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.
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.
Now that the second SpaceShipTwo Unity has five glide flights under its belt, the “we’ll fly when we’re ready, we don’t make predictions” era appears to be officially over at Virgin Galactic.
“I certainly would be very disappointed if I don’t go up next year. And I would hope it’s earlier than later in the year,” Richard Branson told British GQ. “The programme says that we should be [testing] in space by December, as long as we don’t have any setbacks between now and then.”
Back in February, Professor Brian Cox traveled here to Mojave with his friends Richard and Sam Branson to watch the third glide flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity.
Bowled over by what he saw even before the suborbital tourism vehicle glided overhead, Cox gave what amounted to a rousing endorsement of Virgin Galactic and SpaceShipTwo to a gathering of company employees.
“People ask me a lot because I’m a space geek and I’m obviously an evangelist for space, ‘Would you fly to space?” Cox said with Richard Branson seated beside him. “And I’ve always said, ‘Well yes and no, because in some sense it’s a dangerous thing to do.’ However, the moment I walked in this hangar and saw that aircraft, I thought, I want to get on that aircraft. So the answer is now is 100 percent yes.”
What was not widely known at the time was that Cox was filming a BBC-commissioned documentary about commercial space. And the company the corporation commissioned to co-produce it, Sundog Pictures, is owned and run by none other than Cox’s good friend, Sam Branson.
Mike Alsbury’s day began with a 3 a.m. wake up at his home in Tehachapi, Calif. He showered, dressed and ate a breakfast that likely consisted of an apple and a granola bar.
Alsbury rarely awoke at so early; but this Oct. 31 was a flight test day. That meant a lot of people were getting up early for the latest milestone in the Tier 1B program. At least that’s what they called it at Alsbury’s employer, Scaled Composites. The rest of the world knew it as WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo – the foundation of Sir Richard Branson’s suborbital space tourism program. Scaled built and tested the vehicles for the British billionaire’s spaceline, Virgin Galactic.
Ship Entered Inverted Flat Spin Officials Downplayed Incident at Time Near Disaster Cancelled Glide Flight at Spaceport America
The SpaceShipTwo vehicle that crashed one year ago nearly met its end three years earlier during a hair-raising flight test that officials at builder Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic downplayed at the time, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Despite Richard Branson’s increasingly dire pronouncements (The Time for Climate Action is Now) about how rising global temperatures and sea levels threaten the planet (and his private island home), it looks as if Virgin Galactic will go back to using a carbon spewing rubber hybrid rocket engine to power SpaceShipTwo.
That’s the word from Virgin Galactic officials in Mojave, who say that the rubber/nitrous oxide engine they previously abandoned is now performing better than the supposedly superior nylon/nitrous oxide engine they abandoned it for in May 2014. It’s not entirely certain, but it looks that way.
One Year Ago, the Ansari X Prize Turned 10 It Was an Uncomfortable Birthday
By Douglas Messier Managing Editor
The planes kept coming and coming. One after another, they swooped out of a blue desert sky and touched down on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way.
And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize. A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period.
Updated with statement from Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides
By Douglas Messier Managing Editor
The chief aerodynamicist credited with designing SpaceShipTwo is departing the program on the eve of a crucial series of flight tests designed that Virgin Galactic hopes will lead to the start of commercial suborbital space tourism operations early next year.
Multiple sources have confirmed that Jim Tighe announced on Thursday that he would be leaving his position as chief aerodynamicist at Scaled Composites in two weeks for a job at an unnamed aerospace company. It is not clear what prompted the move.
Update: Reports indicate Tighe will be working for an aviation start-up based in Silicon Valley.
Editor’s Note: It’s official. Sir Richard has been reassuring the British media that Holly will not be the first person to give birth in space — a rather outlandish idea that some in the press corps over there seem strangely fixated on. Welcome to the world, twins! Now get ready for the 6G re-entry. Bizarre.
It would seem that Richard Branson’s daughter Holly will not be joining her famous father and brother Sam on the first SpaceShipTwo commercial flight, which is scheduled for the end of the year from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
“Freddie and I are delighted to share the happy news that we are expecting twins!” Holly Branson announced on Tuesday in a blog post on the Virgin Group’s website.
Passengers aboard SpaceShipTwo are expected to briefly experience up to six times the force of normal gravity during the suborbital flight.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has said the company plans to conduct a “handful” of additional SpaceShipTwo test flights at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California before moving operations to New Mexico later this year.
The Branson flight is set to kickoff commercial service of the vehicle, for which about 700 people have signed up. Tickets cost $250,000 each.
Over the years, I’ve heard many speakers at various space conferences and events say all sorts of things that I felt…oh, comment on dit?…stretched the truth like Silly Putty. Yes, that’s a polite way to put it.
After a while, I’ve become quite numb to it all — the hype, promises, publicity stunts, optimistic schedules that get blown away like fallen leaves on a windy Mojave day. By this point, most of it just passes over me without meriting so much as a mention.
But, sometimes I hear something that stretches the rhetorical Silly Putty beyond the breaking point. I had just such an experience three weeks ago at the Space Tech Expo in Long Beach, Calif.
After a couple of months inside the hangar undergoing modifications, SpaceShipTwo is outside on the ramp today at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California.
Scaled Composites engineers are running the suborbital space plane through pressure tests on the cockpit, according to sources. The vehicle does not have an engine installed.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo last flew under power on Jan. 10, completing a 20-second burn of its hybrid nitrous oxide-rubber engine and reached an altitude of 71,000 feet. The ship flew again in an un-powered glide flight one week later before going into the hangar for changes.
Friday was a big day for finding out more about the two leading suborbital companies.
XCOR conducted a Q&A with CEO Jeff Greason using questions submitted via Facebook and Twitter. Read the transcript on XCOR’s blog and find out more about the status of the Lynx space plane, point-to-point travel, and the company’s plans for the future.
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic Vice President of Special Projects Will Pomerantz joined Richard Branson’s son, Sam, in a Google Hangout to answer questions from participants in the Google Science Fair. Watch the YouTube video to watch them discuss why humans go to space and Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle.
UPDATE: Looks like I got this wrong. D’oh! Will Pomerantz just said the announcement is coming up in the next week or so. Last week, CEO George Whitesides said to expect a “fun” announcement this week. I figured it would come during the Google Hangout with the founder’s son, but I was wrong.
Get ready for some fun, VG style!
Richard Branson’s son Sam will co-host a Galactic Hangout on Friday, Feb. 28 during the Google Science Fair. He and Virgin Galactic Vice President Will Pomerantz will address the question, “Why go to space?” They will also announce the 700th and 701st customer to sign up for a suborbital flight aboard SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has promised it will be a fun announcement.