Branson’s Autobiography Part II: A Bad Day at Koehn Lake

SpaceShipTwo breaks up after the premature deployment of its feather system. (Credit: MARS Scientific/NTSB)

Part 2 of 3

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Richard Branson
Portfolio
Oct. 10, 2017
482 pages

In his new book, Richard Branson recounts that on the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, he was on his private Caribbean island in a state of “schoolboy excitement.” The reason? Three time zones away in California’s Mojave Desert, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites were conducting the longest and most ambitious flight test of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.

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RIP Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard in “The Right Stuff.”

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard, best known for playing Chuck Yeager in “The Right Stuff,” has died at the age of 73. Rest in peace, Sam.

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Chuck Yeager: Not a Big Fan of SpaceShipOne

Gen. Chuck Yeager has been doing ask me anything sessions on Twitter over the last few days. If nothing else, he’s been candid. He apparently doesn’t think much of SpaceShipOne.

So Exactly How Safe Will SpaceShipTwo Be?

Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Richard Branson rolls out Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Unity in Mojave. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 5 of 6

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

With the recent roll out of VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic marked a symbolic milestone in its recovery from the October 2014 accident that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed pilot Mike Alsbury.

Two questions loomed large over the celebrity-studded event. When will it fly? And how safe will it be when it does?

Company officials gave no timeline on the first question. Their answers about SpaceShipTwo’s safety differed significantly from previous claims they made over the last 11.5 years.

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Virgin, Scaled Look to Resume Powered SpaceShipTwo Flights

Takeoff! (Credit: Douglas Messier)
WhiteKnightTwo takes off with SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Guy Norris at Aviation Week reports on Virgin Galactic’s progress toward resuming flight tests of SpaceShipTwo and moving on to commercial operations next year.

That process involves three steps: Scaled Composites completing a series of flight tests to meet contractual milestones; Virgin Galactic completing several flight tests of its own once it takes possession of SpaceShipTwo; and the FAA granting Virgin Galactic a launch license.

The official transfer of the SS2 from Scaled to Virgin will take place upon completion of key contractual milestones, Whitesides says. Although the main intention remains to demonstrate a fully powered suborbital flight with an apogee beyond the 100-km (62-mi.) “Von Karman” altitude limit that defines the boundary between the atmosphere and space, Virgin will be satisfied with two main criteria: “We’d like at a minimum for [Sealed] to demonstrate supersonic reentry and peak heating, if we can,” Whitesides says.

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Lancaster Shop Shows Antelope Valley’s Aviation and Space Past, Present

aviation_gift_gen
American Data Plates gift shop in Lancaster, Calif. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

California’s Antelope Valley is probably the home of more aviation and space firsts than any place else in the world. Within this massive stretch of desert, the sound barrier was broken, space shuttles were built and tested, Voyager took off and landed for its solo around the world trip, and the first privately-funded manned space vehicle soared above the Karman line.

Monuments and tributes to this glorious past and high-tech present can be found scattered all over the valley from suburban Palmdale in the south to the dusty desert outside Randsburg up north. The Antelope Valley’s blue skies are filled with advanced supersonic jets that boom and zoom across the horizon just like Chuck Yeager first did nearly 70 years ago.

I found a very cool place in Lancaster the other day that encompasses the Antelope Valley’s past and present. American Data Plates, which makes products for aircraft and space vehicles, has a gift shop with interesting aviation and space memorabilia and collectibles.

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