Stratolaunch Took to Air Two Years Ago

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Two years ago today, on April 13, 2019, Stratolaunch’s enormous dual fuselage aircraft with a 385-ft wingspan took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port trailing a cloud of dust. It flew over the Mojave Desert for 2 hours 29 minutes before landing back on runway 12-30.

The plane was the dream child of Scaled Composites’ founder Burt Rutan and funded by the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. It was designed to air launch satellites using a medium-size rocket.

Allen didn’t live to see the first, and thus far, only flight test of the aircraft. He passed away the previous October from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Stratolaunch flies (Credit: Stratolaunch)

His sister, Jody, was the executor of Allen’s estimated $20 billion estate. She decided to sell the company. The new owners are now preparing to use the aircraft to launch hypersonic test vehicles.

The giant aircraft was out on Runway 12-30 for several days last week. It was likely conducting some taxi tests. It is not clear when it will take to the skies again.

Quarterly Launch Report: US in the Lead Thanks to SpaceX

A Falcon 9 lifts off with 60 Starlink satellites on March 11, 2021. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There were 27 orbital launch attempts with 26 successes and one failure during the first quarter of 2021. The United States accounted for nearly half the total with 13 launches behind nine flights by SpaceX.

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Mojave Spaceport Names Todd Lindner as new CEO

Todd Lindner

MOJAVE, Calif. (MASP PR) — A new Chief Executive Officer will take the controls of the Mojave Air and Spaceport (MASP) in April.

Todd Lindner, former Director of the Jacksonville, Florida, Aviation Authority’s Cecil Spaceport , was selected by members of the Mojave Air and Spaceport board of directors from more than 100 applications.

A veteran pilot, Lindner will be the first person with airport management experience to manage the Mojave Air and Spaceport.

“With 30 years of aviation management experience, Todd Lindner understands the unique financial and operating requirements of an air and spaceport,” said Jim Balentine, president of the MASP board of directors. 

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Mojave Air and Space Port Selects New CEO

Mojave Air and Space Port (Credit: Douglas Messier)

MOJAVE, Calif. — A new Chief Executive Officer will take the controls of the Mojave Air and Space Port (MASP) in April.

Todd Lindner, former Director of the Jacksonville, Florida, Aviation Authority’s Cecil Spaceport, was selected by members of the Mojave Air and Spaceport board of directors from more than 100 applications.

A veteran pilot, Lindner will be the first person with airport management experience to manage the Mojave Air and Space Port.

“With 30 years of aviation management experience, Todd Lindner understands the unique financial and operating requirements of an air and spaceport,” said Jim Balentine, president of the MASP board of directors.

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Virgin Orbit Looks to Expand Beyond Launches

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During a session at the SmallSat Symposium last week, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart and Founder Richard Branson spoke about increasing the number of operating vehicles and branching off into satellite manufacturing and operations.

“What they were trying to achieve was not easy and we we’ll be able to launch on numerous 747s from different parts of the world. We want to be able to build rockets and ship out quickly to different parts of the world. We want them to be able to go in to the right orbit or any orbit anywhere in the world,” Branson said.

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My Presentation About Mojave to SpaceBase in New Zealand

Last week, I gave a Zoom lecture to the SpaceBase group in New Zealand. The topic was lessons learned from the space and rocket testing conducted here in Mojave.

I really had time doing it. I want to thank Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom and Julia Rothman for setting up the session.

2020 a Busy Year for Suborbital Launches

New Shepard landing on the pad in West Texas on October 13, 2020, with the NASA Lunar Landing Sensor Demo onboard. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Suborbital launch used to be a sleepy field that rarely attracted much public attention. Let’s face it, atmospheric research and student experiments are not front-page news. Sounding rockets don’t have the majesty and power of a Falcon 9 or Atlas V.

In recent years, exciting new entrants in the field and widespread streaming of launches have made suborbital flights exciting. Last year saw important suborbital flight tests by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Skyrora that garnered worldwide interest.

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As Virgin Galactic Crew Celebrated Second Suborbital Flight, Problems Loomed Behind the Scenes

Chief Pilot David Mackay celebrates a successful flight with champagne as Chief Astronaut Beth Moses looks on. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Newly arrived back on Earth after a quick visit to space, Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Beth Moses was effusive as she described the suborbital flight she had just taken aboard the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, VSS Unity.

“Richard, you’re going to love it!” she told Virgin Chairman Richard Branson, who had remotely monitored the Feb. 22, 2019 flight that had taken place over California’s Mojave Desert.

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Virgin Orbit to Launch First Satellite for Dutch Ministry of Defense

Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 takes off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LONG BEACH, Calif., January 25, 2021 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, announced today that it has been selected by the Dutch space engineering company Innovative Solutions in Space (ISIS) to launch the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF) first ever satellite, a 6U CubeSat called BRIK-II.

Designed and integrated by ISIS, BRIK-II will serve as a testbed for various communications experiments and demonstrate how nanosatellites can provide a meaningful contribution to military operations. The mission represents a significant step forward for the Dutch Ministry of Defense’s efforts to develop their first space capabilities, with a particular emphasis on responsive launch.

