Tag: Richard Branson

Video: Branson Comments on SpaceShipTwo Accident, Talks Future


Editor’s Note: The number of engineers working on the project seems to have shrunk from 400 or more down to 350. Branson also makes a few questionable assertions in the video. Rather than me pointing them out, see if you can spot them.

Paris Match has the full interview here (in French).

What Scaled, Virgin & Peter Diamandis Said After Last Fatal SpaceShipTwo Program Accident

Part of SpaceShipTwo's fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part of SpaceShipTwo’s fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The crash of SpaceShipTwo and the tragic loss of Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury were stark reminders that despite all the promises about the safety of new space tourism vehicles, space travel is a dangerous business where death can come in seconds.

If outsiders were stunned by the tragedy, it had a sickeningly familiar feel to long-time Mojave denizens. Mike Alsbury was not the first Scaled employee to die developing SpaceShipTwo for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceline. He was the fourth. Three engineers preceded him seven years earlier in a horrific accident at the Mojave spaceport.

The  2007 tragedy was quite different from the one that occurred over Jawbone Canyon on Halloween. The response to it was both different and eerily familiar.

Continue reading ‘What Scaled, Virgin & Peter Diamandis Said After Last Fatal SpaceShipTwo Program Accident’

BBC Radio 4 Program About Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo disintegrates as its two tail booms fall away. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

SpaceShipTwo disintegrates as its two tail booms fall away. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

BBC Radio 4’s The Report broadcast an excellent half hour program on the SpaceShipTwo accident on Thursday. I was featured on the program along with other sources.

You can listen to the program(me) here.

Program Description: “The fatal explosion of a Virgin Galactic space plane at the end of October 2014 was a major set-back to Sir Richard Branson’s dream of a flourishing space tourism venture. Lesley Curwen tells the story behind the crash and asks whether the highly lucrative Virgin brand will survive the tragedy.”

Branson Backs Virgin Galactic Boss George Whitesides

Geroge Whitesides addresses the crowd during the dedication of Spaceport America's runway.

Geroge Whitesides addresses the crowd during the dedication of Spaceport America’s runway.

In an opinion piece, Richard Branson heaps great praise upon the leadership of Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. [Richard Branson | Solidarity in a time of crisis]

We are fortunate at Galactic to have an extraordinary leader in chief executive officer George Whitesides. His calm, compassion and determination should be a model for any aspiring chief executive; Virgin Galactic’s unwavering focus and culture of teamwork, which George has helped to foster, are the foundations of any strong business.

Continue reading ‘Branson Backs Virgin Galactic Boss George Whitesides’

Wall Street Journal Story Adds Details to Virgin Galactic’s Troubles With SpaceShipTwo

Richard Branson speaks to the press at the Mojave Air and Space Port about the crash off SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Richard Branson speaks to the press at the Mojave Air and Space Port about the crash off SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The Wall Street Journal has a good piece on all the problems Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic have had with SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo over the years. It pretty confirms everything I’ve been writing for the last few years, adding some interesting details but getting a few of them wrong.

There were a number of interesting elements here:

The article claims that Sierra Nevada Corporation was brought in by Scaled Composites to develop SpaceShipTwo’s engine  in 2009. That’s not accurate.

Continue reading ‘Wall Street Journal Story Adds Details to Virgin Galactic’s Troubles With SpaceShipTwo’

CNN Video: Richard Branson Says Space Travel is Worth the Risk


Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson speaks to CNN Money’s Poppy Harlow about SpaceShipTwo and risk.

Iven’s Family Calls for Richard Branson to Scrap SpaceShipTwo Before Anyone Else Dies

Remains of Scaled Composites test stand after a nitrous oxide explosion in July 2007.

Remains of Scaled Composites test stand after a nitrous oxide explosion in July 2007.

The destruction of SpaceShipTwo brought back painful memories for the families, friends and colleagues of three Scaled Composites engineers killed in 2007 during a test of the vehicle’s propulsion system. The family of one of them, Todd Ivens, has called for Richard Branson to scrap the program before anyone else dies.

Mr Ivens’s sister Tara Ford, 41, said: “Yet another good man has lost his life to Branson’s plan. Personally, I would have scrapped it when the first three died, but then that’s just practical thinking.

“Seeing as it was figured out the boys were not properly trained for what they were doing back in 2007, it makes me wonder if things are going how they are supposed to.”

