On Monday, I joined Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing for an episode of the Tipping Point New Mexico podcast. We talked about the latest developments involving Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America. Topics include:
aborted SpaceShipTwo flight test of Dec. 12
reasons for 22-month delay in powered flights
new Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier’s extravagant vision for the space tourism company
why Virgin Galactic hasn’t been able to deliver on promises made to New Mexico taxpayers
shakeup in the management at the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, and
recent audit that recommended former Spaceport America Executive Director Dan Hicks and ex-CFO Zach DeGregorio be invested for possible criminal charges.
It was a flight 22 months in the making. But, when it came time for the rubber to meet the oxidizer, the whole thing suddenly flamed out.
The hybrid engine on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity failed to fire properly on Saturday, sending the suborbital rocket plane, pilots David Mackay and C.J. Sturckow and a load of NASA-sponsored experiments into a rapid descent and landing back at Spaceport America, instead of a graceful parabolic arc into suborbital space.
New Mexico to spend $225 million Commercial spaceflight set to begin in 2010 Virgin Galactic to fly 50,000 peassengers in 10 years
SANTE FE, NM, Dec. 14, 2005 (New Mexico Economic Development Department PR) — Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Companies, today announced that Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism business, will locate its world headquarters and Mission Control in New Mexico. The agreement between the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic calls for New Mexico to build a $225 million spaceport in the southern part of the state, on 27- square miles of state land.
“This is a historic day for our great state, and particularly Southern New Mexico,” said Governor Bill Richardson. “With Virgin at the controls, enthusiasts from around the world will fly to space, routinely and safely, just a few years from now. And they will be flying from the world’s first purpose-built spaceport here in New Mexico. I am excited that New Mexico will be on the ground floor of this new industry, and I know this will mean new companies, more high-wage jobs and opportunities that will move our state’s economy forward.”
On Friday, Virgin Galactic unveiled new flight suits for the pilots who will fly SpaceShipTwo. The company worked on the suits with Under Armour, which also designed similar garments for passengers.
The press release refers to the pilot garments as spacesuits 16 times even though they do not meet any accepted definition of the word. Per Marriam-Webster:
space suit: a suit equipped with life supporting provisions to make life in space possible for its wearer.
What Virgin Galactic and Under Armour have produced for both crew and passengers are flight suits that provide the wearer with zero protection against the vacuum and radiation of space. To call them spacesuits is false and unacceptable stretching of the word.
You can find the press release and pictures on Virgin Galactic’s website.
Fresh off a stinging report saying that it failed to properly oversee a state-owned facility rife with fraud, waste and abuse, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) Board of Directors approved spending up to $20 million on capital improvements to Spaceport America.
Outside investigation concluded former Executive Director Dan Hicks ignored spending regulations, submitted falsified travel documents, and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on unnecessary travel and unrealistic projects
Hicks portrayed by staff as an incompetent manager who bullied employees
Ex-CFO Zach DeGregorio facilitated Hicks’ violations by improperly approving travel and ignoring rules and statutes
Former New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board Chairman Rick Holdridge accused of allowing violations to continue
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
A highly critical investigation of Spaceport America has determined the New Mexico state government should consider formal criminal and/or administrative charges against former Executive Director Dan Hicks and former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Zach DeGregorio for their mishandling of the spaceport’s finances.
“As detailed above, there is evidence to conclude that Dan Hicks violated criminal and administrative statutes, as well as the State of New Mexico Governmental Compliance Act, and Governor Lujan Grisham’s Code of Conduct, during his tenure as Director of the Spaceport,” the report said.
Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight in nearly two years will have to wait a bit longer due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
The company has postponed a powered flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity that had been scheduled to take place between Nov. 19-23 from Spaceport America after New Mexico reenacted its shelter in place order as the rising number coronavirus cases have begun to overwhelm hospitals.
One week before Virgin Galactic is expected to report another large quarterly loss, the company’s WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve took to the skies on Thursday over Spaceport America for the first time since June 25.
The flight was the first of four tests designed to pave the way for Virgin Galactic to begin commercial SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism flights with VSS Unity during the first quarter of next year.
For 26 years, Michael Colglazier worked for a company whose theme parks feature a popular attraction named Space Mountain. They aren’t really mountains and they don’t go anywhere near space, but as rollercoasters they are pretty good.
When the former Walt Disney Company executive signed on to become Virgin Galactic’s CEO in July, his contract included a free ride to space for himself and three friends aboard his new employer’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle.
Video Caption: Listening to Richard Branson over the past 20 years, you’d be forgiven for assuming that space was by now being frequented by lots of tourists. However, despite the Virgin Galactic chief’s optimism, the space tourism industry has yet to take off. Up to now there have been only seven self-funded citizens in space. And with billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in the space race, why are there still no tourists in space?
A provision in George Whitesides’ contract has Virgin Galactic’s chief space officer — and possibly his wife, Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides — flying on one of SpaceShipTwo’s early suborbital flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or “the Company”), a vertically integrated aerospace company, today announced that SpaceShipTwo’s cabin interior design reveal will take place on July 28, 2020. The virtual event will be streamed live on YouTube. In celebration of this milestone, the Company will also be announcing plans to bring immersive versions of Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight and cabin interior experience, to aspiring astronauts around the world.
VIENNA, Va., June 25, 2020 (Space Adventures PR) – S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation “Energia” and Space Adventures, Inc. signed a contract for a short duration spaceflight of two spaceflight participants on board the same “Soyuz” spacecraft to the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS).
One of the mission participants will have an opportunity to conduct a spacewalk outside the space station, becoming the first private citizen in history to experience open space. Accepted and secured candidates will be required to complete specialized training and additional simulations in preparation for the spacewalk attempt.
“A private citizen completing a spacewalk would be another huge step forward in private spaceflight. We appreciate the chance to celebrate two decades of orbital space tourism with our Russian partners by opening up another first-ever experience. We applaud our colleagues at Energia for working with us to create amazing new adventures in space,” said Eric Anderson, Chairman and CEO of Space Adventures, Inc.
About Space Adventures
Space Adventures, the company that organized the flights for the world’s first private space explorers, is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. metro area. It offers a variety of programs available today, including spaceflight missions to the International Space Station, around the Moon, record-breaking orbital missions, and various training and spaceflight qualification programs. The company’s orbital spaceflight clients include Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth, Greg Olsen, Anousheh Ansari, Charles Simonyi, Richard Garriott, and Guy Laliberté.