Space Conferences, Engine Claims and Silly Putty

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Over the years, I’ve heard many speakers at various space conferences and events say all sorts of things that I felt…oh, comment on dit?…stretched the truth like Silly Putty. Yes, that’s a polite way to put it.

After a while, I’ve become quite numb to it all — the hype, promises, publicity stunts, optimistic schedules that get blown away like fallen leaves on a windy Mojave day. By this point, most of it just passes over me without meriting so much as a mention.

But, sometimes I hear something that stretches the rhetorical Silly Putty beyond the breaking point. I had just such an experience three weeks ago at the Space Tech Expo in Long Beach, Calif.

The speaker was Dream Chaser Co-program Director John Curry, who was giving conference attendees an update on Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) entry in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

It wasn’t Curry’s everything’s-going-great claims about Dream Chaser that caught my attention. That might well be true, although the company is running about 17 months behind schedule in completing a crucial series of drop tests of its mini-space shuttle. Other than that, I suppose, all is well.

It was when Curry veered off into describing Sierra Nevada’s work on a hybrid motor for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital space plane that I really saw the Silly Putty begin to break. Work on that engine project was going “very well,” Curry insisted, as pictures of the vehicle in powered flight appeared on the screen. In fact, the SpaceShipTwo hybrid engine is a commercial “spin in” for the smaller set of hybrids on Dream Chaser, he said.

I gasped. Out loud. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed my reaction; apparently no one had. Nor had they seemed to have reacted at all. Curry’s claims simply floated out there as so many others had in the past, with little notice and no challenge. Perhaps everyone else was even numb than I was to these assurances. Or they believed them. Maybe they didn’t care.

That’s astonishing given that everyone involved in the program has been making essentially the same claim for years despite all evidence to the contrary. Explosions, lengthy program delays, powered flights that ended well short of space, a lack of technical details, long unexplained gaps in the flight test program, and still….everything is always going “very well.” Seriously?

Even as Virgin Galactic confidently predicts it will send its founder, Sir Richard Branson, and his two children into space by the end of the year and then promptly begin commercial service, the reality behind the scenes is quite a bit less certain. And it’s a great deal more interesting.

The following is what I know about SpaceShipTwo’s engine progress, based on reliable sources and what I have witnessed personally here in Mojave where SpaceShipTwo is undergoing tests.

The Flights

SpaceShipTwo soars skyward on a column of flames. (Credit: Ken Brown)
SpaceShipTwo soars skyward on a column of flames. (Credit: Ken Brown)

SpaceShipTwo has flown under power three times using SNC’s nitrous oxide-rubber hybrid motor. The engine firings were 16, 20 and 20 seconds each. The ship reached a peak altitude of 71,000 feet on its third and most recent powered flight in January.

The burn times and altitudes were far short of getting SpaceShipTwo anywhere near suborbital space. The reason is that the SNC engine produces such severe oscillations and vibrations that they dare not fire it to full duration. That would have literally ripped the ship and the crew to pieces.

Scaled Composites, which is conducting the flight test program, took SNC’s engine as far as it could. That enabled the company to expand the flight test envelope, give the pilots flight experience, demonstrate progress to customers and investors, and buy time to find a better solution.

And they did find a better solution. Sort of….

The Modified Engine

In December, SNC performed a 55-second static firing of a nitrous oxide-rubber hybrid with modifications that improved the thrust of the engine and dampened out the oscillations and vibrations. A jubilant Virgin Galactic released a video of the test, which it labeled as a full-duration burn, just in time for the holidays.

So, that was good news, right? Yes. It was a breakthrough in a very troubled engine development program. It should allow Scaled Composites to proceed with much longer burns in flight. However….

SNC’s modified engine requires significant changes to SpaceShipTwo, which engineers are now making in Mojave. This explain the three-month gap in flights the program is now in, a period that could stretch into June or later.

The specific changes are a well-guarded secret, but some things are known. For one, it won’t be possible to fully replicate the exact conditions used in that December ground test on SpaceShipTwo. So, nobody really knows just how much better the engine will perform in actual flight. Or whether a 55-second “full duration” burn will be sufficient to get the vehicle to space.

SpaceShipTwo will be heavier and possess a different center of gravity (CG), both of which have significant implications. First, the modifications mean that Scaled Composites can’t just pick up where it left off during the last powered flight in January. They will need to start with unpowered drop tests before lighting the engine.

