By all appearances, Richard Branson’s 17-years-in-the-making flight to the edge of space went exactly as planned on July 11. Or at least that was the impression left by Virgin Galactic’s webcast of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity’s flight test from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
But, for the second time in four suborbital flights, VSS Unity experienced a serious anomaly. The ship with its hybrid engine firing wasn’t rising steeply enough as it soared toward space, Nicholas Schmidle reports in The New Yorker:
Take me out to the black, Tell them I ain’t comin’ back. Burn the land and boil the sea, You can’t take the sky from me….
— “The Ballad of Serenity,” Sonny Rhodes
“After so many years and so much hard work, New Mexico has finally reached the stars.”
— New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
By now, you’ve probably read the rhetoric flourishes in Virgin Galactic’s press release about the company’s first suborbital flight test in more than two years that was conducted on Saturday. Suffice to say, if the stars were located at the altitude that SpaceShipTwo actually reached (55.45 miles/89.2 km), they would take the sky away at the same time they burned the land and boiled the seas. Being suborbital, VSS Unity wouldn’t have helped anyone escape the inferno.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen. So, let’s just put doomsday out of our minds. It’s time to break down what the flight test accomplished, what comes next, and why 27 months passed between powered flights. And what about Jeff Bezos?
Flight signals revival of giant airplane, which will focus on launching hypersonic test vehicles.
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
For the first time in 2 years 16 days, Stratolaunch’s massive Roc aircraft roared down the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and soared into in clear blue sky on only its second ever flight test.
Roc took off at 7:31 a.m. PDT time, trailing a giant cloud of dust stirred up by its six jet engines and giant 385-ft long wings that hung out over the desert scrub brush. The aircraft flew over the Mojave Desert for more than three hours as a crowd that had gathered for takeoff watched.
Two years ago today, on April 13, 2019, Stratolaunch’s enormous dual fuselage aircraft with a 385-ft wingspan took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port trailing a cloud of dust. It flew over the Mojave Desert for 2 hours 29 minutes before landing back on runway 12-30.
The plane was the dream child of Scaled Composites’ founder Burt Rutan and funded by the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. It was designed to air launch satellites using a medium-size rocket.
Allen didn’t live to see the first, and thus far, only flight test of the aircraft. He passed away the previous October from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
His sister, Jody, was the executor of Allen’s estimated $20 billion estate. She decided to sell the company. The new owners are now preparing to use the aircraft to launch hypersonic test vehicles.
The giant aircraft was out on Runway 12-30 for several days last week. It was likely conducting some taxi tests. It is not clear when it will take to the skies again.
Virgin Galactic Founder predicts SpaceShipTwo would be ready to fly in 12 months. A year after that — March 2009 — the vehicle would begin commercial suborbital space flights.
The reality is that in 2007 they didn’t have an engine capable of firing for the one minute needed to send SpaceShipTwo above 50 miles. They weren’t even close to having one. It would take another 7.5 years to develop one they would even risk firing for more than 20 seconds in flight.
SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise was destroyed on Oct. 31, 2014 during the flight during which they were supposed to test that engine. That accident set the program back by another five years.
Scaled Composites pilot Mike Alsbury died in the break up of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise on Oct. 31, 2014. The memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center includes pilots who died during spaceflight and those in training for them.
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.
MOJAVE, Calif. (Stratolaunch PR) — Stratolaunch LLC has transitioned ownership and is continuing regular operations. Our near-term launch vehicle development strategy focuses on providing customizable, reusable, and affordable rocket-powered testbed vehicles and associated flight services.
As we continue on our mission, Stratolaunch will bring the carrier aircraft test and operations program fully in-house. We thank Vulcan Inc and Scaled Composites for turning an ambitious idea into a flight-proven aircraft.
UPDATE: And there’s this press release from Scaled Composites:
Scaled is pleased to announce the transfer of the Stratolaunch Aircraft to Stratolaunch Corporation. Scaled was contracted in 2011 by Stratolaunch to design, build, and test the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. Having accomplished these goals successfully, the Scaled team has transitioned the vehicle and associated knowledge to the Stratolaunch team. Scaled wishes Stratolaunch success as it continues work towards commercial operation of its launch system.
MOJAVE, Calif. (Scaled Composites PR) — During the annual Society of Experimental Test Pilots symposium this past weekend, test pilot Evan “Ivan” Thomas was awarded the Kincheloe award for the execution of the initial test program and first flight of the Scaled Model 351, Stratolaunch.
In addition, the Stratolaunch first flight crew – Evan “Ivan” Thomas, Chris “Duff” Guarente, and Jake Riley – were awarded the Tenhoff award or the most outstanding technical paper that was presented during the event.
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.
Well, it’s not the famous winter of Game of Thrones, but the 14-day lunar night has arrived where India’s Vikram lander and Pragyan rover made what IRSO officials have called a “hard landing” two weeks ago with no communication between them and ground controllers.
Since neither vehicle was designed to survive the frigid temperatures of the lunar night, the Indian space agency has called it a day in a rather bare bones announcement.