RIYADH, October 27, 2017 (CIC PR) – Sir Richard Branson has said that he would not only invest in Saudi Arabia but also partner with the Kingdom on his ambitious space projects, including a space-centric entertainment center that may be built in the capital city of Riyadh.
“It’s an exciting time to invest in Saudi Arabia,” the Virgin Group founder told the closing session of the October 24-26 Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit in Riyadh, hosted by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), the country’s main sovereign wealth fund.
Video Caption: Richard Branson, Founder & President, Virgin Group will start his space operations in 4 months with the launching of small satellites. But he also presents the project for his Space Center in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s non-binding agreement to invest $1 billion in Richard Branson’s three space companies is part of a broader set of ventures that includes Branson’s Virgin Group investing in a new mega city on the Red Sea and suborbital space tourism flights from the Saudi capital.
“Branson has become the first international investor to commit to involvement in the Red Sea Project and nearby Al Ola/Madain Saleh, another prime site for the development of tourism, both domestic and international,” the Saudi government proudly announced on Oct. 1, more than three weeks before the space deal was unveiled.
Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses was at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) conference in Las Cruces, NM, this week updating everyone on the company’s effort to fly people into suborbital space aboard SpaceShipTwo. Meanwhile, the spacecraft’s mother ship flew in to make an appearance at it’s future home, Spaceport America (see video, above).
“Unity has been performing very well, sometimes better than models predicted,” Moses said. “Things are right on track where they need to be.”
Next up will be powered flight testing. While Unity is being tested, two more vehicles are being built to increase the fleet once it’s proven in powered flight. That, Moses said, is an indication of Virgin Galactic’s commitment to have multiple vehicles ready when commercial manned flights begin at Spaceport America.
Crews are putting final touches on the propulsion system and “pretty soon” will be evaluating supersonic boost. Virgin founder Richard Branson, in Helsinki last week, told Business Insider “We are hopefully about three months before we are in space, maybe six months before I’m in space.”
When questioned about that statement by ISPCS session moderator Ariane Cornell, Moses took a more conservative tone.
“Richard always poses a challenge, he likes to push us pretty hard,” Moses said. “Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t talk so much. We hope to be in space by the end of this year. We’ll take our time with it. We’re going to fly when we are ready.”
Ah, yeah…about that….Maybe if Virgin Galactic was already in powered flights. As it is, they still have at least one more glide flight to conduct. And they haven’t conducted one of those in two months.
It’s possible they only get one powered flight test off the ground by the end of the year. Would that leave them prepared to begin commercial flights by April? Probably not. There are a lot of variables involved — number of test flights, pace of testing, problems they discover — but six months would be pushing it.
The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.
This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.
Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury heard the sound of hooks disengaging and felt a sharp jolt as SpaceShipTwo was released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. Relieved of a giant weight, WhiteKnightTwo shot upward as the spacecraft plunged toward the desert floor.
“Fire,” Siebold said as the shadow of one of WhiteKnightTwo’s wings passed across the cabin.
“Arm,” Alsbury responded. “Fire.”
The pilots were pushed back into their seats as SpaceShipTwo’s nylon-nitrous oxide hybrid engine ignited behind them, sending the ship soaring skyward on a pillar of flames.
Video Caption: The Virgin Galactic ground crew plays an essential role in our commercial spaceline operations. Meet our spaceship mechanics and watch them prepare our vehicles VSS Unity and VMS Eve for a flight — right up until they pull chocks for taxi and take-off.
Editor’s Note: SpaceShipOne would fly one more time, on Oct. 4, 2004, to claim the $10 million Ansari X Prize, before being retired and shipped off to be placed on permanent display the National Air & Space Museum.
Do you remember the optimism then? Do you recall promises by Burt Rutan and Richard Branson that they would soon inaugurate the era of space tourism with SpaceShipTwo? How it would all happen by 2007 or 2008?
Thirteen years, four deaths, three hospitalizations, one wrecked spaceship and numerous inaccurate predictions later, there has not been a single human suborbital space flight. Not one.
The very elements of SpaceShipOne that Rutan promoted as the safest innovations to come out of the program — the hybrid engine and feather reentry system — figured in the fatalities of the SpaceShipTwo program.
SpaceShipOne was a tremendous engineering achievement. And Scaled is justifiably proud of it.
But, it also turned out to be an extremely fragile thing upon which to base a commercial suborbital space tourism program. It bred a dangerous overconfidence and enshrined some poor engineering choices into the design of SpaceShipTwo.
The hybrid engine took a decade to scale up for SpaceShipTwo. It also claimed three lives in an explosion because Scaled had misplaced confidence in the safety of nitrous oxide.
Scaled Composites also lacked the required expertise to properly address pilot error in a human spaceship. When that was pointed out by FAA safety experts with experience on the space shuttle, George Nield issued a waiver instead of making Scaled perform the analysis properly. Whether a proper analysis would have prevented the loss of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise and Mike Alsbury is something we will never know.
So, this is a rather bittersweet anniversary. Scaled can certainly take pride in its accomplishments. It was the apex of Burt Rutan’s career. But, that pride is mixed with knowledge of all the pain and frustrations that occurred in the decade that followed. The loss of valued colleagues and the destruction of a ship engineers spent years building.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides spoke at the 20th Mars Society Convention last week where he gave an update on his company’s effort to reach space.
Whitesides said the company has “a very small number” of glide tests remaining for SpaceShipTwo Unity before the vehicle begins powered flights. He did not give a timeline for when Virgin Galactic would light the motor in flight.
Unity has conducted six glide flights since last December. The most recent one was on Aug. 4.
Whitesides showed a video of hot fire of the spacecraft’s hybrid engine. He said engineers had completed testing on the engine, which he called the most advanced hybrid in the world.
Two additional SpaceShipTwo vehicles are under construction at the Mojave Air and Space Port, he added. The cabin pieces of one of them were recently bonded together. The new vehicles will be ready for testing a year or two, Whitesides said.
The tax increase that Sierra County voters approved in 2008 to support the construction of Spaceport America has no expiration date and no restrictions on the use of excess revenues that might be collected each year, according to the ordinance passed by county commissioners.