VG customer relations president Stephen Attenborough assured the audience, which included future astronauts from Canada, Great Britain, Switzerland and the U.S., that a replacement version of SS2 is nearly complete, with rigorous test flights scheduled to commence in 2016. Attenborough also confirmed that VG founder Sir Richard Branson still plans to be aboard the first commercial SS2 spaceflight. Speculation is that probably won’t occur until 2017.
When Virgin Galactic announced it was switching from the nitrous oxide/rubber rocket engine they had flown on SpaceShipTwo three times to one powered by nitrous oxide and nylon, company officials told ticket holders and the public the change involved only minor modifications to Richard Branson’s space tourism vehicle.
A document released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board directly contradicts that claim. In it, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety expert describing his concern over “major modifications” that had been made in the suborbital space plane to accommodate the new engine.
During a press conference on Saturday here in Mojave, Richard Branson asserted that despite the catastrophic failure of Virgin Galactic’s only spacecraft, the company had still managed to sell another ticket for it joyride to suborbital space while not one of the nearly 800 current ticket holders had asked for their deposits back.
It was a helluva success story, an incredible tribute to Branson’s marketing genius in that he could still sell tickets even as SpaceShipTwo lay strewn across five miles of desolate desert north of Mojave. Think of how many tickets they could have sold had the flight succeeded. Virgin Galactic can’t win for losing.
Virgin Galactic has received the first production vehicle of Land Rover’s Discovery Sport vehicle after it rolled off the assembly line in Halewood, England last week. The vehicle was sent to Virgin Galactic headquarters in London, Land Rover announced.
This brings to at least six the number of Land Rover vehicles Virgin Galactic has received under a partnership and promotional deal between the two companies that was announced earlier this year. Five Land Rovers have been seen at Virgin Galactic’s production and test center in Mojave, Calif.
Video Caption: Virgin Trains interviewing Stephen Attenborough, Commercial Director of Virgin Galactic, on the Kendal Calling Express on-route to Kendal Calling. Space being the theme for 2014 and Virgin Trains as Travel Partners of the Festival.
Update: No flight on Friday, but there was a hybrid engine test of about 60 seconds on one of the test stands that reportedly went well.
After a six-month gap in flights, it looks as if SpaceShipTwo will once again fly in the Mojave sky, possibly as early as Friday morning.
On Wednesday, SpaceShipTwo was outside on the tarmac underneath its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship for what Virgin Galactic described as a “dry run” for upcoming test flights. There is a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) indicating that the Mojave Air and Space Port’s tower will be open early on Friday morning. It’s possible this is being done to accommodate a SpaceShipTwo test flight, although sometimes the tower opens early for other reasons.
If there is a flight tomorrow, my best guess is it will involve a captive carry or un-powered drop test to evaluate modifications that have been made to SpaceShipTwo. But, perhaps they will surprise us with something more ambitious.
Parabolic Arc has obtained the following email from Virgin Galactic Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough to the company’s ticket holders concerning the London Sunday Times story that I co-authored with Jon Ungoed-Thomas about cracks in WhiteKnightTwo’s wings. It’s worth a read.
We wanted to give you a quick heads-up that we believe the UK Sunday Times may run a negative story on Virgin Galactic tomorrow.
We don’t know all the angles but from what we can tell, the story appears to be predicated on false or deliberately misleading and exaggerated rumours from “off the record”, nameless contributors. Although that means we cannot be sure of the sources of the mischief, we suspect they are linked in some way to the author Tom Bower, who has made a living by trying to discredit famous personalities, including Richard. The Sunday Times has previous form in knocking Richard and various Virgin companies, including Virgin Galactic and has had a commercial relationship with Bower. So, despite the fact that we have vigorously rebuffed the points, we do expect the story to run and for it to maintain a negative stance.
Over the years, I’ve heard many speakers at various space conferences and events say all sorts of things that I felt…oh, comment on dit?…stretched the truth like Silly Putty. Yes, that’s a polite way to put it.
After a while, I’ve become quite numb to it all — the hype, promises, publicity stunts, optimistic schedules that get blown away like fallen leaves on a windy Mojave day. By this point, most of it just passes over me without meriting so much as a mention.
But, sometimes I hear something that stretches the rhetorical Silly Putty beyond the breaking point. I had just such an experience three weeks ago at the Space Tech Expo in Long Beach, Calif.
“We do [have a date for beginning commercial operations], but what we don’t do is announce it publicly. And the reason for that is just that I don’t want to put schedule pressure on our engineers. You know, schedule pressure was essentially what caused Challenger….We’re getting close. We hope to get to space next year, and start commercial operations as soon as we can after that. I don’t give out a date. We don’t give out a date outside the company, but we’re getting close.”
— Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides on The Space Show with David Livingston Nov. 4, 2011
“Commercial spaceship travel is, I think, about a year away….Hopefully, by next Christmas, myself my daughter and my son will be the first people to go up into space.”
— Sir Richard Branson in The Hague (see video above) Nov. 14, 2011
Businessworld has a Q&A with Virgin Galactic’s Stephen Attenborough, who says that he expects the company to begin commercial flights by 2012. Some key excerpts:
When will we see the first human going on a private space flight?
…The big aircraft has finished its test flights and it has performed flawlessly. The spaceship is at the glide flight path of its programme because it is a reusable vehicle. We will probably have 5-6 glide flights. Then, later this year, we expect to test the rocket launcher for the first time. As soon as the propulsion tests start, provided the first couple of tests go well, we will undertake the first space flight.
Virgin’s Space Tourism Brings New Opportunities for Aerospace Firms Birmingham Post
Richard Bransonâ€™s plans to make space tourism a commercial reality could open up a new industry for West Midland aerospace firms, according to a senior figure at Virgin Galactic.
Mr [Stephen] Attenborough said although the technology being developed to take passengers into space is American, aerospace firms all over the world could eventually tap into the opportunities it opens up.