Update on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses was at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) conference in Las Cruces, NM, this week updating everyone on the company’s effort to fly people into suborbital space aboard SpaceShipTwo.  Meanwhile, the spacecraft’s mother ship flew in to make an appearance at it’s future home, Spaceport America (see video, above).

Unity has been performing very well, sometimes better than models predicted,” Moses said. “Things are right on track where they need to be.”

Next up will be powered flight testing. While Unity is being tested, two more vehicles are being built to increase the fleet once it’s proven in powered flight. That, Moses said, is an indication of Virgin Galactic’s commitment to have multiple vehicles ready when commercial manned flights begin at Spaceport America.

Crews are putting final touches on the propulsion system and “pretty soon” will be evaluating supersonic boost. Virgin founder Richard Branson, in Helsinki last week, told Business Insider “We are hopefully about three months before we are in space, maybe six months before I’m in space.”

When questioned about that statement by ISPCS session moderator Ariane Cornell, Moses took a more conservative tone.

“Richard always poses a challenge, he likes to push us pretty hard,” Moses said. “Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t talk so much. We hope to be in space by the end of this year. We’ll take our time with it. We’re going to fly when we are ready.”

Read the full story.

Program Updates from ISPCS

The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

NASA and various commercial companies gave updates on their programs during the International Symposium on Commercial and Personal Spaceflight this week in Las Cruces, NM.

What follows are summaries that include:

  • suborbital programs (Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin)
  • commercial cargo (SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation)
  • commercial crew (NASA, Boeing, ULA).

The summaries are based on Twitter posts from attendees. A big thanks to Thanks to Tanya Harrison (‏@tanyaofmars), Frank Slazer ‏(@FSlazer), Jeff Foust (‏@jeff_foust), Michael Simpson ‏(@SpaceSharer), and Melissa Sampson (‏@DrSampson) for the coverage.

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Virgin Galactic Promotes Mike Moses to President

Michael Moses
Michael Moses

LAS CRUCES, NM, October 13, 2016 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic, the privately funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce the promotion of Michael P. Moses to President. Moses, who joined Virgin Galactic in 2011 as Vice President of Operations, will now oversee Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflight program, reporting directly to Virgin Galactic CEO George T. Whitesides.

Mike joined Virgin Galactic after a decorated career at NASA, where he served as a flight controller, Flight Director, and ultimately as the Space Shuttle Launch Integration Manager. In that role, he led all space shuttle operations from landing through launch for the final dozen flights of NASA’s space shuttle program. For his services, Mike was twice recognized with the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, one of the space agency’s most prestigious medals. Mike has also received both the Distinguished Science Alumni and the Outstanding Aerospace Engineer awards from Purdue University, among many other commendations.

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SpaceShipTwo Flights to Restart “Literally Very Imminently” — or Not

SpaceShipTwo lights its engine as WhiteKnightTwo flies overhead. (Credit: Ken Brown)
SpaceShipTwo lights its engine as WhiteKnightTwo flies overhead. (Credit: Ken Brown)

Jeff Foust has a report in Space News about a media tour of the Virgin Galactic hangar on Saturday.  (In case you’re wondering, I didn’t get an invite. That’s fine; it’s their show.)

The story is actually a bit puzzling, so let me try to sort it all out for you:

  • powered flights are set to “start imminently, literally very imminently,” after a 9-month gap, according to Mike Moses, VG’s vice president of operations;
  • however, the new nylon/nitrous oxide needs to go through one more successful qualifying test before it can be used in flight;
  • CEO George Whitesides Tweeted on Friday that SpaceShipTwo is due for a non-powered glide flight this week;
  • I saw SpaceShipTwo outside today slung underneath WhiteKnightTwo without a rocket engine installed, which would indicate a glide flight;
  • unless the qualification test has been done since the press tour and Virgin can do a quick turn around after a glide flight, a powered flight likely won’t occur until next week;
  • that makes me wonder what Moses actually meant by the words “imminently,” “literally” and “very”;
  • the specificity was a very unusual because Virgin official usually say the more vague word “soon,” which has been used in the past to describe a wide variety of different time intervals;
  • of course, for a program that just celebrated its 10th birthday on Saturday without flying anywhere near space, “literally very imminently” could mean next week.

I hope that clears everything up.

Jeff also reports that Scaled Composites will conduct some powered flight tests before turning SpaceShipTwo over to Virgin Galactic, which will conduct flights of its own in New Mexico before beginning commercial service by flying founder Richard Branson and his son Sam.

Moses to Lead Virgin Galactic Operations


VG PR ― LAS CRUCES, N.M. ― Virgin Galactic is pleased to announce the appointment of former NASA executive Michael P. Moses as the Vice President of Operations. Just days prior to the dedication of the company’s operational headquarters at Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin has named the highly respected human spaceflight leader to oversee the planning and execution of all operations of the company’s commercial suborbital spaceflight program at the site.

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