Virgin Galactic Entering Next Phase of SpaceShipTwo Flight Tests

View of SpaceShipTwo Unity from the tail boom. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SpaceNews has an update on Virgin Galactic’s progress in testing SpaceShipTwo Unity.

Speaking at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight here Oct. 10, George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said he expected at least one more powered flight test of the vehicle before the end of this year.

“We’re entering into the next phase of our test flight program,” he said. “The next phase of flight will entail longer burns and higher duration, and that’s exciting for the team.”

Not all of those flights, though, will involve flights that go higher and faster. “We’ll do a variety of different things as we expand the envelope and try to understand abort scenarios and other things,” he said. “We have a lot of work still to go, but we’re making good progress.”

You might recall that the previous test flight in July the suborbital vehicle fired its engine for 42 seconds and reached an altitude of 170,800 ft, which are both records for the program.

McCarthy and Virgin Galactic Hope Commercial Space Measure SOARS

Capitol Building
By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a move that would have a major impact on how Virgin Galactic and other space companies operate, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has introduced legislation that would simplify the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) permitting and licensing procedures for new commercial spacecraft.

The Suborbital and Orbital Advancement and Regulatory Streamlining Act (SOARS) also would broaden the definitions of launch vehicles and launch services to include the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and spaceflight participant training conducted aboard it.

Another section of the measure would require the FAA to undertake a three-year demonstration project “to evaluate the benefits of using experimental aircraft for both the direct and indirect support of commercial space launch and reentry activities.”


FAA Commercial Space Chief Wants Regulation Sooner Rather Than Later

George Nield

Government regulation of commercial spaceflight could come sooner rather than later, if the FAA’s chief regulator of the industry gets his way.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), under reauthorization legislation signed in February 2012, is barred from writing detailed safety regulations for commercial human spaceflight until October 2015, unless there is a serious accident in the industry before then.

The Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (Comstac), an industry-led group that advises AST, wants more time. The group recommended last year that AST delay rulemaking until eight years after the first licensed U.S. commercial human spaceflight.

But AST Associate Administrator George Nield thinks that is too long to wait.

“The U.S. has over 50 years of experience in human spaceflight,” Nield said here at a hearing of the House Science space subcommittee. “It’s true that none of those carried a spaceflight participant who actually bought a ticket, but as far as I’m concerned, the design and the operation of those vehicles really were independent of who was riding on board.”

To back up his case, Nield recounted a quick history of U.S. crewed missions, from the experimental X-15 rocketplane that took the first U.S. astronauts on parabolic flights to the edge of space through the decades-long space shuttle program that ended in July 2011 after 135 missions.

Nield made his comments during a House Subcommittee on Space hearing earlier this week that examined possible changes to the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act.

Space News has the full story.

Axe Apollo Space Academy Report and Photos

The winners with Buzz Aldrin. (Credit: SXC)
The 23 winners with Buzz Aldrin. (Credit: SXC)

ORLANDO, Fla. (SXC PR) — Early December an epic event was organized by AXE in Orlando, Florida. Over a 100 participants from all over the world competed a 3-day space academy to win a ticket to space with SXC.



Virgin Galactic Clarifies Status of SpaceShipTwo Engine

Hybrid engine test at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Jan. 23, 2013. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The latest edition of The Lurio Report includes an update on Virgin Galactic’s testing of SpaceShipTwo. I’m reproducing the relevant excerpt from it with the original bold emphasis included:

Around the same time stories were again heard that the present engine design would not be able to attain space altitude – at least not with a full compliment of six passengers and two crew.  Will Pomerantz, VP of Special Projects for Virgin Galactic, said in response to my query that, “Mojave’s certainly full of rumors, so it’s good to have a chance to clarify.  On the basis of the great results from PF01 and PF02 [the first two powered flights], coupled with continued ground testing, we do expect the present hybrid motor to be capable of carrying passengers into space.  As always, we’ll continue to look at a variety of ways to improve the motor’s performance and cost-effectiveness.”  (Later Pomerantz confirmed that he was referring to a full complement of passengers and crew when using the hybrid motor.)

He added that while Scaled is not working on any liquid engines Virgin Galactic is, though only for the LauncherOne orbital rocket which will be released from the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) aircraft.

This is really interesting. Let’s dissect this statement one clarification at a time.


