Virgin Galactic Kicks Off Astronaut Readiness Program

Virgin Galactic kicks off Astronaut Readiness Program. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

BALTIMORE (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic has kicked off its Astronaut Readiness Program – the process of preparing Future Astronaut customers for their flights to space. As the first and only private company to have put humans into space in a vehicle built for commercial service, we are now finalizing all elements of the customer experience, including the recently unveiled customer spacesuits, created in partnership with Under Armour, and the interior of our Gateway to Space headquarters at Spaceport America. The next phase in this process is to ensure that Future Astronauts are optimally prepared to fly to space.

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My Podcast Appearance on Tipping Point New Mexico

I recently talked with Paul Gessing who runs the Tipping Point New Mexico podcast. We talked about my article, “Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic: The Numbers Never Added Up,” which looked at the promises made to justifying spending $225 million on a custom-built spaceport for Richard Branson’s suborbital space tourism company. We also discussed Virgin Galactic’s recent move to go public.

Enjoy!

Five Years Ago SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise Crashed in the Mojave Desert

The spot where part of SpaceShipTwo’s cockpit crashed with the body of Mike Alsbury. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Goes Public With Extravagant Promises to Keep

Richard Branson wears the SpaceShipTwo flight suit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After 15 years of making extravagant but unkept promises to fly more than 600 “future astronauts” to space, Richard Branson must now please an entirely new group of people who are usually much shorter on patience: shareholders.

Following the completion last week of a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), the British billionaire’s Virgin Galactic suborbital “space line” will begin trading under its own name on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Monday.

Going public now is an unusual move for a space tourism company that hasn’t flown a singlet tourist to space since Branson announced the SpaceShipTwo program in 2004. Some might see it has putting the cart before the horse.

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Virgin Galactic Goes Public on Monday

SpaceShipTwo after being released for its final flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

On Monday, Virgin Galactic will become the first space tourism company to be publicly traded on a stock exchange — without having flown a single space tourist in the two decades since Richard Branson founded the company.

The move to list on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) comes after shareholders of Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH) overwhelmingly approved an $774 million acquisition deal on Wednesday. The proposal received more than 95 percent of the 61.3 million votes cast.

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Spaceport America Releases Unredacted Leases

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)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NMPolitics.net and its publisher, Heath Haussamen, have settled a lawsuit against the secretive New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) that runs Spaceport America. The authority agreed to release a group of fully unredacted leases of tenants at the spaceport and to pay the website $60,000.

The released tenant leases included:

  • Energeticx.net
  • EXOS Aerospace
  • SpaceX
  • UP Aerospace
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Virgin Galactic, Under Armour Unveil SpaceShipTwo Flight Suit

SpaceShipTwo flight suit. (Credit Virgin Galactic0

NEW YORK, Oct. 16, 2019 (Virgin Galactic PR) — In January 2019, Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson and Under Armour CEO and Founder Kevin Plank announced a collaboration which saw Under Armour become Virgin Galactic’s Technical Spacewear Partner. Today, the companies unveiled the collaboratively designed spacewear system for Virgin Galactic astronauts comprising of a base layer, spacesuit, footwear, training suit and Limited Edition astronaut jacket. It is the first such collection ever created specifically for private astronauts.

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Virgin Galactic to Unveil New “Milestone” Next Week

Editor’s Note: My guess is they will unveil the passenger flight suits in some sort of fashion event, probably involving some fashion models. I wonder if Karlie Kloss, who has said her dream is to fly to space, will be there.

Why do I think it’s the flight suit? Ticket holders have been coming in and other of Mojave in recent months to get fitted for the “spacesuit.” There’s not going to be a lot of things going into space with them. And NYC is a major fashion capital.

Chief Pilot David Mackay gave a talk recently here in Mojave. He said passengers will not wear pressure suits, but they will have oxygen masks in the event of an emergency.

If they are unveiling the flight suit on Wednesday, calling it a milestone is a bit of a stretch. The Crew Dragon parachute drop tests, static fire, in-flight abort flight and orbital mission discussed during the briefing at SpaceX headquarters on Thursday are actual milestones.

Unveiling a flight suit is primarily a marketing and public relations event. Really important milestones will be completing the SpaceShipTwo flight test program and actually flying some passengers next year.

15 Years Ago Today….

Mike Melvill stands atop SpaceShipOne after a suborbital flight on Sept. 29, 2004. (Credit: RenegadeAven)

Fifteen years ago today on Sept. 29, 2004, Mike Melvill lit SpaceShipOne’s hybrid engine in the skies over the Mojave Desert and flew to an altitude of 102.93 km (337,697 ft) before gliding back to a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

It was Melvill’s second space flight in the rocket plane that Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites built. And it was the first of two flights required for to win the $10 Ansari X Prize for the first privately-built crewed spacecraft to reach space twice within two weeks.

