The New Mexico Finance Authority agreed to let the spaceport for one year use extra money from the taxes that shoppers pay in two Southern New Mexico counties. But the spaceport wanted the excess tax money in perpetuity, a proposal that the finance authority declined to grant as its chairman raised questions about the facility’s financial strength.
Though some politicians have supported the spaceport’s proposal, others have argued the tax money was only intended to help build the facility, not cover its day-to-day expenses.
I’ve been working for months on an investigative project into the status of Spaceport America. The question of whether the spaceport is providing an economic benefit to the state is front-and-center, but I’m also exploring transparency and other issues. I’ve visited the spaceport, interviewed Virgin Galactic employees, dug deep into documents and researched what’s happening in other states that have spaceports. I’ve obtained information the public has never seen and am excited to publish this series. Look for it sometime in July.
After a decade of broken promises and delays, the next year could bring some very good news for New Mexico’s $225 million taxpayer-funded Spaceport America.
Anchor tenant Virgin Galactic’s lease payments are increasing. And Richard Branson’s prediction for the start of commercial spaceflights there in 2018 appear (for once) to be on the mark, barring major problems with SpaceShipTwo’s flight test program.
So, it would seem that at long last, New Mexico’s hard-pressed taxpayers will finally be off the hook for supporting the spaceport. Right?…I mean, right?
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.
Let’s face it: by any rational measure so-called space tourism is a preposterously frivolous idea. Nonetheless, hundreds of thrill-seekers were willing to pay around $2,300 a minute for the ride as soon as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture was launched in 2005. The first passenger-carrying flight was supposed to happen 10 years ago, in 2007. It slipped to 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013…now…maybe… next year.
But if once it seemed like an idea whose time would never come (leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether it ever should) Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin team—not Branson—now seems more than ever likely to be the first to deliver….
Whereas Branson over the years staged numerous junkets for the media in which success was claimed to be imminent, this April Bezos staged his first preview of the ride on Blue Shepard at the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs with the warning that, “It’s a mistake to race to a deadline when you’re talking about a flying vehicle, especially one that you’re going to put people on.”
In less than a year of testing, Bezos has been able to do something that Branson has failed to do in more than a decade: demonstrate proof of concept….
Technically, New Shepard is the precursor of the much more ambitious New Glenn, Blue Origin’s multi-stage rocket program that will launch astronauts and satellites into orbit. (The Virgin Galactic design is an evolutionary dead end – it cannot be scaled up for orbital flight.) As he did with Amazon, Bezos has always had a very clear-eyed idea of what it would cost to get into the business, of the technical challenges, and of the time needed to master them.
It’s a good story that’s worth a read. I did notice one factual error: the tail stall and inverted spin that SpaceShipTwo experienced during a flight test occurred in 2011, not 2013.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity made its fifth glide flight over the Mojave Desert on Thursday. According to the company
Today, VSS Unity pilots Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow, had an equally busy test-card, but with the emphasis on proving the spaceship’s handling qualities, particularly at low speeds, with more weight on board than previously, and with a centre of gravity shifted towards the back of the vehicle.
This was achieved by loading around 1000lbs of water into a specially installed ballast tank in the rear of the spaceship’s fuselage. That enabled us to explore the flight conditions we will experience during rocket powered flights. By jettisoning the water ballast on descent, we were also able to confirm handling characteristics as the vehicle’s centre of gravity moved forward. Unity completed the flight with a safe and smooth landing in its lighter-weight configuration.
Today’s events represent another important milestone as we move towards the end of the of the initial glide test portion of the program and turn our attention to the spaceship’s propulsion system. To that end, as we analyse the data from today’s flight, we will be moving into a period of ground-based activity focussed on preparation for fuelled and then powered flights. As always, meticulous preparation and a focus on safety will determine next steps and timelines, but we expect to be back in the air in the not too distant future.
Virgin Galactic Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough was in Australia where he made a presentation in which he promised a greater level of safety for the company’s shrunken base of customers.
“We are a better and safer company as a result of that incident. One of the outcomes of testing is failure. We live in a risk averse world and it can come as a shock when something like that happens,’’ Mr Attenborough told the State Library audience, which included ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott.
