Kaboom! Smallsat Launch Company Destroys Second Stage in Test at Mojave

ABL Space Systems lost a second stage during a test in Mojave on Jan. 19, 2022. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

MOJAVE, Calif. — The sound of an explosion echoed across California’s Mojave Desert on Wednesday afternoon. I would normally pay little attention to it given how common such things are in Mojave. But, this one was different: instead of nearly daily boom-boom of jet fighters from nearby Edwards Air Force Base going supersonic, this one was a single large BOOM!

And oh, there was a giant cloud of black smoke rising from the rocket test area at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Someone’s engine test had clearly gone awry.

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Space Tourism Money Pit: Virgin Galactic Stock Plunges Again as Company Plans to Issue Up to $500 Million in Debt

Credit: Google Finance

Parabolic Arc Context Backgrounder

  • $425 million in senior notes due in 2027; initial purchasers have option to buy up to $75 million in notes
  • First issuing of debt; company previously raised money by issuing hundreds of millions in additional stock after going public on Oct. 28, 2019
  • Announcement came as sister company, Virgin Orbit, prepared for a satellite launch later today
  • Stock price well below its NYSE debut price of $12.79 and peak of $62.80
  • Company has lost hundreds of millions of dollars since going public as schedule delays lengthened
  • Space tourism revenue flights not expected until third quarter 2022
  • Plan before going public was to begin tourism flights in June 2020
  • Founder Richard Branson has extracted about $1.4 billion from initial deal to go public and subsequent sales of stock
  • Branson has reduced ownership stake from more than 50 percent in October 2019 to 11.9 percent today

Virgin Galactic’s press release announcing the plan to issue debt follows.

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Merger Leaves Virgin Orbit with Less Than Half of Funding Originally Planned

Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 takes off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a clear sign of investor skepticism, Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit will receive only about $228 million of the $483 million in growth capital it expected after merging with the NextGen Acquisition II special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

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NASA Selects Nine Space Technologies for Commercial Suborbital Flight Tests

Carthage College student Nicolas Welker prepares to start a zero-gravity transfer of propellant simulant during a flight on Zero Gravity Corporation’s G-FORCE ONE on Nov. 16, 2021. The flight enabled testing of technology designed to gauge propellant levels during on-orbit refueling and transfer operations. (Credits: Zero Gravity Corporation/Steve Boxall)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected nine space technologies under the agency’s 2021 TechFlights solicitation for testing aboard parabolic aircraft, high-altitude balloons, and suborbital rocket-powered systems.

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Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Virgin Galactic Alleging Securities Fraud

Michael Colglazier (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A class action lawsuit was filed in New York on Dec. 7 alleging securities fraud by Virgin Galactic, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in October 2019 after merging with Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH).

Named in the lawsuit are Virgin Galactic Holdings, CEO Michael Colglazier, former CEO George Whitesides, former current chief financial officer Doug Ahrens, and former chief financial officer Jon Compagna.

The lawsuit was filed amid years-long delays in the start of commercial human suborbital flights that have caused a sharp decline in the value of the stock. Virgin Galactic began trading on the New York Stock Exchange at an opening price of $12.34 on Oct. 28, 2019. The stock is now trading at $14.46 having previously soared to a high of $62.80.

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NASA Awards Grant for Purdue University Engineer to Fly as Researcher Aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Steven Collicott, an aerospace engineer in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was selected by NASA for a suborbital flight to conduct a research experiment aboard a Virgin Galactic aircraft. (Credit: Purdue University/Rebecca McElhoe)

Editor’s Note: Although NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program has awarded a grant for Steven Collicott to fly as a researcher on SpaceShipTwo, the space agency has yet to approve Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft or Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle to carry agency-funded researchers. Those technical reviews are on-going at the moment. It’s unclear when approvals might be given. Virgin Galactic is scheduled to complete its flight test program next summer and begin flying paying passengers in the fourth quarter of 2022.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (Purdue University PR) — Purdue University’s Steven Collicott was 8 years old when he saw Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and dreamed of reaching the stars. Now, both he and his research are going to make a giant leap into space aboard a Virgin Galactic craft.

Collicott, a professor of aerospace engineering in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, was selected Wednesday to receive an award by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program giving him the chance to fly into suborbital space and back on a Virgin Galactic craft while conducting a zero-gravity experiment.

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FAA Decides Bezos, Branson and Shatner Are Astronauts After All

  • Everyone who exceeds 50 miles by Dec. 31 will receive commercial astronaut wing even if they were just passengers
  • Nobody after that will even if they pilot a ship
  • Agency reverses earlier decision to award wings only to those essential to flight operations/success
  • FAA says this is what was intended all along

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – With the advent of the commercial space tourism era, starting in 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will now recognize individuals who reach space on its website instead of issuing Commercial Space Astronaut Wings. Any individual who is on an FAA-licensed or permitted launch and reaches 50 statute miles above the surface of the Earth will be listed on the site. 

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Omaze and Virgin Galactic Announce Winner of Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip to Space

Virgin Galactic and Sir Richard Branson’s Omaze sweepstakes raised an anticipated $1.7M in grants to support Space for Humanity’s mission to democratize space travel

LOS ANGELES, C.A., November 24, 2021 (Omaze PR) — Today, Omaze, the charity fundraising platform that offers the chance to win once-in-a-lifetime experiences and prizes, and Virgin Galactic, revealed that Keisha S. from Antigua and Barbuda is the exclusive winner of two seats on a Virgin Galactic commercial space flight. Born and raised in Antigua, Keisha is a health and energy coach who is passionate about empowering women to live their best lives. She has always had a lifelong dream of going to space, and hopes to bring her daughter, an astrophysics student, as her guest on this incredible journey.