Second, sources say that the ship can’t reach the 100-km (62-mile) and above altitudes that Virgin Galactic has been promising its customers for nearly a decade. (The 100 km boundary is the international definition of space.) The ship might exceed 80 km (50 miles), which is the definition of space used by the U.S. Air Force to award astronaut status to X-15 pilots in the 1960’s.

From a legal standpoint, Virgin Galactic would be fulfilling its customer agreement if the ship reaches 50 miles and above. However, ticket holders who have relied on the company’s public promises and failed to read their agreements carefully are likely to be disappointed if they can’t get to 100 km and enjoy the same interval of microgravity they were promised.

Third, SpaceShipTwo will take an unspecified hit in its payload capacity. The vehicle is designed to fly with two pilots and six passengers, or two pilots and a flight engineer and the equivalent in scientific experiments. The spaceship will not be able to carry that large of a load with SNC’s engine.

That’s not going to be good for Virgin Galactic’s bottom line, which depends upon maximizing per flight revenues for what is a very expensive vehicle to operate. The cost of the non-reusable hybrid engine has reportedly risen sharply since the program began in 2004, sources say.

Fourth, any modifications made in SpaceShipTwo to improve its engine performance could lead to unexpected problems in other areas. Engineers could be faced with a new set of problems, which could stretch out the flight test program and move Branson’s flight into 2015. (We’ll discuss the significance of that later.)

In short, SNC’s engine development for SpaceShipTwo doesn’t seem to be going all that well even though the company was brought into the project nearly six years ago. Lest you think I’m picking on SNC, it was Scaled Composites that designed and built SpaceShipTwo before figuring out how to scale up the hybrid motor. This reverse approach to spacecraft development has resulted in years of delay.

In any event, SNC’s modified hybrid engine does not appear to be a viable long-term solution for SpaceShipTwo. If it was, engineers wouldn’t be working on….

The Alternate Engine

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

Scaled Composites has been actively testing an alternative hybrid engine that uses nitrous oxide and nylon. The tests — two of which I have personally witnessed — are reportedly going very well. And they are continuing. Engineers conducted a successful 50-second test on Wednesday, April 9, on a test stand at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

However, the engine won’t be ready for installation on the first SpaceShipTwo, which Virgin Galactic plans to fly Branson and his children on later this year. Instead, the nylon engine would be installed on the second SpaceShipTwo, which is still under construction. Assuming, of course, that the engine tests continue to go well and provides the levels of thrust and safety required.

virgin_branson_pomerantz_hangout
Sam Branson and his sister Holly are scheduled to accompany their father Richard on the first commercial flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Sam is seen here with Virgin Galactic Vice President for Special Projects Will Pomerantz during a Google Hangout.

This raises a couple of questions. If the nitrous-nylon engine development is going well, why not move right into building a second SpaceShipTwo? Why fiddle around with extensive and expensive modifications to the current ship to make use of SNC’s engine?

Well, this is where things get really interesting.

The Investors.  Building a second SpaceShipTwo and testing it would take a significant amount of time and money. And Virgin Galactic doesn’t have much of either at this point. The company has eaten through an enormous amount of funding over the past nine years without flying a single paying customer. Virgin Galactic needs to start showing results and flying people to space.

There is a more serious problem, however. Waiting until a second SpaceShipTwo would almost certainly delay Branson’s flight to at least 2015. And that could be a disaster for Virgin Galactic because of how the company has been funded.

Instead of financing SpaceShipTwo himself, Branson followed his usual practice of getting a partner to put up the bulk of the funds. In this case, the government of Abu Dhabi invested $390 million through aabar Investments for a 37.8 percent share in the company and the development of a small satellite rocket called LauncherOne.

Sir Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic pilots, staffers and investors. To his right is Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny, CEO of Aabar, which made a $280 million in Virgin Galactic.
Sir Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic pilots, staffers and investors at the Oshkosh air show in July 2009. To his right is Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny, CEO of aabar Investments, which has made a $390 million investment in Virgin Galactic. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The agreement, which was signed at the Oshkosh airshow five years ago this July, expires at the end of 2014. Multiple, reliable sources says there is a provision that requires Virgin Galactic to fly Branson into space by the end of the year.

If the company fails to reach that milestone, there are significant claw backs in the agreement.  It’s not clear precisely what the claw backs are, but it could involve repayment of some of the original $390 million investment or an increase in aabar’s 37.8 percent share of the company.

