Tag: space tourism

SpaceShipTwo: Lessons Learned on the Commercial Space Frontier

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

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

SpaceShipTwo had exploded.

At least that’s what it looked like from our vantage point at Jawbone Station on that fateful Halloween morning ten months ago. And that’s what it looked like in Ken Brown’s photos. Ken had been standing next to me, training his telephoto lens on the small spacecraft nine miles overhead.

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Virgin Galactic Hires New Pilot

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WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the tarmac on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the tarmac on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

MOJAVE, Calif., August 26, 2015 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce the appointment of Nicola Pecile as pilot.

An Italian native from Udine and raised in Fagagna and currently a US Permanent Resident, Pecile will join Virgin Galactic’s growing commercial flight team led by Chief Pilot Dave Mackay.

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Lynx Flights 6-9 Months Away as XCOR Moves Staff to Midland

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Lynx Mark I with strakes bonded. (Credit: XCOR)

Lynx Mark I with strakes bonded. (Credit: XCOR)

The Midland Reporter-Telegraph has an update on XCOR’s progress on the Lynx and its move to Texas:

XCOR Aerospace has moved half of its staff to Midland as it attempts to juggle manufacturing demands back in Mojave, California with its shift to the Tall City.

The space company, which is developing the suborbital aircraft Lynx and orbital rocket engines for the United Launch Alliance project, has brought much of its ULA and administrative staffs to Midland while leaving many Lynx staff back in Mojave.

“There’s a lot going on in Mojave,” said XCOR mechanical engineer Mark Peck. “That’s one of the reasons for not moving everyone right now is because we just don’t want to take a month out of the build schedule.”

Peck estimated that XCOR is six to nine months away from the Lynx 1’s first flight. The main structure is complete and the wing mounts are being made. Once the craft is put together, the team in Mojave will do ground testing at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Peck cited the longer runway at Mojave and the ability to do extensive testing there without shutting down a commercial airport as reasons for doing the test back in California.

XCOR Signs Agreements with DLR, ESA-ESTEC

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Credit: XCOR

Credit: XCOR

Here are a couple of short XCOR press releases related to agreements signed by CEO Jay Gibson in Europe back in May. One is an agreement with the German space agency DLR relating to medical screening protocols for Lynx passengers. The second involves a multi-party letter of intent Gibson signed with ESA-ESTEC and two other organizations to jointly develop a new space mission concept.

XCOR didn’t publicize the trip at the time, and the information only recently appeared on the company’s revamped website.

COLOGNE, Germany – XCOR’s CEO Jay Gibson signed an agreement with Professor Rupert Gerzer, General Director of the prestigious DLR Institute for Aerospace Medicine in Cologne, Germany on May 20.

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Donald Trump Enters the Space Race

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Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has entered the space race, in a manner of speaking:

The tycoon is backing calls for Prestwick airport in Ayrshire to be chosen as the launchpad for commercial space flights and will offer VIP packages for passengers at his nearby Turnberry golf resort if it is.

In its bid, a consortium will unveil Trump as the exclusive hotel partner for rich space tourists jetting into the region from across the globe. Tailor-made packages will include castle tours, visits to distilleries and island-hopping in the Hebrides.

Prestwick is competing with five other sites in England and Scotland to be named as the United Kingdom’s first spaceport.

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Key Excerpts From Scaled Composites Submission to NTSB — Part II

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Removal of SpaceShipTwo debris. (Credit: NTSB)

Removal of SpaceShipTwo debris. (Credit: NTSB)

Editor’s Note: What follows are key excerpts from Scaled Composites 43-page submission to the National Transportation Safety Board concerning the crash of the first SpaceShipTwo last October. These excerpts relate to Scaled Composites evaluation of hazards created by human and software errors the company’s comments on the waiver issued by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation concerning these hazards.

Scaled Composites
Regarding the October 31, 2014
SpaceShipTwo Accident

(DCA15MA019)
May 29, 2015

Full Submission

VI. Scaled’s Robust Safety Processes and Culture

C. Scaled’s Evaluation of Hazards Created by Human Error and Software Error

Scaled’s SSA endeavored to address all potential hazards, including the risk of human error, in accordance with FAA guidance. Scaled’s FTA analyzed the possibility of human error in responding to functional hazards. In other words, should a certain function fail, Scaled considered whether the flight crew could respond correctly. Relying on the SSA Advisory Circular, Scaled assumed that standard pilot tasks would be performed correctly. In conformance with applicable guidance in the SSA Advisory Circular which recognizes that it is difficult to quantify the risk that test pilots will not conduct reasonable operations pursuant to procedure and to their training, Scaled’s FHA and FTA did not separately analyze functional hazards initiated by human error. These analyses did not consider, for example, routine pilot tasks (e.g., deploying the landing gear) being performed incorrectly (e.g., at an inappropriate time such as mid-flight).

