VG Update: We Hope to Make Flights into Space by End of 2013

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

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

The National out of the UAE has the latest schedule prediction from Virgin Galactic, which features the usual if, then we hope qualifiers and promises of great benefits once the blessed day arrives when commercial operations actually begin:

“Depending on the progress of the last portion of the experimental test flight programme and the federal aviation authority licensing process we hope to be undertaking full space test flights by the end of 2013 and in commercial operations within a relatively short period thereafter,” says Sean Wilson, a Virgin Galactic spokeswoman.

According to Virgin Galactic, which is in negotiations with “appropriate Abu Dhabi entities” regarding the construction of a spaceport, the emirate stands to make huge gains from the location of the company’s second spaceport in Abu Dhabi.

“Abu Dhabi would have the potential to become a globally recognised and respected regional centre for the new commercial space industry,” says Ms Wilson.

“The presence of a spaceport in the UAE could also boost inbound tourism and foreign investment in the region.

“In addition, the new space economy will enrich economic diversification for long-term prosperity.”

We’ll see about the schedule. It’s already February, there have been no powered flights yet, and there is uncertainty over whether the company has a full-scale engine capable of getting SpaceShipTwo into space. Oh, and all their previous predictions have been wrong. On the other hand, they did qualify their response.

Meanwhile, KRQE News 13 evening anchor Dick Knipfing is a bit irritated by Virgin Galactic’s repeated threats to abandon Spaceport America and is skeptical of the company’s latest schedule claims:

Virgin seems to believe if its demands are not met, it an opt out of the deal. If they can, they have us in a very tight spot. New Mexico has already put $209 million into Spaceport America. Sir Richard and his executives know we have no viable alternative to them. Is their latest demand a bluff and are there more demands to come?…

Sir Richard has said he and his children will be on that first passenger flight which he and the company have often indicated should be ready to go late this year. But there’s still nothing definite. The timetable, pardon the pun, sounds like it’s still very much up in the air.

That first FAA licensed launch from the spaceport last October was a vertical rocket carrying a scientific payload. The spaceport newsletter says that shortly lift off, the rocket approached its safety limits and the flight was automatically terminated. The recovery system worked and the payload came “safely and gently back to earth”. Let’s hope that’s not a metaphor for the spaceport itself. The spaceport has launched, but if it has to be terminated, there’s no recovery system in the galaxy that can bring it safely and gently back to earth.

It will be a critical year for Virgin Galactic. The company has made a lot of promises to a lot of people who have put up the bulk of the money for Sir Richard’s spaceship. They need to show that they can start delivering on their claims.

  • Hemingway

    In the article below. Reinhard Spronk, Space Expedition’s chief
    commercial officer, said his company eventually wants to have four space
    trips a day.”Virgin Galactic is one time per day,” he added. “That’s
    because they
    have to take out the engine overnight and put in a new engine.”

    “We just keep our (reusable) engine in and it can be in operation
    5,000 times.” Why does the Virgin Galactic engine need to be replace
    very day? Is there an engine problem?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/01/space-expedition-corp-canadian-space-travel-_n_2598990.html

  • Hemingway

    In the article below. Reinhard Spronk, Space Expedition’s chief
    commercial officer, said his company eventually wants to have four space
    trips a day.”Virgin Galactic is one time per day,” he added. “That’s
    because they
    have to take out the engine overnight and put in a new engine.”

    “We just keep our (reusable) engine in and it can be in operation
    5,000 times.” Why does the Virgin Galactic engine need to be replace
    very day? Is there an engine problem?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/01/space-expedition-corp-canadian-space-travel-_n_2598990.html

  • http://www.parabolicarc.com Doug Messier

    SpaceShipTwo’s engine is a hybrid that uses nitrous oxide (a gas) to burn a rubber fuel. The rubber fuel needs to be replaced.

    XCOR’s Lynx runs on liquid oxygen and kerosene. The intent is to refuel the vehicle and have it fly into space after it lands.

  • Nickolai

    @Hemingway – The VG engine is hybrid, meaning it has solid and liquid propellants. Liquid propellants could easily be refilled in a manner essentially similar to pumping gas. Solid propellants tho, have a specific shape (called the grain) in which they need to be manufactured for performance reasons. So to “refill” the solid propellant you can’t just dump a bunch in, you need to take out the solid propellant container and put in a new one. And since that container is connected to all sort of instrumentation and liquid plumbing it’s probably easier to do it overnight. Who knows, maybe they’ll devise a way to just swap-in, swap-out – it would certainly be good for business.

    Separately, what right does VG have to pull out? They signed a lease, surely it has some binding terms that prevent them from doing this sort of thing? I can’t imagine they could just pull out without NM suing them for losses totaling the length of the lease.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.ramshaw Richard Ramshaw

    Well in 2004 VG said that they would be up and flying in 3 years, 9 years later we’re getting closer, so if they think commercial space flights in just over a year then it’ll probably be about 2017, or is that just me being pessimistic?

  • http://www.facebook.com/douglasmessier Douglas Messier

    Nikolai: Virgin has to put up a $2 million performance bond. New Mexico can tap into that if Virgin were to leave. Depending upon the circumstances of the departure, New Mexico might get as little as $500,000 or as much as $2 million. That’s it.