Virgin Galactic is denying reports that aabar would pull out of the project. In an email obtained by Parabolic Arc that was sent to a group of ticket holders last month, Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough wrote

“There are a couple of other points that I discussed with some of you, firstly concerning rumors of an end of the year deadline for commercial operations/Richard’s flight which, should it be missed, would see aabar withdraw its funding. This is completely unfounded.

“Second, while it is absolutely true that the hybrid rocket motor has been a long and complicated engineering challenge and one that has been subject to many design iterations, we believe we now have what we need to start commercial service. That will be demonstrated in what we expect to be a rapid sequence of progressively longer and higher powered flights over the summer. Once completed to our satisfaction, Scaled will formally hand over the vehicle to Virgin Galactic in preparation for Richard’s flight and commercial operations.”

The Schedule

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal hangar facility (center), Spaceport Operations Center (Left) and "Spaceway" (Runway) at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)
The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space terminal hangar facility (center), Spaceport Operations Center (Left) and “Spaceway” (Runway) at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

So, to get Sir Richard, Sam and Holly on a flight by the end of this year, what precisely has to happen? A lot, and in a short period of time.

It’s already late April, and SpaceShipTwo hasn’t flown in three months. It’s not clear when flights will begin again, but one informed estimate says that could occur in June or possibly as late as August. There will be a series of unpowered flights followed by powered flights until SpaceShipTwo reaches its maximum speed and altitude. How long that will take is unknown.

After Scaled Composites finishes with the flight test program, it will turn SpaceShipTwo over to its customer. Virgin Galactic will then have to move the ship and flight operations to its commercial base at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Ideally, Virgin Galactic would conduct SpaceShipTwo test flights in New Mexico before placing Branson and his family aboard. Whether it will do so is unclear, but there are good reasons to undertake additional flights at Spaceport America before the boss and his children fly.

To date, test operations have been under the control of Scaled Composites. Virgin Galactic needs to gain experience in flying SpaceShipTwo safely into space and turning it around for another flight. They will want to practice until they get it right.

Virgin Galactic also needs to learn how to operate effectively in Spaceport America’s airspace. This is not trivial. SpaceShipTwo flight tests involve close coordination between the pilots, mission control, air traffic controllers, spaceport personnel, and emergency services.  The folks in Mojave are pros at it by now. Virgin will be starting fresh in New Mexico, so it will take some time to get that process operating smoothly.

Ultimately, the question is whether Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic can accomplish all these tasks this year, and do so without unnecessarily rushing the flight test program. Virgin Galactic says safety is the North Star of its operation, so in theory they won’t cut any corners to meet a deadline. However, if the company’s survival is at stake…

The one wild card in this equation is the possibility of Virgin Galactic securing additional outside investment in the months ahead. An infusion of cash from a deep pocket investor or partner could relieve some of the financial and schedule pressures the company is under.

The Future, Unvanquished

Ten years ago this September, Branson announced the SpaceShipTwo program, confidently predicting that he would fly into space by 2007. As he prepares to mark that anniversary, his company finds itself in a race. Not with a competitor, but with itself and time. How the company got here will make a great book someday.

With just over 8 months left in the year, Virgin Galactic has a long way to go and a short time to get there. Will it soar triumphantly, or fall back to Earth? It will be interesting to see what happens.

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Correction: The original version of the article indicated that aabar could end up not providing additional funds if Richard Branson does not fly into space this year. It is more likely that the claw backs would involve a repayment of funds or increased equity in Virgin Galactic.

  • justchaz

    Superb piece. Comprehensive in breath, even some I was not aware of or hadn’t pieced together quite so linearly. I know by following this for year after frustrating year since SS1. The many logical and illogical thrusts of Branson, Scaled and SNC can be understood in technical and business contexts, but the rubber has to hit the road at some point.
    I think the PR management has been disastrous. We could have been taken on the journey, success and failures, with popular support if they had not decided to go into area 51 mode after the explosion. Everyone knows it is dangerous business and they had our sympathies and encouragement but did not trust it, which is a byproduct of the business side. They have nevertheless still had to do the work they had to do, just behind completely shuttered doors which lost them continued acclaim, rippling outward from truth and consequences.
    Interested people have taken a long term look since this is a first of its kind, understandably. Barring VG doing something completely outrageous, which one must say, is seen as possible in Branson’s sphere, he will be granted the space, if not the money, for his pioneer status in this. The public will not be so kind to the next entrant after VG succeeds, so we keep hoping he does, if a bit dubiously. IMO, that 100Km line is what will bring VG down. No one is feeling cheated now. That will bring it if a complete failure of the new platform doesn’t first.

