Spaceport Cornwall to Host Virgin Orbit Launches

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl air launch 747 (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

CORNWALL, UK (Spaceport Cornwall PR) — The first British satellite launch in 50 years could take place from Cornwall within the next three years following a new partnership with Virgin Orbit.

Virgin Orbit, a satellite launch company, has selected Spaceport Cornwall as an ideal location to operate and deliver one of the first launches of its LauncherOne system outside of its US home.

(more…)

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne Joins Spaceflight’s Portfolio of Launch Vehicles for Small Satellite Rideshare

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

SEATTLE, WA and LONG BEACH, CA – June 25, 2018 (Spaceflight PR) — Spaceflight, the company reinventing the model for launching small satellites into space, and Virgin Orbit today announced they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a mission to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in 2019.

(more…)

SpaceX to Launch Majority of 4,000 Starlink Satellites From Cape Canaveral

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The draft environmental assessment for SpaceX’s proposed expansion at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) also revealed that Elon Musk’s rocket company plans to most of more than 4,000 satellites of its planned Starlink constellation from Cape Canaveral.

That will guarantee a busy schedule for SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC and LC-40 at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). LC-39A can accommodate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while LC-40 is configured for the Falcon 9.

(more…)

Small Satellites to Get their Own Ride to Space With Venture Class Program

Technicians examine at CubeSat at Rocket Lab USA’s facility in California. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is investing in a new commercial market that could answer the demand for affordable access to space for small satellites, including CubeSats. The agency’s Venture Class Launch Services brings together a smaller class of rockets with satellites small enough to hold in your hands.

(more…)

Video of Virgin Orbit Engine Test

Video Caption: We are always excited to test our most powerful engine, the NewtonThree, for long duration. During this specific test, we completed a full ‘mission duty cycle’–a fancy way of saying that we fired the engine for as long as it would fire on a full flight to orbit. We also gimbaled the engine, meaning we changed the angle of thrust by several degrees during the course of the firing. The ability to gimbal is important, since that is one of the main ways a rocket ‘steers’ on its way to space!

As a reminder: our LauncherOne rocket has two rocket engines on board: a single NewtonThree on the main stage and a single NewtonFour on the upper stage. You can see a full duration NewtonFour firing here: https://youtu.be/AGZF4o-gwHk

First Quarter Commercial Space Investment Reached Nearly $1 Billion

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

SpaceX received $500 million of the nearly $1 billion in investment raised by commercial space companies during the first quarter of 2018, according to the Space Investment Quarterly report from Space Angels.

“SpaceX shows no signs of slowing down—after the inaugural flight of the Falcon Heavy, the company secured $500 million from Fidelity Investments to drive development of their satellite communications network, Starlink,” the report added.

(more…)

Saudi Arabia’s Investment in Virgin Includes Hyperloop

Saudi Arabia’s decision to invest $1 billion with an option for $480 million more into the Virgin Group involves not only its three space companies — Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company — but also Virgin Hyperloop One. Vision 2030 is Saudi Arabia’s plan to modernize and diversify its economy away from oil. The kingdom plans to connect its cities and those in adjoining countries via a network of hyperloops.

Mojave Gets a Royal Visit

Mojave control tower at sunset. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Mojave is a quiet little town that people don’t visit so much as stop at just long enough for gas, food or a bathroom break. It seems like the only folks who stay overnight have business at the spaceport or are long-haul truckers who are not here for the town’s non-existent nightlife.

So, the arrival of Richard Branson’s private jet — the one with the Virgin Galactic eye on the tail — on Saturday afternoon was quite the surprise. Normally he’s here to watch a test flight of SpaceShipTwo, but there was no sign that one would take place over the long Easter weekend.

The following day, the jet was still parked outside Virgin’s FAITH facility, but it was surrounded by a dozen or more SUVs right there on the ramp. Something was going on over there, but it was hard to know what.

On Monday, we got an answer. The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was here to see his nation’s latest investment. Last fall, Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to invest $1 billion with an option for $480 million more in Branson’s three space companies — Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and The Spaceship Company.

