Virgin Galactic’s Chief Test Pilot Takes Controls of WhiteKnightTwo for First Time

VG PR — To date, all test flights of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo have been piloted by Scaled Composite’s cadre of talented test pilots.

WhiteKnightTwo took to the air for the 72nd time yesterday (8/31/2011); it was a special flight for Virgin Galactic because at the controls, for the very first time, was our own Chief Test pilot, Dave Mackay. Dave joined Virgin Galactic in 2009 following a high-flying aviation career as an RAF test pilot and a Virgin Atlantic Captain.

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Virgin Galactic vs. XCOR: Two Very Different Approaches

Space Up Houston August 2011 from Schipul – The Web Marketing Co. on Vimeo.

Virgin Galactic’s Will Pomerantz and XCOR Aerospace’s Khaki McKee both gave updates on their companies’ suborbital vehicles during the recent Houston SpaceUp conference. For the benefit of those who don’t have time to watch the full video above, I’ve summarized their presentations below in a convenient side-by-side table to allow for an easy comparison.

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Video: NMSA’s Christina Anderson Talks About Spaceport America

New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson talks about the development and future of Spaceport America. Some highlights from the El Paso Times article:

The first phase of construction of Spaceport America, New Mexico’s $209 million commercial spaceflight launch complex, is 90 percent complete.

Virgin Galactic, the spaceport’s anchor tenant, plans to dedicate the terminal-hangar sometime in October….

Sir Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Galactic, has not said exactly when the aerospace company will take space tourists from its future headquarters at Spaceport America on suborbital flights to the edge of space. At his request, the terminal-hangar has been named the Virgin Galactic Gateway To Space.

Various space aviation experts have suggested that Virgin Galactic may launch its first space tourist flights sometime in 2013…..

Anderson is convinced that the spaceport will eventually rely less on the state government as a primary source of money. “Our goal is to be self-sustaining,” she said.

Read the full story.

Interview: Roscosmos Boss Speaks on Space Tourism, Priorities and Agency Restructuring

Roscosmos has posted the transcript of an interview that Vladimir Popovkin gave to the Russian newspaper Kommersant. The space agency chief touches on a wide range of issues, including space tourism, the budget, the restructuring of Roscosmos and the Russian space industry, and the future of the Angara rocket.

The highlights, translated from Russian:

Space Tourism

  • Popovkin views human spaceflight as worthwhile if it produced practical results. “If a person just wants to go to orbit, I believe this is an inefficient activity.”
  • On increasing annual Soyuz production to five spacecraft in order to fly space tourists: “Space tourism must be carried out on extra money. If the corporation Energia or any other corporation, or tourists themselves, will be able to find them [extra funds] and build a ship, then such tourism has the right to exist. Space tourism at the expense of the budget – it’s not space tourism…..This idea will be developed…We [Roscosmos] are for space tourism, but first create a business plan, and we will help take out loans. But there is no reflection of the state program of this issue should not be.”

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Space Needle, Space Adventures Launch Suborbital Space Trip Competition

Space Adventures is teaming with the Space Needle to send a lucky winner into space to celebrate the 50th anniversary next year of the famous structure that graces the Seattle skyline. It’s an interesting competition: there will be 1,000 entrants picked randomly in December who will compete in a separate “skill-based competition” to win a suborbital spaceflight worth $110,000 on an unspecified vehicle. There are no details on precisely what the competition will entail other than they will include “various tests and challenges” to be conducted throughout December.

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George Whitesides: Virgin Galactic Making Good Progress

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides gave two talks at NASA Ames this morning — the first at the NewSpace 2011 Conference and another for the students at the Singularity University.

Whitesides’ 30-minute address to the Space Frontier Foundation’s annual gathering followed a familiar script, with updates on testing (going great), sales (growing steadily), the Spaceship Company (hiring rapidly), and the engine development (making progress). He used up most of his time making the address, and then took three questions before time ran out.

The Singularity University presentation seems to have been more freewheeling and, according to one person who saw both, much better than his NewSpace address. Whitesides touches upon of what it’s like to work for Richard Branson (great), the competition (we like it), and ITAR (bad, very very bad).

My notes on the NewSpace presentation follow. I’ve also included a collection of Tweets on Whitesides’ Singularity University session.

