Disgraced aabar Investments CEO Sentenced to Prison

Sir Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic pilots, staffers and investors. To his right is Mohamed Badawy Al Husseiny, CEO of Aabar, which made a $280 million in Virgin Galactic. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

You might call him the crook that fell to Earth.

Ten years ago, Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny was sitting next to Sir Richard Branson at the Oshkosh air show signing a deal on behalf of Abu Dhabi to invest $280 million in the British billionaire’s space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic.

The wealthy CEO of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, aabar investments, likely had dreams of gazing down on Earth while floating in space aboard Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo.

Today, Al-Husseiny is sitting in a jail cell serving a 10-year sentence for financial crimes. He also has been implicated in one of the largest financial frauds in history involving the theft of more than $4 billion.

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WhiteKnightTwo Departs Mojave for New Mexico

A Virgin Galactic spokeswoman tells me that SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity remains in Mojave as its passenger cabin is fitted out for commercial flights.

The spacecraft is set to join WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve at Spaceport America in New Mexico later this year to complete a series of flights that began in Mojave. Commercial suborbital flights are set to begin from there in 2020.

The company is planning an event on Thursday, Aug. 15, in which they will unveil the inside of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space in New Mexico.

It’s Show-and-Tell Time Again for Virgin Galactic in New Mexico

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly eight years after Richard Branson dedicated the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space at Spaceport America before a crowd that included Titanic star Kate Winslet and British royal Princess Beatrice, his suborbital space tourism company is moving its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft there.

When Branson dedicated the gateway facility in October 2011, the giant building was largely empty. Virgin Galactic says it is now ready to show off what customers will experience inside the structure.

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NewSpace vs. Big Rocket: FAA’s Overhaul of Launch Regs Splits Industry

Two Launches in One Week: On Aug. 14, 2017, a Falcon 9 launch vehicle lifts off Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the photo on the left. It was carrying a Dragon resupply spacecraft to the International Space Station. In the image on the right, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug.18, 2017 placing in orbit NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. (Credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Sandra Joseph)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

According to who you talk to, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) proposed streamlining of launch and re-entry regulations is either a prudent step forward that provides much-needed flexibility while protecting public safety or a a confusing mess that’s a massive step backward.

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Alsbury to be Honored on Space Mirror Memorial

Mike Alsbury (Credit: Scaled Composites)

Mike Alsbury never made it to space, but he will be honored on a memorial to fallen astronauts in Florida.

The Astronaut Memorial Foundation (AMF) has voted to add Alsbury’s name to the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The Scaled Composites pilot died over the Mojave Desert in the breakup of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during a flight test on Oct. 31, 2014. Pete Siebold was seriously injured as he parachuted to safety.

AMF needed to change its criteria in order to place Alsbury’s name on the mirror. Previous rules limited the list to 24 men and women who died during human spaceflight missions or while in training for such missions sponsored by the United States government.

Alsbury was on a private flight test for his employer, which was developing the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle for Virgin Galactic. The flight was not scheduled to reach suborbital space, which the United States defines as 50 miles (80.4 km).

Royal Air Force Plans to Loan Pilot to Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

UK Defence Minister Penny Mordaunt announced a plan on Thursday to loan a Royal Air Force test pilot to Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, apparently so the aviator can earn astronaut wings with Virgin Galactic.

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UK Defence Minister Praises Virgin Orbit, Vows to Strengthen Space Capabilities

Penny Mordaunt (Credit: Ministry of Defence)

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt Keynote Speech
Air and Space Power Conference 2019
July 18, 2019
Full Speech

Excerpts About Space

And we should be a leading player in space. It won’t just help strengthen our industries. It’ll also provide an incredible opportunity to capture the imagination of a new generation and encourage them to get involved in aerospace.

Fifty years on from the moon landings we’re seeing SpaceX and other private sector individuals and leaders coming into the sector and making use of the technology. From satellite launches to more ambitious projects. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when, the first humans will walk on Mars. And this year we might see the first routine tourist flights into space.

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Virgin Galactic Announces Merger, Plan to Go Public

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic’s customer backlog would singlehandedly double
the total number of humans to have ever gone to space

  • Virgin Galactic has developed a set of unique technologies designed to enable a safe and familiar flying experience for customers to go into space and become officially designated astronauts
  • Virgin Galactic’s technologies have created the first vehicle built for commercial service to put humans into space
  • Virgin Galactic already has customer reservations from more than 600 people in 60 countries representing approximately $80 million in total collected deposits and $120 million of potential revenue
  • Virgin Galactic has already been granted its FAA commercial space launch license, and the New Mexico Spaceport has also received its Spaceport license
  • Pro forma enterprise value of the merger is $1.5 billion and represents:
    • 1.5x invested capital ($1 billion+ of capital invested to date)
    • 2.5x estimated revenue for 2023
    • 5.5x estimated EBITDA for 2023
  • Social Capital Hedosophia Founder and CEO, Chamath Palihapitiya, will invest an additional $100 million in the transaction and will become Chairman of the combined entity

NEW YORK, July 9, 2019 (Virgin Galactic/Social Capital Hedosophia) — VIRGIN GALACTIC (“VG”) and SOCIAL CAPITAL HEDOSOPHIA (“SCH”), a public investment vehicle sponsored by Social Capital and Hedosophia, announced that the boards of directors of each company have approved a definitive agreement under which VG and SCH will merge, with the current shareholders of SCH expected to own up to approximately 49% of the combined company. Upon closing of the transaction, which is expected in the second half of 2019, VG will be introduced as the first and only publicly traded commercial human spaceflight company.

