The Virgin Updates: Orbit Resets Launch Date, Galactic Finds Cause of In-flight Abort

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has rescheduled the second flight of LauncherOne booster for Wednesday, Jan. 13. The flight was originally scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 10. The operation is set to take place from 7-10 a.m. PST (1500-1800 UTC). As always, your local time may vary. Please adjust accordingly.

The modified Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will fly out over the Pacific Ocean and release LauncherOne to the west of San Nicolas Island. The booster, carrying 10 CubeSats for NASA, will ignite its first stage and head to space.

Parabolic Arc will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing. Look for live updates at www.twitter.com/spacecom.

Virgin Orbit’s first attempt to fly LauncherOne ended in failure on May 25, 2020. The rocket’s first stage cut off about four seconds after ignition after a fuel line broke. The booster was carrying a mass simulator.

Meanwhile, sister company Virgin Galactic says it has found the cause of the failure that resulted in an in-flight abort of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity in December. The suborbital space plane’s engine shut off after the vehicle’s computer lost contact with it.

The two pilots aboard safely glided the ship back to a landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico. VSS Unity was carrying a load of microgravity experiments for NASA.

Virgin Galactic did not say exactly what exactly caused the computer to lose contact with the engine. Nor did the company set a date for a repeat flight test.

Virgin Galactic has said it plans three additional flight tests of VSS Unity before beginning commercial suborbital tourism flights sometime later this year.

FAA Limits Evaluation of Spaceport Infrastructure Funding Options

U.S. commercial launch sites that are licensed to host or have hosted since 2015, a commercial space launch, as of August 2020 (Credit: GAO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rejected a recommendation from a government watchdog that it conduct detailed analysis of a broad range of financing tools for funding infrastructure projects at the nation’s spaceports.

In a report to Congressional committees, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it recommended to the FAA that it analyze the trade-offs of using direct loans, loan guarantees, tax incentives and other tools to increase investment in spaceport infrastructure.

(more…)

The Year of the Four Spaceships: Final Report

Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, I went out on a limb and predicted that 2020 could be the Year of the Four Spaceships, with SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic and reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With the disruption and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t the easiest year to get things done. Keeping that in mind, let’s see how the companies did in 2020. (Spoiler Alert: they came up a little short.)

(more…)

Virgin Galactic Looks on the Bright Side After Launch Abort

WhiteKnightTwo takes off with SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity from Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a flight 22 months in the making. But, when it came time for the rubber to meet the oxidizer, the whole thing suddenly flamed out.

The hybrid engine on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity failed to fire properly on Saturday, sending the suborbital rocket plane, pilots David Mackay and C.J. Sturckow and a load of NASA-sponsored experiments into a rapid descent and landing back at Spaceport America, instead of a graceful parabolic arc into suborbital space.

(more…)

Space Tourism Rewind: Branson & Richardson Announced Spaceport America Deal 15 Years Ago

Early Spaceport America artwork showed facilities built underground. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

New Mexico to spend $225 million
Commercial spaceflight set to begin in 2010
Virgin Galactic to fly 50,000 peassengers in 10 years

SANTE FE, NM, Dec. 14, 2005 (New Mexico Economic Development Department PR) — Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Companies, today announced that Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism business, will locate its world headquarters and Mission Control in New Mexico. The agreement between the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic calls for New Mexico to build a $225 million spaceport in the southern part of the state, on 27- square miles of state land.

“This is a historic day for our great state, and particularly Southern New Mexico,” said Governor Bill Richardson. “With Virgin at the controls, enthusiasts from around the world will fly to space, routinely and safely, just a few years from now. And they will be flying from the world’s first purpose-built spaceport here in New Mexico. I am excited that New Mexico will be on the ground floor of this new industry, and I know this will mean new companies, more high-wage jobs and opportunities that will move our state’s economy forward.”

(more…)

Launch Updates: SpaceX, Virgin Galactic & Rocket Lab Shift Dates

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity makes first glide flight at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SpaceX scrubbed the launch of the SXM-7 for SiriusXM satellite radio on Friday morning. The countdown for the Falcon 9 rocket was held at T-30 seconds.

“Standing down from today’s launch attempt to perform additional ground system checkouts; teams are working toward no earlier than Sunday, December 13 for next launch attempt of SXM-7,” SpaceX tweeted.

The window for Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight of SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico opened on Friday. However, the company did not conduct a flight with scientific experiments.

“Good morning from NM. Vehicles and flight crew are ready. Flight window is now open. We will fly no earlier than Saturday. We have range clearance through the weekend and can extend into next week if necessary. Evaluating high-level winds and turbulence. Stay tuned for updates,” Virgin Galactic tweeted.

Rocket Lab has delayed its launch of the StriX-α synthetic aperture radar satellite from New Zealand by a day to Tuesday, Dec. 15 for a rather unusual reason.

