Sometime in 2020, if all goes according to plan, British billionaire Richard Branson will board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity at Spaceport America in New Mexico and take the first commercial suborbital space flight in history.
The landmark flight, which Virgin has been trying to conduct for 15 years, will also be the culmination of a 30-year effort by New Mexico to become a commercial space power.
Virgin Galactic opened its Gateway to Space at Spaceport America in New Mexico to the press on Thursday. The opening came nearly eight years after Sir Richard Branson opened the hangar/terminal facility during a dedication ceremony in October 2011.
Earlier this week, the WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve carrier aircraft relocated to Spaceport America from Mojave. Calif. SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity is set to join it later this year for a series of three or four additional suborbital flight tests.
Branson plans to be aboard the first commercial flight from the New Mexico spaceport next year.
LAS CRUCES, NM, August 15, 2019 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic today revealed the first look at the interior fit-out of its Gateway to Space building at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The work completed showcased two floors of the building primarily focused on spaceflight operations, which also incorporates communal spaces designed for use in the future by Virgin Galactic customers, along with their friends and families. Completion of this interior work means the spaceport facility is now operationally functional and able to support Virgin Galactic’s flight requirements.
Bill Richardson, who pushed through the construction of the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport as governor of New Mexico, has been accused of involvement in a sex trafficking ring run by the deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein and socialite Ghislaine Maxwell.
The Daily Beastreports on court documents that were unsealed last week in a defamation suit against Maxwell by a woman who claimed she was forced to have sex with Richardson and other prominent figures:
A Virgin Galactic spokeswoman tells me that SpaceShipTwo VSSUnity remains in Mojave as its passenger cabin is fitted out for commercial flights.
The spacecraft is set to join WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve at Spaceport America in New Mexico later this year to complete a series of flights that began in Mojave. Commercial suborbital flights are set to begin from there in 2020.
The company is planning an event on Thursday, Aug. 15, in which they will unveil the inside of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space in New Mexico.
Nearly eight years after Richard Branson dedicated the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space at Spaceport America before a crowd that included Titanic star Kate Winslet and British royal Princess Beatrice, his suborbital space tourism company is moving its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft there.
When Branson dedicated the gateway facility in October 2011, the giant building was largely empty. Virgin Galactic says it is now ready to show off what customers will experience inside the structure.
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM — EXOS Aerospace’s SARGE 3 launch went awry shortly after liftoff from Spaceport America on Saturday as the suborbital rocket suffered control problems only seconds into its flight.
Liftoff appeared nominal, but then the rocket began to veer from side to side as it ascended. It was not clear from the webcast what altitude the booster reached.
Ground control team members lost sight of the rocket for a period. They then spotted it dumping fuel as it descended under a parachute guided by GPS.
The reusable rocket successfully touched down not far from its launch site. The rocket’s nose cone also landed in the New Mexican desert under a drogue parachute.
At the end of the company’s webcast, an official said the booster had apparently suffered a problem with its gimbal system.
EXOS, which is based in Caddo Mills, Texas, is attempting to build a business flying payloads on suborbital flights. The company also has plans for an orbital launcher that would carry small satellites.
EXOS uses technology originally pioneered by Armadillo Aerospace, a now-defunct company founded by gaming programmer John Carmack.
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM, May 7, 2019 (Spaceport America PR) — Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, and SpinLaunch, an innovative new space company revolutionizing access to space, today celebrated the ground-breaking of SpinLaunch’s future test facility at Spaceport America.
Attending the groundbreaking ceremony was Dan Hicks, CEO, Spaceport America, Alicia Keyes, Cabinet Secretary for Economic Development for the State of New Mexico, and Jonathan Yaney, founder and CEO of SpinLaunch, among New Mexico government and business leaders, and students from area universities.
An Exos Aerospace SARGE rocket reached 19.8 km (12.3 miles) before the flight abort after launch from Spaceport America on March 2, the company announced in a statement.
