Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Returns to Mojave for Overhaul

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve mothership returned to the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Saturday for the start of 8-10 months of upgrades and repairs. The dual fuselage airplane flew from its operating base at Spaceport America in New Mexico to the spaceport where it was built and first flew 13 years ago on Dec. 21, 2008.

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Virgin Galactic Delays Italian Flight Test; Start of Commercial Service Delayed to Q4 2022

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)
  • Recent material testing returned new data that requires further analysis
  • Italian Air Force mission to follow enhancement period
  • Potential supplier component issue has been resolved
  • Commercial service expected to commence in Q4 2022

LAS CRUCES, NM (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic today announced that it will now begin its planned enhancement program for VMS Eve and VSS Unity and will conduct the Unity 23 test flight after this work is complete.

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FAA Examination of Blue Origin Safety Issues Likely to be Very Narrow

New Shepard launch (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will examine safety issues about Blue Origin’s crewed suborbital New Shepard vehicle raised by a group of current and former employees in an open letter published on Thursday.

The announcement comes 11 days before four paying customers, one reported to be Star Trek star William Shatner, are scheduled to board New Shepard for a trip to space. While a federal safety review might sound reassuring to these ticket holders, what does it actually mean in practice?

Probably not much.

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FAA Closes Virgin Galactic Investigation, Clears SpaceShipTwo to Fly as Company’s Licensing & Compliance Officer Departs

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • SpaceShipTwo deviated from assigned airspace during July 11 flight test
  • FAA says Virgin Galactic failed to inform agency about deviation
  • Virgin Galactic’s licensing and compliance officer announces his departure from company

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration has closed an investigation into Virgin Galactic that resulted in the grounding of the company’s only suborbital SpaceShipTwo vehicle after the ship deviated from its assigned airspace during a July flight test with the company’s founder on board. The decision clears the way for another flight test planned for mid-October.

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Virgin Galactic’s Next Challenge: The Flight of the Vested?

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

This was supposed to be the Summer of Virgin Galactic. The company would complete the three remaining suborbital flight tests of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, the second one with Richard Branson aboard. The company’s newest space tourism vehicle, SpaceShipIII, would begin its flight tests.

Once VSS Unity tests were complete, engineers would spend four months making a series of repairs and upgrades to the spacecraft and its WhiteKnightTwo mothership, VMS Eve. And then in early 2022, the company would use both spaceships to fly tourists on suborbital joy rides that were originally projected to begin 15 years earlier in 2007.

Sounds easy enough, right? It wasn’t. The Summer of Virgin Galactic went about as well as the Summer of George on Seinfeld. If best laid plans of mice, men and Costanzas often go awry, Virgin Galactic’s schedules are guaranteed to move significantly to the right. Years to the right.

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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 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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Virgin Galactic Successfully Completes First Fully Crewed Spaceflight

Richard Branson and other passengers float around in weightlessness. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Fourth Spaceflight Tests Private Astronaut and Research Experience
  • First In-Flight Livestream Brings Spaceflight Experience to Audiences Around the World 

LAS CRUCES, N.M. July 11, 2021 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“the Company” or “Virgin Galactic”) today announced that VSS Unity successfully reached space, completing the Company’s fourth rocket-powered spaceflight. 

Today’s flight was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.

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Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson Aims to Fly to Space Before Jeff Bezos

Richard Branson wears the SpaceShipTwo flight suit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Fourth of July weekend could include some extra fireworks this year.

Updated with statement from Virgin Galactic on June 8, 2021 at 10:53 a.m. PDT.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It looks like Richard Branson could beat fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos to space next month.

Virgin Galactic is working on a plan to send Branson on a suborbital flight aboard the VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo rocket plane over the July 4 holiday weekend, according to a source who requested anonymity. The flight is contingent upon obtaining an operator’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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New Shepard Auction Update: The Bid Remains the Same

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Checking up on Blue Origin’s auction of a seat on the first crewed New Shepard flight, we find that the top bid remains at $2.8 million. That’s exactly where it was a few days after online bidding became public on May 19.

Online bidding will end next Thursday, June 10 at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 UTC). Bidders need to raise their bid limits before that deadline. Two days later, the competition will conclude with a live online auction.

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Virgin Galactic Completes First Human Spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico

VSS Unity during its first suborbital flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. May 22, 2021 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“The Company or Virgin Galactic”) today completed its third spaceflight and the first ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico. Today’s flight sees New Mexico become the third US state to launch humans into space.

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, and reached space, at an altitude of 55.45 miles before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.

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Virgin Galactic Stock Plunges as Company Delays Space Tourism Flights to 2022

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity arrives at Spaceport America aboard WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Shares of Virgin Galactic plunged sharply on Thursday as the company announced that it was postponing the start of commercial suborbital space tourism flights until 2022 due to additional delays in completing SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity‘s test program.

Shares plunged in after hours trading to $36.69 after opening the day at $45.04. Most of the decline occurred in after hours trading following the release of Virgin Galactic quarterly and full year 2020 earning report.

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2020 a Busy Year for Suborbital Launches

New Shepard landing on the pad in West Texas on October 13, 2020, with the NASA Lunar Landing Sensor Demo onboard. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Suborbital launch used to be a sleepy field that rarely attracted much public attention. Let’s face it, atmospheric research and student experiments are not front-page news. Sounding rockets don’t have the majesty and power of a Falcon 9 or Atlas V.

In recent years, exciting new entrants in the field and widespread streaming of launches have made suborbital flights exciting. Last year saw important suborbital flight tests by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Skyrora that garnered worldwide interest.

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As Virgin Galactic Crew Celebrated Second Suborbital Flight, Problems Loomed Behind the Scenes

Chief Pilot David Mackay celebrates a successful flight with champagne as Chief Astronaut Beth Moses looks on. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Newly arrived back on Earth after a quick visit to space, Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Beth Moses was effusive as she described the suborbital flight she had just taken aboard the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, VSS Unity.

“Richard, you’re going to love it!” she told Virgin Chairman Richard Branson, who had remotely monitored the Feb. 22, 2019 flight that had taken place over California’s Mojave Desert.

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Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Conducts Flight Test on Eve of Earnings Call

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

One week before Virgin Galactic is expected to report another large quarterly loss, the company’s WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve took to the skies on Thursday over Spaceport America for the first time since June 25.

The flight was the first of four tests designed to pave the way for Virgin Galactic to begin commercial SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism flights with VSS Unity during the first quarter of next year.

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