Mrs Ford said the news of the rocket ship crash had brought memories of the death of her brother flooding back to her. Mr Ivens, 33, and two colleagues Eric Blackwell, 38, and Charles ‘Glen’ May, 45, who were employed by Scaled Composites, died when a tank of nitrous oxide exploded on July 26 2007 at Mojave Air and Space Port.

They had been watching the test from behind a chain-link fence which offered them no protection from the shrapnel and other debris when the nitrous oxide tank blew up. Three other employees were injured in the blast and Scaled Composites was fined a little over $25,00 for five breaches of health and safety rules.

It is understood that Scaled Composites conducted its own an internal review of what went wrong although those findings have never been made public. The cause of the accident was also never made public.

Mrs Ford, who lives in Portland, Oregon, where Mr Ivens grew up, said: “I got that ‘not again’ feeling when I saw the news last week.

“They never really got to the bottom of why it happened, I still don’t know. We were just told it was a one-in-500,000 accident. But here we are again.”

Read the full story.

The SpaceShipTwo Accident: One Week Later


Hi everyone.

The last week has been an especially difficult one. The full force of what has happened is beginning to finally hit me in the quiet of a sun-splashed Friday afternoon in Los Angeles. I’m numb, sad and drained all at once.

I’ve been trying to formulate a post that might put all of this into perspective, and hazard some guesses about what the future hold. But, that has been especially difficult to do being so close to the situation. Others have more perspective than I do at this point, albeit probably less information. I’m reluctant to speculate until I know more. My prognostication abilities are at their best when I’ve been able to absorb the facts and step back and view the bigger picture. It’s far too early for that.

Virgin has been saying all the right things about continuing on with the program. Richard Branson has tried to put the best face possible on the accident, spotlighting those who he says made reservations after the crash. And Peter Diamandis has….well, the less said about his efforts, the better.

I have a lot of questions about what lies ahead in the weeks and months to come. I hope to be able to provide some answers soon that go beyond the official announcements and brave faces everyone is putting out there. That could take a while.

I know this terrible tragedy severely rattled me and Ken Brown, who watched it unfold over our heads. But, our pain is but a fraction of that being felt by the families, friends and colleagues of Mike Alsbury. To them, this is a deeply personal loss. And I can only once again express my deepest condolences for their loss.

The Associated Press has done a very nice profile of Alsbury [Co-pilot who died in Virgin Galactic crash hailed as ‘renaissance man’]. The Los Angeles Times also has a story about Pete Siebold’s miraculous escape from the doomed spacecrraft [Virgin Galactic pilot defied the odds to survive crash]. These are good pieces of journalism.

A support fund has been established for Alsbury’s family. Please consider donating here if you can.

Branson to Entertain Virgin Galactic Ticket Holders on Necker Island

Richard Branson, GREY GOOSE creator and Maître de Chai François Thibault, and George Whitesides toast to a new partnership. (Credit: Grey Goose)

Richard Branson and GREY GOOSE creator and Maître de Chai François Thibault toast to a new partnership. (Credit: Grey Goose)

Two years ago, Richard Branson hosted two separate groups of Virgin Galactic ticket holders for one week stays at his exclusive Caribbean retreat on Necker Island. There were parties and water sports and fine dining and drinking and all sorts of other activities among luxurious accommodations in a stunning tropical setting.

With the exception of one miffed girlfriend who went home in a huff (the topic of another post), a fine time was had by all.  The ticket holders went home happy, and Branson collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenues from them. The one great advantage of having a space plane whose flights are perpetually delayed is being able to cross-sell all of Virgin’s other properties and services to a group of wealthy individuals with money to burn.

Continue reading ‘Branson to Entertain Virgin Galactic Ticket Holders on Necker Island’

Apollo, Ansari and the Hobbling Effects of Giant Leaps


The author films as WhiteKnight taxis with SpaceShipOne on June 21, 2004. (Credit: John Criswick)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Oct. 4, the world marked the anniversaries of two very different space milestones. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. And in 2004, SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize by becoming the first privately-built vehicle to fly to space twice within two weeks.

While Sputnik quickly led to Sputnik 2 and 3, the Ansari X Prize has been followed by a decade of frustration. SpaceShipOne never flew again, nor has anyone replicated its accomplishments since. The dream of a vibrant new industry that would routinely fly thousands of tourists into space has remained just out of reach.

So, why did Sputnik quickly help spark a revolution that would transform life on Earth, while the Ansari X Prize led to 10 years of extravagant promises and desultory results? And what does this tell us about the role of prizes in moving technology forward?

Continue reading ‘Apollo, Ansari and the Hobbling Effects of Giant Leaps’