Tag: virgin galactic

A Tale of Two Prizes

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SpaceShipOne on the floor beside the Spirit of St. Louis of the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: National Air & Space Museum)

SpaceShipOne on the floor beside the Spirit of St. Louis of the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: National Air & Space Museum)

Two major flight-related anniversaries are being celebrated this week. Today marks the 89th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic aboard the Spirit of St. Louis. Lucky Lindy took off from New York on this date and arrived in Paris some 33.5 hours later, claiming the $25,000 Orteig Prize.

Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of the launch of X Prize (later Ansari X Prize). Inspired by the Orteig Prize, it offered $10 million for the first privately build vehicle to fly to suborbital space twice within two weeks. The Ansari X Prize was won in October 2004 by a team led by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen with SpaceShipOne.

After Lindbergh’s flight, a public that had previously shunned commercial aviation embraced it with a passion. Following the Ansari X Prize, Richard Branson vowed to begin flying tourists to space aboard a successor vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, within three years. Nearly a dozen years and four deaths later, Branson has yet to fulfill this promise.

The SpaceShipTwo program has now taken longer than it took for NASA to go from President John F. Kennedy proposal to land a man on the moon to the completion of the program with the splashdown of Apollo 17. NASA launched the space shuttle Columbia exactly 20 years after the first spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin.

So, why have things taken so long? And why did one prize succeed beyond the dreams of its sponsor, while the space prize it inspired has promised so few practical results? The answer is a complex one that I addressed back in March in a story titled, “Prizes, Technology and Safety.” I’ve republished the story below with links to other posts in a series about flight safety.

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Orbital ATK Sued Over Satellite Servicing Venture

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orbital_ATK_logoSpaceNews reports on the latest litigation in satellite land:

Orbital ATK is facing a lawsuit from its former partner in the ViviSat satellite servicing venture, claiming Orbital improperly shut down the joint venture to pursue the servicing business on its own.

In a suit filed April 29 with the Supreme Court of the State of New York, U.S. Space LLC alleges that Orbital ATK violated the terms of a management agreement regarding operations of ViviSat to take control of the company and dissolve it in April, a maneuver U.S. Space called in court filings “a double-cross of cosmic proportions.” The lawsuit was first reported by the legal publication Law360.

U.S. Space and ATK Space Systems created ViviSat in 2010 to develop and commercialize a satellite servicing system later known as the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV). Under the original teaming agreement, ATK was primarily responsible for technical development of the MEV, while U.S. Space was responsible for financing and business development.

ATK supplied about $3 million through March 2013 to fund ViviSat’s operations, according to court papers. However, when ViviSat said in late 2012 that it needed an additional $200,000, ATK requested an amendment to the management agreement that would tie the funding to business development milestones.

The revised agreement, signed in April 2013, included an “amendment trigger” that would effectively give control of ViviSat to ATK, including three of four seats on its board of directors, if ViviSat didn’t achieve those milestones. That agreement also allowed the ViviSat board to dissolve the company by a majority vote.

The dispute involves whether VivaSat met the milestones in time. Orbital ATK says the suit is without merit.

Editor’s Note: This is a fine story that digs into the details of the lawsuit. My only question is: where has SpaceNews been for the last six months since the Virgin Galactic-Firefly litigation became public?

It’s a helluva story involving some rather explosive claims by two major NewSpace companies. Firefly would be effectively put out of business by a rival if Virgin wins. The lawsuit certainly qualifies as news every bit as much as the VivaSat lawsuit. Yet, it hasn’t merited a single story by the leading space news website. It’s disappointing.

WhiteKnightTwo Flies at Spaceport America

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SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM (NMSA PR) — Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America Operations teams welcomed WhiteKnightTwo back to the clear blue skies of New Mexico on Monday.

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Hyten Backs Plan to Use Decommissioned ICBMs for Satellite Launches

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Gen. John E. Hyten

Gen. John E. Hyten

The head of the United States Space Command says he supports the idea of using decommissioned ICBMs to launch commercial satellites.

U.S. Air Force General John Hyten said that spare ICBMs should not be given away for free, nor dumped en masse into the commercial marketplace.

“I would like to figure out how to get some value out of the hundreds of millions investment we have in those excess ICBMs, but we cannot destroy the small launch business in doing that,” said Hyten during a press conference at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “There’s got to be a way to find the sweet spot.”

Hyten noted that the Air Force will not decide the issue, which could affect hundreds of millions of dollars in potential rocket launch orders in coming years. “This is going to be a national policy decision,” he said. Lifting the ban on using mothballed nuclear missiles requires action by Congress.

Orbital ATK is pressing U.S. lawmakers to end a ban on using ICBMs for launching commercial satellites, an initiative that has raised concern among companies, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, that have invested millions of dollars in potential rival rockets.

 

XS-1 Program Enters Phase II

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Credit: DARPA

Credit: DARPA

WASHINGTON (DARPA PR) — In an era of declining budgets and adversaries’ evolving capabilities, quick, affordable and routine access to space is increasingly critical for both national and economic security. Current satellite launch systems, however, require scheduling years in advance for an extremely limited inventory of available slots. Moreover, launches often cost hundreds of millions of dollars each, due in large part to the massive amounts of dedicated infrastructure and large number of personnel required.

