Updates on Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America

SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through Wednesday. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News

Below are updates on Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America based on their tweets.

George Whitesides
Virgin Galactic
The Spaceship Company

  • good progress on glide test flight program in 2017
  • Six glide flights so far; 1 more SpaceShipTwo glide flight scheduled before powered flight tests begin in 2018
  • a lot of work underway to prepare SpaceShipTwo for powered flights
  • Italian space agency ASI has signed letter of intent to purchase research flight with Italian payload specialist scheduled for 2019
  • suborbital payload capacity is 1,000 lbs. (453.6 kg) w/ 500 cubic feet (14.16 cubic meters) of pressurized usable volume
  • integration of biological payloads within two hours of flight
  • access to payloads within 30 minutes of land, possibly as short as 5 to 10 minutes
  • company will complete facilities at Spaceport America in 2018
  • working on $1 billion investment by Saudi Arabia that was announced in October

Dan Hicks
Spaceport America

  • Commercial space industry is worth $339 billion annually and is growing
  • Users of Spaceport America benefit from large area of restricted airspace (adjacent to White Sands Missile Range)
  • Developing a infrastructure development plan that will include a payload processing facility with a cafeteria
  • Officials will present plan to New Mexico lawmakers in several months
  • UP Aerospace plans a sounding rocket launch from Spaceport America in January
  • UP Aerospace using a new rocket motor test facility at the spaceport
  • Possibility of conducting orbital launches from Spaceport America that do not involve dropping hardware over land

Baylor College Center for Space Medicine Launches Commercial Transportation Initiative

Jeffrey P. Sutton, M.D., Ph.D. (Credit: Baylor College of Medicine)

HOUSTON (Baylor College of Medicine PR) — Baylor College of Medicine is expanding its renowned research and education programs in the Center for Space Medicine to include cutting-edge aerospace medicine for commercial space missions.

“We are thrilled about this new frontier and uncharted territory that we are moving in to,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sutton, director of the Center for Space Medicine. “This positions the Center for Space Medicine to become a leader in integrated research, education and clinical activities related to space medicine in an academic setting.”


Space Tourism is Going to Be Real Awesome Some Day…

Video Caption: Want to be an astronaut when you grow up? Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Astronaut Instructor, is on hand to give you a crash course in space travel and explain how soon you can expect to be on Mars.

Richard Branson Accused of Sexual Assault by Joss Stone Backup Singer

Richard Branson at Spaceport America (Credit: Douglas Messier)

One of Joss Stone’s backup singers, Antonia Jenae, has accused Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson of “sexual assault” in an incident she says occurred on the billionaire’s private Caribbean island in 2010.

“We were in the pool and there was a big, beautiful statue of a goddess there with her boobs out.

“Richard Branson tried to get me to show him my boobs and I said: ‘No!’ I was wearing a one-piece swimsuit and at the time I was very heavy chested.”


Mum-of-two Antonia said: “We were by the bar and he was saying bye to everyone. He came up to me and put his face in my breasts.

Spaceport America Seeks More Tax Dollars

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

With Virgin Galactic’s ‘big move” of its SpaceShipTwo to New Mexico expected to occur sometime in 2018, Spaceport America officials say they need taxpayers to ante up more money.

Dan Hicks, Spaceport America CEO, told attendees at the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce 2017 Space Update Luncheon on Thursday that more spaceports are poised to enter the commercial space industry, with 10 other licensed spaceports operating and an additional nine applications pending with the Federal Aviation Administration. And, with Virgin Galactic set to begin manned flights as soon as next year, more funding is needed to accommodate the increased traffic expected to follow, he said.

Hicks said he will seek an additional $600,000 from the Legislature to increase staff levels and continue with infrastructure improvements. At a cost of nearly $220 million, the taxpayer-financed Spaceport America opened in 2011. At the time, officials envisioned a new commercial space economy that would transform southern New Mexico. That economy has yet to come to fruition, but officials are hopeful.

The funding is necessary to stay on par with other spaceports around the country, Hicks said. With 16 people currently on the Spaceport America staff, Hicks hopes to increase that number to 26 “very quickly” to accommodate Virgin Galactic’s planned move to New Mexico….

New Mexico’s Spaceport America has a $6.1 million operating budget with a current state appropriation of $375,000 with $600,000 in local gross receipts taxes generated solely from Doña Ana and Sierra counties. Customer revenue generates $2.1 million.

Kardashians Want to Blast Off Into Space

WhiteKnightTwo carries SpaceShipTwo No. 2 on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The Kardashians — America’s first family of WTF? reality show programming — is apparently eager to blast off into space.

Kris Jenner is said to be keen to fly the family further than she ever has before to shoot an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians – which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary – on Richard Branson’s Virgin space shuttle.

An insider close to Kris told heat magazine: “Kris is fascinated by outer space, and is looking into paying for her and the family to be among the first passengers on Virgin’s commercial space shuttle.

“Kris just signed a $150 million deal that will keep their reality show until the end of 2019. The pressure is on to keep things exciting, and what better way than by filming an episode in space?

