Watch Virgin Orbit Test LauncherOne’s Fairing

Video Caption: By popular demand, here is another fairing separation test! The fairing protects the payload from dynamic pressure and heat. Our fairings are tested countless times before they make their debut. In this instance, we are testing the separation mechanisms that split the two halves.

Richard Branson Vows to Upstage Elon Musk in Space

Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Richard Branson says he’s looking for some way to upstage SpaceX’s launch of Falcon Heavy and Starman driving a Red Tesla.

“I was a little bit jealous,” Richard Branson told CNN’s Christine Romans on Tuesday.

Branson, whose Virgin Galactic is racing to launch tourists into space before SpaceX, called Musk’s stunning Falcon Heavy launch “extraordinary.”

“They all just did fantastic,” Branson said at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington. He added that Virgin Galactic is “thinking about what we can do to upstage that one.”

Hey, good luck with that.


A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!


GomSpace Signs Launch Contract with Virgin Orbit

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

STOCKHOLM, Jan. 16, 2018 (GomSpace PR) — GomSpace has purchased a launch for several nanosatellites onboard a LauncherOne rocket from the California based company Virgin Orbit. The flight, which is bound for a low-inclination orbit, is scheduled to occur in early 2019.

Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.


VOX Space Wins Defense Contract

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Orbit has received a Department of Defense (DOD) launch contract for its LauncherOne booster, the company announced this week.

“Their Space Test Program will fly some technology development payloads on our rocket as early as January 2019,” the company announced on Twitter.

LauncherOne will be air-launched from a modified Boeing 747 airliner. The first flight test is expected to occur in 2018.

The contract, which came through the VOX Space subsidiary that handles government work, came through the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx).

“We provide non-dilutive capital in the form of pilot contracts for commercial innovation that solves Dept. of Defense (DoD) problems. And we do so quickly, usually in under 90 days,” according to DIUx’s website. “Pilot contracts can include hardware, software, or unique services. More importantly, after a successful pilot, the company involved and any DoD entity can easily enter into follow-on contracts, just as fast.”

DIUx has also provided capital to two other space companies: Capella Space, a satellite company that uses synthetic aperture radar to provide Earth imagery that is based on Palo Alto, Calif.; and Orbital Insight, which provides geospatial data analytics that is based in Moutain View, Calif.

Video: Richard Branson Presents Space Plans in Saudi Arabia

Video Caption: Richard Branson, Founder & President, Virgin Group will start his space operations in 4 months with the launching of small satellites. But he also presents the project for his Space Center in Saudi Arabia.

Branson’s Saudi Deals Include Mega City, Spaceflights from Riyadi

Credit: CIC Saudi Arabia

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Saudi Arabia’s non-binding agreement to invest $1 billion in Richard Branson’s three space companies is part of a broader set of ventures that includes Branson’s Virgin Group investing in a new mega city on the Red Sea and suborbital space tourism flights from the Saudi capital.

“Branson has become the first international investor to commit to involvement in the Red Sea Project and nearby Al Ola/Madain Saleh, another prime site for the development of tourism, both domestic and international,” the Saudi government proudly announced on Oct. 1, more than three weeks before the space deal was unveiled.


FastFacts: Public-Sector Financial Support for Richard Branson’s Space Companies

Four big thumbs up from Richard Branson and then New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson at the Spaceport America runway dedication in 2010. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The nonbinding memorandum of understanding involving $1 billion in investment from Saudi Arabia is Richard Branson’s latest success in obtaining financial support from governments for his Virgin Group’s space companies.

The table below shows funding invested directly into the group’s space ventures and indirectly for infrastructure.

2006New Mexico~$225 Custom built spaceport named Spaceport America constructed on 18,000 acres of land — Virgin Galactic signed 20 year lease to serve as anchor tenant
2009Abu Dhabi $280Government-owned sovereign wealth fund Aabar Investments obtained 31.6 percent share of Virgin Galactic — plans for a spaceport where SpaceShipTwo would fly in Dubai — future commitment of $100 million more when Virgin Galactic developed viable plan for small-satellite booster (LauncherOne)
2011 Abu Dhabi $110Aabar Investments increased share of Virgin Galactic to 37.6 percent
2017Saudi Arabia$1,000Under non-binding MOU, government-run Public Investment Fund (PIC) would obtain undisclosed share of three Virgin Group space companies: Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company — Virgin Group  to maintain majority ownership
 TOTAL: $1,615
 Future Saudi Arabia $480PIC has an option to invest nearly a half-billion more in Virgin Group space services

Virgin Group, Saudi Arabia Sign MOU for $1 Billion Space Investment

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, October 26, 2017 — The Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia and Virgin Group (Virgin), have signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a partnership under which PIF intends to invest approximately $1 billion into Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit, with an option for $480 million of future additional investment in space services.


Pence’s Visit to Mojave in Pictures

Vice President Mike Pence in the cockpit of Stratolaunch aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen visited Stratolaunch and Virgin Galactic during his trip to Mojave on Tuesday.

Vice President Mike Pence poses with Rep. Kevin McCarthy and others in the Stratolaunch hangar. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The vice president received briefings on Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit during his visit.

Kelly Latimer with Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Virgin Galactic’s FAITH facility. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

It was Pence’s first visit to the Mojave Air and Space Port.

CJ Sturckow with Mike and Karen Pence in the SpaceShipTwo flight simulator. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Vice President Pence and his wife Karen look inside of a SpaceShipTwo under construction. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Orbit NewtonFour Hotfire Video

Video Caption: LauncherOne is powered by two rocket engines—a single NewtonThree on the main stage and a single NewtonFour on the upper stage. Both engines are turbopump-fed, gas generator cycle, LOX/RP-1 engines developed in-house here at Virgin Orbit. In this test, the rocket engine gimbals–in other words, it pivots–over a large range of motion. In flight, gimbaling allows the rocket engine to change the direction of thrust–and thereby steer the rocket. We’ve added a diagram on the left hand side of the screen to show the orientation of the engine throughout the test.

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.


NASA Space Act Agreements with Virgin Galactic, Moon Express, NanoRacks and More

NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements  (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.

From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with Virgin Group companies, Moon Express and NanoRacks. There is also a fourth table that has SAAs with a number of companies and organizations that we follow on Parabolic Arc.

SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)


Virgin Orbit to Launch SITAEL Satellite

μHETsat (Credit: SITAEL)

LOGAN, Utah (SITAEL PR) – Virgin Orbit was selected to launch a SITAEL satellite developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Virgin Orbit and SITAEL signed a launch service agreement at the 31st AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellite.

With Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, SITAEL will launch its μHETsat, a technical demonstration of a new electric propulsion system for ESA and ASI. Established in 1994 and headquartered in Mola di Bari, Italy, SITAEL is the largest privately-owned space company in Italy and provides Small Satellites based turn-key solutions, from mission concept to satellite in-Orbit commissioning.