Bank of America Rips Virgin Galactic for Failure to Disclose Out of Airspace Mishap on Richard Branson Flight

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Analysts at Bank of America who cover Virgin Galactic’s publicly-traded stock are not amused by the company’s failure to disclose that a SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight carrying founder Richard Branson flew outside of its assigned airspace on July 11, resulting in an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the grounding of the company’s only operational space plane.

“Point blank, in our view, it is unacceptable to have an event during a flight that, per FAA regulations, is considered a mishap and then claim that the mission was a full success,” analyst Ronald Epstein wrote in a note to investors. “The old adage, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, generally is a poor strategy in aviation.”

(more…)

Virgin Galactic Delays Next SpaceShipTwo Flight

VSS Unity in flight on July 11, 2021. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR)– Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced an update regarding the timing of its next test flight “Unity 23” with the Italian Air Force.

(more…)

FAA: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Grounded Until Investigation Completed

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said today that Virgin Galactic cannot launch its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle until the agency completes an investigation into an anomaly that occurred on a flight test that carried company founder Richard Branson on July 11.

(more…)

Virgin Galactic Announces First Commercial Research Mission

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • “Unity 23” Test Flight Will Mark First Research Customer Mission
  • Partnership with Italian Air Force Marks First Mission of Its Kind led by European Country

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced the manifest for the next rocket-powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity from Spaceport America, which will be the first commercial, human-tended research mission for the Company.

(more…)

Virgin Galactic Statement About Anomaly on Richard Branson’s Suborbital Space Flight

Virgin Galactic Statement

We dispute the misleading characterizations and conclusions in the New Yorker article published today.

The safety of our crew and passengers is Virgin Galactic’s top priority. Our entire approach to spaceflight is guided by a fundamental commitment to safety at every level, including our spaceflight system, our test flight program and our rigorous pilot training protocol.

Unity 22 was a safe and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols. When the vehicle encountered high altitude winds which changed the trajectory, the pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to ensure it remained within mission parameters. Our pilots responded appropriately to these changing flight conditions exactly as they were trained and in strict accordance with our established procedures. Although the flights ultimate trajectory deviated from our initial plan, it was a controlled and intentional flight path that allowed Unity 22 to successfully reach space and land safely at our Spaceport in New Mexico. At no time were passengers and crew put in any danger as a result of this change in trajectory.

The Unity 22 flight further reaffirms our technical readiness, our rigorous pilot training program and the inherent safety of our spaceflight system, particularly in light of changing flight conditions. As we move toward commercial service, we are confident we have the right safety culture, policies and processes in place to build and operate a safe and successful business over the long term.

Statement on the FAA

Although the flight’s ultimate trajectory deviated from our initial plan, the Unity 22 flight did not fly outside of the lateral confines of the protected airspace. As a result of the trajectory adjustment, the flight did drop below the altitude of the airspace that is protected for Virgin Galactic missions for a short distance and time (1 minute and 41 seconds) before re-entering restricted airspace that is protected all the way to the ground for Virgin Galactic missions. At no time did the ship travel above any population centers or cause a hazard to the public. FAA representatives were present in the control room during the flight and in post-flight debriefs. We are working in partnership with the FAA to address the airspace for future flights.

Report: Branson’s Flight into Space Experienced Serious Anomaly; Company Fired Flight Test Director

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

By all appearances, Richard Branson’s 17-years-in-the-making flight to the edge of space went exactly as planned on July 11. Or at least that was the impression left by Virgin Galactic’s webcast of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity’s flight test from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

But, for the second time in four suborbital flights, VSS Unity experienced a serious anomaly. The ship with its hybrid engine firing wasn’t rising steeply enough as it soared toward space, Nicholas Schmidle reports in The New Yorker:

(more…)

Virgin Galactic Raises Ticket Prices to $450,000, Delays Commercial Flights 2 Quarters, and Reports $94 Million 2nd Quarter Net Loss

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On July 11, Richard Branson returned from a suborbital journey declaring the start of a new era of flight that would make outer space open to everyone, and promoting a raffle for two averagenauts to fly aboard early flights of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Today, Virgin Galactic announced it was hiking the cost of those seats from $250,000 to $450,000 for new ticket buyers. It was the second time the company has raised ticket prices even before any paying passengers have flown. In 2013, the price rose from $200,000 to $250,000. The first paying passengers haven’t even flown yet.

