Virgin Galactic Rolled Out Unity a Year Ago

Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

One year ago today, Virgin Galactic rolled out the second SpaceShipTwo Unity in a lavish ceremony inside the FAITH hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

The new spacecraft made its first captive carry flight with the WhiteKnightTwo mother ship in September. It has since made three additional captive carry tests and a pair of glide flights in December.

Virgin Galactic has said it plans around 10 glide flights before beginning powered tests later this year. Unity will eventually fly paying passengers from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Richard Branson Returning to Mojave With Brian Cox in Tow

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

A source tells us that Richard Branson is scheduled to return to Mojave next week to lead a tour for some of Virgin Galactic’s roughly 700 ticket holders. Virgin does these trips for ticket holders periodically, but the boss doesn’t always participate, so this is a BFD.

Along for the trip will be Brian Cox, a British physicist and well-known television presenter, the source tells us. We here at ParacolicArc weren’t  sure exactly what that was at first. We initially envisioned someone who shows up at the house along with your new TV to explain its features of your new flast screen, program the remote, hook up the satellite receiver, and do all the rest of it.

That was wrong. It turns out a television presenter is what we Americans call a host. Cox appears to be their version of Neil deGrasse Tyson and/or Bill Nye.

Cox was very vocal in supporting Virgin Galactic after the Oct. 31, 2014 fatal accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury.

Readers of this blog will recall Branson was here on Dec. 1 to witness the second SpaceShipTwo’s first glide flight. SpaceShipTwo flew again on Dec. 22, but has not done a glide flight since.

With Branson showing up with the ticket holders and Cox in tow, it’s a good bet another glide flight is coming soon. The boss won’t want to explain a two-month gap in flights to folks who have been waiting years for their trip to space.

Update: It’s occurred to me that Virgin Galactic rolled out SpaceShipTwo No. 2 on Feb. 19, 2016. So, the visit next week is coming a year later.

That’s good timing from a PR perspective. There have been only two glide flights to date.  A visit by Branson with Brian Cox and ticket holders in tow is a good distraction for anyone (press, public or customers) who might question the pace of the flight test program.

The timing fits a pattern. WhiteKnightTwo was rolled out a year and two days after the fatal nitrous oxide explosion that killed three engineers. Virgin attempted the first drop test of the second SpaceShipTwo two years and a day after the first spacecraft was destroyed. (It was scrubbed by weather, and the first flight was not completed until a month later.)

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NASA Space Technology Year in Review

Mars 2020 Lander Vision System flight tested aboard a Masten “Xombie” up to 1,066 feet on December 9, 2014 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Credits: NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)
Mars 2020 Lander Vision System flight tested aboard a Masten “Xombie” up to 1,066 feet on December 9, 2014 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Credits: NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is dedicated to pushing the technological envelope, taking on challenges not only to further space agency missions near Earth, but also to sustain future deep space exploration activities.

“In 2016, we completed several major program milestones,” explains Steve Jurczyk, NASA associate administrator for STMD.

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Laser-based Navigation Sensor Could Be Standard for Planetary Landing Missions

Bruce Barnes, who does electronics engineering and system integration for the Navigation Doppler Lidar, makes final preparations to the sensor in a lab at NASA's Langley Research Center. (Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman)
Bruce Barnes, who does electronics engineering and system integration for the Navigation Doppler Lidar, makes final preparations to the sensor in a lab at NASA’s Langley Research Center. (Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman)

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — A laser-guided navigation sensor that could help future rovers make safe, precise landings on Mars or destinations beyond will soon undergo testing in California’s Mojave Desert.

The Navigation Doppler Lidar, or NDL, which was developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will be flight tested aboard a rocket-powered Vertical Take-off, Vertical Landing (VTVL) platform, named Xodiac, developed by Masten Space Systems, in Mojave, California.

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Obama Signs Law to Prevent Encroachments on Nation’s Spaceports

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President Barack Obama has signed into law a measure that will help the nation’s growing legion of spaceports fight the encroachment of obstacles such as transmission lines that could endanger suborbital spacecraft.

The measure, sponsored by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), was inspired by a problem experienced by the Mojave Air and Space Port, which is in the Congressman’s district. A utility company built extra tall transmission towers near the airport, sparking safety concerns among officials there.

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Photos Gallery: SpaceShipTwo Unity’s First Glide Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo's glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides through the Mojave sky followed by an Extra chase plane. (Credit; Ken Brown)
SpaceShipTwo glides through the Mojave sky followed by an Extra chase plane. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo comes in for a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo comes in for a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo rolls to a stop on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo rolls to a stop on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson and George Whitesides gaze out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Richard Branson moves to embrace SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky. To Branson's right in Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson moves to embrace SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky. To Branson’s right is Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic's FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic’s FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

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Video: Richard Branson Addresses Crowd Before SpaceShipTwo Glide Flight

Sir Richard Branson ventured out to Mojave Air & Space Port in California for the first glide flight of Virgin Gaalctic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity on Saturday, Dec. 3.

He addressed a crowd of a couple of hundred Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company employees who had gathered near the base of the Mojave control tower to witness the test.

It was the first flight of a SpaceShipTwo vehicle since the first spacecraft Enterprise was destroyed during a powered flight test on Halloween 2014. Unity will undergo a series of glide flights in the months ahead before powered flights begin sometime in 2017.

Keep up with Virgin Galactic and all the latest space news at http://www.parabolicarc.com and http://www.twitter.com/spacecom.

SpaceShipTwo Glide Flight Scheduled for This Morning

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Good morning from Mojave!

