It was a flight 22 months in the making. But, when it came time for the rubber to meet the oxidizer, the whole thing suddenly flamed out.
The hybrid engine on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity failed to fire properly on Saturday, sending the suborbital rocket plane, pilots David Mackay and C.J. Sturckow and a load of NASA-sponsored experiments into a rapid descent and landing back at Spaceport America, instead of a graceful parabolic arc into suborbital space.
A provision in George Whitesides’ contract has Virgin Galactic’s chief space officer — and possibly his wife, Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides — flying on one of SpaceShipTwo’s early suborbital flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The clock struck midnight on Jan. 1 amid raucous celebrations around the world. The arrival of a new year and decade merely confirmed what had been clear for months: 2019 was not the breakthrough year for getting humans off the planet.
Neither Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin followed through on long-standing promises to fly paying passengers on suborbital joyrides. An era of commercial space tourism that seemed so close that October day in 2004 when Brian Binnie guided SpaceShipOne to a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port quietly slipped into yet another year.
Editor’s Note: My guess is they will unveil the passenger flight suits in some sort of fashion event, probably involving some fashion models. I wonder if Karlie Kloss, who has said her dream is to fly to space, will be there.
Why do I think it’s the flight suit? Ticket holders have been coming in and other of Mojave in recent months to get fitted for the “spacesuit.” There’s not going to be a lot of things going into space with them. And NYC is a major fashion capital.
Chief Pilot David Mackay gave a talk recently here in Mojave. He said passengers will not wear pressure suits, but they will have oxygen masks in the event of an emergency.
If they are unveiling the flight suit on Wednesday, calling it a milestone is a bit of a stretch. The Crew Dragon parachute drop tests, static fire, in-flight abort flight and orbital mission discussed during the briefing at SpaceX headquarters on Thursday are actual milestones.
Unveiling a flight suit is primarily a marketing and public relations event. Really important milestones will be completing the SpaceShipTwo flight test program and actually flying some passengers next year.
Today, Sept. 27, marks the 15th anniversary of Richard Branson announcing the launch of Virgin Galactic Airways. It’s been a long, winding road between that day and today, filled with many broken promises, missed deadlines, fatal accidents and a pair of spaceflights.
This year actually marks a double anniversary: it’s been 20 years since Branson registered the company and began searching for a vehicle the company could use to fly tourists into suborbital space.
Below is a timeline of the important events over that period.
The BBC visits Spaceport America. Safety claim begins at 6:46. Mackay also makes interesting claim about 15 years of development time.
Hey, BBC. If you’re going to visit New Mexico, for the sake of perspective, maybe talk to some of the folks who paid for the spaceport about all the benefits they were promised when they agreed to fund it.
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.
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. SpaceNewsreports:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our third crew member on SpaceShipTwo today is Beth Moses, our Chief Astronaut Instructor at @VirginGalactic and our cabin evalutaion lead. She’s an expert micro-gravity researcher who’s completed over 400 zero g parabolic flights in 4 different aircrafts. pic.twitter.com/JRAnth83o6
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. (more…)
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.
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.