“To avoid a solar eclipse that could affect Synspective’s mission, we’re now targeting Dec 15 for launch,” the company tweeted. “When customers request a new T-0, we’re happy to oblige. That’s the beauty of dedicated launch on Electron, our customers get to choose (and change!) their launch time.”

The target lift-off time for the The Owl’s Night Begins mission on Dec. 15 is:

UTC: 09:00-10:59
NZT: 22:00-23:59
JST: 18:00-19:59
PST: 01:00-02:59
EST: 04:00-05:59.

Suborbital Space Again, NASA-supported Tech on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program

EDWARDS, Calif. — Successful space and suborbital technology developments require ingenuity, understanding of mission and science needs, and testing. For many technologies matured with support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the ability to undergo testing multiple times – and often on different types of commercial flight vehicles – adds the necessary rigor and refinement to advance these innovations.

(more…)

Preparations Underway for First Human Spaceflight from Spaceport America

SpaceShipTwo Unity on its second glide flight over Spaceport America. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SIERRA COUNTY, NM, December 7, 2020 (NMSA PR) — The New Mexico Spaceport Authority has started preparations ahead of Virgin Galactic’s first powered spaceflight from Spaceport America. The flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness.

(more…)

Virgin Galactic Unveils Flight Suits for SpaceShipTwo Pilots

On Friday, Virgin Galactic unveiled new flight suits for the pilots who will fly SpaceShipTwo. The company worked on the suits with Under Armour, which also designed similar garments for passengers.

The press release refers to the pilot garments as spacesuits 16 times even though they do not meet any accepted definition of the word. Per Marriam-Webster:

space suit: a suit equipped with life supporting provisions to make life in space possible for its wearer.

What Virgin Galactic and Under Armour have produced for both crew and passengers are flight suits that provide the wearer with zero protection against the vacuum and radiation of space. To call them spacesuits is false and unacceptable stretching of the word.

You can find the press release and pictures on Virgin Galactic’s website.

Spaceport America Board Approves Spending $20 Million for New Capital Projects

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal hangar facility (center), Spaceport Operations Center (Left) and “Spaceway” (Runway) at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Fresh off a stinging report saying that it failed to properly oversee a state-owned facility rife with fraud, waste and abuse, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) Board of Directors approved spending up to $20 million on capital improvements to Spaceport America.

(more…)

Report Recommends Former Spaceport America Executives be Investigated for Possible Criminal Charges

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)
  • Outside investigation concluded former Executive Director Dan Hicks ignored spending regulations, submitted falsified travel documents, and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on unnecessary travel and unrealistic projects
  • Hicks portrayed by staff as an incompetent manager who bullied employees
  • Ex-CFO Zach DeGregorio facilitated Hicks’ violations by improperly approving travel and ignoring rules and statutes
  • Former New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board Chairman Rick Holdridge accused of allowing violations to continue

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A highly critical investigation of Spaceport America has determined the New Mexico state government should consider formal criminal and/or administrative charges against former Executive Director Dan Hicks and former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Zach DeGregorio for their mishandling of the spaceport’s finances.

“As detailed above, there is evidence to conclude that Dan Hicks violated criminal and administrative statutes, as well as the State of New Mexico Governmental Compliance Act, and Governor Lujan Grisham’s Code of Conduct, during his tenure as Director of the Spaceport,” the report said.

(more…)

Window for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flight Opens Dec. 11

SpaceShipTwo fires its engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), today announced its new flight window since it paused the spaceflight preparations in response to state guidelines from the New Mexico Department of Health to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The new flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness. This flight expects to fulfill a number of objectives, including testing elements of the customer cabin as well as assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during boost. The flight will also carry payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

(more…)

NASA Awards Flight & Integration Services Contracts to Virgin Galactic, Masten Space Systems

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

EDWARDS, Calif., November 30, 2020 (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Virgin Galactic LLC of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Masten Space Systems Inc. of Mojave, California, to provide flight and integration services for payloads chosen by the agency’s Flight Opportunities program, which is managed at the agency’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The two companies join four others to provide service under commercial indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts with NASA.

(more…)

Virgin Galactic Delays SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Due to COVID-19

SpaceShipTwo Unity in its first powered flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight in nearly two years will have to wait a bit longer due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has postponed a powered flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity that had been scheduled to take place between Nov. 19-23 from Spaceport America after New Mexico reenacted its shelter in place order as the rising number coronavirus cases have begun to overwhelm hospitals.

(more…)

Enrico Palermo Leaves Virgin Galactic to Head Australian Space Agency

Enrico Palermo (Credit; Virgin Galactic)

CANBERRA (Scott Morrison/Karen Andrews PR) — The Morrison Government is continuing to put industry at the heart of the Australian space sector, to create jobs and grow the economy, with Virgin Galactic’s Chief Operating Officer Enrico Palermo to become the new Head of the Australian Space Agency.

(more…)