Melvill didn’t have an entirely smooth flight. The spacecraft rolled 29 times during ascent before he was able to bring the ship under control.

Melvill admitted in 2014 there was an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that he would shut off the engine if the vehicle started rolling. But, he and Rutan were not sure it was a good idea to shut off the engine.

Melvill added that as a shareholder in Scaled Composites, he didn’t want to risk not winning the $10 million prize, which was set to expire in three months at the end of 2004.

Five days after Melvill’s hair-raising flight, Brian Binnie piloted SpaceShipOne on a trouble-free flight tin win the Ansari X Prize. Binnie flew to 112.014 km (367,454 ft), breaking the X-15’s record of 107.96 km (354,200 ft) set in 1963.

It was SpaceShipOne’s final flight. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who spent $28 million backing Rutan’s entry in the competition, decided to retire the spacecraft. He accepted an offer to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution. SpaceShipOne hangs in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Allen licensed the technology to Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Scaled Composites and Virgin embarked on building the much larger SpaceShipTwo vehicle to fly tourists into space. Commercial flights are scheduled to begin next year.

A Short Review of Virgin Galactic’s Long History

SpaceShipTwo fires its hybrid engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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Blue Origin Plans 2 More New Shepard Flights Before Flying People

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

CNBC reports that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin plans two more flight tests of the reusable New Shepard booster and capsule before flying people on suborbital flights. The additional tests could delay the first human flight into next year.

CEO Bob Smith has talked about the first crewed flight of New Shepard happening as early as the end of 2018 – but that goal has steadily been pushed back. Smith, in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, explained why Blue Origin has delayed the first crewed flight and continued to test.

“It’s really the robustness of our entire system. It’s not one individual thing that’s driving [these delays],” Smith said. “It’s us being cautious and thorough with the total systems we need to verify.”

He noted that Blue Origin has been pushing the limits of its software and hardware, as well as testing its BE-3 rocket engine for extreme and unexpected situations.

Blue Origin has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to conduct the 12th New Shepard launch no earlier than Nov. 1.

New Shepard consists of a reusable booster and capsule. The capsule lands by parachute while the booster touches down using landing legs.

Blue Origin has recovered the capsules and boosters on 10 of the 11 flights. On one flight, the booster crashed while the capsule landed safely.

The company has not announced when it will begin to sell tickets and what price it will charge. Tickets aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which expects to begin commercial suborbital flights next year, cost $250,000. Virgin Founder Richard Branson plans to be aboard the first commercial flight.

Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic: The Numbers Never Added Up

Richard Branson and his children hang out with Project Bandaloop dancers during the dedication of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space facility. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Fourteen years ago, Virgin Galactic and New Mexico promised “tens of thousands” of tourists would fly to space from Spaceport America by 2019. Total thus far: 0.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

When they announced in December 2005 that Virgin Galactic would locate its space tourism business in New Mexico, Virgin Founder Richard Branson and Gov. Bill Richardson made a number of eye-popping claims about why taxpayers should back a plan to build the Southwest Regional Spaceport to serve as the space tourism company’s home base:

  • $331 million in total construction revenues in 2007;
  • 2,460 construction-related jobs;
  • $1 billion in total spending, payroll of $300 million and 2,300 jobs by the fifth year of operation; and,
  • $750 million in total revenues and more than 3,500 jobs by 2020.

Virgin Galactic would sign a 20-year lease as anchor tenant and pay fees based on the number of launches it conducted. New Mexico would use the spaceport, Virgin’s presence and the funds generated to develop a large aerospace cluster.

Surprisingly, New Mexico would spend more money, $225 million, to develop a facility now known as Spaceport America than the $108 million that Branson planned to spend on developing a fleet of five SpaceShipTwos and WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

Among all the big numbers in the announcement, there was a truly astounding one that was deemed so important it was mentioned twice. (Emphasis added)

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Virgin Galactic Reaches Milestone Building SpaceShipTwo No. 3

SpaceShipTwo no. 3 (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic announced today that it has mated the fuselage and cabin of its next spaceship to the completed wing assembly. In addition, the two tail booms have been mated to the spaceship’s rear feather flap assembly. The completion of these two milestones brings assembly of the next SpaceShipTwo, planned to enter service after VSS Unity, a major step forward. 

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Mackay Says: SpaceShipTwo Will Be “Safe, Reliable Commercial System”

The BBC visits Spaceport America. Safety claim begins at 6:46. Mackay also makes interesting claim about 15 years of development time.

Hey, BBC. If you’re going to visit New Mexico, for the sake of perspective, maybe talk to some of the folks who paid for the spaceport about all the benefits they were promised when they agreed to fund it.