  • Phil

    Very well! Usually I don’t care about any Virgin Galactic posts anymore – but this here is one nice piece of an overview. Thanks and keep up the good work!

  • Dave Erskine

    Shall I compare VG to Spacex…… No REAL comp……well, yea both have hype and and grand masters of the sound bite. Elon earns more trust by doing
    and Dick B comes out as a clown? One can speak tech and the other Flash? Yea, working with/for NASA and paying satellite customers does ordinate the paradigm…… no vanity weath-oids wanting to be beamed up?
    So | me cause I like the Stratolaunch idea, its private money anyway.

  • Tombomb123

    First of all this article is superb, well done Doug, It really give’s the reader good insight into what’s going on over at VG. I especially enjoyed your personal thought’s on what Jim curry said at that conference.

    Anyway VG seems to be in big big trouble I’m afraid. They’ve being going threw money like water and year’s like a dog without much progress actually being made. There’s just so many huge financial and technical question’s unanswered but yet according to VG everything’s going to come together at the last minute. Well no one buys it VG!
    Maybe the investor’s should call for a financial, managerial and technical review of VG and SS2. Who would do this? Industry expert’s from the top aerospace companies. It probably would cost a couple of million but the investor’s that have put in hundreds of millions would find out what’s really going on.

  • Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky

    I wonder if there is someone out there that could write an accurate factual article to show the promised schedules and promised capabilities of ALL the suborbital space tourism companies (both those that did exist and those that still exist). I’d even include the coat-hangar companies that promise a “near space” experience. My guess is we would all see that it’s a hard problem that requires more dollars and time than initially estimated. But that tends to also be true with orbital spaceflight and military acquisition programs (as well as any major project, wedding, or kitchen remodel.)

    It was said of Otto Lilienthal that “to design a flying machine was nothing, to build it was not much, but to get it through flight test was everything.” Right now I can only think of one suborbital program that is steadily accomplishing that feat.

    Being a critic is easy. Paper studies, PowerPoint, and promises are cheap. It takes a truly special person to have the vision, the courage, and the commitment to make suborbital space tourism a reality.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Outstanding article, Doug. Can you tell me if SS1 had a non-reusable engine? It somehow doesn’t seem right to have a “spaceship” that needs to have its engine replaced before every flight like an overgrown Estes rocket.

  • onfonsawo

    Come on, now. You know the answer to this. We were just talking about this program in another thread not more than an hour ago.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    If you know whether SS1 had a permanent engine, feel free to share as I wouldn’t have asked the question if I already knew the answer.

  • Carolynne Campbell

    An excellent and timely summary. Thank you Mr. Messier.
    The most titillating bit has to be “In an email obtained by Parabolic Arc, that was sent to a group of ticket holders last month” !!
    The customers are asking difficult questions. That implies that they are losing patience. Even more pressure on meeting the 2014 promises!
    The fact that this email was ‘obtained by Parabolic Arc’ lets us know just how well informed Doug is.
    Question for you Doug: Have any passengers cancelled lately, or refunds been issued?

  • therealdmt

    While things don’t look good now, the bacon may yet be pulled out of the fire before it burns.

    1 to 3 unpowered drop tests late this spring or in the summer, then powered flights of 15, 20, 30, 40, and then 50 seconds through the fall.

    Even if they don’t get Branson in space by year end, people do want this venture to succeed. What they (investors, customers and top employees) have to be sold is HOPE. Hope that 1) this is doable, and 2) that it’s doable in the not indefinite future, but in the near future (something that wouldn’t sound ridiculous to measure by months – maybe up to like say 18 months, rather than years).

    What they have to avoid is dread or resignation.

    They have come so far (but was the ladder leaning up against the wrong wall, so to speak?) if the engine issues are something that can be sorted out, I’d guess that all they have to do is show significant progress this year for them to be able to keep the enterprise alive until it’s ready to go to commercial operations.

  • therealdmt

    If however the engine issues require major changes at this point in time, they may be sunk.

    It’s coming down to show time.

  • therealdmt

    Good article, btw, Douglas.

  • Douglas Messier

    SS1 and SS2 were both designed with engines you have to pull and replace. I believe they replace replace the motor casing and the nozzle. It’s not the cheapest way to go.

  • Douglas Messier

    That’s a good question. Stay tuned.

