Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography Richard Branson Portfolio Oct. 10, 2017 482 pages
In his new book, Richard Branson recounts that on the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, he was on his private Caribbean island in a state of “schoolboy excitement.” The reason? Three time zones away in California’s Mojave Desert, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites were conducting the longest and most ambitious flight test of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.
Mogul’s Account of Virgin Galactic Most Revealing for What It Doesn’t Say
Part 1 of 3
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography Richard Branson Portfolio Oct. 10, 2017 482 pages
One day in mid-2003, Virgin Atlantic pilot Alex Tai wandered into a hangar at Mojave Airport and discovered SpaceShipOne, a suborbital rocket plane that Scaled Composites’ Founder Burt Rutan was secretly building to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice in two weeks.
The chance discovery would eventually solve separate problems the famed aircraft designer and Tai’s boss, Richard Branson, were trying to solve. Rutan’s spaceship was being funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, who wanted to win the prize but had no plans to finance a commercial follow-on spacecraft.
Four years earlier, Branson had registered a new company named Virgin Galactic Airways and set off in search of someone to build a vehicle capable of carrying passengers into space. Those efforts had come to naught until Tai made his discovery at the dusty airport in California’s High Desert.
While Boeing and SpaceX move toward flying astronauts to the International Space Station this year, there are two other companies working on restoring the ability to launch people into space from U.S. soil.
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic aren’t attempting anything as ambitious as orbital flight. Their aim is to fly short suborbital hops that will give tourists and scientists several minutes of microgravity to float around and conduct experiments in.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (OneWeb PR) – In a ceremony witnessed by H.E the Minister Eng. Abdulla Al-Sawaha and Sir Richard Branson, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and OneWeb have signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on the development of solutions in 2020 which should help to connect 237,000 homes throughout the country bringing much needed affordable, high-speed, low latency broadband access to those living in rural and remote areas.
This MOU comes within the efforts of MCIT to extend all the Kingdom’s areas of high-speed internet and to enhance the infrastructure of communications and data networks, in line with the National Transformation Plan aiming to reach high-speed Internet for the vast majority of rural and remote areas by 2020.
RIYADH, October 27, 2017 (CIC PR) – Sir Richard Branson has said that he would not only invest in Saudi Arabia but also partner with the Kingdom on his ambitious space projects, including a space-centric entertainment center that may be built in the capital city of Riyadh.
“It’s an exciting time to invest in Saudi Arabia,” the Virgin Group founder told the closing session of the October 24-26 Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit in Riyadh, hosted by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), the country’s main sovereign wealth fund.
Video Caption: Richard Branson, Founder & President, Virgin Group will start his space operations in 4 months with the launching of small satellites. But he also presents the project for his Space Center in Saudi Arabia.
The nonbinding memorandum of understanding involving $1 billion in investment from Saudi Arabia is Richard Branson’s latest success in obtaining financial support from governments for his Virgin Group’s space companies.
The table below shows funding invested directly into the group’s space ventures and indirectly for infrastructure.
VIRGIN GROUP SPACE COMPANIES — DIRECT & INDIRECT GOVERNMENT INVESTMENT
Custom built spaceport named Spaceport America constructed on 18,000 acres of land — Virgin Galactic signed 20 year lease to serve as anchor tenant
Government-owned sovereign wealth fund Aabar Investments obtained 31.6 percent share of Virgin Galactic — plans for a spaceport where SpaceShipTwo would fly in Dubai — future commitment of $100 million more when Virgin Galactic developed viable plan for small-satellite booster (LauncherOne)
Aabar Investments increased share of Virgin Galactic to 37.6 percent
Under non-binding MOU, government-run Public Investment Fund (PIC) would obtain undisclosed share of three Virgin Group space companies: Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company — Virgin Group to maintain majority ownership
PIC has an option to invest nearly a half-billion more in Virgin Group space services
This image was posted on Twitter by Saudi Arabia’s Center for International Communications. It appears to be from an event announcing the non-binding memorandum of understanding under which Saudi Arabia would invest $1 billion in the Virgin Group’s space companies (Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company). Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson appears to be on stage.
The press release announcing the deal mentions that the funding would “accelerate our programme for point to point supersonic space travel,” a plan that Branson has long talked about but for which there has been almost no details. That vehicle has been unofficially called SpaceShipThree.
I don’t know if this is that, or how accurate the illustration is if it indeed represents the vehicle mentioned in the press release. But, it’s interesting nonetheless.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, October 26, 2017 — The Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia and Virgin Group (Virgin), have signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a partnership under which PIF intends to invest approximately $1 billion into Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit, with an option for $480 million of future additional investment in space services.
Ah, yeah…about that….Maybe if Virgin Galactic was already in powered flights. As it is, they still have at least one more glide flight to conduct. And they haven’t conducted one of those in two months.
It’s possible they only get one powered flight test off the ground by the end of the year. Would that leave them prepared to begin commercial flights by April? Probably not. There are a lot of variables involved — number of test flights, pace of testing, problems they discover — but six months would be pushing it.
The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.
This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.
Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury heard the sound of hooks disengaging and felt a sharp jolt as SpaceShipTwo was released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. Relieved of a giant weight, WhiteKnightTwo shot upward as the spacecraft plunged toward the desert floor.
“Fire,” Siebold said as the shadow of one of WhiteKnightTwo’s wings passed across the cabin.
“Arm,” Alsbury responded. “Fire.”
The pilots were pushed back into their seats as SpaceShipTwo’s nylon-nitrous oxide hybrid engine ignited behind them, sending the ship soaring skyward on a pillar of flames.
Editor’s Note: SpaceShipOne would fly one more time, on Oct. 4, 2004, to claim the $10 million Ansari X Prize, before being retired and shipped off to be placed on permanent display the National Air & Space Museum.
Do you remember the optimism then? Do you recall promises by Burt Rutan and Richard Branson that they would soon inaugurate the era of space tourism with SpaceShipTwo? How it would all happen by 2007 or 2008?
Thirteen years, four deaths, three hospitalizations, one wrecked spaceship and numerous inaccurate predictions later, there has not been a single human suborbital space flight. Not one.
The very elements of SpaceShipOne that Rutan promoted as the safest innovations to come out of the program — the hybrid engine and feather reentry system — figured in the fatalities of the SpaceShipTwo program.
SpaceShipOne was a tremendous engineering achievement. And Scaled is justifiably proud of it.
But, it also turned out to be an extremely fragile thing upon which to base a commercial suborbital space tourism program. It bred a dangerous overconfidence and enshrined some poor engineering choices into the design of SpaceShipTwo.
The hybrid engine took a decade to scale up for SpaceShipTwo. It also claimed three lives in an explosion because Scaled had misplaced confidence in the safety of nitrous oxide.
Scaled Composites also lacked the required expertise to properly address pilot error in a human spaceship. When that was pointed out by FAA safety experts with experience on the space shuttle, George Nield issued a waiver instead of making Scaled perform the analysis properly. Whether a proper analysis would have prevented the loss of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise and Mike Alsbury is something we will never know.
So, this is a rather bittersweet anniversary. Scaled can certainly take pride in its accomplishments. It was the apex of Burt Rutan’s career. But, that pride is mixed with knowledge of all the pain and frustrations that occurred in the decade that followed. The loss of valued colleagues and the destruction of a ship engineers spent years building.