Virgin Galactic Pilots Join 80.46-Kilometer (50-Mile) Club

Richard Branson with the pilots of SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow, who were awarded civilian astronaut wings last week, are among 18 pilots who have flown suborbital flights.

The two pilots flew SpaceShipTwo Unity to an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.72 km) on Dec. 13, 2018. That accomplishment qualified them for civilian astronaut wings using an American definition that places the boundary of space at 50 miles (80.46 km).

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Paul Allen Passes Away From Cancer at 65

Paul G. Allen (By Miles Harris – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26491255)

Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen — who funded private spaceships, one of the largest aircraft in the world, and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe – has died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 65.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of @PaulGAllen, our founder and noted technologist, philanthropist, community builder, conservationist, musician and supporter of the arts, All of us who worked with Paul feel an inexpressible loss today,” Allen’s company, Vulcan, Inc., announced in a tweet.

Allen poured the billions he made from Microsoft into a number of business and philanthropic ventures, including three space projects. He spent $28 million to back Burt Rutan’s entry in the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million competition for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice within a two-week period.

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The Adventures of SpaceShipTwo: Inverted Flight, Wonky Gyros & an Impatient Billionaire

SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Nicholas Schmidle has an interesting profile of Virgin Galactic test pilot Mark Stucky in the New Yorker that sheds some light on what’s been going on at Richard Branson’s space company. I’ve excerpted some interesting passages below.

If you’ve been watching the videos of  SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity‘s first three powered flights and thinking to yourself, Gee, it looks like that thing really wants to roll…well, you’d be right. Here’s an account of the first flight on April 5.
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Author of SpaceShipOne Book to Visit Mojave

how_make_spaceship_coverThe author of a new book about the Ansari X Prize and SpaceShipOne will be in Mojave this Saturday, Nov. 19, to give a talk and sign books.

Julian Guthrie will be at the Mariah Country Inn & Suites at 1385 Highway 58 from 2 to 4 p.m. The inn is located next to the main entrance to the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Other participants in the event include: Brian Binnie and Mike Melvill, two Scaled Composites who flew SpaceShipOne to space; Matt Stinemetze, the program’s lead engineer; and aerodynamicist Bob Hoey.

Guthrie’s book chronicles the history of the $10 million prize, the development of SpaceShipOne, and the prize-winning suborbital flights of the first privately-built crewed space vehicle.

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Future Imperfect: The Ansari XPrize, SpaceShipOne & Private Spaceflight

how_make_spaceship_coverHow to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, An Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight
by Julian Guthrie
Penguin Press, 2016
Hardcover, 448 pages
ISBN 978-1-59420-672-6
US $28/Canada $37

Reviewed by Douglas Messier

On Sept. 8, I arrived home at about half past noon to find a package sitting on my doorstep. It was a review copy of a new book by Julian Guthrie about the Ansari XPrize and SpaceShipOne titled, How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, An Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight.

I laughed. The timing was perfect. Ken Brown and I had just spent five hours in the desert — most of them in the rising heat of a late summer day — waiting for WhiteKnightTwo to take off carrying SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity on its first captive carry test flight.

It was the first flight in nearly two years of a SpaceShipTwo vehicle since Unity’s sister ship, VSS Enterprise, had broken up during a Halloween test flight, killing co-pilot Mike Alsbury. Ken and I had been there on that day, too.

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Boldly Going Where 14 Men Have Gone Before

For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.

That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.

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Mojave Journal: The Ansari X Prize’s Awkward Family Reunion

Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.
Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.

One Year Ago, the Ansari X Prize Turned 10
It Was an Uncomfortable Birthday

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The planes kept coming and coming. One after another, they swooped out of a blue desert sky and touched down on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way.

And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize. A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period.