We’re hearing that Virgin Galactic will attempt a glide flight of the SpaceShipTwo Unity later this morning. A Saturday flight test is fairly rare for Mojave.

We also hear that a special guest have ventured all the way from the Caribbean to witness the test. Dress warmly, Richie; it’s 28 F (-2 C) out there.

Ken Brown and I will be out covering the test. I will be tweeting it at http://www.twitter.com/spacecom.

The flight comes just over two years and one month after the destruction of the first SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during its fourth powered flight test. The accident killed Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury.

The second SpaceShipTwo has made four captive carry flights, one in September and three in November. Two of the November flights were scrubbed drop tests, the first on Nov. 1 due to weather and the second two days later due to an unspecified technical problem.

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WhiteKnightTwo & SpaceShipTwo Conduct Fourth Captive Carry

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)

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo were back in the sky over Mojave on Wednesday for a captive carry flight of about 2.5 hours.  It was a rare afternoon flight test for the vehicles, which are usually flown in the morning.

Virgin Galactic tweeted that the company had made a few tweaks in the spaceship. Richard Branson’s space line did not provide a schedule for the next flight.

The flight test came nearly three months after the pair’s first captive carry on Sept. 8. Virgin Galactic attempted to perform glide flights on Nov. 1 and Nov. 3. The first was canceled after takeoff by high winds at the Mojave Air and Space Port landing site. The second was scrubbed just prior to release by an unspecified technical problem.

A Halloween Nightmare in Mojave

Alsbury_Plaque
It was raining in the desert. It was coming down in buckets.

A cold, hard rain was slamming against the windows of the house. The first real rain since….I couldn’t even remember. That’s how rare rain is out here. Months and months go by with little or no rainfall.

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SpaceShipTwo Drop Test Set for Tuesday

SpaceShipTwo glides toward a landing with its chase plane close behind at lower right. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
SpaceShipTwo glides toward a landing with its chase plane close behind at lower right. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Virgin Galactic plans to conduct the first glide test of the second SpaceShipTwo on Tuesday, Nov. 1. It will be the first flight of the spaceship and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft since a captive carry test on Sept. 8.

The flight, which will take place from the Mojave Air and Space Port, will come two years and 1 day after the first SpaceShipTwo broke up during a powered test flight, killing Scaled Composites pilot Mike Alsbury and injuring pilot Pete Siebold.

Virgin Galactic pilot C.J. Sturckow confirmed the date of the flight test during an event on Saturday at the Explorers Club in New York City, according to SpaceNews reporter Jeff Foust.

Sturckow told attendees Virgin Galactic plans “‘spot check’ the glide flight envelope of SS2 and move into powered flight tests in early 2017,” according to a tweet posted by Foust.

House Passes McCarthy Spaceport Measure

Rep. Kevin McCarthy
Rep. Kevin McCarthy

As we face the end of another fiscal year with Congress not even close to passing a national budget, there is one tiny ray of hope coming out of Washington.

A bill introduced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) concerning the nation’s spaceports passed unanimously, 425-0. The measure would allow the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct studies to determine whether constructing or altering structures at or near spaceports will interfere with “launch and reentry vehicles arriving or departing from a commercial launch site or reentry site.”

The measure is good news for the Mojave Air and Space Port, which has been concerned about the encroachment of structures on the airport.

McCarthy’s bill now goes to the Senate. Whether the measure will be passed during this current session is unclear. Congress is about to go on break so members campaign for re-election based on what a great job they’re doing in Washington.

After the election is over, Congress will reconvene to try to compete a year’s worth of legislative work in the time they have left before Christmas. If the Senate doesn’t approve McCarthy’s bill then, he will have to reintroduce it in the new Congress that convenes in January.

Four Years Ago Endeavour Made Its Final Bow


Editor’s Note:
I was on the flight line that day taking pictures. It was just spectacular to see this flyby. Right off the deck. The 747 had taken off from Edwards that morning; after the Mojave flyby, it flew over Lancaster and Palmdale before heading up to the Bay Area and then down to Los Angeles.

Video Caption: Video by Brandon Litt, posted with permission.

On Sept 21, 2012, workers at the Mojave Air & Space Port (airport code KMHV), and anyone else who found one of several entrances temporarily opened to the public, were treated to a rare close-up view of the fly-by of the Space Shuttle Endeavour atop the Shuttle Carrier 747 “NASA 905”. The tour of California en route from Edwards AFB to Los Angeles was the last time the shuttle/747 configuration would ever fly. We only knew the shuttle/747 would fly by Mojave. We didn’t know the view was going to be so good until a moment before when “Astro 95” asked Mojave Tower for a low pass over Runway 26, which would give everyone along the flight line the best possible view.

Many thanks to NASA for the nice display on Endeavour’s final journey.

This is a video that my co-worker Brandon Litt took with his cell phone. When I found that he hadn’t posted it on YouTube, I got his permission to do so. This view really needed to be shared. (I’m in the video with my back to the camera wearing a red shirt, which was from the STS-134 launch.)

See also my photos of the fly-by at http://ian.kluft.com/pics/mojave/2012…

Video of SpaceShipTwo Captive Carry Flight

Video Caption: On September 8, 2016, our new SpaceShipTwo — VSS Unity — took to the skies for the first time. This is first ever flight of a vehicle built by our manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company.

In this video, Mike Moses–our Senior Vice President of Operations, and a NASA veteran who oversaw dozens of successful flights to space–helps explain this flight and how it fits into the context of our full testing program.

You can read more about this flight test and about what’s coming next here: http://www.virgingalactic.com/update-from-mojave-vss-unitys-first-flight-test-completed/