A Look at SpaceX’s and Virgin Galactic’s Hypersonic Plans

I found this video entertaining. I’m not sure this guy has any grasp of the technological challenges or how SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are trying to tackle it.

He also calls a pair of routine pilot proficiency flights of WhiteKnightTwo at Spaceport America mysterious. Nothing really unusual about them. They conducted these flights at Mojave regularly.

Hypersonic sounds great, but it’s not clear when or if it will carry passengers. What we might be left with are hypersonic weapons indistinguishable from nuclear missiles. The chance of an accidental nuclear exchange could become much greater.

SpaceShipTwo Makes First Flight in 14 Months

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity makes first glide flight at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Summary

  • Glide flight test is first test of suborbital spacecraft since powered flight in February 2019
  • First flight test at Spaceport America in New Mexico after initial testing in Mojave, Calif.
  • Virgin Galactic hopes for first commercial suborbital flights later this year

LAS CRUCES, NM (Virgin Galactic PR)– Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or “the Company”) and The Spaceship Company (“TSC”) today announced the successful completion of its first SpaceShipTwo test flight from Spaceport America.

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.

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SpaceShipTwo Unity Moved to New Mexico

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

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, NM, February 13, 2020 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“Virgin Galactic” or “the Company”), a vertically integrated aerospace company, has successfully completed another vital step on its path to commercial service, relocating SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to its commercial headquarters at Spaceport America’s Gateway to Space building.

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Virgin Galactic Begins End Game as SpaceShipTwo Unity Relocated to New Mexico

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Four years after it was first rolled out, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity left the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Thursday for its new home at in New Mexico, where it will undergo final flight testing and preparation for commercial suborbital space flights.

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2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The clock struck midnight on Jan. 1 amid raucous celebrations around the world. The arrival of a new year and decade merely confirmed what had been clear for months: 2019 was not the breakthrough year for getting humans off the planet.

Neither Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin followed through on long-standing promises to fly paying passengers on suborbital joyrides. An era of commercial space tourism that seemed so close that October day in 2004 when Brian Binnie guided SpaceShipOne to a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port quietly slipped into yet another year.

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Watch Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Land at Mojave

WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve returned to Mojave on Friday after a months-long stay at Spaceport America in New Mexico. The pilots did about a half dozen flights over the runway, some just above it and others touch-and-goes. This was the final approach and landing.

Virgin Galactic hasn’t made any announcement about its return. (Odd, because they tend to announce everything.) Officials have said in the past that WhiteKnightTwo would return to Mojave to bring SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to New Mexico to complete its flight tests and then begin commercial flights.

Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo Returns to Mojave

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

After spending months at Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier ship VMS Eve flew back to the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Friday.

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

The pilots made about a half dozen low passes over runway 12-30. Several were just above the runway, while others were touch-and-goes on which they briefly landed before soaring again into the desert sky.

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Galactic officials have said that WhiteKnightTwo would return to Mojave to transport SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to the Spaceport America to complete its flight test program.

WhiteKnightTwo (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Virgin Galactic is hoping to fly it founder, Richard Branson, on the first commercial SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight in time for his 70th birthday on July 18.

The company has said it has a backlog of 603 ticket holders who have paid either $200,000 or $250,000 apiece. Thousands of other potential space tourists have expressed interest in signing up once Virgin Galactic starts selling tickets again, officials said. The company plans to take reservations at an even higher price once commercial service begins.

2019: A Busy Year in Suborbital Flight

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last year was a busy one for suborbital flights as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic conducted a combined four flights of their crewed suborbital vehicles. Despite hopes to the contrary, neither company flew paying tourists on their spaceships.

