Tag: space tourists

Apollo, Ansari and the Hobbling Effects of Giant Leaps


The author films as WhiteKnight taxis with SpaceShipOne on June 21, 2004. (Credit: John Criswick)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Oct. 4, the world marked the anniversaries of two very different space milestones. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. And in 2004, SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize by becoming the first privately-built vehicle to fly to space twice within two weeks.

While Sputnik quickly led to Sputnik 2 and 3, the Ansari X Prize has been followed by a decade of frustration. SpaceShipOne never flew again, nor has anyone replicated its accomplishments since. The dream of a vibrant new industry that would routinely fly thousands of tourists into space has remained just out of reach.

So, why did Sputnik quickly help spark a revolution that would transform life on Earth, while the Ansari X Prize led to 10 years of extravagant promises and desultory results? And what does this tell us about the role of prizes in moving technology forward?

Continue reading ‘Apollo, Ansari and the Hobbling Effects of Giant Leaps’

New Mexico Legislators Look into Spaceport America Finances

WhiteKnightTwo visited Spaceport America for the first time in three years on Wednesday. Below, you can see a full-scale model of SpaceShipTwo on the ramp. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WhiteKnightTwo visited Spaceport America for the first time in three years on Wednesday. Below, you can see a full-scale model of SpaceShipTwo on the ramp. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

New Mexico legislators spent Monday down in Las Cruces reviewing the finances of Space America. Members of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee discovered that more had stayed the same than had changed in recent months.

Here’s a summary of the key points:

  • Virgin Galactic will likely not begin flying paying passengers for at least another 8 months. It’s not really clear how realistic that goal is; much depends on how upcoming test flights using a brand new motor go in Mojave.
  • Local taxpayers are partially on the hook for helping to keep the $218.5 million, taxpayer-funded spaceport operational until Virgin Galactic begins commercial flights. Currently, the $218.5 million taxpayer-funded spaceport is being used to launch sounding rockets and shoot commercials for Land Rover.
  • Operations are being partially funded from excess tax revenues levied in Dona Ana and Sierra counties that could be otherwise spent paying off spaceport bonds or making infrastructure improvements such as paving a southern road to the spaceport.
  • The $14.5 million that authorities have put aside to pave the road isn’t remotely enough to do the do a full paving job.
  • Construction on the 24-mile road – which will provide more direct access from Las Cruces – is likely to begin next summer after the Bureau of Land Management completes its review of the project.
  • SpaceX is about five months from being able to conduct flight tests of its reusable Falcon 9 vehicle at the spaceport.
  • A new, unidentified tenant is expected to begin flights of whatever it flies sometime during fiscal year 2016.

Learn more below:

Video Tour Inside of Virgin Galactic’s FAITH Hangar


Video Caption: On October 4th 2014 Virgin Galactic celebrated the anniversary of the Ansari X-Prize victory by inviting special guests for a ‘Behind the Hangar Doors’ tour.

Whitesides Explains Flight Test Plan for SpaceShipTwo

George Whitesides

George Whitesides

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has laid out the plan for completing SpaceShipTwo’s flight tests and beginning commercial operations in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal:

“We expect to get to space altitude in a short number of flights, assuming the rocket performs as expected,” Whitesides told the Journal. “Scaled made it to space in four flights with SpaceShipOne. I believe it will be a little more than that for us, but not dramatically so.”

Once SpaceShipTwo successfully reaches space, Scaled Composites will turn over the rocket to Virgin Galactic for its commercial operations based in New Mexico. Virgin has already taken control of the mothership, which it flew to Spaceport America for some initial test operations in September.

Continue reading ‘Whitesides Explains Flight Test Plan for SpaceShipTwo’

Virgin, Scaled Look to Resume Powered SpaceShipTwo Flights

Takeoff! (Credit: Douglas Messier)

WhiteKnightTwo takes off with SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Guy Norris at Aviation Week reports on Virgin Galactic’s progress toward resuming flight tests of SpaceShipTwo and moving on to commercial operations next year.

That process involves three steps: Scaled Composites completing a series of flight tests to meet contractual milestones; Virgin Galactic completing several flight tests of its own once it takes possession of SpaceShipTwo; and the FAA granting Virgin Galactic a launch license.

