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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently talked with Paul Gessing who runs the Tipping Point New Mexico podcast. We talked about my article, “Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic: The Numbers Never Added Up,” which looked at the promises made to justifying spending $225 million on a custom-built spaceport for Richard Branson’s suborbital space tourism company. We also discussed Virgin Galactic’s recent move to go public.
Five years ago today, SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise broke up over the Mojave Desert during a flight test. Co-pilot Mike Alsbury died and pilot Pete Siebold was seriously injured.
The crash ended Virgin Galactic’s effort to begin commercial crewed suborbital spaceflights in the first quarter of 2015. Those flights are not forecast to begin in June 2020 — five years later than planned.
After 15 years of making extravagant but unkept promises to fly more than 600 “future astronauts” to space, Richard Branson must now please an entirely new group of people who are usually much shorter on patience: shareholders.
Following the completion last week of a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), the British billionaire’s Virgin Galactic suborbital “space line” will begin trading under its own name on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Monday.
Going public now is an unusual move for a space tourism company that hasn’t flown a singlet tourist to space since Branson announced the SpaceShipTwo program in 2004. Some might see it has putting the cart before the horse.
NMPolitics.net and its publisher, Heath Haussamen, have settled a lawsuit against the secretive New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) that runs Spaceport America. The authority agreed to release a group of fully unredacted leases of tenants at the spaceport and to pay the website $60,000.
NEW YORK, Oct. 16, 2019 (Virgin Galactic PR) — In January 2019, Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson and Under Armour CEO and Founder Kevin Plank announced a collaboration which saw Under Armour become Virgin Galactic’s Technical Spacewear Partner. Today, the companies unveiled the collaboratively designed spacewear system for Virgin Galactic astronauts comprising of a base layer, spacesuit, footwear, training suit and Limited Edition astronaut jacket. It is the first such collection ever created specifically for private astronauts.
KATOWICE, Poland, 9 October 2019 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Scientists and engineers from nearly a dozen Polish universities have teamed up with Poland-based satellite company SatRevolution and Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to establish a new consortium to design and carry out the world’s first dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars. The parties established the consortium at a formal signing ceremony during the Impact Mobility’ 19 rEVolution conference in Katowice, Poland.
The consortium will jointly develop the first in a series of up to three Mars missions, with the initial launch expected as early as three years from now.
DIDCOT, England (UKspace PR) – Space industry pioneer and entrepreneur, Will Whitehorn, today takes over from Andy Green as President of UKspace, the trade association which represents the UK space industry.
Will, who was formerly President of Virgin Galactic, played a central role in the development and concept of commercial spaceflight, and now holds several non-executive roles at companies including the Royal Air Force, Good Energy PLC, Stagecoach Group PLC, AAC Clyde Space and Scottish Event Campus Ltd. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He was also awarded the 2010 Geoffrey Pardoe RAeS Space Award for services to the space industry.
Fifteen years ago today on Sept. 29, 2004, Mike Melvill lit SpaceShipOne’s hybrid engine in the skies over the Mojave Desert and flew to an altitude of 102.93 km (337,697 ft) before gliding back to a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
It was Melvill’s second space flight in the rocket plane that Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites built. And it was the first of two flights required for to win the $10 Ansari X Prize for the first privately-built crewed spacecraft to reach space twice within two weeks.
Melvill didn’t have an entirely smooth flight. The spacecraft rolled 29 times during ascent before he was able to bring the ship under control.
Melvill admitted in 2014 there was an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that he would shut off the engine if the vehicle started rolling. But, he and Rutan were not sure it was a good idea to shut off the engine.
Melvill added that as a shareholder in Scaled Composites, he didn’t want to risk not winning the $10 million prize, which was set to expire in three months at the end of 2004.
Five days after Melvill’s hair-raising flight, Brian Binnie piloted SpaceShipOne on a trouble-free flight tin win the Ansari X Prize. Binnie flew to 112.014 km (367,454 ft), breaking the X-15’s record of 107.96 km (354,200 ft) set in 1963.
It was SpaceShipOne’s final flight. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who spent $28 million backing Rutan’s entry in the competition, decided to retire the spacecraft. He accepted an offer to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution. SpaceShipOne hangs in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
Allen licensed the technology to Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Scaled Composites and Virgin embarked on building the much larger SpaceShipTwo vehicle to fly tourists into space. Commercial flights are scheduled to begin next year.
Today, Sept. 27, marks the 15th anniversary of Richard Branson announcing the launch of Virgin Galactic Airways. It’s been a long, winding road between that day and today, filled with many broken promises, missed deadlines, fatal accidents and a pair of spaceflights.
This year actually marks a double anniversary: it’s been 20 years since Branson registered the company and began searching for a vehicle the company could use to fly tourists into suborbital space.
Below is a timeline of the important events over that period.
CNBC reports that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin plans two more flight tests of the reusable New Shepard booster and capsule before flying people on suborbital flights. The additional tests could delay the first human flight into next year.
CEO Bob Smith has talked about the first crewed flight of New Shepard happening as early as the end of 2018 – but that goal has steadily been pushed back. Smith, in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, explained why Blue Origin has delayed the first crewed flight and continued to test.
“It’s really the robustness of our entire system. It’s not one individual thing that’s driving [these delays],” Smith said. “It’s us being cautious and thorough with the total systems we need to verify.”
He noted that Blue Origin has been pushing the limits of its software and hardware, as well as testing its BE-3 rocket engine for extreme and unexpected situations.
Blue Origin has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to conduct the 12th New Shepard launch no earlier than Nov. 1.
New Shepard consists of a reusable booster and capsule. The capsule lands by parachute while the booster touches down using landing legs.
Blue Origin has recovered the capsules and boosters on 10 of the 11 flights. On one flight, the booster crashed while the capsule landed safely.
The company has not announced when it will begin to sell tickets and what price it will charge. Tickets aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which expects to begin commercial suborbital flights next year, cost $250,000. Virgin Founder Richard Branson plans to be aboard the first commercial flight.
Fourteen years ago, Virgin Galactic and New Mexico promised “tens of thousands” of tourists would fly to space from Spaceport America by 2019. Total thus far: 0.
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
When they announced in December 2005 that Virgin Galactic would locate its space tourism business in New Mexico, Virgin Founder Richard Branson and Gov. Bill Richardson made a number of eye-popping claims about why taxpayers should back a plan to build the Southwest Regional Spaceport to serve as the space tourism company’s home base:
$331 million in total construction revenues in 2007;
2,460 construction-related jobs;
$1 billion in total spending, payroll of $300 million and 2,300 jobs by the fifth year of operation; and,
$750 million in total revenues and more than 3,500 jobs by 2020.
Virgin Galactic would sign a 20-year lease as anchor tenant and pay fees based on the number of launches it conducted. New Mexico would use the spaceport, Virgin’s presence and the funds generated to develop a large aerospace cluster.
Surprisingly, New Mexico would spend more money, $225 million, to develop a facility now known as Spaceport America than the $108 million that Branson planned to spend on developing a fleet of five SpaceShipTwos and WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
Among all the big numbers in the announcement, there was a truly astounding one that was deemed so important it was mentioned twice. (Emphasis added)