Branson’s Latest Prediction: SpaceShipTwo Rollout in February

A camera mounted atop the left vertical fin of Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo captures the vehicle gliding through the upper atmosphere after its rocket engine is shut down during a 2013 test flight. The Earth's horizon can be seen at lower right. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
A camera mounted atop the left vertical fin of Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo captures the vehicle gliding through the upper atmosphere after its rocket engine is shut down during a 2013 test flight. The Earth’s horizon can be seen at lower right. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Richard Branson says Virgin Galactic will unveil the second SpaceShipTwo in February with tests to follow.

Given Branson’s poor track record of predictions, it’s not clear whether the roll out will actually happen in February, or how soon the ship will be ready for flight after the unveiling. The first SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft were each rolled out months before they actually flew. We’ll see what happens.

Branson and Virgin Galactic Vice President of Special Projects Will Pomerantz recently appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box where they  were asked how much the crash of the first SpaceShipTwo last year had set the program back.

“Not a massive amount because in that investigation we were able to go through and find out it was really more of an operational issue than a basic fundamental design issue….We didn’t have to go back to a blank sheet of paper and start over,” Pomerantz said.

That was a good bit of spin. Before the fatal flight, Virgin Galactic was looking to complete flight tests on SpaceShipTwo by the end of 2014, and to begin commercial flights in the first quarter of 2015. Not only were the only vehicle and co-pilot Mike Alsbury lost, Virgin Galactic won’t even begin testing the new ship until the first quarter of 2016 at the earliest.

I suppose it’s not a massive setback in how Pomerantz described it (going back to the drawing board). That’s a rather low bar for a program that’s now been in development for more than 11 years.

You’ll also recall that immediately after the crash, Virgin Galactic officials were projecting the second SpaceShipTwo would be completed and ready for testing within five months. That has stretched to at least 16 month.

In other Virgin Galactic news, there is a bit more information about why the company is switching from WhiteKnightTwo to a 747 as the launch platform for its larger LauncherOne rocket. You might recall that officials said there would be so many launches that the rocket needed its own platform.

During a talk in September at Imperial College London, Virgin Galactic Executive Vice President of Spaceport & Program Development Jonathan Firth admitted that WhiteKnightTwo doesn’t have the lift capacity to handle the upgraded LauncherOne.