Cosmica Spacelines Forges Alliance for Lynx Payload Integration Services

London, England (Cosmica PR) —
Cosmica Spacelines and EMXYS announced today the signature of an alliance to jointly market and provide payload integration services on XCOR’s Lynx spaceplane. This alliance consolidates the team formed by the two companies as the leading supplier of commercial suborbital flight services for experimental payloads in the European market. Both companies are Authorized Payload Integrators for XCOR’s Lynx, a fully reusable, liquid rocket powered suborbital vehicle expected to make its first flight in early 2013 with commercial flights available after successful completion of a comprehensive flight test program.


Hermes Hits $20,000 Crowd Sourcing Target

Congratulations to STAR Systems of Phoenix, which has hit its $20,000 fund-raising target on Kickstarter to fund work on its Hermes space plane.

A description of the spacecraft and the development effort from the company’s website is shown below:

The Hermes spacecraft, named after the ancient Greek god of boundaries and the people cross them, is a suborbital space shuttle for everyone, built on the premise that anyone should be able to take a trip into space without spending their life savings. It’s inspired by people like yourself who want to go into space but don’t want to spend a fortune to get there. “There aren’t too many people who get to be astronauts,” explains Morris Jarvis, the founder of STAR Systems and the Hermes spacecraft. “I think anybody who wants to fly into space should have that opportunity.”


Blue Origin: Secrecy and Control Freakery

A couple of updates on the ever mysterious Blue Origin:

At Popular Mechanics, Dave Mosher looks at what is known and unknown about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ secretive suborbital and orbital projects. This is mostly a compilation of what’s already been reported by Clark Lindsey, myself and others. It quotes an anonymous aerospace executive as saying:

“I get why they’re so secretive. It’s a competitive business environment. But we’ll ultimately see them open up a little bit. They’re taking public money, so they’ll have to at some point.”

True enough. But, there might be more to it.

Google engineer Steve Yegge has posted a long entry on Google+ that discusses, among other things, his previous time working for Jeff Bezos at Amazon. Yegge says that Bezos is “super smart” but that his micro-management “makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies.”

I’ve included a couple of excerpts below: (more…)

XCOR is Hiring

This showed up in the email box this morning:

Be a part of the NewSpace revolution and work closely with a small, dynamic team on spacecraft, rocket engines and other aerospace related projects.  The opportunity to be in on the ground floor of an entirely new industry only comes once in a lifetime.   We’re going to space and we want to take you with us! 

We have four positions currently open in Mojave, CA: 

Click each job title for more information.  Resume submission instructions are located at the bottom of each description.   We look forward to hearing from qualified candidates! 

Space Access ’11: Dave Masten

The Xaero vehicle during assembly November 2010. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

Dave Masten
Masten Space Systems

Developing reusable, highly operable suborbital vehicles and technologies — orbital effort lies in the future

Progress — Past Year

  • Lost some team members — replaced them and added a focus on business
  • First VTVL Relight Flight
  • SBIR
  • Plume Impingement SBIR
  • Scimitar Engine
  • Signed agreement with Space Florida (letter of intent)
  • Xaero in the air
  • Focus on customers


Suborbital Spotlight: Blue Origin’s New Shepard Platform

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist has published detailed information about suborbital vehicles that will be available beginning in 2011 for researchers to conduct microgravity experiments. The vehicles are being built by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR.

Today we will look at Blue Origin’s New Shepard system. The Washington State-based company is expected to begin commercial flight operations with cargo next year, with human flights following in 2012. The New Shepard vehicle will fly from Texas.


XCOR-Curacao Lease Deal Worth $25 Million

XCOR's Lynx suborbital vehicle

A few additional details on the XCOR-Curacao deal, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal:

The latest such effort, slated to be announced Tuesday, is a nearly $25-million agreement between start-up space-plane maker XCOR of Mojave, Ca., a group of Dutch investors and the government of Curacao.

XCOR officials said they are currently in discussions with a number of prospective European partners. “We’ve received a lot of inquiries from around the world,” said Andrew Nelson, XCOR’s chief operating officer, including “a coupe of different locations in Europe.” The company declined to elaborate.

Read the full WSJ story.

NASA Teams Up With Teachers in Space Program for STEM Education


Dallas, TX – The nonprofit Teachers in Space program has been selected by NASA to create an innovative professional-development program for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers.

“The NASA Education Office has selected Teachers in Space for funding under NASA’s K-12 Cooperative Agreement Notice,” Teachers in Space project manager Edward Wright said today. “Under this cooperative agreement, Teachers in Space will receive approximately $400,000 in funding and work with NASA to take STEM education to a new level.”