Virgin Galactic’s Ban on Selling Tickets to Chinese Citizens

SpaceShipTwo ignites its engines on the third powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo ignites its engine above Koehn Lake on its third powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

It was a great story while it lasted, one full of spies, technological espionage, Cold War-style fears, and super power rivalry. And then the story turned into something far stranger.

The news broke two weeks ago that Virgin Galactic is turning away would-be space tourists from China. The reason: strict U.S. export restrictions known as ITAR that are designed to prevent the transfer of sensitive technologies to hostile foreign nations. Visions of Chinese spies signing up for flights and stealing the secrets to this new technology filled numerous news stories in the week that followed.

There was only one problem: the story appears to be only half true.


Whitesides Responds to Bower’s Allegation About SpaceShipTwo’s Engine

branson_behind_the_maskVirgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has responded to Tom Bower’s new book, “Branson: Behind the Mask.” The author makes a series of claims about the performance and safety of the nitrous oxide-rubber engine that is scheduled to send SpaceShipTwo on a suborbital flight later this year.

Whitesides wrote a letter to The Sunday Times, which began serializing the biography a week ago. The response, published on Feb. 2, is reproduced below:

Dear Sir:

Tom Bower’s claims in extracts from his new book on Richard Branson that Virgin Galactic has “no licence” and “no rocket” to go to space (“Lost in space” and “The sun lizard fading into exile”, News Review, last week) misrepresent the facts and use old information to create a story. Indeed the recent progress of the Galactic programme, including the latest rocket powered flight, renders Bower’s main claims false.

The company’s rocket motor has burned for the full duration and thrust multiple times, and the company released video footage of one such test in December. Bower also fails to note that the team has an experimental permit from the Federal Aviation Administration for the test flight programme phase.


Branson Book Says Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Still Lacks Powerful Enough Engine

branson_behind_the_maskThe Sunday Times is serializing Tom Bower’s latest biography, “Branson: Behind the Mask.” The early excerpts and stories are focusing on the British mogul’s most high-profile venture, Virgin Galactic. And they are extremely critical, focusing on difficulties of developing an engine and the many problems that have plagued the program over nearly 10 years.

An excerpt titled, “Lost in Space,” tells the inside story of the explosion in Mojave that killed three Scaled Composites workers:

The explosion was deafening. Without warning, a thunderous blast flashed across the parched scrub. More than 40 engineers fell like matchsticks onto the dirt. Swirling dust blocked out the Californian sunshine as the silence of the Mojave desert was broken by screams.

The temperature at 2.34pm on July 26, 2007, was more than 100F (38C) — dangerously high, even for an uncomplicated rocket test.

Confused and shocked, Al Cebriain, a mechanical engineer, could see a deep crater where seconds earlier a 6ft metal tank containing compressed nitrous oxide — laughing gas — had rested on a concrete block.

It had exploded while engineers were pumping the gas through the valve that would be used to propel Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic rocket into space.

Two men were dead. Shards of metal had ripped through their bodies. Another was dying. His head was being cradled by a friend staring tearfully at the…”

The rest of the excerpt is behind a paywall. Bower’s book goes on sale in the UK on Monday and in the United States on Tuesday.

Here are a couple of other links to stories about the book:

Will Richard Branson’s space tourists ever blast off?
The Sunday Times — Pay Wall

SIR RICHARD BRANSON’S space tourism company has amassed $80m (£48.5m) in fares and deposits from would-be passengers, according to a critical biography yet he still has no licence to fly them from his “spaceport” in America or a rocket proven to have enough power to do so.

The bizarre inside story of Virgin Galactic — Branson’s long-delayed journey into space — is revealed today in the scathing new biography by Tom Bower, whom the flamboyant entrepreneur once sued unsuccessfully for libel.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Still has No License and No Rocket, Claims Biography
GA Daily News — Free

This site has apparently been overwhelmed by users. Keep trying; it contains a good summary of the books claims.

Well, This Ought to Be Interesting….

branson_behind_the_maskTom Bower, who wrote a critical biography of Richard Branson nearly 15 years ago, is back with a new book looking at the British mogul’s most recent activities, including his nearly decade-long quest to launch himself and other wealthy individuals into space.

Being that Branson called Bower’s previous book a “foul” piece of work that offended him on every level, I can’t imagine this one is going to be any kinder. The earlier biography paints a very unflattering picture of the British billionaire, who Bower views as skilled in creating illusions that are at odds with reality.

The book will likely cause some real heartburn for the folks over at Virgin Galactic, Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port by taking a closer look at what’s been happening with the project. None of the parties is likely to come off very well.

The book will be released on Monday, Jan. 27. Advanced copies are already in the hands of reviewers. In the meantime, here is some promotional copy from the publisher to give you all an idea of what’s about to break.

Tom Bower

Have the triumphs of Richard Branson, one of the world’s most popular and most publicity-seeking businessmen, turned to dust over the last decade?

The image remains pristine: a charismatic high-school dropout turned billionaire, whose stratospheric rise and daring exploits have won him millions of enduring admirers and made him a model for aspiring entrepreneurs throughout the world.

But is this story still credible?

Over the last decade, has Branson matched the expectations perpetuated by Virgin’s relentless publicity machine? Or have we all been seduced by a brilliant showman?

In his most explosive book to date, Tom Bower, bestselling biographer of Simon Cowell, Bernie Ecclestone, Conrad Black and Robert Maxwell, dares to explore the reality of the Branson empire. In doing so, he unravels the gripping story of his recent activities – from the astonishing success of mobile phones to his troubled airlines and his long delayed plan to send multimillionaires into space – and asks whether he really remains Britain’s heroic buccaneer.