Bank of America Rips Virgin Galactic for Failure to Disclose Out of Airspace Mishap on Richard Branson Flight

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Analysts at Bank of America who cover Virgin Galactic’s publicly-traded stock are not amused by the company’s failure to disclose that a SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight carrying founder Richard Branson flew outside of its assigned airspace on July 11, resulting in an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the grounding of the company’s only operational space plane.

“Point blank, in our view, it is unacceptable to have an event during a flight that, per FAA regulations, is considered a mishap and then claim that the mission was a full success,” analyst Ronald Epstein wrote in a note to investors. “The old adage, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, generally is a poor strategy in aviation.”

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Virgin Galactic Delays Next SpaceShipTwo Flight

VSS Unity in flight on July 11, 2021. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR)– Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced an update regarding the timing of its next test flight “Unity 23” with the Italian Air Force.

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FAA: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Grounded Until Investigation Completed

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said today that Virgin Galactic cannot launch its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle until the agency completes an investigation into an anomaly that occurred on a flight test that carried company founder Richard Branson on July 11.

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Virgin Galactic Announces First Commercial Research Mission

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • “Unity 23” Test Flight Will Mark First Research Customer Mission
  • Partnership with Italian Air Force Marks First Mission of Its Kind led by European Country

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced the manifest for the next rocket-powered test flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity from Spaceport America, which will be the first commercial, human-tended research mission for the Company.

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Virgin Galactic Statement About Anomaly on Richard Branson’s Suborbital Space Flight

Virgin Galactic Statement

We dispute the misleading characterizations and conclusions in the New Yorker article published today.

The safety of our crew and passengers is Virgin Galactic’s top priority. Our entire approach to spaceflight is guided by a fundamental commitment to safety at every level, including our spaceflight system, our test flight program and our rigorous pilot training protocol.

Unity 22 was a safe and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols. When the vehicle encountered high altitude winds which changed the trajectory, the pilots and systems monitored the trajectory to ensure it remained within mission parameters. Our pilots responded appropriately to these changing flight conditions exactly as they were trained and in strict accordance with our established procedures. Although the flights ultimate trajectory deviated from our initial plan, it was a controlled and intentional flight path that allowed Unity 22 to successfully reach space and land safely at our Spaceport in New Mexico. At no time were passengers and crew put in any danger as a result of this change in trajectory.

The Unity 22 flight further reaffirms our technical readiness, our rigorous pilot training program and the inherent safety of our spaceflight system, particularly in light of changing flight conditions. As we move toward commercial service, we are confident we have the right safety culture, policies and processes in place to build and operate a safe and successful business over the long term.

Statement on the FAA

Although the flight’s ultimate trajectory deviated from our initial plan, the Unity 22 flight did not fly outside of the lateral confines of the protected airspace. As a result of the trajectory adjustment, the flight did drop below the altitude of the airspace that is protected for Virgin Galactic missions for a short distance and time (1 minute and 41 seconds) before re-entering restricted airspace that is protected all the way to the ground for Virgin Galactic missions. At no time did the ship travel above any population centers or cause a hazard to the public. FAA representatives were present in the control room during the flight and in post-flight debriefs. We are working in partnership with the FAA to address the airspace for future flights.

Report: Branson’s Flight into Space Experienced Serious Anomaly; Company Fired Flight Test Director

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

By all appearances, Richard Branson’s 17-years-in-the-making flight to the edge of space went exactly as planned on July 11. Or at least that was the impression left by Virgin Galactic’s webcast of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity’s flight test from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

But, for the second time in four suborbital flights, VSS Unity experienced a serious anomaly. The ship with its hybrid engine firing wasn’t rising steeply enough as it soared toward space, Nicholas Schmidle reports in The New Yorker:

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Virgin Galactic Raises Ticket Prices to $450,000, Delays Commercial Flights 2 Quarters, and Reports $94 Million 2nd Quarter Net Loss

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On July 11, Richard Branson returned from a suborbital journey declaring the start of a new era of flight that would make outer space open to everyone, and promoting a raffle for two averagenauts to fly aboard early flights of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Today, Virgin Galactic announced it was hiking the cost of those seats from $250,000 to $450,000 for new ticket buyers. It was the second time the company has raised ticket prices even before any paying passengers have flown. In 2013, the price rose from $200,000 to $250,000. The first paying passengers haven’t even flown yet.

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“Test God” Out as Virgin Galactic’s Director of Flight Test

Well, one day you’re a “God,” the next day you’re on the unemployment line.

Such was fate of Mark Stucky, who was Virgin Galactic’s lead pilot and director of flight test. On Tuesday, he announced on his Linkedin page that he had left the position. When asked why, he replied,

“Departing a company not on my own timeline was a first for me.”

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Congressman Blumenauer Proposes Carbon Tax on Human Space Launches

Looking back as SpaceShipTwo’s rocket engine fires during the third powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Earl Blumenauer PR) – As the space tourism race continues today, U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, previewed a new space tax. The Securing Protections Against Carbon Emissions (SPACE) Tax Act would create new excise taxes on commercial space flights carrying human passengers for purposes other than scientific research.

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FAA Opens Houston Space Safety Office to Increase Oversight of Texas and New Mexico Operations

WASHINGTON (FAA PR) – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opened a safety field office in Houston to increase its oversight of commercial space operations in Texas and New Mexico.

From this location, FAA inspectors will be able to more effectively and efficiently monitor the ongoing testing programs and commercial space tourism operations of SpaceX and Blue Origin in Texas and Virgin Galactic in New Mexico, along with others in the region.

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A Closer Look at Blue Origin’s First Crewed New Shepard Flight with Jeff Bezos & Friends

New Shepard (NS-14) lifts off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Tuesday morning, Jeff Bezos and his three companions — Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen — will be aboard the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle. The flight will include the youngest (Daemen), oldest (Funk) and richest (Jeff Bezos) people ever to fly to space.

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Scratch Ashton Kutcher From List of Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronauts

Ashton Kutcher, no longer a future millionaut. (Credit: David Shankbone)

Remember back in 2012 when Ashton Kutcher bought a ticket on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo? And how Richard Branson’s company made a big deal of it being the 500th ticket? And how commercial flights were only 12-18 months away?

No? Well, don’t feel too bad. I forgot about it too, until this week.

Mashable reports it ain’t going to happen.

“I was booked on a flight to go to space and, in fact, I’m quite rueful about the fact that I am not going to space,” Kutcher said, “My wife asked me to sell my ticket to space because she didn’t think that it was a smart family decision.”

His wife being actress Mila Kunis. Kutcher is not the only celebrity to bag out on Virgin. Princess Beatrice of the UK canceled after VSS Enterprise crashed on Oct. 31, 2014.

Back in 2010, Katy Perry bought a ticket for fiancé Russell Brand. A source told Parabolic Arc that she got a refund after the relationship broke up.

Sweepstakes Launched to Win Seats on Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flights

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LOS ANGELES (Omaze PR) — Omaze, the charity fundraising platform that offers the chance to win once-in-a-lifetime experiences and prizes, and Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic Founder, announced they will give away two seats on a Virgin Galactic commercial flight. The Omaze sweepstakes will support Space for Humanity, a nonprofit seeking to democratize space and send citizen astronauts of diverse racial, economic, and disciplinary backgrounds to space.

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