C6 Launch Systems Starts Rocket Testing at Spaceport America

Scott McLaughlin, Executive Director of Spaceport America, Katrina Hornstein Senior Program Manager at Ursa Major Technologies , Daniel McCammon VP of Engineering at C6 and Mike Heard, Project Manager at Highland Enterprises. (Credit: NMSA)

SIERRA COUNTY, NM, March 16, 2021 (New Mexico Spaceport Authority PR) –– Canadian Corporation C6 Launch Systems has unveiled a new rocket engine test stand at Spaceport America’s vertical launch area.  

At a ribbon cutting ceremony held on site, C6 showed off the static rocket test stand constructed by Highland Enterprises of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Highland designed, fabricated, and installed the stand at Spaceport America. The rocket test stand supports many different engine sizes, and it will remain at Spaceport America for future use by C6 Launch and other Spaceport customers. C6 Launch Systems have invested $200,000 in developing the test stand and conducting its mission in New Mexico.

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Scott A. McLaughlin Picked to Head New Mexico’s Spaceport America

Scott McLaughlin (Credit: NMSA)

LAS CRUCES, NM, March 2, 2021 (NMSA PR) — Scott A. McLaughlin, a New Mexico native and a long- time business and engineering professional, has been selected by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board of Directors as the new executive director of Spaceport America, Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes announced today.

McLaughlin graduated from New Mexico State University with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and has worked at several government agencies, including the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as in the private sector with tech and engineering companies.

He served as Director of Business Development at Spaceport America prior to being named interim Executive Director of Spaceport America in July 2020.

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Virgin Galactic Delays Space Tourism Flights to 2022, Lost $273 Million Last Year

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo fly right overhead. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
  • Rollout of Second Spaceship Scheduled to Take Place on March 30
  • Announced Expected Timing of Revenue-Generating Flight with the Italian Air Force
  • Next Rocket-Powered Spaceflight Targeted to Occur in May

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or the “Company”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced its financial results for the fourth quarter and full year ended December 31, 2020.

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In Lieu of Spaceflight, Virgin Galactic Presents….

SpaceShipTwo fires its engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Monday marked the second anniversary of Virgin Galactic’s most recent flight above 50 miles, the altitude the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) judges to be the boundary of space.

In the days leading up to the anniversary, I kept thinking Virgin Galactic will announce something on Monday. Some bit of news to distract people from 24 months without a spaceflight. Something to show forward progress ahead of what is likely to be yet another quarterly earnings call on Thursday soaked in red ink.

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NM AG: Excess Local Tax Revenues Improperly Spent to Support Spaceport America Operations

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal hangar facility (center), Spaceport Operations Center (Left) and “Spaceway” (Runway) at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Excess local tax revenues collected to support Spaceport America have been improperly spent on the facility’s operational costs, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has concluded.

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Virgin Galactic Postpones Suborbital Flight Test

Virgin Galactic had planned to fly from Spaceport America in New Mexico as early as Saturday. The company has said there are open dates for the rest of February.

The suborbital flight will include two pilots and a load of microgravity experiments in the passenger cabin. It will be a repeat of a flight that was aborted in December after VSS Unity‘s computer lost contact with the ship’s hybrid engine.

The upcoming flight will be the first of three final suborbital tests of the rocket plane before Virgin Galactic begins flying paying passengers. The company said it might add more flight tests if necessary.

2020 a Busy Year for Suborbital Launches

New Shepard landing on the pad in West Texas on October 13, 2020, with the NASA Lunar Landing Sensor Demo onboard. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Suborbital launch used to be a sleepy field that rarely attracted much public attention. Let’s face it, atmospheric research and student experiments are not front-page news. Sounding rockets don’t have the majesty and power of a Falcon 9 or Atlas V.

In recent years, exciting new entrants in the field and widespread streaming of launches have made suborbital flights exciting. Last year saw important suborbital flight tests by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Skyrora that garnered worldwide interest.

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Virgin Galactic Hopes Fourth Time is a Charm

WhiteKnightTwo takes SpaceShipTwo off the ground. Credit: Virgin Galactic

After an aborted suborbital flight in December and one two years ago that nearly destroyed the ship and killed the three-member crew,* Virgin Galactic will try to put its four-passenger rocket plane into space for a third time later this month from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The flight window will open on February 13 with additional day for the rest of the month. It will carry two pilots and a load of microgravity experiments. The flight will be a repeat of one that aborted in December when SpaceShipTwo’s computer shut down the ship’s engine prematurely.

