Stucky Turns Blue: Joins Jeff Bezos’ Space Company After Departure From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic

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

Mark Stucky, whom Virgin Galactic demoted as its director of flight test in May and fired two months later, has joined Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company, CNN reports.

Stucky said he will join Blue Origin’s “Advanced Development Programs” team, where he said in a statement to CNN that he will “do my best to contribute to [CEO Jeff Bezos’] amazing vision of humans not just having a continuous presence in space but truly becoming a space-faring species.”

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FAA to Hold Virtual Hearings Next Week on SpaceX’s Expansion at Boca Chica

Starship SN15 takes off on May 5, 2021. (Credit: SpaceX website)

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — Please join the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a public hearing on the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas.

The FAA will provide a project overview in English and Spanish. Afterwards, members of the public can provide oral comments. The presentations will be posted on the project website after the public hearings:  https://www.faa.gov/space/stakeholder_engagement/spacex_starship/

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Environment Engineer Says Assessment of SpaceX Boca Chica Expansion is Deceptive, Incomplete and Illegal

Starhopper aborts a hop attempt at Boca Chica. (Credit: SpaceX webcast screen shot)
  • Assessment authors accused of submitting false emissions numbers
  • Report leaves out entire structures and their environmental impacts
  • FAA accused of illegally fast tracking approval using less rigorous environmental assessment than required by law

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An environmental engineer has raised serious questions about the completeness and appropriateness of a draft programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) that covers SpaceX’s major expansion of its Starbase rocket launch and test site in Boca Chica, Texas.

According to a 12-part series on the blog ESG Hound, the assessment that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released for public comment last month violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to evaluate all of the impact of the project, which sits amidst environmentally sensitive saltwater wetlands.

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Mojave Spaceport Receives $5.9 Million for Improvements to Longest Runway

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft on runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port following a taxi test. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

MOJAVE, Calif. — The Mojave Air and Space Port has received a $5.9 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to rehabilitate and strengthen portions to Runway 12-30, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) announced.

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FAA Examination of Blue Origin Safety Issues Likely to be Very Narrow

New Shepard launch (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will examine safety issues about Blue Origin’s crewed suborbital New Shepard vehicle raised by a group of current and former employees in an open letter published on Thursday.

The announcement comes 11 days before four paying customers, one reported to be Star Trek star William Shatner, are scheduled to board New Shepard for a trip to space. While a federal safety review might sound reassuring to these ticket holders, what does it actually mean in practice?

Probably not much.

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FAA Extends Public Comment Period for SpaceX’s Boca Chica Launch Site

SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility. A purple line extends around the developed areas of the site. New facilities are at the bottom. (Credit: SpaceX with Parabolic Arc labels)

FAA Notice of Public Comment Period Extension and New Public Hearing Dates for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has received requests for an extension of the public comment period for the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at the SpaceX Boca Chica Launch Site in Cameron County, Texas (Draft PEA). In consideration of these requests, the FAA is extending the public comment period for the Draft PEA. The FAA is also setting new public hearing dates which will provide additional time for the public to review the Draft PEA prior to the public hearing.

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FAA Closes Virgin Galactic Investigation, Clears SpaceShipTwo to Fly as Company’s Licensing & Compliance Officer Departs

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • SpaceShipTwo deviated from assigned airspace during July 11 flight test
  • FAA says Virgin Galactic failed to inform agency about deviation
  • Virgin Galactic’s licensing and compliance officer announces his departure from company

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration has closed an investigation into Virgin Galactic that resulted in the grounding of the company’s only suborbital SpaceShipTwo vehicle after the ship deviated from its assigned airspace during a July flight test with the company’s founder on board. The decision clears the way for another flight test planned for mid-October.

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Virgin Galactic’s Former Flight Test Director Disputes Company’s Version of Off Course Flight with Richard Branson Aboard

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s recently fired flight test director claims that pilot error, not upper-level winds, resulted in the company’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle flying outside of its assigned airspace during a July 11 suborbital flight test that carried the company’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson. He suggested an independent investigation instead of a company-led one might be required to address the mishap.

