NSRC Day 3 Summary

Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems' Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)
Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems’ Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference finished up today in Colorado. There were provider presentations from Masten Space Systems and Virgin Galactic. Three researchers also presented results from suborbital microgravity flights.

Below are summaries of the sessions based on Tweets.
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Character, Candor & Competence: Lessons From the SpaceShipTwo Crash

SpaceShipTwo right boom wreckage. (Credit: NTSB)
SpaceShipTwo right boom wreckage. (Credit: NTSB)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

One of the most interesting aspects of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the SpaceShipTwo crash was how it pulled back the curtain on what was actually going on in the program being undertaken in Mojave. Over the years, the rhetoric has been frequently at odds with reality.

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Branson’s Latest Prediction: SpaceShipTwo Rollout in February

A camera mounted atop the left vertical fin of Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo captures the vehicle gliding through the upper atmosphere after its rocket engine is shut down during a 2013 test flight. The Earth's horizon can be seen at lower right. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
A camera mounted atop the left vertical fin of Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo captures the vehicle gliding through the upper atmosphere after its rocket engine is shut down during a 2013 test flight. The Earth’s horizon can be seen at lower right. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Richard Branson says Virgin Galactic will unveil the second SpaceShipTwo in February with tests to follow.

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LauncherOne’s Long & Winding Road to Orbit: A Timeline

LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

If the current schedule holds, Virgin Galactic’s revamped LauncherOne program will enter commercial service sometime in 2018 after roughly a decade of development. During that period, the program has been redefined several times, lost two of the key people hired to lead it, and changed its launch platform from WhiteKnightTwo to a jumbo jet. The estimates for the initial flight tests also have slipped by about  four years from 2013 to 2017.

Below is a timeline of the program’s major events, milestones, announcements, hires and departures, and other things. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything significant.

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LauncherOne.Two: Decoding Virgin Galacticese

Artist's conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Artist’s conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

I was pleased to find myself mentioned in the most recent edition of Charles Lurio’s The Lurio Report (subscription only). He referenced a post I wrote in July about  Virgin Galactic moving to a larger launch vehicle (dubbed LauncherTwo by sources) that would be launched from a modified 747 instead of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

Lurio spoke with Virgin Galactic Vice President of Special Projects Will Pomerantz in a valiant if not entirely successful attempt to clarify what the heck’s going on with the project. Alas, it wasn’t really Charles’ fault; the answers he received were not real clear.

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Virgin Galactic Misled Ticket Holders, Public on Complexity of Engine Change

RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
RocketMotorTwo firing. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

When Virgin Galactic announced it was switching from the nitrous oxide/rubber rocket engine they had flown on SpaceShipTwo three times to one powered by nitrous oxide and nylon, company officials told ticket holders and the public the change involved only minor modifications to Richard Branson’s space tourism vehicle.

A document released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board directly contradicts that claim. In  it, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety expert describing his concern over “major modifications” that had been made in the suborbital space plane to accommodate the new engine.

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Virgin Galactic Focused on Larger Satellite Launch Vehicle

Artist's conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Artist’s conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic is developing a rocket more powerful than LauncherOne to fulfill a recent order for 39 launches from its global satellite Internet partner OneWeb, according to sources familiar with the program.

LauncherTwo will use Virgin Galactic’s largest liquid fuel engine, NewtonThree, in its first stage, according to sources that insisted upon anonymity. A new engine, NewtonFour, will be developed for the second stage.

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SpaceShipTwo Test Flights in Late 2016?

The second SpaceShipTwo under construction. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
The second SpaceShipTwo under construction. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Immediately after the fatal crash of SpaceShipTwo last October, Virgin Galactic vowed to have a second spacecraft ready for testing within about six months.  As the six month anniversary of Mike Alsbury’s was marked last week, it is clear it will take a while before flights resume. In fact, one Virgin Galactic official indicated flight tests might not occur until late 2016.