SARGE’s autonomous control system aborted the flight at about 65,000 ft after the rocket reached its instantaneous impact point (IIP) limit, Exos said. In essence, booster determined it was likely to land outside of the permissible range.
The flight had aimed to reach 80 km (49.7 miles). Despite the early abort, the company said it was pleased with the results of the second flight of the reusable booster, which previously flew last August.
The reusable, suborbital rocket landed back in the desert under a parachute. No information yet on altitude.
Flight programs and associated payloads on the flight included:
SPACEedu… Help your school fund, build, fly and reuse CubeSat projects for their S.T.E.M research programs. Having already flown for many schools, Exos is literally taking education to a higher level. P1. Arete’ Greater Nanticoke Area Trojans (space thermal energy transfer experiment).
SPACEbuild… Test or manufacture in space aboard an Exos vehicle for premium exposure to space flight conditions. The reduced cost of suborbital flights makes it a preferred risk mitigation step for qualifying orbital payloads. P2. NASA (Vibration Damper – TRL advancement), P3. University of Central Florida (Dust Aggregation experiment – SPACE-2 NASA REDDI Payload), P4. Agronautics, LLC (Space hops & grain), P5. SOLGW (memorabilia)
SPACEaid… Perform breakthrough medical research by leveraging the ability to test in the microgravity and vacuum of space. With Exos we can return your payload within minutes of landing. Our soft (5G) launch and fin stabilization means a gentle ride for your payload requiring less effort in payload design over other commercial launch options. P6. Center for Applied Space Technologies (Sponsoring Mayo Clinic for two “BRIC66” payloads performing cell research)
SPACEship… Launch from Spaceport American in New Mexico and we’ll deliver your payload to space and eject it to perform your test outside our vehicle.* (LEO target aboard our reusable (first stage) Jaguar vehicle – late 2022).
Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson says he wants to fly to space aboard SpaceShipTwo as America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, Agence France Presse (AFP) reports.
“My wish is to go up on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, that’s what we’re working on,” the head of the Virgin group said on the sidelines of an event to honor Virgin Galactic at the Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Whether a SpaceShipTwo flight on the anniversary of the moon landing will be seen as a fitting tribute to America’s greatest achievement in space or merely a giant PR distraction is uncertain.
Whether they will be able to make that date is equally unclear. SpaceShipTwo Unity is still undergoing flight tests at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Branson told AFP the next flight is set for Feb. 20, weather permitting.) And practically all of his previous predictions for the start of commercial flights have been proven wrong over the past 14.5 years.
Branson plans to be on Virgin Galactic’s first commercial flight, which will take place from Spaceport America in New Mexico. His son, Sam, and other passengers are set to be aboard the flights. Perhaps he will take Apollo 11 moon walker Buzz Aldrin, who just turned 89, along with him.
Branson told AFP that Virgin Galactic costs $35 million per month or $420 million per year to operate. He previously estimated he has spent $1 billion to $1.3 billion on the SpaceShipTwo program since it was announced in 2004.
Virgin recently laid off about 40 employees from Virgin Galactic and its sister company, The Spaceship Company.
NMPolitics.net is reporting that there were about 40 layoffs from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company earlier this month as they prepare to begin commercial flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
A Virgin Galactic spokesman confirmed the layoffs in a statement via email.
Recently we separated a small number of our team in order to position our organization for the drive to commercial operations following our successful recent spaceflight, and make room for new skill sets that we need to bring in over the course of this year. In total we separated around 40 people, less than 5% of our total workforce across Virgin Galactic and TSC. We are offering support to those impacted and sincerely thank them for their contributions, and wish them well for the future.
The news comes on the heels of a decision by SpaceX to lay off about 10 percent of its roughly 6,000 employees. Stratolaunch, which like Virgin Galactic is based in Mojave, announced last week that it was laying off about 50 employees as it down scaled plans for boosters to air launch from its massive aircraft.
There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.