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.

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Returns to Mojave

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

After spending months at Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier ship VMS Eve flew back to the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Friday.

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The pilots made about a half dozen low passes over runway 12-30. Several were just above the runway, while others were touch-and-goes on which they briefly landed before soaring again into the desert sky.

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Galactic officials have said that WhiteKnightTwo would return to Mojave to transport SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to the Spaceport America to complete its flight test program.

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Galactic is hoping to fly it founder, Richard Branson, on the first commercial SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight in time for his 70th birthday on July 18.

The company has said it has a backlog of 603 ticket holders who have paid either $200,000 or $250,000 apiece. Thousands of other potential space tourists have expressed interest in signing up once Virgin Galactic starts selling tickets again, officials said. The company plans to take reservations at an even higher price once commercial service begins.

NASA Seeks Input on New ‘Tech Flights’ Solicitation that Allows for Human-tended Suborbital Payloads

New Shepard capsule descending under parachutes. (Credit: Blue Origin)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Suborbital spaceflight is valuable for testing and fine-tuning innovative technologies for future missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has tested more than 150 different space technologies in relevant environments aboard suborbital rockets, rocket-powered spacecraft, high-altitude balloons and aircraft with reduced-gravity flight profiles.

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Spaceport America Seeking Additional $92.6 Million for Improvements

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor/Publisher

It’s budget season again in Sante Fe. As usual, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) is seeking money for additional upgrades to Spaceport America.

The Albuquerque Journal has a story outlining a series of requests totaling nearly $93 million. I have helpfully summarized the information in the table below.

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2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
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Collaboratory Formed to Promote New Mexico’s Spaceport America During Closed Door Meeting

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Officials from New Mexico, the federal government and Virgin Galactic met last week behind closed doors for the state’s first Space Valley Summit to form a “collaboratory” to promote Spaceport America and the state’s aerospace economy.

The one group not invited: taxpayers who have forked over about $250 million to build the spaceport where Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant. As the Las Cruces Sun News dryly noted

Minutes after [Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham] exhorted the summit to “make sure every New Mexican … knows exactly what is happening here,” all reporters were asked to leave. 

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AIAA, Blue Origin Partner to Launch Experiments Designed by High School Students into Space

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

January 9, 2020 – Reston, Va. – The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and Blue Origin have partnered to create Design/Build/Launch (DBL), a new competition designed to launch experimental payloads to study the effects of short-duration microgravity.

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SpaceShipTwo No. 3 Reaches Milestone

Video Caption: Major milestone complete – the next spaceship in our fleet is, for the first time, carrying its own weight. In this milestone, all major structural elements of the vehicle were assembled and the vehicle deployed its main landing gear.

NSRC 2020 Abstract Deadline in Two Weeks

The Abstract Deadline is in two weeks, on Friday, January 10, for the 7th Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC).

It 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 7:30pm.

Abstracts can be submitted for contributed talks or posters. Topics include planetary science, atmospheric science, microgravity sciences (fundamental biology and physics), commercial applications, education, public outreach, life sciences, suborbital and commercial markets and policy, plans for human-tended experiments, and REM flight crew training, among others. The full list of session topics can be found here:

https://www.boulder.swri.edu/NSRC2020/Site5/Abstracts.html

Earlybird Registration is open, so register before Jan 24 to get the discount: 

https://www.boulder.swri.edu/NSRC2020/Site5/Registration.html

There is a discounted room block at the conference hotel for meeting participants. (For those who want to come ski, our room block rate is available for conference participants from Feb 26-March 8!) Reserve your room here: https://www.boulder.swri.edu/NSRC2020/Site5/Venue.html (Free cancellation before 72 hrs of arrival.)

For complete information and to sign up on the Indication of Interest form, visit: http://nsrc.swri.org

NSRC is hosted by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s Suborbital Applications Researchers Group (CSF/SARG)/

Blue Origin’s New Shepard Launches From West Texas

New Shepard launch (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

Blue Origin launched its New Shepard rocket and capsule from its spaceport in West Texas on Thursday. The capsule reached an unofficial altitude of 43,061 ft (104.56 km/65.97 miles) and a speed of 2,227 mph (3,584 kph) during a flight that lasted 10 minutes 16 seconds. The booster touched down on a landing pad; the capsule came down under three parachutes nearby.

New Shepard Mission NS-12 Notable Payloads Manifested

Club for the Future
Thousands of postcards from students around the world from Blue Origin’s Club for the Future. The Club’s mission is to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help visualize the future of life in space.

OK Go
Earlier this year we partnered with rock band OK Go on a contest called Art in Space, giving high school and middle school students a chance to send art experiments into space on our New Shepard vehicle. We are sending the two winning art projects on NS-12.  

Columbia University
One of our educational payloads from Columbia University, designed and built by undergraduate students and advised by Dr. Michael Massimino (an astronaut), will study the acute impacts of microgravity environments on cell biology. This is crucial for humans living and working in space.

OSCAR
OSCAR, which was led by principal investigator Dr. Annie Meier, is a recycling technology payload from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It is designed to create a mixture of gasses that could be used for propulsion or life support from common waste on a deep space human exploration mission. This is Blue’s first full-stack payload, meaning there will be more room to do complex studies in flight.

In Orbit and On Budget: Launching Small Payloads Faster and Cheaper

The Affordable Vehicle Avionics payload fits into the avionics bay of UP Aerospace’s SpaceLoft vehicle. It provides the intelligence to command the guidance and control system for the rocket. (Credits: U.S. Army)

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM (NASA PR) — What does a satellite the size of a shoebox, a human skin tissue sample and a 5G network testing device have in common? They are all examples of payloads NASA and other organizations would like to launch into orbit at low cost—to gather data for scientific research; test new technologies; and transmit and receive data for weather, broadcast, military and emergency communications. But doing so on any sort of accelerated schedule can be a challenge.

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Five Years Ago SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise Crashed in the Mojave Desert

The spot where part of SpaceShipTwo’s cockpit crashed with the body of Mike Alsbury. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Five years ago today, SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise broke up over the Mojave Desert during a flight test. Co-pilot Mike Alsbury died and pilot Pete Siebold was seriously injured.

The crash ended Virgin Galactic’s effort to begin commercial crewed suborbital spaceflights in the first quarter of 2015. Those flights are not forecast to begin in June 2020 — five years later than planned.

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Virgin Galactic Crew and Customers to Receive Space Pins from the Association of Space Explorers

Chief Astronaut Trainer Beth Moses floats in the cabin as David Mackay and Michael “Sooch” Masucci pilot VSS. Unity. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WASHINGTON (Virgin Galactic PR) — Crew and customers who fly to space on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, will be awarded space pins by the Association of Space Explorers (ASE).

The first pin was presented to Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, at the International Astronautical Conference in Washington DC.

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