There were also 26 sounding rocket launches that carried scientific experiments and technology payloads above the atmosphere. The year saw:

  • Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies conduct a successful launch of its Momo commercial sounding rocket;
  • Texas-based Exos Aerospace continue to struggle with its reusable SARGE booster; and,
  • the first suborbital launch ever achieved by college students.
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Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Goes Public With Extravagant Promises to Keep

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After 15 years of making extravagant but unkept promises to fly more than 600 “future astronauts” to space, Richard Branson must now please an entirely new group of people who are usually much shorter on patience: shareholders.

Following the completion last week of a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), the British billionaire’s Virgin Galactic suborbital “space line” will begin trading under its own name on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Monday.

Going public now is an unusual move for a space tourism company that hasn’t flown a singlet tourist to space since Branson announced the SpaceShipTwo program in 2004. Some might see it has putting the cart before the horse.

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Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic: The Numbers Never Added Up

Richard Branson and his children hang out with Project Bandaloop dancers during the dedication of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space facility. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Fourteen years ago, Virgin Galactic and New Mexico promised “tens of thousands” of tourists would fly to space from Spaceport America by 2019. Total thus far: 0.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

When they announced in December 2005 that Virgin Galactic would locate its space tourism business in New Mexico, Virgin Founder Richard Branson and Gov. Bill Richardson made a number of eye-popping claims about why taxpayers should back a plan to build the Southwest Regional Spaceport to serve as the space tourism company’s home base:

  • $331 million in total construction revenues in 2007;
  • 2,460 construction-related jobs;
  • $1 billion in total spending, payroll of $300 million and 2,300 jobs by the fifth year of operation; and,
  • $750 million in total revenues and more than 3,500 jobs by 2020.

Virgin Galactic would sign a 20-year lease as anchor tenant and pay fees based on the number of launches it conducted. New Mexico would use the spaceport, Virgin’s presence and the funds generated to develop a large aerospace cluster.

Surprisingly, New Mexico would spend more money, $225 million, to develop a facility now known as Spaceport America than the $108 million that Branson planned to spend on developing a fleet of five SpaceShipTwos and WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

Among all the big numbers in the announcement, there was a truly astounding one that was deemed so important it was mentioned twice. (Emphasis added)

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Mackay Says: SpaceShipTwo Will Be “Safe, Reliable Commercial System”

The BBC visits Spaceport America. Safety claim begins at 6:46. Mackay also makes interesting claim about 15 years of development time.

Hey, BBC. If you’re going to visit New Mexico, for the sake of perspective, maybe talk to some of the folks who paid for the spaceport about all the benefits they were promised when they agreed to fund it.

A Closer Look at the Virgin Galactic-Social Capital Merger Deal

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

As shareholders in Chamath Palihapitiya’s Social Capital Hedosophia prepare to vote on an $808 million merger with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic on Monday, it seemed like a good time to take a closer look at it.

Fortunately, Virgin and Social Capital have filed a new 8K form with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that includes an updated PowerPoint document titled Analyst Day Presentation that is dated Sept. 5.

The presentation is 100 slides long. I’ve gone through and excerpted the highlights so that you don’t have to. But, if you want to read the whole thing, visit this page and scroll down.

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A Brief History of Spaceport America

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

UPDATED: 8/20/19, 12:08 p.m. PDT

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Sometime in 2020, if all goes according to plan, British billionaire Richard Branson will board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity at Spaceport America in New Mexico and take the first commercial suborbital space flight in history.

The landmark flight, which Virgin has been trying to conduct for 15 years, will also be the culmination of a 30-year effort by New Mexico to become a commercial space power.

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Video: Virgin Galactic Opens Gateway to Space

Virgin Galactic opened its Gateway to Space at Spaceport America in New Mexico to the press on Thursday. The opening came nearly eight years after Sir Richard Branson opened the hangar/terminal facility during a dedication ceremony in October 2011.

Earlier this week, the WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve carrier aircraft relocated to Spaceport America from Mojave. Calif. SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity is set to join it later this year for a series of three or four additional suborbital flight tests.

Branson plans to be aboard the first commercial flight from the New Mexico spaceport next year.

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.