Some day, Richard Branson might fly to space, gaze out the window, and see stars with his naked eyes, unencumbered by the Earth’s atmosphere or the optics of a telescope.
For the moment, he has to settle for his own fame and a star encased in concrete along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The British billionaire was in Los Angeles last month for the unveiling of his star on that famous boulevard. While he was in the neighborhood, he popped up to the Mojave Air and Space Port, where Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company are working to make his dream of spaceflight a reality.
Given his early October prediction that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity would fly to space in “weeks, not months,” one might have expected him to be here to view a spaceflight he has been promising for the past 14 years.
Nicholas Schmidle has an interesting profile of Virgin Galactic test pilot Mark Stucky in the New Yorker that sheds some light on what’s been going on at Richard Branson’s space company. I’ve excerpted some interesting passages below.
If you’ve been watching the videos of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity‘s first three powered flights and thinking to yourself, Gee, it looks like that thing really wants to roll…well, you’d be right. Here’s an account of the first flight on April 5. (more…)
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — From 2018 through 2022, NASA is marking a series of important milestones – the 60th anniversary of the agency’s founding by Congress in 1958, and the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions that put a dozen Americans on the Moon between July 1969 and December 1972.
Celebrations already are under way. Some are complete, some are scheduled in the coming months, and some are still being planned.
July 29 will mark 60 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower established NASA as a U.S. government agency by signing Public Law 58-568, the National Aeronautics and Space Act. The act consolidated several federal and military research organizations, including the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, under one agency.
While Boeing and SpaceX move toward flying astronauts to the International Space Station this year, there are two other companies working on restoring the ability to launch people into space from U.S. soil.
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic aren’t attempting anything as ambitious as orbital flight. Their aim is to fly short suborbital hops that will give tourists and scientists several minutes of microgravity to float around and conduct experiments in.
With Richard Branson once again predicting that Virgin Galactic will fly SpaeShipTwo into space before the end of the year, it seems like a good time to take a look at the history of suborbital spaceflight.
The number of manned suborbital flights varies depending upon the definition you use. The internationally recognized boundary is 100 km (62.1 miles), which is also known as the Karman line. The U.S. Air Force awarded astronaut wings to any pilot who exceeded 80.5 km (50 miles).
For nearly a dozen years, Virgin Galactic has used the number of individuals who have flown into space as a target to shoot for once the company began suborbital space tourism service. Virgin promised to double the number, which was around 500 when the company launched in 2004, within the first year of operation. That year was originally targeted for 2007 in the confident days after the success of SpaceShipOne.
That goal has long since faded away, and it’s unlikely Virgin will double the number of space travelers during the first year. In any event, the number of space travelers cited by Virgin has always been a bit misleading. The company’s well heeled customers, who are paying upwards of $250,000 per flight, will actually be joining a much more elite group on their suborbital flights.
One Year Ago, the Ansari X Prize Turned 10 It Was an Uncomfortable Birthday
By Douglas Messier Managing Editor
The planes kept coming and coming. One after another, they swooped out of a blue desert sky and touched down on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way.
And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize. A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period.
Eleven years ago today, Brian Binnie flew SpaceShipOne to an altitude of 112.014 km (69.6 miles), breaking a record of 107.8 km (67 miles) set by Joe Walker in the X-15 rocket plane 41 years earlier. As Binnie landed the small, experimental space plane at the Mojave Air and Space Port before a cheering crowd, he clinched the $10 million Ansari X Prize for Burt Rutan and his financial backer, Paul Allen.
The air during the post flight events was full of promises, boasts and hopes that today appear positively cringe worthy.
At least that’s what it looked like from our vantage point at Jawbone Station on that fateful Halloween morning ten months ago. And that’s what it looked like in Ken Brown’s photos. Ken had been standing next to me, training his telephoto lens on the small spacecraft nine miles overhead.
Republican Steve Knight was sworn into Congress today as the new House representative for California’s 25th District, replacing retiring Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon.
Knight, who had been a supporter of the space industry while serving in the California State Senate, has been appointed to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, whose responsibilities include NASA, FAA and other agencies.
He is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Small Business Committee.
Virgin Galactic Announced Virgin Galactic Press Release Sept. 27, 2004
Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan made their announcement to the world’s media that Virgin Galactic was now in a position to commence a programme of work that would result in the world’s first affordable space tourist flights in 2 to 3 years time.
If there was a prize for the most isolated memorial to an America astronaut, the one for Maj. Michael J. Adams would win by a wide margin.
From Mojave, it’s a drive of nearly 50 miles through the sagebrush and Joshua trees, around dry Koehn Lake, and through the old mining towns of Randsburg and Johannesburg before you reach the unmarked dirt road leading to the site. A half mile of bad road later, you arrive at the modest but heartfelt memorial to one of America’s forgotten space heroes.
Video Caption: British billionaire [Richard] Branson talks with his typical smile and ultimate optimism. But his body language tells a different story.
Seen at second Dubai Government Summit 2014, February 10.
Editor’s Note: Another sort of firm prediction from the Virgin Galactic founder, delivered in a not very reassuring manner. Branson has been flawless in making inaccurate predictions so far. At some point, he has to be right, but has that time finally arrived?
Maybe. And it depends.
Confused? No problem. I’ll explain. Let’s first look at where things stand here in mid-February to see if this latest schedule makes any sense.