This startup trains you for space travel (Wired UK)

Dr. Kelly Soich, the CEO of Waypoint 2 Space

Waypoint 2 Space

The age of commercial spaceflight is finally here. From Richard
Branson to Elon Musk, some of the world’s greatest innovators have
spent years developing a new kind of space shuttle, with the
promise that one day, in the not too distant future, all of us will
have a chance to hop on a flight to space.

And Kevin Heath wants to make sure we don’t puke on the way.

Heath is the founder and CEO of Waypoint 2 Space, a
space-training startup based at the Houston Technology Centre
incubator at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre. Its goal is to prepare
potential space tourists for the trip, using similar training
methodology and technology that Nasa astronauts receive. Waypoint’s staff-many of
whom are former Nasa trainers-will prepare students not only for
manoeuvring their bodies in a weightless environment and completing a lunar walk,
but for the psychological toll that even a short trip to space can
take. “We’re not a Disneyland experience. This is not space camp,”
Heath says. “We’re literally training people to go to space.”

Heath’s timing is right. Just last week, Nasa awarded two
contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to develop and deploy their own
space shuttles, sending a $6.8 (£4.2) billion cash infusion
straight into the heart of the commercial space flight industry.
Though the shuttles will only be used to ferry Nasa astronauts to
and from the International Space Station for now, Nasa
administrator Charles Bolden said that the partnership “promises to
give more people in America and around the world the wonder and
exhilaration of space flight.”

But space tourism is only a fraction of the potential market. A
constellation of industries is now popping up around the
development of commercial shuttles, from companies like Planetary
Resources that want to mine the moon for natural resources, to
companies like Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace, which have
plans to open so-called space hotels for wealthy space travellers
in the near future.

“If we’re to see the logical extension of the technological
gains of the last 30 years, we need people in space, ways to get
them there and training for the trip,” says Mike Lousteau, a
partner at I2BF Global Ventures, which has invested in several
space-related startups (though not Waypoint). “Whether we’re
talking about advanced telecommunications, resource exploration or
imaging and Earth observation, a trained human element can provide
operation, maintenance and innovation. As
these industries and others draw more people to go to and stay in
space, the need to train more people will only increase.”

Waiting for the Moment
Heath has been waiting for this moment in time for nearly
a decade. Back then, he was working in business development at SpaceDev, a subsidiary
of Sierra Nevada Corp., and he was involved in the launch of
SpaceShipOne, the spacecraft that completed the first manned
private spaceflight back in 2004. He became fascinated with the
market, watching as billionaires like Branson, Musk, and
Microsoft’s Paul Allen poured their substantial fortunes into
building the burgeoning commercial spaceflight industry.

But he also realised that while many companies were spending
their time and money on the vehicles themselves, none had truly
thought about how to train a new generation of amateur astronauts.
“If you’re not adequately trained, you’re basically going to spend
a lot of money to spend your time in a barf bag,” Heath says. “If
things start happening that people aren’t prepared for, they’re
going to freak out, and they’ll risk not only the enjoyment of the
flight, but they could potentially risk the safety of the

Heath recruited Dr. Kelly Soich, an Air Force veteran who
trained and evaluated astronauts while working at NASA, and
together they developed a training curriculum, which is now
approved by the FAA. The program is broken down into four classes,
each one increasing in the intensity of the training. It begins
with a 7-day spaceflight fundamentals course, which costs $45,000,
including the cost of room and board. After that, students can
graduate to a 3-day sub-orbital training course, or, beginning in
2016, an 8-12 week orbital training course.

The Early Adopter
Eventually, Waypoint expects to begin working with
corporate clients to offer payload specialty training, for people
who will be working for a duration of time in space. Because of its
proximity to NASA’s headquarters, Waypoint will also open its
facility for day-visits to the thousands of people who visit the
space centre everyday.

Waypoint 2 Space

And yet, for as far out into the future as Waypoint’s plans are,
the company is still very much in its infancy. Its 15,000 square
foot facility isn’t set to open until the spring, and Waypoint is
still raising money for its training technology. Just last week, in
fact, Waypoint launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $83,000 for
a piece of technology that will give people the feeling of

Waypoint has raised some outside funding, primarily from an
angel investor, and it’s working on raising another $2.5 million to
finish building its facility. But launching its orbital training
will be an even more cost intensive process, which Heath admits,
will likely require even more money. It’s a substantial upfront
cost, considering commercial flights for tourists aren’t yet
available, and the pool of people who could afford them, even if
they were, is quite small.

But according to Dr. Soich, this is one market in which being an
early adopter pays off. “We have to fill the pipeline with trained
people. Ideally, you want your training online before the vehicles
are,” he says. “Then you have qualified people with cash in hand,
ready to fly.”

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24 September 2014 | 10:11 am – Source:


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