Five years ago today, SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise broke up over the Mojave Desert during a flight test. Co-pilot Mike Alsbury died and pilot Pete Siebold was seriously injured.
The crash ended Virgin Galactic’s effort to begin commercial crewed suborbital spaceflights in the first quarter of 2015. Those flights are not forecast to begin in June 2020 — five years later than planned.
MOJAVE, Calif. (Stratolaunch PR) — Stratolaunch LLC has transitioned ownership and is continuing regular operations. Our near-term launch vehicle development strategy focuses on providing customizable, reusable, and affordable rocket-powered testbed vehicles and associated flight services.
As we continue on our mission, Stratolaunch will bring the carrier aircraft test and operations program fully in-house. We thank Vulcan Inc and Scaled Composites for turning an ambitious idea into a flight-proven aircraft.
UPDATE: And there’s this press release from Scaled Composites:
Scaled is pleased to announce the transfer of the Stratolaunch Aircraft to Stratolaunch Corporation. Scaled was contracted in 2011 by Stratolaunch to design, build, and test the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. Having accomplished these goals successfully, the Scaled team has transitioned the vehicle and associated knowledge to the Stratolaunch team. Scaled wishes Stratolaunch success as it continues work towards commercial operation of its launch system.
MOJAVE, Calif. (Scaled Composites PR) — During the annual Society of Experimental Test Pilots symposium this past weekend, test pilot Evan “Ivan” Thomas was awarded the Kincheloe award for the execution of the initial test program and first flight of the Scaled Model 351, Stratolaunch.
In addition, the Stratolaunch first flight crew – Evan “Ivan” Thomas, Chris “Duff” Guarente, and Jake Riley – were awarded the Tenhoff award or the most outstanding technical paper that was presented during the event.
Today, Sept. 27, marks the 15th anniversary of Richard Branson announcing the launch of Virgin Galactic Airways. It’s been a long, winding road between that day and today, filled with many broken promises, missed deadlines, fatal accidents and a pair of spaceflights.
This year actually marks a double anniversary: it’s been 20 years since Branson registered the company and began searching for a vehicle the company could use to fly tourists into suborbital space.
Below is a timeline of the important events over that period.
Well, it’s not the famous winter of Game of Thrones, but the 14-day lunar night has arrived where India’s Vikram lander and Pragyan rover made what IRSO officials have called a “hard landing” two weeks ago with no communication between them and ground controllers.
Since neither vehicle was designed to survive the frigid temperatures of the lunar night, the Indian space agency has called it a day in a rather bare bones announcement.
Mike Alsbury never made it to space, but he will be honored on a memorial to fallen astronauts in Florida.
The Astronaut Memorial Foundation (AMF) has voted to add Alsbury’s name to the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
The Scaled Composites pilot died over the Mojave Desert in the breakup of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during a flight test on Oct. 31, 2014. Pete Siebold was seriously injured as he parachuted to safety.
AMF needed to change its criteria in order to place Alsbury’s name on the mirror. Previous rules limited the list to 24 men and women who died during human spaceflight missions or while in training for such missions sponsored by the United States government.
Alsbury was on a private flight test for his employer, which was developing the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle for Virgin Galactic. The flight was not scheduled to reach suborbital space, which the United States defines as 50 miles (80.4 km).
Reuters has confirmed reports that Parabolic Arc has been hearing for months here in Mojave: Stratolaunch’s goose is cooked.
Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, the space company founded by late billionaire and Microsoft Corp co-founder Paul Allen, is closing operations, cutting short ambitious plans to challenge traditional aerospace companies in a new “space race,” four people familiar with the matter said on Friday….
[Parent company] Vulcan has been exploring a possible sale of Stratolaunch’s assets and intellectual property, according to one of the four sources and also a fifth person….
The decision to set an exit strategy was made late last year by Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, chair of Vulcan Inc and trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust, one of the four people and the fifth industry source said.
Jody Allen decided to let the carrier aircraft fly to honor her brother’s wishes and also to prove the vehicle and concept worked, one of the four people said.
Video Caption: In partnership with Scaled Composites, Stratolaunch successfully completed the first flight of the Stratolaunch aircraft. As part of this initial flight of the world’s largest aircraft, the pilots evaluated aircraft performance and handling qualities of the all-composite, dual-fuselage design.
The airplane took off at 0658 PDT on April 13, 2019, from the Mojave Air & Space Port, and flew for 2.5 hours, achieving a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour and reaching altitudes of up to 17,000 feet. The plane landed safely amid cheers from the team that designed and built the plane.
MOJAVE, Calif. (Scaled Composites PR) — Scaled Composites has announced Cory Bird as the company’s new president. Scaled Composites is an industry leader with broad experience in vehicle design, tooling, and manufacturing; specialty composite structure design, analysis and fabrication; and developmental flight test.
