All I Want for Christmas (in July) is….

Credit: Ken Brown
Credit: Ken Brown

The guessing game has started up again here in Mojave with the perennial question: When will SpaceShipTwo fly next?

Following the first successful powered flight on April 29, sources around the spaceport indicated that tests might resume in about six weeks or so. Scaled Composites wanted to tear down SpaceShipTwo, examine every nut, bolt and connection, and put it back together. Powered flights would then recommence at a more rapid pace, culminating with a trip above the Karmen line toward the end of the year and commercial service beginning sometime in 2014.

A six-week turnaround would have had SpaceShipTwo flying again in early to mid-June. That is now long past, and with the Fourth of July coming up on Thursday, it’s unlikely SpaceShipTwo will fly this week. So it would not be until Monday, at the very earliest, that flight tests would restart. That’s a 10-week gap.

Such gaps are not unusual in flight test. Why exactly the gap has been longer than expected is unknown. Scaled Composites has maintained its customary silence on all things Scaled. Virgin Galactic, which talks a lot more but usually reveals little, has jacked up ticket prices by $50,000 and added Justin Bieber to its growing list of celebritynauts since that first powered flight.

Richard Branson also has declared that he will be flying into space with his family on Christmas Day, a prospect that, as I sit here in the excessive heat of an early July day, looks increasingly like a mirage shimmering on the horizon of one of the Mojave’s many dry lake beds than any sort of realistic expectation.

Although this optimism is not shared by Branson’s subordinates at Virgin Galactic, their boss apparently expects his company to complete the entire SpaceShipTwo flight program AND obtain a commercial launch license from a FAA suffering under sequestration in only 175 days.

Oh yeah, good luck with that.

Barring a Christmas miracle, it’s highly unlikely that Branson and family will be going anywhere near space on Dec. 25. He would have better luck catching a ride into space on Santa’s sled than aboard SpaceShipTwo.

That would be fine with me. Christmas is about religious observances and spending time with one’s family and friends and giving and receiving gifts and counting one’s blessings and carving turkeys. It’s not about space travel or Richard Branson or the Virgin brand or the first flight from Spaceport America or whatever such an accomplishment would symbolize.

If Branson’s previous predictions are any guide, the Christmas date will pass without any flight and he will reset the date for some time in the not-too-distant future. I’m just hoping its not Christmas 2014.

  • Carolynne Campbell

    A source close to the FAA tells me that a complete review and re-jig of operating procedures will throw this into a tail-spin. It could well be months before we see another powered flight.