Virgin Galactic’s Attenborough Promises Greater Safety on SpaceShipTwo

SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough was in Australia where he made a presentation in which he promised a greater level of safety for the company’s shrunken base of customers.

“We are a better and safer company as a result of that incident. One of the outcomes of testing is failure. We live in a risk averse world and it can come as a shock when something like that happens,’’ Mr Attenborough told the State Library audience, which included ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliott.

“We have (since) looked at every element of the vehicle and every element of the operation.’’

Virgin Galactic is locked in a race with the likes of private firms Blue Origin and billionaire Tesla founder Elon Musk’s Space X to be the first private company to successfully send commercial passengers into space….

Already 650 people have bought tickets to fly, including celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. But if you bought a ticket today, you would get to the front of the queue by around 2021, according to Mr Attenborough.

Virgin Galactic officials had previously stated the number of ticket holders to be around 700. The company had cancellations after the first SpaceShipTwo was destroyed in a test flight on Halloween 2014.

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Virgin Galactic: SpaceShipTwo Not Flying this Year

Richard Branson, GREY GOOSE creator and Maître de Chai François Thibault, and George Whitesides toast to a new partnership. (Credit: Grey Goose)
Richard Branson, GREY GOOSE creator and Maître de Chai François Thibault, and George Whitesides toast to a new partnership. (Credit: Grey Goose)

Forbes contributor and SpaceShipTwo ticket holder Jim Clash attended a recent Virgin Galactic future space tourists gathering at the Explorers Club in New York to get an update on how things are going.  Unsurprising, things are going along fine.

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.

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Virgin Galactic Misled Ticket Holders, Public on Complexity of Engine Change

RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

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.

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Virgin Galactic Ticketholders Cancel in Wake of Fatal Crash

Branson speaks to the press at the Mojave Air and Space Port about the crash off SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Branson speaks to the press at the Mojave Air and Space Port about the crash off SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

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.

The story also didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

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Virgin Galactic Now Has More Land Rovers Than Spaceships

First Discovery Sport rolls off the assembly line. (Cedit: Land Rover)
First Discovery Sport rolls off the assembly line. (Cedit: Land Rover)

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.

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Attenborough Sez: Virgin Galactic Just Like Virgin Trains

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.

Virgin Galactic Gears Up for Resumption of Flight Tests

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the tarmac on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo on the tarmac on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

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.

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Virgin Galactic Made Pre-emptive Strike Against London Sunday Times Story

Credit: Ken Brown
WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo in flight. (Credit: Ken Brown)

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.

From: Future Astronauts
Date: May 10, 2014
Subject: Virgin Galactic Update

Dear all,

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.

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Space Conferences, Engine Claims and Silly Putty

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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Video Interview with Stephen Attenborough

A 24-minute Euronews interview/infomercial with Virgin Galactic Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough. The highlights:

  • “much closer than we were” to commercial flights
  • “final stage of that journey”
  • “go from milestone to milestone”
  • “hope between 18 and 24 months” to begin commercial operations
  • “driven by safety”
  • “hybrid rocket motor…chose because of its reliability and safety”
  • “right partners, right technology”

It’s the same stuff they’ve been saying for years, right down to the 18 to 24 month timetable. At some point, they’re going to be right. It’s just hard to know exactly when that will happen.

Virgin Galactic Sending Mixed Messages to Its Own Engineers

“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

If everything goes smoothly, “we would hope to be flying people to space by 2013.”

— Virgin Galactic Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough
at an international media and marketing conference in Singapore
Nov. 14, 2011

Oops. Looks like some people didn’t get the memo.

Those poor engineers. Their respite from the pressures of publicly announced commercial start dates didn’t even last two weeks. 🙁

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Attenborough: Virgin Galactic in “Final Stretch”

Gear down. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

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.

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Virgin Galactic’s Attenborough Promotes Space Tourism Benefits to British Midlands

VSS Enterprise on its first test flight. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

Virgin’s Space Tourism Brings New Opportunities for Aerospace Firms
Birmingham Post

Richard Branson’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.

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