The company marked the anniversary of the fatal flight with an update on its website.
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Virgin Galactic Could Change SpaceShipTwo Engine Again

Nitrous nylon engine test on Jan. 16, 2014. (Credit: Ken Brown)
Nitrous nylon engine test on Jan. 16, 2014. (Credit: Ken Brown)

Here in Phoenix at the Space Access 15 Conference. Virgin Galactic Vice President Will Pomerantz spoke earlier today, revealing that after nearly 11 years of development the company still hasn’t figured out what type of engine it will use to power SpaceShipTwo.

This was a rather startling development because the matter had supposedly been settled last year. However, it does match what Parabolic Arc has been hearing for months about parallel engine development.

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New Virgin Galactic PR Approach Already Sunk

 Sir Richard Branson and daughter, Holly, look through the window of a SpaceShipTwo shell. (Photo credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic)
Sir Richard Branson and daughter, Holly, look through the window of a SpaceShipTwo shell. (Photo credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic’s new public relations strategy has been torpedoed less than two weeks after it was publicly rolled out.

On March 31, NBC New’s Alan Boyle wrote about the company’s new approach to managing expectations:

“…there’s one lesson they’re willing to share: Don’t say too much about what you’re planning to do before you do it.

Before the accident, company founder Richard Branson issued statements saying SpaceShipTwo would fly paying passengers to the edge of space within one to three years — whether that translated into 2007, or 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014 or 2015.

“Sometimes people misinterpreted those as firm dates or promises,” said Will Pomerantz, Virgin Galactic’s vice president for projects, “so we don’t want to repeat that mistake.”

It seems like the boss didn’t get the memo about the new strategy. Following a visit to Mojave on Thursday, Branson issued yet another prediction.

“There is going to be about a one-year delay,” he told Bloomberg Television, adding the team was working “day and night” on the next SpaceShipTwo.

A year’s delay from what point was not clear. If it’s from the time of the accident last Oct. 31, that would put the first commercial flight toward the end of the first quarter of 2016. Prior to the crash, Branson was predicting that first flight in the first quarter of this year.

The new timeline doesn’t appear to be very credible. Following the loss of SpaceShipTwo, officials had predicted they would have the second spacecraft completed within about six months. With that deadline now approaching, they are now talking about having the new SpaceShipTwo ready for ground tests by the end of the year.

Mojave Returns to Normal as Virgin Galactic Gets Back “On Track”

Credit: Virgin Galactic
Credit: Virgin Galactic

Following the loss of SpaceShipTwo on Halloween, Richard Branson promised Virgin Galactic would redouble its efforts to have the second SpaceShipTwo completed and start testing by April.

Now that April has arrived, NBC News’ Alan Boyle — whose parent company has a multi-platform promotional deal with Virgin — has checked in to see how things are progressing. Apparently, not very rapidly.

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TMRO Video With Will Pomerantz About LauncherOne


Video Caption:
  This week we bring on William Pomerantz of Virgin Galactic to talk about LauncherOne and what is happening with their small payload launching system.

In Space News we have:

* Atlas V Launches MMS Satellites
* QM-1 Solid Motor test firing
* Rosetta listening for Philae
* Curiosity rover back in action
* Lockheed’s CRS-2 Proposal
* Total Solar Eclipse on March 20th
* World Record Rocket

TMRO is a crowd funded show. If you like this episode consider contributing to help us to continue to improve. Head over to http://www.patreon.com/tmro for information, goals and reward levels.

Sam Branson to Host Google Science Fair Hangout

SpaceShipTwo lights its engine as WhiteKnightTwo flies overhead. (Credit: Ken Brown)
SpaceShipTwo lights its engine as WhiteKnightTwo flies overhead. (Credit: Ken Brown)

Richard Branson’s son Sam will co-host a Galactic Hangout on Feb. 28 during the Google Science Fair. He and Virgin Galactic Vice President Will Pomerantz will address the question, “Why go to space?”

Branson and Pomerantz will be interviewed by Gavin Ovsák, a former Google Science Fair finalist and a frequent host for GSF Hangout On Air sessions last year.

Educators who want their classrooms to join the Hangout can sign up on the Connected Classrooms form at http://goo.gl/z9gHfV #VirtualFieldTrips

The event will be webcast at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SQ1Czse1l4 on Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. EST.