Cory has over 33 years of experience at Scaled Composites, holding multiple positions, including project engineer, program manager, Stratolaunch chief engineer, vice president/general manager and executive vice president/chief technical officer.
Over the course of his career, Cory has held increasing roles of responsibility directly supporting design, development and execution of over 45 prototype vehicles including milestone aircraft like SpaceShipOne, WhiteKnightOne, and GlobalFlyer.
About Scaled Composites
Scaled Composites is a specialty aerospace and composites development company offering design, build, and test capabilities. Founded by Burt Rutan in 1982 and located in Mojave, CA, Scaled has averaged one first flight of a unique, new airplane per year.
Our employees come from a diverse background of talents, experience, and interests. This unique combination of individuals helps promote an innovative and creative atmosphere. Scaled Composites offers the opportunity to pursue career and personal interests in a manner that can be found nowhere else by following one simple rule: have fun. www.scaled.com
Scaled Composites is under the management of Allied Holdings, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Editor’s Note: For those keeping score at home, the previous president was Ben Diachun.
Virgin Galactic pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow, who were awarded civilian astronaut wings last week, are among 18 pilots who have flown suborbital flights.
The two pilots flew SpaceShipTwo Unity to an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.72 km) on Dec. 13, 2018. That accomplishment qualified them for civilian astronaut wings using an American definition that places the boundary of space at 50 miles (80.46 km).
Richard Branson’s Mojave-based space companies have seen two high-level departures in recent months as they prepare to launch SpaceShipTwo on a spaceflight for the first time.
Doug Shane has left his position as chairman of The Spaceship Company (TSC), which builds SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicles, WhiteKnightTwo mother ships, and propulsion systems for Virgin Galactic.
Shane remains a member of the company’s board of advisors. A Virgin Galactic spokesman said the company has not replaced Shane as chairman.
Jonathan Firth, who served as executive vice president of spaceport and program development, has also left Virgin Galactic after 14 years with the company. Firth’s Linkin page indicates he has left Virgin Galactic but does not say when he did so.
Psychologists have identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are clearly on display in Virgin Galactic’s Rocket Man, Nicholas Schmidle’s profile of Mark Stucky in The New Yorker. A substantial part of the story chronicles how the test pilot dealt with the death of his close friend, Mike Alsbury, in the breakup of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during the vehicle’s fourth powered flight four years ago.
It’s a touching portrait of Stucky’s grief for his fellow Scaled Composites pilot, with whom he had flown while testing the suborbital spacecraft being developed for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. (Stucky later moved over to Virgin, which took over the SpaceShipTwo program after the accident, to test the second SpaceShipTwo, Unity.)
However, Schmidle tells only half the story in his otherwise insightful profile. He places nearly all the blame on Alsbury, while ignoring the findings of a nine-month federal investigation that identified systemic flaws in the development program and the government’s oversight that contributed to the accident.
It’s similar to the flawed, self-serving narrative that Branson used in his latest autobiography, “Finding My Virginity,” complete with a not-entirely-fair jab at the press coverage of the crash. The billionaire uses pilot error to obscure a decade of fatal mistakes and miscalculations. (more…)
Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen — who funded private spaceships, one of the largest aircraft in the world, and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe – has died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 65.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of @PaulGAllen, our founder and noted technologist, philanthropist, community builder, conservationist, musician and supporter of the arts, All of us who worked with Paul feel an inexpressible loss today,” Allen’s company, Vulcan, Inc., announced in a tweet.
Allen poured the billions he made from Microsoft into a number of business and philanthropic ventures, including three space projects. He spent $28 million to back Burt Rutan’s entry in the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million competition for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice within a two-week period.
Stratolaunch’s massive carrier aircraft performed a taxi test down runway 12-30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Friday afternoon.
The airplane, which is designed to air-launch rockets, appeared to make several short moves at the southeast end of the runway before beginning its taxi test. It stopped twice during the taxi test before arriving at the end of the runway.
The twin-fuselage plane veered to one side on several occasions during the test, resulting in the pilots correcting the vehicle’s path. It was not clear whether this movement was part of the test.
The aircraft, which has a wingspan of 385 ft (117.3 m), was towed backwards along the runway before being returned to its hangar.
Scaled Composites built the aircraft with funding from Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen.
Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race by Tim Fernholz Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018 304 pp., illus. ISBN 978-1-328-66223-1 US$28
In 2004, a small vehicle named SpaceShipOne built by Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites and funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen flew three suborbital flights, becoming the first privately-built crewed craft to exit the Earth’s atmosphere. For their efforts, Rutan and Allen won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.
Rutan quickly teamed with another billionaire, Richard Branson, to build a successor vehicle named SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic that would carry two pilots and six passengers on commercial suborbital flights as early as 2007. It didn’t quite work out as planned; 14 years later, SpaceShipTwo hasn’t flown anyone to space.