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Key Excerpts From Scaled Composites Submission to NTSB — Part I

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SpaceShipTwo, ready for its closeup. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

SpaceShipTwo, ready for its closeup. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Editor’s Note: What follows are key excerpts from Scaled Composites 43-page submission to the National Transportation Safety Board concerning the crash of the first SpaceShipTwo last October. These excerpts relate to the feather system whose premature unlocking and deployment caused the accident.

Scaled Composites
Regarding the October 31, 2014
SpaceShipTwo Accident

(DCA15MA019)
May 29, 2015

Full Submission

IV. SpaceShipTwo, and in Particular its Feather System, was Carefully Designed, Tested, and Maintained

A. SS2’s Design

SS2, which evolved from the SS1 program, was carefully designed based on years of intensive research, analysis, and testing in an attempt to meet Virgin Galactic’s performance and schedule requirements. The design utilized simple, robust systems to limit potential failure modes. SS2’s systems were tested on over 50 flight tests prior to the October 31 test flight, including three prior rocket-powered flights, and they performed as they were designed to perform.

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Executive Summary of Scaled Composites Submission to NTSB

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ss2_debris_fuselage1

SpaceShipTwo fuselage (Credit: NTSB)

Submission to NTSB by Scaled Composites
Regarding the October 31, 2014
SpaceShipTwo Accident

(DCA15MA019)
May 29, 2015

Full Submission

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Scaled Composites (Scaled) is an aerospace and specialty composites development company located in Mojave, California. Since its founding by Burt Rutan thirty-three years ago, Scaled has successfully designed, built, and flight tested over 30 unique manned aircraft and spacecraft for the United States Government, national defense contractors, and other commercial customers. Scaled specializes in unique aircraft design, rapid prototyping, and flight testing. Scaled focuses on developing proof-of-concept aircraft using novel and creative approaches to solve difficult technical challenges presented by its customers.

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Virgin Galactic’s Modifications to SpaceShipTwo

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SpaceShipTwo fuselage. (Credit: NTSB)

SpaceShipTwo fuselage. (Credit: NTSB)

On July 11, Virgin Galactic submitted information to the National Transportation Safety Board about how it planned to address issues raised by the crash of SpaceShipTwo last October. The recommendations and their status are reproduced below.

VG’s Post-Accident Recommendations

1) Modify the SpaceShipTwo feather lock system with an automatic mechanical inhibit to prevent unlocking or locking the feather locks during safety-critical phases of flight.

Status: Completed by VG

2) Add to the SpaceShipTwo Normal Procedures checklist and Pilot’s Operating Handbook an explicit warning about the consequences of prematurely unlocking the feather lock.

Status: Completed by VG

3) Implement a comprehensive Crew Resource Management (CRM) approach to all future Virgin
Galactic SpaceShipTwo operations in a manner consistent with the pre-existing CRM program VG has employed for WK2 operations. This includes, as a minimum:

  • Standardized procedures and call outs
  • Challenge/response protocol for all safety-critical aircrew actions, to include feather lock handle movement
  • Formalized CRM training

Status: Completed by VG

4) Conduct a comprehensive internal safety review of all SpaceShipTwo systems to identify and eliminate any single-point human performance actions that could result in a catastrophic event.

Status: An initial assessment was completed and modifications to SS2-002 are in progress. Virgin Galactic will continually evaluate and improve System Safety throughout SpaceShipTwo’s lifecycle.

5) Conduct a comprehensive external safety review of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company’s engineering, flight test and operations as well as SpaceShipTwo itself.

Status: Initial Assessment Completed. The external review team will review the program both prior to commencement of flight test activities as well as prior to entering commercial service.

6) Ensure Virgin Galactic employs pilots who meet or exceed the highest standards and possess a depth and breadth of experience in high performance fighter-type aircraft and/or spacecraft. Minimum VG qualifications during the flight test program shall be:

  • A long course graduate of a recognized test pilot school with a minimum of 2.5 years post-graduation experience in the flight test of high performance, military turbojet aircraft and/or spacecraft.
  • A minimum of 1000 hours pilot in command of high performance, military turbojet aircraft.
  • Experience in multiengine non-centerline thrust aircraft
  • Experience in multi-place, crewed aircraft and/or spacecraft

These criteria are based on industry best practices for flight testing, using DCMA INST 8210.1C, paragraph 4.3 as guidance.

Status: Completed. All current Virgin Galactic pilots exceed the above minimum VG standards.

Virgin Galactic Misled Ticket Holders, Public on Complexity of Engine Change

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RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

When Virgin Galactic announced it was switching from the nitrous oxide/rubber rocket engine they had flown on SpaceShipTwo three times to one powered by nitrous oxide and nylon, company officials told ticket holders and the public the change involved only minor modifications to Richard Branson’s space tourism vehicle.

A document released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board directly contradicts that claim. In  it, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety expert describing his concern over “major modifications” that had been made in the suborbital space plane to accommodate the new engine.

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