NASA to Fund Researchers to Fly on Suborbital Vehicles, Maybe Astronauts

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After spending a few years in hibernation, the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC) is being held in Colorado this week. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but I’ve been following all the action on Twitter.

In a keynote address on Monday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine floated the idea of letting the space agency’s astronauts fly aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicles. He also discussed certifying the systems to comply with a subset of NASA’s human ratings requirements.

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Virgin Galactic: High Losses, Minimal Revenues & A lot of “Registrations of Interest”

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s now publicly traded Virgin Galactic space tourism company had its first quarterly and full year earnings call on Tuesday. You can read the press release here. Below are the key takeaways.

Burning cash: Net losses were nearly $72.8 million for the fourth quarter and $210.9 million for 2019. Net losses for 2018 and 2019 totaled $349.1 million. Total expenditures since 2004 have exceeded $1 billion.

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Virgin Galactic Starts Taking Flight Deposits Again

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo fly right overhead. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Editor’s Note: They kind of buried the lede here. Read down to paragraph 4 of 7. Virgin also closed ticket sales after VSS Enterprise crashed in October 2014, at which time it had more 700 firm reservations. But, notice the legalistic clarification: formally closed.

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or “the Company”), a vertically integrated aerospace company, announced today that in preparation for the re-opening of spaceflight sales, it is introducing the One Small Step initiative. The company formally closed its doors to new ticket sales after its history-making first space flight in December 2018.

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Blue Origin New Shepard Fact Sheet

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin released a fact sheet about its programs when it opened its new Huntsville manufacturing facility on Monday. Below is an excerpt on the New Shepard suborbital program.

BLUE ORIGIN FACT SHEET

New Shepard

Named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space, New Shepard is Blue Origin’s fully reusable suborbital launch vehicle designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line (100km), the internationally recognized boundary of space, then return them safely to Earth.

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Video: CNBC Experts Talk Virgin Galactic, Space Stocks

Video Caption: Andrew Chanin, the CEO of ProcureAM, talks his firm’s Procure Space ETF (UFO) as its top holding skyrockets. With CNBC’s Bob Pisani, ETF Trends’ Tom Lydon and Astoria Portfolio Advisors’ John Davi.

Virgin Galactic’s rally began two months ago but trading in the speculative space company has recently accelerated in a way that tops even the momentum behind Tesla.

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Video: Jim Cramer Breaks Down Virgin Galactic’s Soaring Stock

Video Caption: Investors owning surging speculative stocks should take some off the table and protect profits, “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer says.

Virgin Galactic shares swung back-and-forth in heavy trading Thursday, with the stock giving dropping midday after climbing earlier.

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Video: Virgin Galactic Shares Soar

Video Caption: CNBC’s space reporter Michael Sheetz and FinTech reporter Kate Rooney break down why Virgin Galactic’s stock has taken off with the “Power Lunch” team.

Virgin Galactic’s rally began two months ago but trading in the speculative space company has recently accelerated in a way that tops even the momentum behind Tesla.

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Spaceport America Welcomes SpaceShipTwo Unity to New Mexico

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, NM (NMSA PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc., a vertically integrated aerospace company, has successfully completed another vital step on its path to commercial service, relocating SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to its commercial headquarters at Spaceport America’s Gateway to Space building.

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SpaceShipTwo Unity Moved to New Mexico

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity arrives at Spaceport America aboard WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, NM, February 13, 2020 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or “the Company”), a vertically integrated aerospace company, has successfully completed another vital step on its path to commercial service, relocating SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to its commercial headquarters at Spaceport America’s Gateway to Space building.

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Virgin Galactic Begins End Game as SpaceShipTwo Unity Relocated to New Mexico

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity arrives at Spaceport America aboard WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Four years after it was first rolled out, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity left the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Thursday for its new home at in New Mexico, where it will undergo final flight testing and preparation for commercial suborbital space flights.

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Bridenstine to Give Keynote at NSRC 2020; Advanced Registration Closes Thursday

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (NSRC PR) — We just received confirmation today that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will be giving a keynote talk at NSRC-2020!

The conference will be held at the beautiful Omni Interlocken Hotel and Resort in Broomfield, Colorado, on March 2-4, with an opening reception Sunday, March 1, at 7:30 pm.

And a reminder that the Advanced Registration Deadline is this Thursday, Feb 13! You can register at  https://www.boulder.swri.edu/NSRC2020/Site5/Registration.html

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2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The clock struck midnight on Jan. 1 amid raucous celebrations around the world. The arrival of a new year and decade merely confirmed what had been clear for months: 2019 was not the breakthrough year for getting humans off the planet.

Neither Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin followed through on long-standing promises to fly paying passengers on suborbital joyrides. An era of commercial space tourism that seemed so close that October day in 2004 when Brian Binnie guided SpaceShipOne to a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port quietly slipped into yet another year.

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A Case for Durational Research: Space Plants Co-Investigators Robert Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul

Robert Ferl_and Anna-Lisa Paul (Credit: NASA)

NASA Flight Opportunities Program Q&A

University of Florida-Gainesville co-investigators Robert Ferl and Anna-Lisa Paul are no strangers to suborbital research. They’ve been conducting plant research in microgravity since the late 1990s—first on the Space Shuttle and then on the International Space Station (ISS) and parabolic flights, many of which have been facilitated by Flight Opportunities.

More recently, the pair have begun flying their “space plants” (Arabidopsis thaliana) on rockets, including Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard. We spoke with Ferl and Paul about how they have approached their long-duration research to lead to successful, iterative investigations on multiple flights. 

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Watch Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Land at Mojave

WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve returned to Mojave on Friday after a months-long stay at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The pilots did about a half dozen flights over the runway, some just above it and others touch-and-goes. This was the final approach and landing.

Virgin Galactic hasn’t made any announcement about its return. (Odd, because they tend to announce everything.) Officials have said in the past that WhiteKnightTwo would return to Mojave to bring SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to New Mexico to complete its flight tests and then begin commercial flights.