Mark Stucky, who Virgin Galactic fired eight days after Branson’s flight, said his former employer put out an inaccurate statement about why VSS Unity flew unauthorized into Class A airspace for 1 minute 41 seconds during its descent. Class A airspace is primarily used by airlines, cargo operators and higher performance aircraft.

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Audit Initiated of FAA’s Integration of Commercial Space Operations Into the National Airspace System

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — The National Airspace System (NAS) is used by the commercial space industry to transport astronauts, satellites, and, recently, civilian passengers into space. For these operations, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must shut down large portions of the airspace, resulting in operational inefficiencies to other users. FAA is developing the Space Data Integrator (SDI) to help reduce the impacts these operations have on other users of the NAS.

Citing the increasing frequency and complexity of commercial space launches, the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation requested this audit. The objectives will be to assess (1) FAA’s progress in implementing the SDI program and (2) actions taken and planned by FAA and the aerospace and aviation industries to integrate commercial space operations into the NAS.

Draft Environmental Assessment Recommends Starship/Super Heavy Launches From Boca Chica

Super Heavy/Starship system in flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

The draft document, available for download as a PDF here, says the FAA’s proposed action “is to issue one or more experimental permits and/or a vehicle operator license to SpaceX that would allow SpaceX to launch, which can include landing, Starship/Super Heavy. SpaceX’s goal is to use Starship/Super Heavy for low Earth orbit, sun-synchronous orbit, geostationary transfer orbit, and interplanetary missions for cargo and humans.”

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FAA Invites Public to Comment on Draft Environmental Review of SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Program

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) — The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today invited the public to provide its input on the draft environmental review for the proposed  SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy program in Boca Chica, Texas. 

The draft document, formally called a Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA), evaluates the potential environmental impacts of SpaceX’s initial mission profile for the program, including launch and reentry. It also reviews debris recovery, the integration tower and other launch-related construction, and local road closures in Boca Chica, among other issues. 

The FAA plans to hold virtual public hearings on Oct. 6 and 7 as part of the 30-day public comment period that ends on Oct. 18, 2021.

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Bank of America Rips Virgin Galactic for Failure to Disclose Out of Airspace Mishap on Richard Branson Flight

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Editor’s Note, Sept. 26: 2021: Story updated to reflect that Richard Branson began selling $300 million worth of Virgin Galactic shares on Aug. 10 the day before the FAA notified the company of a mishap during the July flight that carried the billionaire to space. The sale continued through Aug. 12.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Analysts at Bank of America who cover Virgin Galactic’s publicly-traded stock are not amused by the company’s failure to disclose that a SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight carrying founder Richard Branson flew outside of its assigned airspace on July 11, resulting in an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the grounding of the company’s only operational space plane.

“Point blank, in our view, it is unacceptable to have an event during a flight that, per FAA regulations, is considered a mishap and then claim that the mission was a full success,” analyst Ronald Epstein wrote in a note to investors. “The old adage, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, generally is a poor strategy in aviation.”

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House Infrastructure Bill Includes $173 Million to Improve Space Weather Forecasting

An artist’s rendering of the Space Weather Follow-on L1 satellite. (Credit: NOAA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House Science Committee approved an infrastructure bill that provides an additional $173 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to accelerate the development and launch of the Space Weather Follow-On Lagrange-1 (SWFO-L1) mission. The spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 2024, will monitor the solar wind and coronal mass ejections from the Earth-sun L-1 Lagrange point.

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Brazil Modeled Updated Launch Licensing on FAA Regulations

Alcantara launch complex (Credit: AEB)

BRASILIA, Brazil (Brazil Space Agency PR) — The Brazilian Space Agency (AEB/MCTI) published Ordinance No. 698, of August 31, 2021, which institutes the Regulations for the Licensing of Space Activities Operator and for Launch Authorization in the Brazilian territory. The rules referring to the authorization of launch operations were published in 2002, making it necessary to update their rules.

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