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.

FAA Limits Evaluation of Spaceport Infrastructure Funding Options

U.S. commercial launch sites that are licensed to host or have hosted since 2015, a commercial space launch, as of August 2020 (Credit: GAO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rejected a recommendation from a government watchdog that it conduct detailed analysis of a broad range of financing tools for funding infrastructure projects at the nation’s spaceports.

In a report to Congressional committees, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it recommended to the FAA that it analyze the trade-offs of using direct loans, loan guarantees, tax incentives and other tools to increase investment in spaceport infrastructure.

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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!

Launch Updates: SpaceX, Virgin Galactic & Rocket Lab Shift Dates

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity makes first glide flight at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SpaceX scrubbed the launch of the SXM-7 for SiriusXM satellite radio on Friday morning. The countdown for the Falcon 9 rocket was held at T-30 seconds.

“Standing down from today’s launch attempt to perform additional ground system checkouts; teams are working toward no earlier than Sunday, December 13 for next launch attempt of SXM-7,” SpaceX tweeted.

The window for Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight of SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico opened on Friday. However, the company did not conduct a flight with scientific experiments.

“Good morning from NM. Vehicles and flight crew are ready. Flight window is now open. We will fly no earlier than Saturday. We have range clearance through the weekend and can extend into next week if necessary. Evaluating high-level winds and turbulence. Stay tuned for updates,” Virgin Galactic tweeted.

Rocket Lab has delayed its launch of the StriX-α synthetic aperture radar satellite from New Zealand by a day to Tuesday, Dec. 15 for a rather unusual reason.

“To avoid a solar eclipse that could affect Synspective’s mission, we’re now targeting Dec 15 for launch,” the company tweeted. “When customers request a new T-0, we’re happy to oblige. That’s the beauty of dedicated launch on Electron, our customers get to choose (and change!) their launch time.”

The target lift-off time for the The Owl’s Night Begins mission on Dec. 15 is:

UTC: 09:00-10:59
NZT: 22:00-23:59
JST: 18:00-19:59
PST: 01:00-02:59
EST: 04:00-05:59.

Suborbital Space Again, NASA-supported Tech on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program

EDWARDS, Calif. — Successful space and suborbital technology developments require ingenuity, understanding of mission and science needs, and testing. For many technologies matured with support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the ability to undergo testing multiple times – and often on different types of commercial flight vehicles – adds the necessary rigor and refinement to advance these innovations.

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Preparations Underway for First Human Spaceflight from Spaceport America

SpaceShipTwo Unity on its second glide flight over Spaceport America. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SIERRA COUNTY, NM, December 7, 2020 (NMSA PR) — The New Mexico Spaceport Authority has started preparations ahead of Virgin Galactic’s first powered spaceflight from Spaceport America. The flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness.

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Virgin Galactic Unveils Flight Suits for SpaceShipTwo Pilots

On Friday, Virgin Galactic unveiled new flight suits for the pilots who will fly SpaceShipTwo. The company worked on the suits with Under Armour, which also designed similar garments for passengers.

The press release refers to the pilot garments as spacesuits 16 times even though they do not meet any accepted definition of the word. Per Marriam-Webster:

space suit: a suit equipped with life supporting provisions to make life in space possible for its wearer.

What Virgin Galactic and Under Armour have produced for both crew and passengers are flight suits that provide the wearer with zero protection against the vacuum and radiation of space. To call them spacesuits is false and unacceptable stretching of the word.

You can find the press release and pictures on Virgin Galactic’s website.

Window for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flight Opens Dec. 11

SpaceShipTwo fires its engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), today announced its new flight window since it paused the spaceflight preparations in response to state guidelines from the New Mexico Department of Health to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The new flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness. This flight expects to fulfill a number of objectives, including testing elements of the customer cabin as well as assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during boost. The flight will also carry payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

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Virgin Galactic Delays SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Due to COVID-19

SpaceShipTwo Unity in its first powered flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight in nearly two years will have to wait a bit longer due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has postponed a powered flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity that had been scheduled to take place between Nov. 19-23 from Spaceport America after New Mexico reenacted its shelter in place order as the rising number coronavirus cases have begun to overwhelm hospitals.

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CSA, Virgin Galactic Sign MOU on Microgravity Flights, Spaceflight Participants

SpaceShipTwo cabin interior. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LONGUEUIL, Que. (CSA PR) — The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Virgin Galactic today, heralding the beginning of a collaborative relationship between the two  organizations.

The purpose of this collaboration is to explore the possibilities of using the Virgin Galactic Spaceflight System (VSS), which offers suborbital microgravity flights, for future CSA payloads and spaceflight participants. It also aims to facilitate the exchange of information on collaboration opportunities between Virgin Galactic, the CSA, and the Canadian space industry and academia.

Virgin Galactic and the CSA will begin by discussing the capabilities of the VSS and related Virgin Galactic services. The two organizations will also look at creating opportunities to consult with Canadian industry and potential users of the VSS.

This agreement will support the CSA’s objective to be Canada’s leader in capability demonstration by providing the space industry, universities and other government departments with access to platforms, demonstration opportunities and unique expertise.

Virgin Galactic’s Net Loss Grows to $77 Million, Company Sets Schedule for Additional Flight Tests

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • First of three additional flight tests set for later this month
  • Richard Branson scheduled to fly on third flight test in Q1 2021
  • New SpaceShipTwo set to rollout in Q1 2021

LAS CRUCES, N.M., November 5, 2020 (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 third quarter ended September 30, 2020.

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Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Conducts Flight Test on Eve of Earnings Call

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

One week before Virgin Galactic is expected to report another large quarterly loss, the company’s WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve took to the skies on Thursday over Spaceport America for the first time since June 25.

The flight was the first of four tests designed to pave the way for Virgin Galactic to begin commercial SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism flights with VSS Unity during the first quarter of next year.

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For New Virgin Galactic CEO, the Ultimate Perk: An All-Expenses Paid Trip to Space

Michael Colglazier (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For 26 years, Michael Colglazier worked for a company whose theme parks feature a popular attraction named Space Mountain. They aren’t really mountains and they don’t go anywhere near space, but as rollercoasters they are pretty good.

When the former Walt Disney Company executive signed on to become Virgin Galactic’s CEO in July, his contract included a free ride to space for himself and three friends aboard his new employer’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle.

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Virgin Galactic Hires Two New Pilots

Jameel Janjua (Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Christop)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic today announced the appointment of two new pilots into its Pilot Corps, bringing the total number of pilots to eight.

Jameel Janjua and Patrick Moran will be based at Spaceport America, New Mexico, and join the Virgin Galactic team as preparations for commercial service continue.

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