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Companies Eye Space Station for Retinal Implants, Organs-on-Chips & More

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is funding projects that will use the microgravity of the International Space Station (ISS) to improve sight-restoring retinal implants, produce high-value optical materials, and conduct research using organs-on-chips (OOCs).

These are three of seven proposals the space agency selected for funding last month under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program that utilize ISS or demonstrate technologies in low Earth orbit (LEO). Each phase 1 award is worth up to $125,000 over six months.

Other selected projects are focused on improving water recycling on crewed vehicles, facilitating on-orbit spacecraft refueling and storage, hosting payloads on satellite constellations, and automating the watering of plants on ISS.

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For Sale: The World’s Largest Airplane*

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

As we previously reported, Stratolaunch is up for sale. Paul Allen’s sister Jody Allen, the executor of her brother’s estate, has no interest in continuing the development of the giant airplane, which is designed to air launch rockets.

CNBC reports on the eye popping price tag:

Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch for $400 million, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Vulcan is the investment conglomerate of late billionaire Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder. Allen died last October following complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The hefty price tag includes ownership of the airplane as well as the intellectual property and facilities.

Stratolaunch is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, which stretches 385 feet — longer than an American football field. The plane is powered by six jet engines salvaged from Boeing 747 aircraft.

Allen’s vision of a massive plane that can launch rockets from the air was at least partially fulfilled in April, when Stratolaunch flew for the first time after about eight years in development. Based at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the giant airplane flew for more than two hours before landing after what was deemed a successful first flight.

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Virgin Orbit Loses 35 OneWeb Launches, Sues Over Termination Fee

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

When the contract was announced in June 2015, it seemed like a blockbuster deal:  satellite Internet provider OneWeb had placed an order for 39 launches with options for 100 more for Virgin Galactic’s (now Virgin Orbit’s) LauncherOne.

What made the order extraordinary was not just the large number of launches, but the fact that the rocket really didn’t even exist yet. (The fact that Richard Branson’s Virgin Group was an investor in OneWeb probably helped.)

Four years later, the blockbuster deal is a bust. According to a lawsuit filed this week by Virgin Orbit, OneWeb last year canceled 35 of the 39 planned launches., slicing most of the value from the $234 million deal.

SpaceNews reports that Virgin Orbit orbit is suing for $46.32 million it claims OneWeb owes it from a $70 million contract termination fee.

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Three Virgin Galactic Crew Presented with Commercial Astronaut Wings at 35th National Space Symposium

The curvature of the Earth from SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., April 9,  2019 (Virgin Galactic PR) — The three-person crew from Virgin Galactic’s second space flight have received Commercial Astronaut Wings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay, Lead Pilot trainer, Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci and Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, were presented their wings at the 35th Space Symposium, where it was also announced that Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) are to be presented the Space Achievement award later this week.

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UAE Eyeing Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Flights

A view from SpacehipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is looking to host flights of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, The National reports.

Mohammad Al Ahbabi, director of the UAE Space Agency, said the organisation is working with Virgin Galactic on a bid to operate tourist space flights from Al Ain International Airport in the coming years….

“The reason why the company opted for Al Ain airport is that it is less crowded than other UAE airports, which are scheduled with thousands of flights.”

Airbus has used Al Ain airport to stress test its new aircraft in high summer temperatures, including the wide-body A350.

It was chosen for its hot, dry conditions and relatively quiet runways.

Abu Dhabi is part-owner of Virgin Galactic having invested $390 million in the company through its sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala Investment Company (formerly known as aabar Investments).











Bezos: No Asterisks Next to the Names of Blue Origin’s Astronauts

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Two days before Virgin Galactic completed the ninth powered flight of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital program, rocket billionaire and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos threw some shade at billionaire Richard Branson’s rival suborbital space tourism venture. SpaceNews reports:

Bezos, in the interview, pointed out the altitude difference between the two vehicles. New Shepard has typically exceeded 100 kilometers, an altitude known as the Karman Line, on its test flights. SpaceShipTwo reached a peak altitude of 82.7 kilometers on its most recent test flight Dec. 13, its first above the 50-mile boundary used by U.S. government agencies to award astronaut wings.

“One of the issues that Virgin Galactic will have to address, eventually, is that they are not flying above the Karman Line, not yet,” Bezos said. “I think one of the things they will have to figure out how to get above the Karman Line.”

“We’ve always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Karman Line, because we didn’t want there to be any asterisks next to your name about whether you’re an astronaut or not,” he continued. “That’s something they’re going to have to address, in my opinion.”

For those who fly on New Shepard, he said, there’ll be “no asterisks.”

On Friday, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity flew to 89.9 km (55.87 miles) on its fifth flight test, which was the highest altitude the program has reached to date.

There are two competing definitions of where space begins. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is awarding civilian astronaut wings to anyone who flies above 50 miles (80.4 km). The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) recognizes 100 km (62.1 miles) as the boundary of space, although it is considering lowering the limit to 80 km (49.7 miles).

The FAA awarded astronaut wings to Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow, who flew VSS Unity above 50 miles in December. The crew of Friday’s flight — pilots David Mackay and Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci, and chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses — will also qualify for astronaut wings.

New Shepard has flown 10 times without passengers; nine of those flights were above 100 km (62.1 miles). Bezos has said he expects to begin flying people aboard the suborbital spacecraft by the end of this year.