Three Virgin Galactic Crew Presented with Commercial Astronaut Wings at 35th National Space Symposium

The curvature of the Earth from SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., April 9,  2019 (Virgin Galactic PR) — The three-person crew from Virgin Galactic’s second space flight have received Commercial Astronaut Wings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay, Lead Pilot trainer, Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci and Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, were presented their wings at the 35th Space Symposium, where it was also announced that Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) are to be presented the Space Achievement award later this week.

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Bezos: No Asterisks Next to the Names of Blue Origin’s Astronauts

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Two days before Virgin Galactic completed the ninth powered flight of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital program, rocket billionaire and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos threw some shade at billionaire Richard Branson’s rival suborbital space tourism venture. SpaceNews reports:

Bezos, in the interview, pointed out the altitude difference between the two vehicles. New Shepard has typically exceeded 100 kilometers, an altitude known as the Karman Line, on its test flights. SpaceShipTwo reached a peak altitude of 82.7 kilometers on its most recent test flight Dec. 13, its first above the 50-mile boundary used by U.S. government agencies to award astronaut wings.

“One of the issues that Virgin Galactic will have to address, eventually, is that they are not flying above the Karman Line, not yet,” Bezos said. “I think one of the things they will have to figure out how to get above the Karman Line.”

“We’ve always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Karman Line, because we didn’t want there to be any asterisks next to your name about whether you’re an astronaut or not,” he continued. “That’s something they’re going to have to address, in my opinion.”

For those who fly on New Shepard, he said, there’ll be “no asterisks.”

On Friday, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity flew to 89.9 km (55.87 miles) on its fifth flight test, which was the highest altitude the program has reached to date.

There are two competing definitions of where space begins. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is awarding civilian astronaut wings to anyone who flies above 50 miles (80.4 km). The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) recognizes 100 km (62.1 miles) as the boundary of space, although it is considering lowering the limit to 80 km (49.7 miles).

The FAA awarded astronaut wings to Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow, who flew VSS Unity above 50 miles in December. The crew of Friday’s flight — pilots David Mackay and Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci, and chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses — will also qualify for astronaut wings.

New Shepard has flown 10 times without passengers; nine of those flights were above 100 km (62.1 miles). Bezos has said he expects to begin flying people aboard the suborbital spacecraft by the end of this year.

SpaceShipTwo Flies to Highest Altitude with 3 People Aboard

VSS Unity deploys its feather during reentry. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

MOJAVE, Calif., 22 Feb 2018 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Today, Virgin Galactic conducted its fifth powered test flight and second space flight of its commercial SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity.

In its fifth supersonic rocket powered test flight, Virgin Galactic reached space for the second time today in the skies above Mojave CA. Spaceship VSS Unity reached its highest speed and altitude to date and, for the first time, carried a third crew member on board along with research payloads from the NASA Flight Opportunities program.

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SpaceShipTwo Unity Reaches New Heights on Program’s Ninth Flight

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity completed its fifth powered flight on Friday, setting new altitude and speed records while carrying a third crew member for the first time.

Richard Branson’s suborbital space plane hit Mach 3.04 as it soared to an altitude of 295,007 ft (89.9 km/55.87 miles) over the California’s Mojave Desert.  Unity’s previous flight reached Mach 2.9 and an altitude of 82.72 km above the High Desert.

Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot David Mackay was in command with Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci in the co-pilot’s seat. The company chief astronaut trainer, Beth Moses, was aboard to test out the astronaut experience. She was able to leave her seat in the six-passenger cabin and float around.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo is in the Air

The vehicle took off from Mojave about 25 minutes ago (about 8:05).

David Mackay and Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci are in t6he pilot’s seat. Beth Moses, who is 5the chief astronaut trainer, is aboard to evaluate pilot experience.

They are expecting to drop SpaceShipTwo from WhiteKnightTwo at about 8:55 a.m. PST.

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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SpaceShipTwo Hit Nearly Mach 2.5 in Successful Flight Test

SpaceShipTwo Unity during third flight test. (Credit: MarsScientific.com & Trumbull Studios)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic test pilots broke Mach 2 this morning, as VSS Unity took her third rocket-powered supersonic outing in less than four months. After a clean release from carrier aircraft VMS Eve at 46,500 ft, pilots Dave Mackay and Mike “Sooch” Masucci lit the spaceship’s rocket motor, before pulling up into a near vertical climb and powering towards the black sky at 2.47 times the speed of sound.

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Branson Honored for Space Efforts at Apollo Celebration Awards Ceremony

Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson was one of three people honored for contributions to further space exploration during the Apollo Celebration Gala held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Saturday.

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A Niche in Time: First Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 5 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.

This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.

In other words, it was a perfect day to fly.

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SpaceShipTwo Glides Again

SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic's FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight on Dec. 3, 2016. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic’s FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight on Dec. 3, 2016. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Virgin Galactic conducted a second glide flight of SpaceShipTwo here in Mojave this afternoon.

The vehicle was piloted by David Mackay and Mark Stucky.  The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft was piloted by C.J. Sturkow and Nicola Pecile with flight test engineer Dustin Mosher.

This is the second of about a dozen glide flights scheduled for the second SpaceShipTwo. Word is that Virgin Galactic is looking to conduct powered flights by next June.

Photos Gallery: SpaceShipTwo Unity’s First Glide Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo's glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides through the Mojave sky followed by an Extra chase plane. (Credit; Ken Brown)
SpaceShipTwo glides through the Mojave sky followed by an Extra chase plane. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo comes in for a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo comes in for a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo rolls to a stop on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo rolls to a stop on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson and George Whitesides gaze out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Richard Branson moves to embrace SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky. To Branson's right in Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson moves to embrace SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky. To Branson’s right is Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic's FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic’s FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

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A Good Light, Then a Fatal Mistake

WhiteKnightTwo takes off carrying SpaceShipTwo on its final flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
WhiteKnightTwo takes off carrying SpaceShipTwo on its final flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Part 3 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With World War II-era structures still dotting its flight line and industrial park, the Mojave Air and Space Port sometimes reminds visitors of the training base where Marine Corps fighter pilots learned to fly 70 years earlier. Just beyond the airport’s three runways is a giant boneyard full of scrapped 747s and other aircraft that would not look all that out of place to a time traveler who ventured forward from 30 or 40 years ago.

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SpaceShipTwo Pilots Faced Extremely High Work Loads

Pre-sunrise checks on WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the runway at the Mojave Air and Spaceport. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Pre-sunrise checks on WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the runway at the Mojave Air and Spaceport before powered flight 3. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 2 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Mojave Air and Spaceport sits on 3,300 acres of California’s High Desert about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. Since it opened in 1935, the facility had seen multiple uses – rural airfield for the mining industry, World War II Marines Corps training base, U.S. Navy air station and general aviation airport.

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