The flight will test modifications designed to prevent another abort. It will also test improvements to flight controls and horizontal stabilizers. A failure involving the latter nearly destroyed the ship on its second suborbital flight on Feb. 22, 2019.

There have been two fatal accidents during SpaceShipTwo’s development and testing that have killed four people. The accidents included a test stand explosion that killed three engineers and the in-flight breakup of the first SpaceShipTwo that killed the co-pilot.

For more information about the Feb. 22, 2019 flight, see below.

* As Virgin Galactic Crew Celebrated Second Suborbital Flight, Problems Loomed Behind the Scenes, Parabolic Arc

Virgin Galactic ordered safety probe after wing of spacecraft was damaged during 2019 flight, book says, The Washington Post

As Virgin Galactic Crew Celebrated Second Suborbital Flight, Problems Loomed Behind the Scenes

Chief Pilot David Mackay celebrates a successful flight with champagne as Chief Astronaut Beth Moses looks on. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Newly arrived back on Earth after a quick visit to space, Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Beth Moses was effusive as she described the suborbital flight she had just taken aboard the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, VSS Unity.

“Richard, you’re going to love it!” she told Virgin Chairman Richard Branson, who had remotely monitored the Feb. 22, 2019 flight that had taken place over California’s Mojave Desert.

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Upcoming Launches: Falcon 9, Starship, Soyuz and SpaceShipTwo

Falcon 9 lifts off with 60 Starlink satellites. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Tuesday, February 2

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz 2.1b
Payload: Lotus S-1 signal intelligence satellite
Launch Time: 3:45 a.m. EST (2045 UTC)
Launch Site: Plesetsk Cosmodrome

NET Tuesday, February 2

Launch Vehicle: SpaceX Starship SN9
Mission: Flight Test
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Boca Chica, Texas

Flight date depends upon completion of review and the issuing of a launch license by Federal Aviation Administration.

Wednesday, February 3

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payloads: 60 Starlink broadband satellites
Launch Time: 5:57 a.m. EST (1057 UTC)
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Thursday, February 4

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payloads: 60 Starlink broadband satellites
Launch Time: 1:19 a.m. EST (0619 UTC)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

NET Saturday, February 13

Launch Vehicle: VSS Unity/VMS Eve
Payload: Two pilots, microgravity experiments
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Spaceport America, New Mexico

Repeat of a flight test aborted on Dec. 12 due the computer losing contact with the engine. Launch opportunities extend through February. First of three additional tests intended to complete SpaceShipTwo’s initial flight test program.

The Virgin Updates: Orbit Resets Launch Date, Galactic Finds Cause of In-flight Abort

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has rescheduled the second flight of LauncherOne booster for Wednesday, Jan. 13. The flight was originally scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 10. The operation is set to take place from 7-10 a.m. PST (1500-1800 UTC). As always, your local time may vary. Please adjust accordingly.

The modified Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will fly out over the Pacific Ocean and release LauncherOne to the west of San Nicolas Island. The booster, carrying 10 CubeSats for NASA, will ignite its first stage and head to space.

Parabolic Arc will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing. Look for live updates at www.twitter.com/spacecom.

Virgin Orbit’s first attempt to fly LauncherOne ended in failure on May 25, 2020. The rocket’s first stage cut off about four seconds after ignition after a fuel line broke. The booster was carrying a mass simulator.

Meanwhile, sister company Virgin Galactic says it has found the cause of the failure that resulted in an in-flight abort of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity in December. The suborbital space plane’s engine shut off after the vehicle’s computer lost contact with it.

The two pilots aboard safely glided the ship back to a landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico. VSS Unity was carrying a load of microgravity experiments for NASA.

Virgin Galactic did not say exactly what exactly caused the computer to lose contact with the engine. Nor did the company set a date for a repeat flight test.

Virgin Galactic has said it plans three additional flight tests of VSS Unity before beginning commercial suborbital tourism flights sometime later this year.

The Year of the Four Spaceships: Final Report

Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, I went out on a limb and predicted that 2020 could be the Year of the Four Spaceships, with SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic and reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With the disruption and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t the easiest year to get things done. Keeping that in mind, let’s see how the companies did in 2020. (Spoiler Alert: they came up a little short.)

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Video of My Appearance on the Tipping Point New Mexico Podcast

Posted by Douglas Messier on Monday, December 21, 2020

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.

Enjoy!

Virgin Galactic Looks on the Bright Side After Launch Abort

WhiteKnightTwo takes off with SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity from Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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Space Tourism Rewind: Branson & Richardson Announced Spaceport America Deal 15 Years Ago

Early Spaceport America artwork showed facilities built underground. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

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.”

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