Virgin Galactic Pivots High-speed Aircraft Program in a Crowded Field

Credit: Douglas Messier

Virgin Galactic’s record of delays and broken promises raises doubts about its ambitious supersonic aircraft project as company founder Richard Branson fights to save his struggling empire in the midst of a global pandemic.

Updated on 10/27/20 at 12:39 p.m. PDT to include spending comparison of Virgin Orbit to Rocket Lab.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s dream of a suborbital Virgin Galactic vehicle zipping passengers between distant cities at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5 (6,174 km/h, 3,836 mph) is dead. At least for now.

In August, the space tourism company he founded pivoted to a slower supersonic Mach 3 (3,704 km/h, 2,302 mph) business jet. Virgin Galactic unveiled a mission concept for an aircraft that would carry 9-19 passengers at a cruising altitude of 60,000 ft (18,288 m).

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Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

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SpaceX Loses Lawsuit Against U.S. Air Force Over Starship Funding

Starship lifts off on a point to point flight. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A federal judge had denied SpaceX’s claim that the U.S. Air Force should have provided development funding for its Starship booster, according to media reports.

USAF awarded $2.2 billion in contracts in October 2918 to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to help the companies develop new rockets to launch national security payloads. SpaceX’s proposal for Starship funding was rejected.

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SpaceX Tells Boca Chica Residents: Sell Now or Else!

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

Vice reports that SpaceX gave a Friday deadline for two Boca Chica Village homeowners to sell their homes or Elon Musk’s launch provider would pursue “alternate approaches” to get them to vacate the settlement near the company’s south Texas spaceport.

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SpaceX, Boeing & Firefly File FCC Applications for Fall Flights

Starship hopper under construction at Boca Chica. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has applied for a temporary Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license to fly its Starship prototype to an altitude of 20 km (12.4 miles) from its Boca Chica test site in Texas.

The approval would be valid for hops from Oct. 11, 2020 to April 11, 2021. Starship prototypes have flown to an altitude of 150 meters from Boca Chica.

Boeing has filed for a FCC license for its second Starliner orbital flight test. The application covers a six-month period from Nov. 1, 2020 to May 1, 2021.

The uncrewed Starliner test is a repeat of a flight that went awry last December. The spacecraft failed to dock with the space station due to software and communications problems.

Firefly Aerospace has filed for approval for the maiden flight of its Firefly Alpha booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The approval would be valid from Nov. 21, 2020 until May 21, 2021.

Apha is designed to loft 1 metric ton into low Earth orbit and 630 kg into a 500 km sun synchronous orbit at a dedicated mission cost of $15 million.

Dispute Erupts Over SpaceX’s Boca Chica Test Facility

Elon Musk (center) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry break ground on a new launch complex. (Credit: Texas Governor’s Office)

A dispute has erupted between several environmental groups and the federal government over the impact of SpaceX’s test operations at Boca Chica Beach in south Texas.

The issue: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved SpaceX’s plan to use the coastal site for launching its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets up to 12 times per year.

However, Elon Musk’s company has instead been using its facilities to develop and flight test its larger Starship and Super Heavy boosters. The resulting impacts have been much greater than anticipated under the original proposal, environmental groups argue.

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SpaceX Looks to Build a Resort at Boca Chica

Credit: STARSHIP CAM

Having driven out most residents of Boca Chica Village, SpaceX is now looking to develop a resort adjacent to its Starship launch and test facility in Texas.

“Boca Chica Village is our latest launch site dedicated to Starship, our next generation launch vehicle. SpaceX is committed to developing this town into a 21st century Spaceport. We are looking for a talented Resort Development Manager to oversee the development of SpaceX’s first resort from inception to completion,” the advertisement said. 

The announcement is below.

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SpaceX Conducts Starship Static Fire, Plans 150-meter Hop

SpaceX conducted a successful static fire on its Starship vehicle at its south Texas test site on Thursday, paving the way for an 150-meter hop as early as Monday.

Cameron County has issued the following notice for the closing of Boca Chica Beach and Highway 4.

TEMP. CLOSURE DATETIME OF CLOSURECURRENT BEACH STATUS
Primary DateAugust 2, 20208:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.Closure Scheduled
Backup DateAugust 3, 20208:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.Closure Scheduled
Backup DateAugust 4, 20208:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.Closure Scheduled

A Look at SpaceX’s and Virgin Galactic’s Hypersonic Plans

I found this video entertaining. I’m not sure this guy has any grasp of the technological challenges or how SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are trying to tackle it.

He also calls a pair of routine pilot proficiency flights of WhiteKnightTwo at Spaceport America mysterious. Nothing really unusual about them. They conducted these flights at Mojave regularly.

Hypersonic sounds great, but it’s not clear when or if it will carry passengers. What we might be left with are hypersonic weapons indistinguishable from nuclear missiles. The chance of an accidental nuclear exchange could become much greater.

SpaceX Ends Lease at Port of Los Angeles

SpaceX’s plan to build components for its Starship and Super Heavy boosters at the Port of Los Angeles is dead — again.

Elon Musk’s company gave notice to the port on March 27 that it was backing out of a lease to locate a research, development, manufacturing and recovery facility at a dilapidated structure on Terminal Island.

SpaceX gave notice just over a month after harbor commissioners approved a 10-year lease with two 10-year extensions on Feb. 21. The agreement was later approved by the Los Angeles City Council.

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