“They’d be the first family to orbit the planet, and Kris is convinced she’s hit on the ultimate storyline.”

If they want to orbit the Earth, they shouldn’t be talking to Branson. SpaceShipTwo will only get them about four to five minutes of weightlessness in suborbital space.

Hopefully that would be enough. But, then again, when is anything ever enough for the Kardashians? Their appetite for money, fame and attention seems as boundless as space itself.

Virgin Galactic Promises New Mexico that 2018 will be the Year

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic Vice President Richard DalBello was in Sante Fe, NM on Wednesday with an optimistic message about the company’s plans to fly tourists to space from the state-owned Spaceport America.

“We think we’re at the beginning of a very exciting period,” he told a legislative committee in Santa Fe. “We know you’ve waited a long time and we are coming.”


Wyler: OneWeb to Launch First Satellites in May

Planned OneWeb production facility in Exploration Park, Fla. (Credit: OneWeb)

Testimony of Greg Wyler
Founder and Executive Chairman,
Worldu Satellites Limited (OneWeb)

Before Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology
Oct. 25, 2017

Selected Excerpts

This is a great time to discuss our progress as we are investing over $4 billion to build the world’s first large scale satellite constellation, and will begin launching our fleet in the coming months.


Virgin Deal With Saudi Arabia Includes Possible Space Entertainment Center

Richard Branson stands before an artist’s conception of a space entertainment complex that could be built in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. (Credit: ExpovistaTV Screenshot)

RIYADH, October 27, 2017 (CIC PR) – Sir Richard Branson has said that he would not only invest in Saudi Arabia but also partner with the Kingdom on his ambitious space projects, including a space-centric entertainment center that may be built in the capital city of Riyadh.

“It’s an exciting time to invest in Saudi Arabia,” the Virgin Group founder told the closing session of the October 24-26 Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit in Riyadh, hosted by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), the country’s main sovereign wealth fund.


Video: Richard Branson Presents Space Plans in Saudi Arabia

Video Caption: Richard Branson, Founder & President, Virgin Group will start his space operations in 4 months with the launching of small satellites. But he also presents the project for his Space Center in Saudi Arabia.

Branson’s Saudi Deals Include Mega City, Spaceflights from Riyadi

Credit: CIC Saudi Arabia

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Saudi Arabia’s non-binding agreement to invest $1 billion in Richard Branson’s three space companies is part of a broader set of ventures that includes Branson’s Virgin Group investing in a new mega city on the Red Sea and suborbital space tourism flights from the Saudi capital.

“Branson has become the first international investor to commit to involvement in the Red Sea Project and nearby Al Ola/Madain Saleh, another prime site for the development of tourism, both domestic and international,” the Saudi government proudly announced on Oct. 1, more than three weeks before the space deal was unveiled.


FastFacts: Public-Sector Financial Support for Richard Branson’s Space Companies

Four big thumbs up from Richard Branson and then New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson at the Spaceport America runway dedication in 2010. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The nonbinding memorandum of understanding involving $1 billion in investment from Saudi Arabia is Richard Branson’s latest success in obtaining financial support from governments for his Virgin Group’s space companies.

The table below shows funding invested directly into the group’s space ventures and indirectly for infrastructure.

2006New Mexico~$225 Custom built spaceport named Spaceport America constructed on 18,000 acres of land — Virgin Galactic signed 20 year lease to serve as anchor tenant
2009Abu Dhabi $280Government-owned sovereign wealth fund Aabar Investments obtained 31.6 percent share of Virgin Galactic — plans for a spaceport where SpaceShipTwo would fly in Dubai — future commitment of $100 million more when Virgin Galactic developed viable plan for small-satellite booster (LauncherOne)
2011 Abu Dhabi $110Aabar Investments increased share of Virgin Galactic to 37.6 percent
2017Saudi Arabia$1,000Under non-binding MOU, government-run Public Investment Fund (PIC) would obtain undisclosed share of three Virgin Group space companies: Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company — Virgin Group  to maintain majority ownership
 TOTAL: $1,615
 Future Saudi Arabia $480PIC has an option to invest nearly a half-billion more in Virgin Group space services

Is This Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipThree?

Credit: CIC Saudi Arabia

This image was posted on Twitter by Saudi Arabia’s Center for International Communications. It appears to be from an event announcing the non-binding memorandum of understanding under which Saudi Arabia would invest $1 billion in the Virgin Group’s space companies (Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company). Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson appears to be on stage.

The press release announcing the deal mentions that the funding would “accelerate our programme for point to point supersonic space travel,” a plan that Branson has long talked about but for which there has been almost no details. That vehicle has been unofficially called SpaceShipThree.

I don’t know if this is that, or how accurate the illustration is if it indeed represents the vehicle mentioned in the press release. But, it’s interesting nonetheless.

Virgin Group, Saudi Arabia Sign MOU for $1 Billion Space Investment

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, October 26, 2017 — The Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia and Virgin Group (Virgin), have signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a partnership under which PIF intends to invest approximately $1 billion into Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit, with an option for $480 million of future additional investment in space services.