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.

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.)

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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.

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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.

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CSA, Virgin Galactic Sign MOU on Microgravity Flights, Spaceflight Participants

SpaceShipTwo cabin interior. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LONGUEUIL, Que. (CSA PR) — The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Virgin Galactic today, heralding the beginning of a collaborative relationship between the two  organizations.

The purpose of this collaboration is to explore the possibilities of using the Virgin Galactic Spaceflight System (VSS), which offers suborbital microgravity flights, for future CSA payloads and spaceflight participants. It also aims to facilitate the exchange of information on collaboration opportunities between Virgin Galactic, the CSA, and the Canadian space industry and academia.

Virgin Galactic and the CSA will begin by discussing the capabilities of the VSS and related Virgin Galactic services. The two organizations will also look at creating opportunities to consult with Canadian industry and potential users of the VSS.

This agreement will support the CSA’s objective to be Canada’s leader in capability demonstration by providing the space industry, universities and other government departments with access to platforms, demonstration opportunities and unique expertise.

Virgin Galactic’s Net Loss Grows to $77 Million, Company Sets Schedule for Additional Flight Tests

A view from inside the cockpit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • First of three additional flight tests set for later this month
  • Richard Branson scheduled to fly on third flight test in Q1 2021
  • New SpaceShipTwo set to rollout in Q1 2021

LAS CRUCES, N.M., November 5, 2020 (Virgin Galactic PR)– Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or the “Company”), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced its financial results for the third quarter ended September 30, 2020.

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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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For New Virgin Galactic CEO, the Ultimate Perk: An All-Expenses Paid Trip to Space

Michael Colglazier (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For 26 years, Michael Colglazier worked for a company whose theme parks feature a popular attraction named Space Mountain. They aren’t really mountains and they don’t go anywhere near space, but as rollercoasters they are pretty good.

When the former Walt Disney Company executive signed on to become Virgin Galactic’s CEO in July, his contract included a free ride to space for himself and three friends aboard his new employer’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle.

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Virgin Galactic Announces Testing Delay

VSS Unity deploys its feather during reentry. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

In a program update on Wednesday. Virgin Galactic says it is “still on track” to conduct the third suborbital flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity later this fall even though the company’s schedule has slipped.

We expect our first spaceflight from Spaceport America to occur later this fall and we are pleased to confirm that we are still on track to meet this timeframe.  In September we disclosed, via our application for a multi-year Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license, that October 22, 2020 would be the opening of our flight planning window.  We also included preliminary test flight dates for our mothership, VMS Eve.  Although preparations are going well, we are not quite at the stage where we can confirm specific planned flight dates for either our VSS Unity or VMS Eve test flights.

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George Whitesides to Fly on Early Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Flight from Spaceport America

Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r, back) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A provision in George Whitesides’ contract has Virgin Galactic’s chief space officer — and possibly his wife, Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides — flying on one of SpaceShipTwo’s early suborbital flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

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Monday Musings: Brazil’s Choices, VG’s Finances & More

Launch trajectories from Alcantara (Credit: AEB)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A few thoughts as we begin week 403 of the Covid-19 lock down….

Location. Location. Location.

The three most important words in real estate. And Brazil’s Alcantara Launch Center has got it.

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Virgin Galactic Stock Price Declines, Commercial Flights Scheduled for Next Year

New SpaceShipTwo reaches weight on wheels milestone. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s stock decline in extended trading after Sir Richard Branson’s spaceline reported second quarter earnings.

The stock closed on Monday at $24.02 after rising $1.57 (6.99%). In after-hours trading, the stock declined to $22.23, a decrease of $1.79 (-7.45%).

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The Year of the Four Spaceships: A Progress Report

The Expedition 63 crew welcomes Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA / Bill Stafford)

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 reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With nearly half the year over, I thought it would be a good time to review the companies’ progress toward those milestones.

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Video of SpaceShipTwo Glide Flight in NM

Video Caption: This glide flight marks the inaugural solo flight of VSS Unity in New Mexico and as such is an important flight test milestone in preparation for commercial service.