Virgin Galactic Ramps Up Rocket Engineering Staff

SpaceShipTwo in flight on Dec. 19, 2012. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo in flight on Dec. 19, 2012. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic is hiring like crazy at its Mojave Air and Space Port facility. The company has not only bought out Scaled Composites’ interest in the Spaceship Company but also begun an ambitious effort to develop new rocket engines.

Last month, the company posted a opening for a propulsion design engineer that was very revealing about Virgin’s development process.

Main Purpose of the Role

The primary role of this position involves taking a leadership role in the “clean sheet” development of new liquid-fueled rocket engines.  Responsibilities will include conceptual through critical design of engine components, production, developmental and flight qualification testing, and flight test support.

The full job posting, which closed on Dec. 28, is reproduced below.

Propulsion Design Engineer

Mojave, CA
Virgin Galactic
Contract Type:
Full Time
Closing date:

Virgin Galactic is on track to become the world’s first privately funded commercial space line. It is dedicated to becoming a world leader in sub-orbital commercial space tourism with a longer term vision to develop other space technologies that have the potential to open space to significantly more people and users. We are seeking experienced Propulsion Engineers to help develop the next generation of commercial space vehicles. If you are looking for a challenging opportunity that will ignite your passion for designing cool and innovative products, are exceptionally creative, are a great problem solver and can make things happen – apply today! To be considered you will need show excellence in more than one of the following areas:

Career Lever/ Skill Level: Experienced

Mechanical Design and CAD

Designing mechanical systems using solid modeling tools (such as Catia).
Performing associated numerical analysis and post-processing using tools like ANSYS.
Developing work instructions (e.g., drawings) for production of designed parts.

Fluid System Engineering

Designing gas and liquid fluid systems at a fundamental level including analysis to predict pressure drop, temperature change, etc. of fluid flowing through a component.
Familiarity and specification of high pressure and cryogenic system components.
Analysis of transient response of fluid systems.
Familiarity with pumps and turbo machinery.

Main Purpose of the Role

The primary role of this position involves taking a leadership role in the “clean sheet” development of new liquid-fueled rocket engines.  Responsibilities will include conceptual through critical design of engine components, production, developmental and flight qualification testing, and flight test support.

Propulsion System Development

  • Complete knowledge of propulsion system design principles, processes, and tools for aerospace vehicles and their components, including company and industry standards and practices.
  • Complete knowledge of propulsion system components, interfaces and their design/integration variables for aerospace vehicles, including industry and company standards and practices; ability to interface with engine and component suppliers; and ability to independently perform propulsion system integration tasks within a multidisciplinary team environment
  • Developing preliminary design concepts for future propulsion systems to meet anticipated requirements.
  • Define, coordinate and control the functional and physical interfaces between the propulsion system, engine and the airplane.
  • Configure or design propulsion sub-systems and components to meet all design and performance criteria.
  • Define and support certification tests for propulsion sub-systems and components. Support fielded systems to assure continued reliability.

Key Requirements

Professional Requirements

  •  Five (5) or more years of experience in liquid rocket propulsion and flight ordnance
  • Knowledge of  gas and liquid rocket systems or pressurized system manufacturing processes and test & integration procedures
  • GD&T skills through experience and/or formal training.
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills.
  • Excellent Organizational Skills and problem-solving skills.
  • Strong team player.
  •  Excellent computer skills, Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point.
  • Applicants must be U.S. persons as defined by the ITAR (22 CFR §120.15).

Personal Requirements

Virgin Galactic and the greater Virgin Organization have a relaxed and informal culture that encourages individuality and innovation.  You will be motivated, enterprising and enthusiastic.  Company culture is such that you need to be able to “check your ego at the door”, be a self starter and possess a sense of humility.  You will work well under commercial pressure and thrive on being given challenges and responsibility.  You will communicate clearly and be confident and persuasive. You will have a high level of integrity and understand the need of complete confidentiality.

Virgin Galactic is an Equal Opportunity Employer; employment with Virgin Galactic is governed on the basis of merit, competence and qualifications and will not be influenced in any manner by race, color, religion, gender, national origin/ethnicity, veteran status, disability status, age, sexual orientation, marital status, mental or physical disability or any other legally protected status.

  • Anon

    If they want someone for ‘clean sheet’ development it seems more likely to be for the second stage engine for LauncherOne.

  • TB

    If they find one person who can do all that, he’s probably started his own rocket company already.

  • TB:

    That’s exactly right. There’s a preference for having this person as a Virgin employee as opposed to hiring someone with that type of experience on a contractor basis.