The official transfer of the SS2 from Scaled to Virgin will take place upon completion of key contractual milestones, Whitesides says. Although the main intention remains to demonstrate a fully powered suborbital flight with an apogee beyond the 100-km (62-mi.) “Von Karman” altitude limit that defines the boundary between the atmosphere and space, Virgin will be satisfied with two main criteria: “We’d like at a minimum for [Sealed] to demonstrate supersonic reentry and peak heating, if we can,” Whitesides says.

Continue reading ‘Virgin, Scaled Look to Resume Powered SpaceShipTwo Flights’

Virgin Galactic Completes Ground Tests on New Engine



Video: Branson Does Aerobatic Flying


Video Caption: I continued my preparations for space with some exciting g force training in Mojave. Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot Dave Mackay piloted an Extra 300L plane, a small but extremely fast and reliable aircraft trainer.

Continue reading ‘Video: Branson Does Aerobatic Flying’

Virool Launches Race to Space for Best Viral Video Ad

Sporting some shiny new tail booms, SpaceShipTwo touches down at the Mojave Air and Space Port after a glide flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Sporting some shiny new tail booms, SpaceShipTwo touches down at the Mojave Air and Space Port after a glide flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Thee is a new competition to win seats on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo from Virool:

We want to award the greatest viral video advertisement that ever was. There, we said it. We’re looking for creative and engaging videos that are simple and smart, and keep us wanting more. It can be funny, cute, sad, sentimental or even downright sexy. No matter what you’re promoting, we’re looking for THE video with the greatest viral potential.
The winner of the Virool Race to Space will be one of the first passengers to take a commercial space flight with Virgin Galactic. This outstanding marketer will also receive two round-trip tickets and a five night stay in Jornada del Muerto Desert New Mexico, USA. Don’t worry, food and transportation are also included.

Work Continues on Hybrid Rubber Engine for SpaceShipTwo

Looking back as SpaceShipTwo's rocket engine fires during the third powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Looking back as SpaceShipTwo’s rocket engine fires during the third powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

When Virgin Galactic announced in May that it was switching to a nylon/nitrous oxide engine for SpaceShipTwo, everyone probably figured the company had finally given up on its  dream of flying with the troublesome rubber/nitrous oxide hybrid.

Everybody figured wrong.

There is still work being done by The Spaceship Company (TSC), which Virgin Galactic owns, on a hybrid rubber motor even as Scaled Composites attempts to qualify the nylon motor for human flight, sources report. A static fire was performed last week at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

The work is being done without the assistance Sierra Nevada Corporation, whose rubber hybrid motor was dropped back in May.  The nylon engine was developed by Scaled Composites, the builder of SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

A source said although qualification tests of the nylon engine are going well, it would be expensive for Virgin Galactic to switch to that motor 0n a permanent basis. The tooling and equipment purchased for producing the rubber engine would have to be junked, and new investments made for the nylon engine.

SpaceShipTwo Flights to Restart “Literally Very Imminently” — or Not

SpaceShipTwo lights its engine as WhiteKnightTwo flies overhead. (Credit: Ken Brown)

SpaceShipTwo lights its engine as WhiteKnightTwo flies overhead. (Credit: Ken Brown)

Jeff Foust has a report in Space News about a media tour of the Virgin Galactic hangar on Saturday.  (In case you’re wondering, I didn’t get an invite. That’s fine; it’s their show.)

The story is actually a bit puzzling, so let me try to sort it all out for you:

  • powered flights are set to “start imminently, literally very imminently,” after a 9-month gap, according to Mike Moses, VG’s vice president of operations;
  • however, the new nylon/nitrous oxide needs to go through one more successful qualifying test before it can be used in flight;
  • CEO George Whitesides Tweeted on Friday that SpaceShipTwo is due for a non-powered glide flight this week;
  • I saw SpaceShipTwo outside today slung underneath WhiteKnightTwo without a rocket engine installed, which would indicate a glide flight;
  • unless the qualification test has been done since the press tour and Virgin can do a quick turn around after a glide flight, a powered flight likely won’t occur until next week;
  • that makes me wonder what Moses actually meant by the words “imminently,” “literally” and “very”;
  • the specificity was a very unusual because Virgin official usually say the more vague word “soon,” which has been used in the past to describe a wide variety of different time intervals;
  • of course, for a program that just celebrated its 10th birthday on Saturday without flying anywhere near space, “literally very imminently” could mean next week.

I hope that clears everything up.

Jeff also reports that Scaled Composites will conduct some powered flight tests before turning SpaceShipTwo over to Virgin Galactic, which will conduct flights of its own in New Mexico before beginning commercial service by flying founder Richard Branson and his son Sam.