Photographs of the visit (here and here) show that Saudi Arabia’s symbols now adorn Virgin’s vehicles. The kingdom’s official seal can be seen on SpaceShipTwo’s nose and a model of a hyperloop vehicle for Virgin Hyperloop One. The logo of Vision 2030 — Saudi Arabia’s ambitious effort to diversify its economy away from oil — can be seen on the side of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

There was also the following information from a Saudi news report:

And for the first time, Virgin Galactic unveiled new and unique aircraft fuel compartments, in addition to a presentation on spacecraft that will enter commercial services.

The officials reviewed the areas of existing investment partnership, ways of developing them especially in space services, opportunities for deepening cooperation in modern technologies through research, manufacturing, and training Saudi youths, and transforming the Kingdom from a consumer to a producer of technology.

I’m sure we’ll get more information from Virgin soon.

Greetings From Mojave: Stratolaunch in the Wild, TSC Rebrands

Stratolaunch on the runway. (Credit: Scaled Composites)

Greetings from Ice Station Mojave!

We’re in the midst of what they call a polar vortex, so this week has been particularly cold. Today I believe it reached a high of only 43 F (6 C) and tonight we’re looking at a low of 23 F (-5 C) overnight. The winds were blowing off the mountains at 33 mph (53 kph) and gusting this morning and continued throughout the day.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, the winter had been rather dry and mild, especially compared with the cold, wet one we had last year. But, Old Man Winter has returned with an icy fury.

Despite the weather, Ken Brown and I ventured over to the spaceport to see the Stratolaunch aircraft parked outside its hangar with a fuel truck parked next to it. It’s quite a jaw-dropping sight to see outside in the wild, positively Spruce Goosian in its size and ambition (and, hopefully not, in its flight history). It ain’t nicknamed Birdzilla for nothing.

There are NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) posted for Saturday and Sunday that indicate the tower will be open (unusual for the weekend) and Runway 12/30 is closed (ditto). So, I’m expecting Stratolaunch will be out on the runway doing some additional taxi tests. I’m guessing it’s too early for a flight by the Paul Allen-funded aircraft.

Driving past Virgin Galactic’s FAITH hangar on the way back from viewing Stratoluanch, I noticed a Spaceship Company logo on the building that I had not seen before.

Word is TSC is going thru a re-branding to separate it from Virgin Galactic. Richard Branson has been talking up supersonic passenger planes that he wants to build.

The Virgin Group has a memorandum of understanding with the government of Saudi Arabia for $1 billion investment in The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

So, I imagine we’ll soon be seeing some new public relations materials from Virgin in the form of a video, press release, and so on announcing the re-branding.

Watch Virgin Orbit Test LauncherOne’s Fairing

Video Caption: By popular demand, here is another fairing separation test! The fairing protects the payload from dynamic pressure and heat. Our fairings are tested countless times before they make their debut. In this instance, we are testing the separation mechanisms that split the two halves.

Richard Branson Vows to Upstage Elon Musk in Space

Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Richard Branson says he’s looking for some way to upstage SpaceX’s launch of Falcon Heavy and Starman driving a Red Tesla.

“I was a little bit jealous,” Richard Branson told CNN’s Christine Romans on Tuesday.

Branson, whose Virgin Galactic is racing to launch tourists into space before SpaceX, called Musk’s stunning Falcon Heavy launch “extraordinary.”

“They all just did fantastic,” Branson said at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington. He added that Virgin Galactic is “thinking about what we can do to upstage that one.”

Hey, good luck with that.

(more…)

A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

(more…)

GomSpace Signs Launch Contract with Virgin Orbit

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

STOCKHOLM, Jan. 16, 2018 (GomSpace PR) — GomSpace has purchased a launch for several nanosatellites onboard a LauncherOne rocket from the California based company Virgin Orbit. The flight, which is bound for a low-inclination orbit, is scheduled to occur in early 2019.
(more…)

Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.

(more…)