  • Greg Holden

    Doug, do you think this means VG may have given up on the originally proposed composite rubber based engine similar to what Scaled used in Spaceship 1? And how far do you think this might potentially put them back? Four years perhaps?… Purely speculative questioning here of course!

  • Winglet

    Greg –

    Scaled has not given up on the Hybrid Rocket Motor for SpaceShipTwo. That isn’t to say the development process hasn’t been without its difficulties but most of the problems are due to the sheer scale of the motor. Very few have ever pursued a hybrid of this size because those with the funding were generally government agencies with an interest in orbital flight which hybrid motors simply lack the specific impulse to achieve.

    The oxidizer tank accident was a huge hit to Scaled and the Scaled family. They recovered from that and contrary to the, in my opinion at least, ridiculous amount of speculation that has gone on regarding the rocket’s development, neither company has given up on the hybrid motor.

    Scaled and SpaceDev have pushed major boundaries with this motor. There are plenty of achievements and successes in its development the world will never know. As liquid reliability and simplicity continue to evolve, it may be replaced with such an engine. Until then, both companies are committed to the concept and aren’t continuing development under duress.

    I realize this was a longer post than you bargained for, and I’m not Doug. However, I’m consistently amazed at the amount of irresponsible speculation on RocketMotorTwo I see as I travel the web. Not so much here but reading other blogs, you’d think Scaled won’t ever light SS2’s candle.

  • Greg:

    Virgin is developing liquid engines for LauncherOne (air-launched from WK2) and is also one of six funded companies under DARPA’s ALASA program (air launching 100 lb. payloads into orbit for under $1 million). Last summer, Stephen Attenborough told Aviation Week that the liquid engine would eventually replace the hybrids. But, that is some years away. So, that’s part of the reason for hiring so many engineers, but it’s not the full story.

    Winglet is right. Scaled and VG remain wedded — for better or worse, depending on who you talk with — to using a hybrid motor for SpaceShipTwo for the foreseeable future. However, it is not necessarily the hybrid motor that Sierra Nevada has been working on. Alternatives are being developed and tested. What all that means for the flight test and commercial operations is unknown at this point.

  • Greg Holden

    Thanks Winglet and Doug for the comprehensive replies! Interesting that VG are exploring other hybrid options than Scaled’s offering, but I guess its sensible to leave your options open! Please accept my apologies for the speculative Q,I only meant it with a twinkle in my eye and certainly do not want to contribute to unhelpful gossiping!! In this context, I just wish Mr Branson had not created this rod for his back with the seemingly constant 4 year target to first commercial launch… Im sure that VG and Scaled will eventually get there, and safely too! 🙂

  • Winglet

    Greg –

    My comments were in no way intended to be directed at you, or Doug for that matter. I’m sorry if either of you took them that way.

    I am very close to these projects and therefore know quite a bit about what goes on behind the black curtain. What bothers me is modern flame/link-bait “journalism” where bloggers and others who should know better post conclusions without any basis in fact. Often, the author has no direct knowledge even on the topic, yet he or she is commenting on why the SS2 did this or why WK2 did that, or why the oxidizer explosion occurred, etc. The fact is, Scaled and VG release very little about their program and without knowing more, people shouldn’t be posting speculation as fact. Which is all too common.

    I visit this blog because I generally don’t see that and it’s refreshing. Plus I hate the US Congress so I enjoy a good Doug-rant on that.

    Back on the topic… Virgin isn’t exploring alternative hybrid options to Scaled’s offering. They are exploring liquid motors for LauncherOne and possibly for future use in SS2. Bear in mind that Scaled did not know how difficult it would be to “scale up” the SS1 motor. They’ve hit a number of physics boundaries that have made it quite difficult. Large hybrids suffer from combustion stability, structural, and fuel regression challenges. Scaled and SpaceDev have really had to innovate to get the motor to work as well as it does. As well, suppliers of things like injector nozzles, mating flanges, etc. aren’t everywhere as hybrid motors are rare and mostly unexplored as compared to liquids and solids. Therefore, manufacturing is even a challenge.

    The SS2 program may be way behind the originally published “schedule” from VG but it is right where Scaled wants it. Safe, simple, strong, efficient, and understood by engineering. They aren’t happy it’s taken as long as it has but that’s been the hallmark of Burt’s career and the culture he built. He doesn’t announce schedules.

    SpaceShipOne was 1.5 years behind “schedule” when it flew the X2 flight. And no one knew, because there never was a schedule to know.

  • I stand behind my earlier statement. There are alternatives to the Sierra Nevada hybrid under development. And they have been tested in Mojave.

    Note: Reply corrected. Originally wrote Scaled Composites instead of Sierra Nevada.