  • onfonsawo

    Well Ca..uh…Terry, SS1 was powered by an infinite hyperdrive engine. The original plan was that Burt Rutan would use SS1 to travel back in time to 1973 twice a month to find a barber that could keep his mutton chops looking nice and crisp.

    Unfortunately, the Smithsonian decided the craft was of too much historical import to not hang from their ceiling so off it went. The original engine depleted the Rio Tinto borax mine in nearby Boron, California of all easily-extractable dilithium crystals, so Rutan was forced to use a non-reusable rubber engine for SS2. The ability to travel through time was lost, but rumor is that the new fuel affords excellent cornering traction, even in wet conditions.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    Thanks Doug.

  • Douglas Messier

    You make some excellent points. And it is true. This is an industry where ambition and schedule far surpass people’s ability to produce new vehicles on time. Almost everything is behind schedule. Dragon, Antares, Falcon 9, Cygnus. The Lynx is still being assembled. SLS and Orion are years behind schedule.

    Delays are not really the major problem, however. Most everyone understands that these programs take much longer than anyone thinks they will, that unanticipated technical problems crop up, and that economic crashes like the one we had in 2008 can destroy companies and dry up investment capital for those that survive such downturns.

    The real issue is how companies handle these matters. They need to find a good balance between promoting themselves and their programs and being candid with the media, public, ticket holders, shareholders and investors (public and private) about problems and schedule delays. That is particularly true in new industries such as space tourism, which has no track record and thus must build their credibility from the ground up with all these groups.

    There’s been little balance in how this program has been handled. Scaled has a culture that tends to say as little as possible until things are ready to go. There’s much merit in that from an organizational standpoint. Do rather than talk, show rather than tell. It’s a good philosophy. And it’s understandable in that Scaled works on classified programs and is owned by a major defense contractor. On the other hand, this is hardly a low-profile program.

    Scaled is partnered with its polar opposite. The Virgin Group is one of the premiere marketing and branding organizations in the world. Its founder is never out of the headlines even for a day (literally true, I have a Google Alert on him). For nearly a decade, there’s been a relentless promotion of this program with little regard to the reality of what was actually happening.

    Example: About five years, I wrote an update on the program for a magazine. Virgin Galactic assured me that everything was fine, the engine development was coming along great, powered flights the following year in 2010. After I submitted the story and it was too late to change, I mentioned this to some people at a conference I was attending. One person laughed in my face and told me that was totally wrong.

    It wasn’t a matter of Virgin Galactic and Scaled having everything in place and simply being optimistic — ‘they think they’re flying next year, but it will probably take an extra year or longer to get everything assembled.” As I said, that’s normal in this field. Instead, it was, ‘they don’t have an engine, they don’t know how to develop one, and their chances of flying next year are zero. You’ve been lied to.’

    He was right. But, the story got published, I misled my readers, and it made me look bad. There’s a bond of trust that one must have with readers. If I make a mistake, that’s on me. I have to go correct that and make amends. But, I feel like this has been a decade-long effort to put a smiley faced emoticon on a very troubled project. There’s been a relentless firehouse of good news and promises and assurances that have usually been at odds with reality in Mojave.

    I can understand no one wanting wanting to admit to the engine problem or discuss it in depth. I don’t think the way it’s been handled really serves the ticket holders who have paid deposits, the investors in Abu Dhabi who put in $390 million, the taxpayers of New Mexico ($218 million and counting), supporters of Virgin Galactic and commercial space in general, or the public at large. Again, it’s about finding a balance here. And there hasn’t really been any.

    Well, that’s a long response to your comments. I just felt the need to dispel the notion that Virgin and Scaled are being criticized just for missing deadlines. There are much deeper issues that that.

  • onfonsawo

    >I misled my readers, and it made me look bad.

    So now convince us that your tone is an objective assessment, not a personal vendetta.

  • Douglas Messier

    If the behavior I was upset about had stopped, then you’d have a point. It would be a personal vendetta because I would be pissed off over what happened five years ago despite much better behavior since then.

    But, it hasn’t stopped. Branson was out here in Mojave a year ago watching the first powered flight and later predicted he’d fly by Christmas. That wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. Not with the engine they were using.

    Why did Branson say this? I don’t know. I don’t care. That’s Virgin’s problem. All I can tell you are the claim had nothing to do with reality. And I wouldn’t be serving you or any of my other readers if I simply closed my eyes to it.

