Virgin Orbit Partners to Use Japanese Airport for Launches

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port with the LauncherOne booster under its wing. Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft, which also air launches the Pegasus XL rocket, can be seen in the background. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

OITA, Japan/LONG BEACH, Calif., April 2, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based small satellite launch company, has announced a new partnership with Oita Prefecture to bring horizontal launch to Japan.

With the support of regional partners ANA Holdings Inc. and the Space Port Japan Association, Virgin Orbit has identified Oita Airport as its preferred pilot launch site — yet another addition to the company’s growing global network of horizontal launch sites — in pursuit of a mission to space from Japan as early as 2022. 

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Virgin Galactic Stock Goes Up Again (After Going Way Down)

Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in front of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo during the Spaceport America runway dedication ceremony in October 2010. The spaceport still awaits its first suborbital flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s wild roller coaster ride on Wall Street continued over the past week as Richard Branson’s spaceline marked five months as a publicly traded company and 13 months since the last launch of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.

Since debuting on the New York Stock Exchange at $12 last Oct. 28, the stock soared to a high of $42.49 on Feb. 20 before sinking to $10.49 on March 19. Over the past week, the stock has risen again; it reached $14.68 in after-hours trading on Monday.

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Stratolaunch Unveils Hypersonic Test Beds, Space Vehicle

Talon A hypersonic vehicle (Credit: Stratolaunch)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Stratolaunch has unveiled a pair of hypersonic test bed vehicles and a reusable spacecraft the company plans to launch from its giant dual fuselage airplane.

“Talon-A is a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle with a length of 28 feet (8.5 m), wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 m), and a launch weight of approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 Kg),” the company’s website said.

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Video: Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Taxi Test with LauncherOne Attached

Video Caption: Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 conducted a slow-speed taxi test down the runway with a fueled LauncherOne under its wing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on March 5, 2020. The test covered about 2 miles on runway 12-30.

The taxi test was a precursor to a flight test with a fueled booster for Sir Richard Branson’s launch company. LauncherOne is designed to orbit small satellites after being dropped from the modified Boeing airliner. Virgin Orbit plans to conduct a flight test of the booster for later this year.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 Conducts Taxi Test with Launcher One

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port with the LauncherOne booster under its wing. Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft, which also air launches the Pegasus XL rocket, can be seen in the background. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 aircraft conducted a low-speed taxi test down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday afternoon.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 carries LauncherOne in a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The aircraft taxied down the runway, turned around and returned. The Boeing 747 was then towed back to a concrete pad where it has sat for the last several weeks undergoing preparations for a taxi test and captive carry flight.

The LauncherOne booster can be seen under the left wing of Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Orbit has said that it needed to do a taxi test with a full fueled LauncherOne prior to doing a captive carry flight. It is not clear whether the booster was fueled. However, a hazardous operations notice to airmen (NOTAM) was not posted prior to the taxi test.

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 taxis down the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LauncherOne is designed to orbit small satellites by air launching them over the ocean. A flight test of the booster is scheduled for later this year.

Support equipment for Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 aircraft and LauncherOne booster. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The aircraft and booster require a significant amount of support equipment as seen in the photo above.

Virgin Galactic Stock Soars

Virgin Galactic’s stock hit an all-time high on Friday at $29.29 in after hours trading. The stock soared by $5.63 the day the company flew SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity from its test site in Mojave, Calif. to its operating base at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Not bad for a stock that was offered at $12 when it opened on the New York Stock Exchange last Oct. 28.

Stock prices are often based on future expectations. That’s certainly true of Virgin Galactic. The company has spent more than $1 billion over the past 15.5 years developing a suborbital space tourism vehicle that has never carried a single paying passenger. Virgin Galactic has never had an annual profit.

VSS Unity has flown two suborbital flights above 50 miles (80.4 km) since it was rolled out four years ago. The last flight was nearly one year ago. So, there hasn’t been any actual action in the sky — except for a ferry flight to New Mexico on Friday — to drive up the stock price.

Months of additional flight testing is set to take place before SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity conducts its first commercial flight with passengers. Virgin Chairman Richard Branson will be aboard that flight, which could take place before or on his 70th birthday on July 18.

Virgin says it’s got 603 passengers signed up for flights. It plans to begin selling tickets once commercial service begins at a cost higher than the current $250,000 price. The company says thousands of people have expressed interest in signing up.

Spaceport America Welcomes SpaceShipTwo Unity to New Mexico

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, NM (NMSA PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc., a vertically integrated aerospace company, has successfully completed another vital step on its path to commercial service, relocating SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to its commercial headquarters at Spaceport America’s Gateway to Space building.

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SpaceShipTwo Unity Moved to New Mexico

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity arrives at Spaceport America aboard WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, NM, February 13, 2020 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or “the Company”), a vertically integrated aerospace company, has successfully completed another vital step on its path to commercial service, relocating SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to its commercial headquarters at Spaceport America’s Gateway to Space building.

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Virgin Galactic Begins End Game as SpaceShipTwo Unity Relocated to New Mexico

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity arrives at Spaceport America aboard WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Four years after it was first rolled out, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity left the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Thursday for its new home at in New Mexico, where it will undergo final flight testing and preparation for commercial suborbital space flights.

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2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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Virgin Orbit Moves Toward First Launch

Cosmic Girl with LauncherOne attached. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — The Virgin Orbit team has been firing on all cylinders as we button up our first orbital LauncherOne rocket and make final preparations for our upcoming launch demonstration.

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Watch Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Land at Mojave

WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve returned to Mojave on Friday after a months-long stay at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The pilots did about a half dozen flights over the runway, some just above it and others touch-and-goes. This was the final approach and landing.

Virgin Galactic hasn’t made any announcement about its return. (Odd, because they tend to announce everything.) Officials have said in the past that WhiteKnightTwo would return to Mojave to bring SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to New Mexico to complete its flight tests and then begin commercial flights.

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Returns to Mojave

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

After spending months at Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier ship VMS Eve flew back to the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Friday.

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The pilots made about a half dozen low passes over runway 12-30. Several were just above the runway, while others were touch-and-goes on which they briefly landed before soaring again into the desert sky.

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Galactic officials have said that WhiteKnightTwo would return to Mojave to transport SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to the Spaceport America to complete its flight test program.

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Galactic is hoping to fly it founder, Richard Branson, on the first commercial SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight in time for his 70th birthday on July 18.

The company has said it has a backlog of 603 ticket holders who have paid either $200,000 or $250,000 apiece. Thousands of other potential space tourists have expressed interest in signing up once Virgin Galactic starts selling tickets again, officials said. The company plans to take reservations at an even higher price once commercial service begins.

2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
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Collaboratory Formed to Promote New Mexico’s Spaceport America During Closed Door Meeting

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Officials from New Mexico, the federal government and Virgin Galactic met last week behind closed doors for the state’s first Space Valley Summit to form a “collaboratory” to promote Spaceport America and the state’s aerospace economy.

The one group not invited: taxpayers who have forked over about $250 million to build the spaceport where Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant. As the Las Cruces Sun News dryly noted

Minutes after [Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham] exhorted the summit to “make sure every New Mexican … knows exactly what is happening here,” all reporters were asked to leave. 

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