Two major flight-related anniversaries are being celebrated this week. Today marks the 89th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic aboard the Spirit of St. Louis. Lucky Lindy took off from New York on this date and arrived in Paris some 33.5 hours later, claiming the $25,000 Orteig Prize.
Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of the launch of X Prize (later Ansari X Prize). Inspired by the Orteig Prize, it offered $10 million for the first privately build vehicle to fly to suborbital space twice within two weeks. The Ansari X Prize was won in October 2004 by a team led by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen with SpaceShipOne.
After Lindbergh’s flight, a public that had previously shunned commercial aviation embraced it with a passion. Following the Ansari X Prize, Richard Branson vowed to begin flying tourists to space aboard a successor vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, within three years. Nearly a dozen years and four deaths later, Branson has yet to fulfill this promise.
The SpaceShipTwo program has now taken longer than it took for NASA to go from President John F. Kennedy proposal to land a man on the moon to the completion of the program with the splashdown of Apollo 17. NASA launched the space shuttle Columbia exactly 20 years after the first spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin.
So, why have things taken so long? And why did one prize succeed beyond the dreams of its sponsor, while the space prize it inspired has promised so few practical results? The answer is a complex one that I addressed back in March in a story titled, “Prizes, Technology and Safety.” I’ve republished the story below with links to other posts in a series about flight safety.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) April 21, 2016
SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM (NMSA PR) — Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America Operations teams welcomed WhiteKnightTwo back to the clear blue skies of New Mexico on Monday.
Video Caption: Photographer and adventurer Jimmy Chin joined Land Rover in the Mojave Desert to witness the reveal of our global partner Virgin Galactic’s new VSS Unity. After capturing the moment, Jimmy embarked on the off-road adventure of a lifetime in a Range Rover Autobiography. In this video, he reflects on what it takes to explore unchartered territory, to venture into the unknown and to truly go Above and Beyond.
Find out more about our proud partnership with Virgin Galactic: http://www.landrover.com/experiences/…
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) March 18, 2016
For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.
That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.
Supersonic jetliner developer Boom has an impressive leadership team that includes veterans of Gulfstream, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Scaled Composites and other companies. The programs they have worked on include the 787, SpaceShipTwo, F-35 and and X-47A.
The company’s advisory board includes two former officials from Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works and former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.
Brief biographies of the leadership team and advisory board members taken from Boom’s website follow.
Part 5 of 6
By Douglas Messier
With the recent roll out of VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic marked a symbolic milestone in its recovery from the October 2014 accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed pilot Mike Alsbury.
Two questions loomed large over the celebrity-studded event. When will it fly? And how safe will it be when it does?
Company officials gave no timeline on the first question. Their answers about SpaceShipTwo’s safety differed significantly from previous claims they made over the last 11.5 years.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was in Abu Dhabi this week for a space conference, where he gave an update on the company’s progress since the October 2014 that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed pilot Mike Alsbury.
About 25 of 700 fee-paying clients withdrew from the program after the crash in the Mojave Desert in California caused it to be put on hold just months before the first commercial flight, Virgin Galactic Chief Executive Officer George Whitesides said Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.
“We had a little dip right after the accident, but honestly we’re almost all the way back now,” Whitesides said at a conference organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. “It’s looking very good. There’s a global desire to experience space.”
Virgin Galactic said it had “more than 700 Future Astronauts” signed up as of April 2014. In media appearances in the months before the accident, Branson put the number of tickets sold at or close to 800.
Whitesides also said that Virgin Galactic’s partner, Aabar Investments, might increase its stake in the company.
When asked whether Aabar is planning to increase or decrease their stake in the company, he said they had meetings with their representatives and said the responses had been positive.
In 2009, Aabar paid $280 million for a 31.8 percent stake in Virgin Galactic. The government-owned sovereign wealth fund upped its stake to 37.8 percent with an additional investment of $110 million in 2011.
by Douglas Messier
U.S. regulations for commercial human spaceflight give the wide latitude to develop and fly their launch systems while providing substantial protections about being sued for injuries and deaths resulting from accidents. What follows is is a brief summary of the provisions, most of which have been in place since December 2004.
Continue reading ‘Commercial Human Spaceflight Industry Lightly Regulated’
Part 3 of 6
by Douglas Messier
At 10:22 p.m. on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh brought the Spirit of St. Louis to a safe landing at Le Bourget Aerodrome in Paris. He had just completed the first non-stop New York to Paris airplane flight, a 33.5-hour journey during which he had covered 3,600 statute miles (5,800 km). As soon as the plane stopped, Lindbergh was surrounded by thousands of people who had gathered to welcome him. The exhausted pilot had been awake for 55 hours.
Video Caption: Test Pilots Face The Unknown At Mojave Air & Space Port
Part 2 of 6
“I question whether our insatiable appetite for total safety is serving the needs of the exploring human inside us.”
– Stu Witt, former CEO & General Manager, Mojave Air & Space Port
By Douglas Messier
After he won the $10 million Ansari X Prize with SpaceShipOne in October 2004, Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan had two goals for the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle he was building for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
He vowed the vehicle would be at least 100 times safer than any human spacecraft that had ever flow. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would certify the spaceship in a manner similar to way the agency certifies aircraft.
Video Caption: Malala welcomes Virgin Spaceship Unity and takes the opportunity to discuss the importance of STEM education and the role of women in science and engineering.
Professor Stephen Hawking
VSS Unity Roll Out
Mojave Air & Space Port
19 February 2016
I have always dreamt of space flight. But for so many years, I thought it was just that – a dream. Confined to Earth and in a wheelchair, how could I experience the majesty of space except through imagination and my work in theoretical physics. I never thought I would have the opportunity to see our beautiful planet from space or gaze outward into the infinity beyond. This was the domain of astronauts, the lucky few who get to experience the wonder and thrill of space flight.
Video Caption: Richard Branson unveils his latest gleaming Virgin Galactic passenger spaceship, over a year after a major mishap caused its sister ship to crash. Rough Cut – subtitled (no reporter narration).