(more…)

“Test God” Out as Virgin Galactic’s Director of Flight Test

Well, one day you’re a “God,” the next day you’re on the unemployment line.

Such was fate of Mark Stucky, who was Virgin Galactic’s lead pilot and director of flight test. On Tuesday, he announced on his Linkedin page that he had left the position. When asked why, he replied,

“Departing a company not on my own timeline was a first for me.”

(more…)

A Closer Look at Blue Origin’s First Crewed New Shepard Flight with Jeff Bezos & Friends

New Shepard (NS-14) lifts off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Tuesday morning, Jeff Bezos and his three companions — Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen — will be aboard the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle. The flight will include the youngest (Daemen), oldest (Funk) and richest (Jeff Bezos) people ever to fly to space.

(more…)

Sweepstakes Launched to Win Seats on Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flights

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LOS ANGELES (Omaze PR) — Omaze, the charity fundraising platform that offers the chance to win once-in-a-lifetime experiences and prizes, and Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic Founder, announced they will give away two seats on a Virgin Galactic commercial flight. The Omaze sweepstakes will support Space for Humanity, a nonprofit seeking to democratize space and send citizen astronauts of diverse racial, economic, and disciplinary backgrounds to space.

(more…)

NASA-Supported Plant Experiment Flew to Suborbital Space with Virgin Galactic

Three Kennedy Space Center Fixation Tubes (KFTs), like the one shown here, contained Arabidopsis thaliana plants during the crewed Unity 22 flight to space. Virgin Galactic’s Sirisha Bandla activated the tubes to release a preservative that captured the plants’ biochemistry at specific points during transitions into and out of microgravity, and co-investigators from the University of Florida will conduct gene expression analyses on the plants in the weeks following the flight. (Credits: University of Florida)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — On Sunday, July 11, Virgin Galactic conducted its first fully crewed spaceflight and the crew had NASA-supported technology with them. 

Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations at Virgin Galactic, operated the experiment on the “Unity 22” flight on behalf of co-investigators Dr. Robert Ferl and Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Bandla activated three plant-filled tubes to release a preservative at critical data-collection stages during the flight: at 1 before the rocket boost, just before entering microgravity, and after the conclusion of microgravity.

While the university researchers have flown similar experiments  supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program on suborbital flights, data collected during the Unity 22 flight will provide a first look at human-tended payloads on SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic Successfully Completes First Fully Crewed Spaceflight

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Fourth Spaceflight Tests Private Astronaut and Research Experience
  • First In-Flight Livestream Brings Spaceflight Experience to Audiences Around the World 

LAS CRUCES, N.M. July 11, 2021 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“the Company” or “Virgin Galactic”) today announced that VSS Unity successfully reached space, completing the Company’s fourth rocket-powered spaceflight. 

Today’s flight was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.

(more…)

To Briefly Go: Billionaires Branson & Bezos Battle for Bragging Rights Where Few Have Gone Before

Richard Branson wears the SpaceShipTwo flight suit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Fewer than 25 suborbital spaceflights have ever been conducted
  • Most suborbital launches were conducted with vehicles retired decades ago
  • No suborbital flight has ever carried a paying passenger
  • There is no agreement on what even constitutes a suborbital spaceflight

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

When Richard Branson and three Virgin Galactic employees strap into their seats aboard SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity on Sunday, they will briefly go where not very many have gone before: suborbital space.

Of the 374 attempts to launch astronauts to space since Yuri Gagarin flew into Earth orbit 60 years ago, only 23 were suborbital flights. The majority of those launches were conducted during the 1960’s using vehicles that long ago became museum pieces. One ended with the loss of the spacecraft and its pilot. And two flights were unintentional ones involving vehicles being launched into Earth orbit.

(more…)