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The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be: SpaceShipOne & the Triumph of Hype

Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)
Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)

Eleven years ago today, Brian Binnie flew SpaceShipOne to  an altitude  of 112.014 km (69.6 miles),  breaking a record of 107.8 km (67 miles) set by Joe Walker in the X-15 rocket plane 41 years earlier. As Binnie landed the small, experimental space plane at the Mojave Air and Space Port before a cheering crowd, he clinched the $10 million Ansari X Prize for Burt Rutan and his financial backer, Paul Allen.

The air during the post flight events was full of promises, boasts and hopes that today appear positively cringe worthy.

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Ansari X Prize 10th Anniversary Webcast

The Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary webcast from Saturday featuring Burt Rutan, Anousheh Ansari, Chuck Beames, Brian Binnie, Mike Melvill, Richard Branson and Peter Diamandis.

Ansari X Prize 10th Anniversary Celebration Webcast

Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)
Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)

ANSARI XPRIZE 10th ANNIVERSARY WEBCAST
Saturday, October 4, 2014
4:00 to 5:30 p.m. EDT
(1:00 to 2:30 p.m. PDT)

Host: Peter Diamandis, XPRIZE Founder and CEO

Guests

Anousheh Ansari
Ansari X Prize benefactor

Chuck Beames
Executive Director, Stratolaunch

Brian Binnie
SpaceShipOne’s pilot for the prize winning flight

Mike Melvill
SpaceShipOne’s pilot for the first record-breaking flight

Burt Rutan
SpaceShipOne designer

Richard Branson
Founder, Virgin Group

Additional Details

10th Anniversary of First Ansari X Prize Flight

Ten years ago today, Mike Melvill made the first of two suborbital flights aboard SpaceShipOne required to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize. It was a wild flight as the vehicle got into a rapid roll on its way to space.

Brian Binnie made the second suborbital flight on Oct. 4, 2004, to win the Ansari X Prize. The requirement was to make two flights into space within two weeks.

Ansari X Prize 10th Anniversary Shindig Set for Mojave

SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)
SpaceShipOne lands after its historic spaceflight on June 21, 2004. (Credit: Ian Kluft)

Burt Rutan, Paul Allen and Richard Branson are among those who will gather at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Oct. 4 to mark the 10th anniversary of SpaceShipOne winning the $10 million Anari X Prize, Parabolic Arc has learned.

X Prize Foundation Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis will preside over the invitation-only event, which is expected to draw hundreds of guests. The foundation sponsored the prize for the first privately-funded vehicle to fly into space twice in two weeks.

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Brian Binnie Joins XCOR as Senior Test Pilot

brian_binnie
Brian Binnie

Mojave, CA, April 3, 2014 (XCOR PR) – XCOR Aerospace announced today that celebrated aviator, test pilot, engineer and commercial astronaut Brian Binnie has joined the company as Senior Test Pilot.

As Senior Test Pilot, Binnie will be working with another celebrated pilot and astronaut, XCOR Chief Test Pilot and former Space Shuttle Pilot and Commander, US Air Force Colonel (Ret.) Richard (Rick) Searfoss.

“Brian and I have been friends and colleagues for many years and I have always wanted to work together in a flying environment,” noted Searfoss. “Combining our backgrounds as government and commercial astronauts and our broad experience across a number of rocket powered craft, I feel this builds on XCOR’s strong culture that emphasizes safety and professionalism.”

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Mojave Marks 10th Anniversary of First SpaceShipOne Powered Flight

brian_binnieTen years ago, SpaceShipOne flew under power for the first time, breaking the sound barrier in the skies over Mojave and commencing a successful series of flights that culminated in the winning of the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Scaled Composites chose Dec. 17, 2003 — the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers historic first powered flight — to light the candle on their suborbital space plane. Pilot Brian Binnie flew SpaceShipOne to a speed of Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 20.67 km.

On Saturday, Binnie will recount that historic day in a talk at the monthly Plane Crazy Saturday event at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The event will begin at 11 a.m. in the board meeting room of the airport’s administration building. Seats are on a first-come, first serve basis.