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. (more…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (more…)
Over at The Space Review, Jeff Foust has an excellent update on Antares and SpaceShipTwo six months after they both crashed within days of each other at the end of October. There are a couple of interesting things worth pointing out on the SpaceShipTwo failure.
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.
“…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.
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.
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
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