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Virgin Orbit Launches 10 Payloads for NASA

Cosmic Girl takes off from Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

MOJAVE, Calif., January 17, 2021 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, the California-based satellite launch company, confirmed that its LauncherOne rocket reached space during the company’s second launch demonstration today, successfully deploying 10 payloads for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP).

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LauncherOne Reaches Orbit, Deploys Payloads

Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 takes off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

UPDATE: Virgin Orbit has confirmed that the second stage fired as planned for the second time and that the payloads were deployed into the planned orbit.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne reached orbit for the first time on Sunday with 10 CubeSats aboard, marking a major milestone for Richard Branson’s air launch operation.

The modified Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port and flew out over the Pacific Ocean where it dropped the booster. Virgin Orbit tweeted that the NewtonThree and NewtonFour engines on the first and second stages fired as planned to reach orbit.

The rocket is now coasting in orbit. The NewtonFour engine will ignite a second time to circularize the orbit before the 10 CubeSats are released. The CubeSats are aboard as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites program.

NASA provided funding for the launch under its Venture Class Launch Services program, which is designed to help fund new small satellite launch vehicles.

Three Launches & a Hot Fire in Three Days

Fully loading the propellant and detecting no leaks is a major milestone for the Green Run test series. A total of 114 tanker trucks delivered propellant to six propellant barges next to the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. (Credits: NASA)

The upcoming holiday weekend (Martin Luther King Day on Monday) will see NASA conduct the long awaited Green Run hot fire of its Space Launch System rocket core and orbital launches by Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and SpaceX involving 71 satellites.

Saturday, January 16

Launch Vehicle: Rocket Lab Electron
Mission Name: “Another One Leaves the Crust”
Payload: OHB Group micro communications satellites
Launch Time: 2:41 EST (0741 UTC)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: www.rocketlabusa.com (begins 15 minutes prior to launch)

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed as engineers examine sensor data. They have a 10-day launch window.

Hot Fire: Space Launch System Core
Test Window: 5-7 p.m. EST (2200–0000 UTC)
Test Site: Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Webcast: www.nasa.gov (begins at 4:20 p.m. EST/2120 UTC)
Post-test Briefing: Approximately two hours after test completion on NASA website

Sunday, January 17

Launch Vehicle: Virgin Orbit LauncherOne/Cosmic Girl
Mission Name: NASA ELaNa-20 mission
Payloads: 10 CubeSats
Launch Window: 1:00-5:00 p.m. EST (1800-2200 UMT)
Launch Sites: Mojave Air and Space Port, California (Cosmic Girl Boeing 747), Pacific Ocean (LauncherOne)

Monday, January 18

Launch Vehicle: SpaceX Falcon 9
Mission Name: Starlink V1.0-L16
Payloads: 60 Starlink broadband satellites
Launch Time: 8:45 a.m. EST (1345 UTC)
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com (begins 15 minutes before launch)

Virgin Orbit Delays Flight Test to Sunday

Cosmic Girl performs a pitch up maneuver during a flight test on April 12, 2020. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has delayed the flight test of its LauncherOne booster originally scheduled for Wednesday until Sunday, Jan. 17. Operations are expected to take place between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PST (1800-2200 UTC). Your local time may vary; please adjust accordingly.

Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will release LauncherOne over the Pacific Ocean west of San Nicolas Island. The rocket’s first stage will fire once the booster is clear of the aircraft.

LauncherOne’s second flight test will carry 10 CubeSats for NASA under the space agency’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program. NASA also funded the launch under its Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program.

LauncherOne’s first flight test failed on May 25, 2020. The first stage fired for about four seconds, but then quit due to a break in a propellant line.

This second flight test is seen as crucial for Virgin Orbit, which is attempting to raise an additional $200 million in investment. Founder Richard Branson has said the company has already raised $1 billion in its effort to reach orbit.

The Virgin Updates: Orbit Resets Launch Date, Galactic Finds Cause of In-flight Abort

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has rescheduled the second flight of LauncherOne booster for Wednesday, Jan. 13. The flight was originally scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 10. The operation is set to take place from 7-10 a.m. PST (1500-1800 UTC). As always, your local time may vary. Please adjust accordingly.

The modified Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will fly out over the Pacific Ocean and release LauncherOne to the west of San Nicolas Island. The booster, carrying 10 CubeSats for NASA, will ignite its first stage and head to space.

Parabolic Arc will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing. Look for live updates at www.twitter.com/spacecom.

Virgin Orbit’s first attempt to fly LauncherOne ended in failure on May 25, 2020. The rocket’s first stage cut off about four seconds after ignition after a fuel line broke. The booster was carrying a mass simulator.

Meanwhile, sister company Virgin Galactic says it has found the cause of the failure that resulted in an in-flight abort of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity in December. The suborbital space plane’s engine shut off after the vehicle’s computer lost contact with it.

The two pilots aboard safely glided the ship back to a landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico. VSS Unity was carrying a load of microgravity experiments for NASA.

Virgin Galactic did not say exactly what exactly caused the computer to lose contact with the engine. Nor did the company set a date for a repeat flight test.

Virgin Galactic has said it plans three additional flight tests of VSS Unity before beginning commercial suborbital tourism flights sometime later this year.