  • onfonsawo

    People like Mark Stucky pour their life into projects like this – and these same people have nothing to do with what Branson says or does not say.

    They don’t need people trying to pull them down from the sidelines because of some imagined beef that happened years ago that they had absolutely nothing to do with.

  • Douglas Messier

    This is not about me. Somehow you read all this and decided it was all about the messenger. You’ve missed the entire point of the article.

    Circle the wagons. Hunker down. Blame the messenger. Make it personal. That’s not unusual around here. It allows people to avoid the bigger issues.

    I assume you are on the airport based on the IP address. You probably have more productive work to do.

  • onfonsawo

    Thicken up that skin a little, Doug. You can hand out criticism all day long, but you don’t take it well.

  • Douglas Messier

    I’m taking this fine.

  • Douglas Messier

    Thanks. Appreciate the compliments.

  • Douglas Messier

    Thanks. Glad you liked the article.

    If this program goes bust (and hopefully it won’t), there’s a lot of blame to go around. It’s a very complicated story. This article only gives a small piece of it. And I don’t think it’s totally complete.

    What they’re trying to achieve is also very complex. Nobody realized just how complicated when this thing got started. This is really an area where nobody knows very much. But are they getting an education.

    I worry most about the taxpayers of New Mexico. They spent a lot of money they don’t really have with promises of a big payoff. If this whole thing goes south (and hopefully it doesn’t), they’re left with a big white elephant on their hands.

  • Douglas Messier

    Thanks!

  • Douglas Messier

    Thanks.

  • A. Fan

    Great article. And this troll does nothing but attack u for it.

    Ignore him. This troll needs to go read Alan Boyle. Nothing but VG happy talk there.

  • Oscar_Femur

    Superb article, thanks.

  • onfonsawo
  • Saturn13

    Will the motor work in SNC DC? In an abort it will only burn for a short time. Also for burns to get to ISS. Or should NASA forget them?

  • windbourne

    misled your readers? Nope.
    Look, you have had a better read on the industry then most other places.
    Overall, I have been impressed with the quality.

  • Arnie T

    A short time ago someone, I don’t remember who, suggested that VG/Scaled should have built SS1-2 and begun taking fewer people up to meet their promises. In the mean time doing this “unexpectedly” difficult task of developing SS2.
    But…. I guess Sir Richard’s ego would’ve nixed that, if it had been proposed to him. When I read the post (wish I could reference it), I thought that it was a terrific idea. Keep up the good work Doug.
    PS: This particular article’s comments section is refreshingly troll free; despite someone’s use of the term. 🙂

  • Curt

    Mr. Messier,
    VG has been experiencing more than just rocket motor whether it be rubber or plastic motor. Many huge technical issues VG must overcome are flight control systems, more safety and redundancy systems, feather actuators, weight growth and performance, etc. In particular, both SS2 and WK2 have the exact same flight control systems designed by Scaled with pulleys and cables and the test reports by Scaled years ago shows more than half of 15 items in the report failed miserably.

    Scaled never have the funding to redesign the flight control systems properly and they got away with it because of their prototype licensing.

    As for the weight growth, SS2 Serial 001 built and flight test by Scaled and its weight has growth so much that VG cannot carry 6 passengers because of additional Helium tanks in the wings. It is projected to only carry 3 passengers at most and they have to limit the weight of male passengers to lower than 200 lbs and female passengers to lower than 150 lbs. The industry standard weight for each passenger is 200 lbs which was what VG had hope for.

    Scaled engineers had advice VG to not carry passengers on SS2 Serial 001 because of weight growth but VG didn’t listen because they do not have experience or expertise to design, build and operate SS2. To make matter worse, VG is building the exact copy of SS2 Serial 002 as 001. They also planning to build Serial 003 to be fitted with liquid motor which is currently in development by VG internal funding if they are successful with both SS2 serial 001 and 002.

    My gut feeling is SS2-001 will never achieve all it’s goal and so VG can never be successful to carry passengers up to space.

    Also, VG is currently running into regulatory issues with FAA. FAA will never issued VG commercial licenses to operate out of Spaceport because of lack of flight test data and AST-400 is way too general. It needs to develop in much more details for safety systems. FAA was counting on VG to supply and develop more flight test data since VG is the first to develop space tourism. VG will never reveal to their future astronauts about safety consent of SS2.

  • Douglas Messier

    This guy is a fraud. Working to get his comment removed.

  • TheKirkster

    His article is looking pretty prescient right about now…