Fall arrived in Mojave on Sunday with the sort of mild temperatures and cold breezes that make sleeping with the windows open comfortable and almost — but not quite — make up for the months of broiling weather that preceded them. The new season’s first three days were awesome.
On Wednesday morning, the rest of the season barreled into town as the breezes turned into gusting winds that blew sand across roads and turned nearby Koehn Lake into something right out of a French Foreign Legion movie, complete with a massive cloud of dust rising hundreds of feet above its parched surface.
For Sir Richard Branson and 300 of his future astronauts, that was not a such a good development.
The brash British billionaire and about 400 of his future astronauts arrived at the Mojave Air and Space Port this morning expecting to see SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo climb into a clear blue sky and do something. Instead, the vehicles remained on the ground in front of The Spaceship Company’s hangar due to the high winds.
Multiple sources indicated that pilots had planned to conduct a non-powered drop test of SpaceShipTwo for the benefit of the clients, who had come to the windy desert spaceport from all over the world.
But, fear not. They had plenty of other things to do: get a close up view of SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo, “Meet the Pilots” session with David Mackay and others, updates from top Virgin Galactic officials, a “stunning showcase of SS2 cabin seat prototypes”, and other things.
Most intriguing, an engine static fire reportedly targeted a 15-second duration appears to have been conducted at 10:55 a.m. at the airport’s Test Site 11, which is code named Necker after Branson’s private Caribbean island resort. (Incidentally, the other Virgin Galactic test site in Mojave is reportedly codenamed Ulusaba, after the billionaire’s African game preserve.)
I say appears to have been conducted because I was unable to hear it or see it from where I was situated. (It was probably a bad location for viewing it.) There were radio reports prior to the test indicating the time and afterward say the test was completed.
Further, there are no indications via Twitter that any of the folks visiting the airport for the event saw the engine test live. And the timing of a hot fire with so many people there is too convenient to be a co-incidence.
Perhaps only a select few got to see it live. And they might show a video this evening during the party under the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Museum.
UPDATE: There was indeed a test fire done at the Necker site for 15 seconds. A small contingent of folks from Virgin Galactic went out to see it, but the test was not part of the official program for the future astronauts. Richard Branson mentioned the test on his blog, but the reference has been since scrubbed from the post.