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 Mojave Air and Space Port’s Board of Directors on Tuesday voted to accept a grant totaling $1,364,086 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a 600-foot extension of Taxiway B. The grant is larger than the $1.05 million announced by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Aug. 3.
The board also approved an application to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for a matching grant of up to 5 percent of the project’s total. The maximum amount received would be $68,024; however, CalTrans might cap the award at $25,000.
If the full state matching grant is awarded, total outside funding for the project would amount to $1,432,110.
The board also awarded three contracts for the taxiway extension:
Granite Construction: $1,099,135
RB Development (lighting): $53,263
Aviation Striping (painting): $19,085.
Mojave Airport CEO Karina Drees said the grants would pay for a 600-foot extension of the taxiway. The extension would allow for the construction of an additional hangar to the west of Virgin Galactic’s FAITH facility.
The airport hoped to extend the taxiway even further with a turnaround at the end for aircraft. However, the FAA grant is insufficient to allow for the completion of the taxiway.
Mojave is a quiet little town that people don’t visit so much as stop at just long enough for gas, food or a bathroom break. It seems like the only folks who stay overnight have business at the spaceport or are long-haul truckers who are not here for the town’s non-existent nightlife.
So, the arrival of Richard Branson’s private jet — the one with the Virgin Galactic eye on the tail — on Saturday afternoon was quite the surprise. Normally he’s here to watch a test flight of SpaceShipTwo, but there was no sign that one would take place over the long Easter weekend.
The following day, the jet was still parked outside Virgin’s FAITH facility, but it was surrounded by a dozen or more SUVs right there on the ramp. Something was going on over there, but it was hard to know what.
On Monday, we got an answer. The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was here to see his nation’s latest investment. Last fall, Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to invest $1 billion with an option for $480 million more in Branson’s three space companies — Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company.
Photographs of the visit (here and here) show that Saudi Arabia’s symbols now adorn Virgin’s vehicles. The kingdom’s official seal can be seen on SpaceShipTwo’s nose and a model of a hyperloop vehicle for Virgin Hyperloop One. The logo of Vision 2030 — Saudi Arabia’s ambitious effort to diversify its economy away from oil — can be seen on the side of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
There was also the following information from a Saudi news report:
And for the first time, Virgin Galactic unveiled new and unique aircraft fuel compartments, in addition to a presentation on spacecraft that will enter commercial services.
The officials reviewed the areas of existing investment partnership, ways of developing them especially in space services, opportunities for deepening cooperation in modern technologies through research, manufacturing, and training Saudi youths, and transforming the Kingdom from a consumer to a producer of technology.
I’m sure we’ll get more information from Virgin soon.
Continuing our look back at 2014, we review progress at Virgin Galactic. While the loss of SpaceShipTwo on Oct. 31 understandably dominated the headlines, there were a number of other newsworthy developments at the company last year.