“We have (since) looked at every element of the vehicle and every element of the operation.’’
Virgin Galactic is locked in a race with the likes of private firms Blue Origin and billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk’s Space X to be the first private company to successfully send commercial passengers into space….
Already 650 people have bought tickets to fly, including celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. But if you bought a ticket today, you would get to the front of the queue by around 2021, according to Mr Attenborough.
Virgin Galactic officials had previously stated the number of ticket holders to be around 700. The company had cancellations after the first SpaceShipTwo was destroyed in a test flight on Halloween 2014.
Word has it that Virgin Galactic has scheduled the fourth glide flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity this morning in Mojave. The test will be the first for Richard Branson’s suborbital space plane in more than two months.
On the test card for today is deployment of the new spaceship’s redesigned feather system, which re-configures the ship when it returns from space. Unity will be hauled aloft to an altitude of about 50,000 feet by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft Eve.
The premature deployment of the feather system during powered ascent led to the destruction of the first SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during a flight test on Oct. 31, 2014. Scaled Composites pilot Mike Alsbury died in the accident. Virgin Galactic has added a mechanism to the feather system to prevent premature deployment of the feather.
The weather forecast looks good for the flight, with sunny skies and low surface wind speeds.
There’s a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) for the operation of an unmanned aerial system (UAS) at the spaceport from 6 a.m. to noon. It’s not clear who will be operating the system, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Virgin Galactic is aiming to capture video of the flight from the air.
The six-hour period for UAS operations overlaps with the likely window for a SpaceShipTwo flight test. So, it is unlikely that this is a coincidence.
Russia’s Roscosmos state corporation has no plans to send space tourists to the country’s segment of the International Space Station (ISS) before 2020, Roscosmos deputy director general for international cooperation told Sputnik in an interview.
“As for sending tourists to the Russian segment of the ISS, Roscosmos has no plans to implement such flights before 2020 because of the absence of the relevant capabilities,” Sergey Savelyev said.
He added that space tourism was not limited by ISS-related projects and Russia’s corporation was interested in attracting tourists.
Seven space tourists made eight visits to ISS during the 2000’s, beginning with Dennis Tito in 2001 and ending with Guy Laliberte in 2009. The most recent attempt to send a tourist to the station fell through when British singer Sarah Brightman pulled out of a planned trip in 2015.
HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission.
Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year.
Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.
A source tells us that Richard Branson is scheduled to return to Mojave next week to lead a tour for some of Virgin Galactic’s roughly 700 ticket holders. Virgin does these trips for ticket holders periodically, but the boss doesn’t always participate, so this is a BFD.
Along for the trip will be Brian Cox, a British physicist and well-known television presenter, the source tells us. We here at ParacolicArc weren’t sure exactly what that was at first. We initially envisioned someone who shows up at the house along with your new TV to explain its features of your new flast screen, program the remote, hook up the satellite receiver, and do all the rest of it.
That was wrong. It turns out a television presenter is what we Americans call a host. Cox appears to be their version of Neil deGrasse Tyson and/or Bill Nye.
Cox was very vocal in supporting Virgin Galactic after the Oct. 31, 2014 fatal accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury.
Readers of this blog will recall Branson was here on Dec. 1 to witness the second SpaceShipTwo’s first glide flight. SpaceShipTwo flew again on Dec. 22, but has not done a glide flight since.
With Branson showing up with the ticket holders and Cox in tow, it’s a good bet another glide flight is coming soon. The boss won’t want to explain a two-month gap in flights to folks who have been waiting years for their trip to space.
Update: It’s occurred to me that Virgin Galactic rolled out SpaceShipTwo No. 2 on Feb. 19, 2016. So, the visit next week is coming a year later.
That’s good timing from a PR perspective. There have been only two glide flights to date. A visit by Branson with Brian Cox and ticket holders in tow is a good distraction for anyone (press, public or customers) who might question the pace of the flight test program.
The timing fits a pattern. WhiteKnightTwo was rolled out a year and two days after the fatal nitrous oxide explosion that killed three engineers. Virgin attempted the first drop test of the second SpaceShipTwo two years and a day after the first spacecraft was destroyed. (It was scrubbed by weather, and the first flight was not completed until a month later.)