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Spaceport America Issues Media Relations RFP

NMSA PR – LAS CRUCES, NM – The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) has issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for Media Relations Services for Spaceport America, announced Christine Anderson, Executive Director of the NMSA.

“Spaceport America has been attracting attention from news and media outlets worldwide,” said Anderson. “This contract will help develop, manage and maintain effective communications with members of the local, national and international press corps as well as the public about our exciting project.”

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Spaceport America Awards Visitor Experience Contract


NMSA PR – LAS CRUCES, NM – The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) announced the selection of Integrity Arts & Technology, Inc., d/b/a/ IDEAS as the contractor to develop the Spaceport America Visitor Experience. The company was awarded a two- phase contract of a not-to-exceed value of $7.5 million.

IDEAS and their team will oversee the design and development of the Visitor Experience and facilities at Spaceport America, as well as the design, fabrication and installation of all exhibits and attractions for visitors to the spaceport. The company will also conduct market research, enhance the spaceport branding and marketing, and facilitate alliance and sponsorship development opportunities. IDEAS will also provide construction administration during the building phase of the Visitor Experience facilities.

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Spaceship Company Ramps Up in Mojave

The Spaceship Company in Mojave is ramping up to produce WhiteKnightTwos and SpaceShipTwos. We have this report from Aviation Week:

TSC was initially tasked with making one WK2 and four SS2s for Virgin Galactic, and Operations Director Enrico Palermo says: “I’m confident we’ll be building more.” Together with the first WK2 and SS2 already built and in test, Virgin plans to operate an initial fleet of two carriers and five spacecraft, though hopes are high that other “spaceline” customers will emerge.

For now, Palermo says, “our blinders are set on serving our first customer, and getting these spacecraft flying.” With flight tests of the first SS2 accelerating and the first rocket-powered flights expected in coming months, the configuration of the production variants of both spacecraft and carrier aircraft are close to finalization. “WK2 is flying and meeting its objectives, so that’s more or less set,” says Joe Brennan, TSC vehicle production manager, who adds that the company is also “pretty happy” with the minor design changes on the SS2 required so far.

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Branson: SpaceShipTwo Will Fly Passengers in 10-15 Months

Will Whitehorn gives a pat on the back to Richard Branson as he greets Virgin Galactic ticketholders during the Oshkosh air show in July 2009.

Virgin Galactic’s Founder says that commercial suborbital flights will take place between May and October 2012:

Sir Richard Branson said that the reason he established Virgin Galactic was because he ‘got sick sick of waiting for NASA.’ He confirmed that space flights for the public will commence in ’10 to 15 months.’ Another endeavour after this milestone will be to launch ‘a 2 to 3 hour London to Australia flight’ via space.

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Branson: SS2 Will Be a Clean Lean Green Flying Machine

BusinessDay.co.nz has a Q&A with Richard Branson in which the British billionaire promotes the “greener” nature of the WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo combo:

We should no longer rely on old, expensive, “dirty” technology to transport satellites into space. The industry must be modernised and made more sustainable, both for financial reasons and for the health of the planet. In response to this challenge, we have been developing a greener solution in Mojave, California — one that will have less impact on the environment and will be more cost effective. Our two-step launch process, which does not employ rockets until the aircraft reaches the stratosphere, uses less energy than other launch systems that rely on rockets to lift off from the ground.

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Space Access ’11: XCOR’s Jeff Greason

XCOR CEO Jeff Greason

Jeff Greason
CEO, XCOR Aerospace

One of few companies in NewSpace not founded by someone with deep pockets

Right now, things are going well…money isn’t falling out of the sky, but excellent income stream on contracts

XCOR is on track already to be tied for best year ever

Several contracts that are in the works that he hasn’t announced yet…if they are finalized, XCOR will have best year ever

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Spaceport America Moves Forward Amid Management Changes

Spaceport timeline still intact after staff changes
Las Cruces  Sun-News

Overall construction at the spaceport’s first phase is between 70 and 80 percent finished, a spaceport staff member said last week. The largest outstanding project, a $32.5 million terminal-hangar facility being built by Summit Construction, is about 77 percent complete, according to spaceport officials.

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