DARPA created its Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program to help overcome these challenges and create a new paradigm for more routine, responsive and affordable space operations, reducing the time to get capabilities to space.

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Land Rover – Virgin Galactic Promotional Video

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Video Caption: Photographer and adventurer Jimmy Chin joined Land Rover in the Mojave Desert to witness the reveal of our global partner Virgin Galactic’s new VSS Unity. After capturing the moment, Jimmy embarked on the off-road adventure of a lifetime in a Range Rover Autobiography. In this video, he reflects on what it takes to explore unchartered territory, to venture into the unknown and to truly go Above and Beyond.

Find out more about our proud partnership with Virgin Galactic: http://www.landrover.com/experiences/…

 

Spaceport America Welcomed Over 1,700 Guests at Open House

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spaceport_america_open_house6_april2016

A speaker addresses an audience at Spaceport America’s open house. (Credit: Spaceport America)

SPACEPORT AMERICA, NM, April 4, 2016 (Spaceport America PR) –  Crew members from Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic opened the doors to the world’s first purpose-built spaceport on Saturday to welcome more than 1,700 guests from across the country.  Some flew in, others drove in, and others around the world were able to tune in via the Spaceport America Periscope broadcast that was also trending.  Eighty-six crew members from the New Mexico Civil Air Patrol were on hand to support the activities happening on the ground.

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Orbital Wants to Use Old Missiles to Launch Commercial Satellites

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A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

Orbital ATK would like to expand its use of old ballistic missile engines for commercial launches.

Orbital Vice President Barron Beneski said in an interview on Friday that the company was pushing Washington to get the ban lifted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that sets defense policy for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1.

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Boldly Going Where 14 Men Have Gone Before

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For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.

That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.

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Branson Signs Deal for Supersonic Passenger Plane

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Supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom)

Supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom)

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is partnering with a start-up company called Boom on the production of a new Mach 2.2 commercial airliner. The deal will involve work by Virgin Galactic and its subsidiary, The Spaceship Company.

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L-3 Modifying Virgin Galactic’s Cosmic Girl 747 to Launch Satellites

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Virgin Galactic Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WACO, Texas, March 16, 2016 (L-3 PR) – L-3 and Virgin Galactic announced today that Virgin Galactic’s 747-400 aircraft, which serves as an airborne launch pad for its LauncherOne small satellite launch service, has arrived at L-3’s Platform Integration facilities and is entering into the next phase of its modification process.

Continue reading ‘L-3 Modifying Virgin Galactic’s Cosmic Girl 747 to Launch Satellites’

So Exactly How Safe Will SpaceShipTwo Be?

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Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 5 of 6

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the recent roll out of VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic marked a symbolic milestone in its recovery from the October 2014 accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed pilot Mike Alsbury.

Two questions loomed large over the celebrity-studded event. When will it fly? And how safe will it be when it does?

Company officials gave no timeline on the first question. Their answers about SpaceShipTwo’s safety differed significantly from previous claims they made over the last 11.5 years.

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Virgin Galactic Says Bookings on SpaceShipTwo Have Recovered

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George Whitesides

George Whitesides

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was in Abu Dhabi this week for a space conference, where he gave an update on the company’s progress since the October 2014 that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed pilot Mike Alsbury.

About 25 of 700 fee-paying clients withdrew from the program after the crash in the Mojave Desert in California caused it to be put on hold just months before the first commercial flight, Virgin Galactic Chief Executive Officer George Whitesides said Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.

“We had a little dip right after the accident, but honestly we’re almost all the way back now,” Whitesides said at a conference organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. “It’s looking very good. There’s a global desire to experience space.”

Virgin Galactic said it had “more than 700 Future Astronauts” signed up as of April 2014. In media appearances in the months before the accident, Branson put the number of tickets sold at or close to 800.

Whitesides also said that Virgin Galactic’s partner, Aabar Investments, might increase its stake in the company.

When asked whether Aabar is planning to increase or decrease their stake in the company, he said they had meetings with their representatives and said the responses had been positive.

In 2009, Aabar paid $280 million for a 31.8 percent stake in Virgin Galactic. The government-owned sovereign wealth fund upped its stake to 37.8 percent with an additional investment of $110 million in 2011.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Industry Lightly Regulated

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faa_logoPart 4 of 6

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

U.S. regulations for commercial human spaceflight give the wide latitude to develop and fly their launch systems while providing substantial protections about being sued for injuries and deaths resulting from accidents. What follows is is a brief summary of the provisions, most of which have been in place since December 2004.
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Prizes, Technology and Safety

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Charles A. Lindbergh (Credit: Library of Congress)

Charles A. Lindbergh (Credit: Library of Congress)

Part 3 of 6

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

At 10:22 p.m. on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh brought the Spirit of St. Louis to a safe landing at Le Bourget Aerodrome in Paris. He had just completed the first non-stop New York to Paris airplane flight, a 33.5-hour journey during which he had covered 3,600 statute miles (5,800 km). As soon as the plane stopped, Lindbergh was surrounded by thousands of people who had gathered to welcome him. The exhausted pilot had been awake for 55 hours.

Continue reading ‘Prizes, Technology and Safety’