity training and other kinds of courses needed for flying to space.
The company is also offering specific suborbital training for flights aboard a spaceplane — like Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. However, registration is only available for service providers to reserve spots.
The third Waypoint 2 Space program is aimed at orbital spaceflights and will not begin until 2015. Officials with the company are taking wait list reservations to begin training next year.
“The Waypoint 2 Space team is a strategic mix of individuals who have developed training programs for both NASA astronauts and Air Force pilots,” Kelly Soich, director of programs and chief payload specialist for Waypoint 2 Space, said in a statement. “Waypoint 2 Space training programs incorporate the best techniques and technologies from NASA and Air Force programs while the FAA safety approval allows us to move forward with offering training classes and bringing the programs to the public. We are excited to be leading this effort and look forward to bringing the reality of spaceflight to our trainees.”
Space.com staff writer Miriam Kramer contributed to this story from New York. An earlier version of this story first appeared on Space.com.