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Virgin Galactic & Omaze to Announce Winner of Suborbital Flight Lottery

Video Caption: Tune in tomorrow to watch Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) surprise an Omaze winner with the news they’ve won two seats on one of Virgin Galactic’s first space flights. Video goes live at 9am EST – subscribe so you don’t miss the launch!

Virgin Galactic Reports Q3 Net Loss of $48 Million

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Commercial Service on Track for Q4 2022
  • Strong Ticket Sales at Updated Pricing of $450,000 per Seat
  • Demonstrates Value of Differentiated Community Experience
  • Commenced Fleet Enhancement Program to Increase Flight Rate and Extend Vehicle Service Life Ahead of Commercial Launch

LAS CRUCES, N.M., November 8, 2021 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or the “Company”) today announced its financial results for the third quarter ended September 30, 2021.

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Space SPACs Earnings Week

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)

Five space companies that went public by merging with special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) report earnings this week.

Monday, Nov. 8

Virgin Galactic
5 p.m. EST (22:00 UTC)
https://investors.virgingalactic.com/news/news-details/2021/Virgin-Galactic-Announces-Date-of-Third-Quarter-2021-Financial-Results-and-Conference-Call/default.aspx

Tuesday, Nov. 9

Momentus
5 p.m. EST (22:00 UTC)
https://investors.momentus.space/news-releases/news-release-details/momentus-announces-date-third-quarter-2021-financial-results-and

Wednesday, Nov. 10

Redwire
8:30 a.m. EST (13:30 UTC)
https://ir.redwirespace.com/news-events/press-releases/detail/32/redwire-corporation-to-report-third-quarter-2021-results-on

Spire Global
5 p.m. EST (22:00 UTC)
https://ir.spire.com/news-events/press-releases/detail/76/spire-global-inc-schedules-third-quarter-2021-results

Thursday, Nov. 11

Astra Space
4:30 p.m. EST (21:30 UTC)
https://investor.astra.com/news-releases/news-release-details/astra-report-third-quarter-financial-results-november-11-2021

Last Week in the Dmitrys: Roscosmos, Glavkosmos Bosses Talk SpaceX, Tourism and More

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. (Credit: A. Savin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The International Astronautical Congress wrapped up last week in Dubai. Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin and Glavkosmos boss Dmitry Loskutov held forth during the conference on SpaceX, space tourism and other topics.

Roscosmos is the state-owned corporation that runs Russia’s space program. Glavkosmos is Roscosmos’ commercial arm.

Cosmonauts to fly on Crew Dragon: Rogozin said SpaceX’s Crew Dragon now has enough flights under its belt for Russian cosmonauts to fly aboard it. Crew Dragon has flown three crews to the International Space Station (ISS) and a group of amateur astronauts on a three-day orbital flight. Roscosmos and NASA will pursue a barter agreement that will allow U.S. astronauts to fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Before Crew Dragon began flights, NASA was paying Roscosmos $90 million per seat to fly its astronauts to ISS.

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Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Returns to Mojave for Overhaul

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve mothership returned to the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Saturday for the start of 8-10 months of upgrades and repairs. The dual fuselage airplane flew from its operating base at Spaceport America in New Mexico to the spaceport where it was built and first flew 13 years ago on Dec. 21, 2008.

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Blue Origin Eyes UAE as Possible Launch Site

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, which carried payloads supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, lands on the pad in West Texas on Aug. 26, 2021. NASA’s Orbital Syngas Commodity Augmentation Reactor (OSCAR), which tests technology to convert trash and human waste generated during spaceflight into useful gases, was a part of the 17th New Shepard mission. (Credits: Blue Origin)

The National reports that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is eyeing the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for launches of its New Shepard suborbital crew system.

In an exclusive interview with The National, Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of advanced development programmes for Blue Origin, said the UAE was an “obvious choice” for a spaceport and that it was looking to expand its launch sites from the current one in El Paso, Texas.

“Now that we are operational for tourism, the next thing we are looking at is other locations around the planet to establish launch and landing sites for New Shepard,” he said.

“It’s an obvious place to look here. All we really need is some desert. One of the endearing qualities of the West Texas desert is that it is hard to get to the El Paso airport. You have to drive for a couple of hours and it is in the middle of nowhere.

“A couple of nights ago I slept over in Sharjah and did some stargazing in the desert. It was only 30 minutes away from Dubai, so I think it’s very promising to think about areas here.”

Virgin Galactic is also eyeing the UAE for flights of its suborbital SpaceShipTwo crew vehicle. The government of Abu Dhabi invested $390 million into Richard Branson’s space company.

Virgin Galactic Delays Italian Flight Test; Start of Commercial Service Delayed to Q4 2022

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)
  • Recent material testing returned new data that requires further analysis
  • Italian Air Force mission to follow enhancement period
  • Potential supplier component issue has been resolved
  • Commercial service expected to commence in Q4 2022

LAS CRUCES, NM (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic today announced that it will now begin its planned enhancement program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity and will conduct the Unity 23 test flight after this work is complete.

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