One year ago today, Virgin Galactic rolled out the second SpaceShipTwo Unity in a lavish ceremony inside the FAITH hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
The new spacecraft made its first captive carry flight with the WhiteKnightTwo mother ship in September. It has since made three additional captive carry tests and a pair of glide flights in December.
Virgin Galactic has said it plans around 10 glide flights before beginning powered tests later this year. Unity will eventually fly paying passengers from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson was interviewed for the Jan. 30 edition of NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast. Beginning at 25:44, there’s a brief discussion of the October 2014 crash that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed co-pilot Mike Alsbury.
Branson recalls that for the first 12 hours after the accident he wasn’t sure if the SpaceShipTwo program would continue. “But, once we realized it was a pilot error and not a technical error, I was able to tell all the engineers it was nothing to do with them. And that the basic craft was sound.”
Alas, most of this explanation is wrong.
A source tells us that Richard Branson is scheduled to return to Mojave next week to lead a tour for some of Virgin Galactic’s roughly 700 ticket holders. Virgin does these trips for ticket holders periodically, but the boss doesn’t always participate, so this is a BFD.
Along for the trip will be Brian Cox, a British physicist and well-known television presenter, the source tells us. We here at ParacolicArc weren’t sure exactly what that was at first. We initially envisioned someone who shows up at the house along with your new TV to explain its features of your new flast screen, program the remote, hook up the satellite receiver, and do all the rest of it.
That was wrong. It turns out a television presenter is what we Americans call a host. Cox appears to be their version of Neil deGrasse Tyson and/or Bill Nye.
Cox was very vocal in supporting Virgin Galactic after the Oct. 31, 2014 fatal accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury.
Readers of this blog will recall Branson was here on Dec. 1 to witness the second SpaceShipTwo’s first glide flight. SpaceShipTwo flew again on Dec. 22, but has not done a glide flight since.
With Branson showing up with the ticket holders and Cox in tow, it’s a good bet another glide flight is coming soon. The boss won’t want to explain a two-month gap in flights to folks who have been waiting years for their trip to space.
Update: It’s occurred to me that Virgin Galactic rolled out SpaceShipTwo No. 2 on Feb. 19, 2016. So, the visit next week is coming a year later.
That’s good timing from a PR perspective. There have been only two glide flights to date. A visit by Branson with Brian Cox and ticket holders in tow is a good distraction for anyone (press, public or customers) who might question the pace of the flight test program.
The timing fits a pattern. WhiteKnightTwo was rolled out a year and two days after the fatal nitrous oxide explosion that killed three engineers. Virgin attempted the first drop test of the second SpaceShipTwo two years and a day after the first spacecraft was destroyed. (It was scrubbed by weather, and the first flight was not completed until a month later.)
PORTLAND, January 18, 2017 (OneStrand PR) — After an extensive technical evaluation, Virgin Galactic has selected OneStrand LLC as their preferred supplier of S1000D technical publishing software, services and support. The R4i S1000D product suite will provide the technology required to create, manage and leverage technical information vital to the operation and maintenance of Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflight systems.
It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
This interview with Virgin Galactic’s first president, Will Whitehorn, sums up pretty much everything that went wrong with Virgin’s approach to safety as it relates SpaceShipTwo and human spaceflight.
It’s one thing to embrace risk and see it as necessary cost of innovation when you’re dealing with 747’s, passenger trains, cell phones and the myriad other ventures the Virgin Group has pursued. These are mature technologies; most of the technical risks have been ironed out. The main concern is the business will fail and Virgin would lose money.
Virgin Galactic conducted a second glide flight of SpaceShipTwo here in Mojave this afternoon.
The vehicle was piloted by David Mackay and Mark Stucky. The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft was piloted by C.J. Sturkow and Nicola Pecile with flight test engineer Dustin Mosher.
This is the second of about a dozen glide flights scheduled for the second SpaceShipTwo. Word is that Virgin Galactic is looking to conduct powered flights by next June.
NASA’s investigation into the Falcon 9 launch failure that destroyed a Dragon cargo ship in June 2015 keeps getting more and more interesting.
I checked in again last week with the space agency about when it would be releasing a public report on the 18-month old accident. This is what a NASA spokesperson told me (emphasis mine):
NASA’s final report on the SpaceX CRS-7 mishap is still in work. While the report is important in providing NASA historical data of the mishap, the accident involved a version of the Falcon 9 rocket that is no longer in use. Furthermore, while the public summary itself may only be a few pages, the complete report is expected to exceed several hundred pages of highly detailed and technical information restricted by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations and company-sensitive proprietary information. As a result, NASA anticipates its internal report and public summary will be finalized in the summer 2017.
That is a rather long time, even for a sometimes pokey government agency investigating the failure of a booster variant no longer in use.
Video Caption: On December 3, 2016, our new SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, flew freely for the first time. This important test marks the first time that a vehicle built by our manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company, has flown fully under its own control.
In this video, Lead Test Pilot, Mark “Forger” Stucky, explains what it’s like flying VSS Unity for the first time.
Sir Richard Branson ventured out to Mojave Air & Space Port in California for the first glide flight of Virgin Gaalctic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity on Saturday, Dec. 3.
He addressed a crowd of a couple of hundred Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company employees who had gathered near the base of the Mojave control tower to witness the test.
It was the first flight of a SpaceShipTwo vehicle since the first spacecraft Enterprise was destroyed during a powered flight test on Halloween 2014. Unity will undergo a series of glide flights in the months ahead before powered flights begin sometime in 2017.
Recorded at the base of the Mojave Air & Space Port’s control tower about 10 minutes before the drop of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity from its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.
It was a festive atmosphere as Sir Richard Branson joined employees of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company and their families to watch the flight test.
This was the first flight test of a SpaceShipTwo in more than two years since the first spacecraft broke up during a flight test on Halloween 2014. Virgin Galactic will conduct a series of these tests before moving on to powered flights sometime in 2017.
We’re hearing that Virgin Galactic will attempt a glide flight of the SpaceShipTwo Unity later this morning. A Saturday flight test is fairly rare for Mojave.
We also hear that a special guest have ventured all the way from the Caribbean to witness the test. Dress warmly, Richie; it’s 28 F (-2 C) out there.
Ken Brown and I will be out covering the test. I will be tweeting it at http://www.twitter.com/spacecom.
The flight comes just over two years and one month after the destruction of the first SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during its fourth powered flight test. The accident killed Scaled Composites test pilot Mike Alsbury.
The second SpaceShipTwo has made four captive carry flights, one in September and three in November. Two of the November flights were scrubbed drop tests, the first on Nov. 1 due to weather and the second two days later due to an unspecified technical problem.