Why Virgin Galactic Went SPAC

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During the SmallSat Symposium last week, Richard Branson was asked why Virgin Galactic had gone public using a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

“I’m impatient. The SPAC gets through all of the rigmarole of public companies. Yes, I thought, that’s great, let’s do it,” he replied.

Branson was half right. A SPAC makes it a lot easier for a company to go public. But, impatience was probably not the main reason Virgin Galactic went SPAC.

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NM AG: Excess Local Tax Revenues Improperly Spent to Support Spaceport America Operations

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

Excess local tax revenues collected to support Spaceport America have been improperly spent on the facility’s operational costs, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has concluded.

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Virgin Galactic Postpones Suborbital Flight Test

Virgin Galactic had planned to fly from Spaceport America in New Mexico as early as Saturday. The company has said there are open dates for the rest of February.

The suborbital flight will include two pilots and a load of microgravity experiments in the passenger cabin. It will be a repeat of a flight that was aborted in December after VSS Unity‘s computer lost contact with the ship’s hybrid engine.

The upcoming flight will be the first of three final suborbital tests of the rocket plane before Virgin Galactic begins flying paying passengers. The company said it might add more flight tests if necessary.

2020 a Busy Year for Suborbital Launches

New Shepard landing on the pad in West Texas on October 13, 2020, with the NASA Lunar Landing Sensor Demo onboard. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Suborbital launch used to be a sleepy field that rarely attracted much public attention. Let’s face it, atmospheric research and student experiments are not front-page news. Sounding rockets don’t have the majesty and power of a Falcon 9 or Atlas V.

In recent years, exciting new entrants in the field and widespread streaming of launches have made suborbital flights exciting. Last year saw important suborbital flight tests by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Skyrora that garnered worldwide interest.

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Virgin Galactic Appoints Seth Zaslow as Vice President of Investor Relations

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) –Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, today announced the appointment of Seth Zaslow as Virgin Galactic’s Vice President of Investor Relations.

Seth will be responsible for leading the Company’s investor relations function. He will serve as the primary liaison between Virgin Galactic and the investment community overseeing all aspects of investor relations policies and initiatives.

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Virgin Galactic Launches Space Advisory Board Led by Chief Space Officer

George Whitesides

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic today announced the establishment of its Space Advisory Board.

The Virgin Galactic Space Advisory Board will provide advice to senior management as the company moves forward to open space for the benefit of all.  The Space Advisory Board, composed of leading experts from the aerospace sector, will be a resource as the company starts commercial spaceflight service and develops next generation vehicles. The Space Advisory Board will also serve as a forum to discuss technical and operational best practices, and provide awareness of opportunities in commercial, civil and government-related markets.

The Space Advisory Board members announced today are:

  • Chris Hadfield – Decorated astronaut, engineer, and test pilot who served as commander of the International Space Station. He has flown to space three times, to the International Space Station and the Russian Space Station Mir.  He has performed two spacewalks and flown over 100 types of aircraft.  He was NASA’s Chief CAPCOM, the voice of Mission Control to astronauts in orbit, for 25 Space Shuttle missions, and served as chief of International Space Station Operations at the NASA Johnson Space Center.
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Virgin Galactic Hopes Fourth Time is a Charm

WhiteKnightTwo takes SpaceShipTwo off the ground. Credit: Virgin Galactic

After an aborted suborbital flight in December and one two years ago that nearly destroyed the ship and killed the three-member crew,* Virgin Galactic will try to put its four-passenger rocket plane into space for a third time later this month from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The flight window will open on February 13 with additional day for the rest of the month. It will carry two pilots and a load of microgravity experiments. The flight will be a repeat of one that aborted in December when SpaceShipTwo’s computer shut down the ship’s engine prematurely.

The flight will test modifications designed to prevent another abort. It will also test improvements to flight controls and horizontal stabilizers. A failure involving the latter nearly destroyed the ship on its second suborbital flight on Feb. 22, 2019.

There have been two fatal accidents during SpaceShipTwo’s development and testing that have killed four people. The accidents included a test stand explosion that killed three engineers and the in-flight breakup of the first SpaceShipTwo that killed the co-pilot.

For more information about the Feb. 22, 2019 flight, see below.

* As Virgin Galactic Crew Celebrated Second Suborbital Flight, Problems Loomed Behind the Scenes, Parabolic Arc

Virgin Galactic ordered safety probe after wing of spacecraft was damaged during 2019 flight, book says, The Washington Post

As Virgin Galactic Crew Celebrated Second Suborbital Flight, Problems Loomed Behind the Scenes

Chief Pilot David Mackay celebrates a successful flight with champagne as Chief Astronaut Beth Moses looks on. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Newly arrived back on Earth after a quick visit to space, Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Beth Moses was effusive as she described the suborbital flight she had just taken aboard the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, VSS Unity.

“Richard, you’re going to love it!” she told Virgin Chairman Richard Branson, who had remotely monitored the Feb. 22, 2019 flight that had taken place over California’s Mojave Desert.

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The Virgin Updates: Orbit Resets Launch Date, Galactic Finds Cause of In-flight Abort

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has rescheduled the second flight of LauncherOne booster for Wednesday, Jan. 13. The flight was originally scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 10. The operation is set to take place from 7-10 a.m. PST (1500-1800 UTC). As always, your local time may vary. Please adjust accordingly.

The modified Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will fly out over the Pacific Ocean and release LauncherOne to the west of San Nicolas Island. The booster, carrying 10 CubeSats for NASA, will ignite its first stage and head to space.

Parabolic Arc will be in Mojave to cover the takeoff and landing. Look for live updates at www.twitter.com/spacecom.

Virgin Orbit’s first attempt to fly LauncherOne ended in failure on May 25, 2020. The rocket’s first stage cut off about four seconds after ignition after a fuel line broke. The booster was carrying a mass simulator.

Meanwhile, sister company Virgin Galactic says it has found the cause of the failure that resulted in an in-flight abort of its SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity in December. The suborbital space plane’s engine shut off after the vehicle’s computer lost contact with it.

The two pilots aboard safely glided the ship back to a landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico. VSS Unity was carrying a load of microgravity experiments for NASA.

Virgin Galactic did not say exactly what exactly caused the computer to lose contact with the engine. Nor did the company set a date for a repeat flight test.

Virgin Galactic has said it plans three additional flight tests of VSS Unity before beginning commercial suborbital tourism flights sometime later this year.

FAA Limits Evaluation of Spaceport Infrastructure Funding Options

U.S. commercial launch sites that are licensed to host or have hosted since 2015, a commercial space launch, as of August 2020 (Credit: GAO)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has rejected a recommendation from a government watchdog that it conduct detailed analysis of a broad range of financing tools for funding infrastructure projects at the nation’s spaceports.

In a report to Congressional committees, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it recommended to the FAA that it analyze the trade-offs of using direct loans, loan guarantees, tax incentives and other tools to increase investment in spaceport infrastructure.

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The Year of the Four Spaceships: Final Report

Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, I went out on a limb and predicted that 2020 could be the Year of the Four Spaceships, with SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic and reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With the disruption and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t the easiest year to get things done. Keeping that in mind, let’s see how the companies did in 2020. (Spoiler Alert: they came up a little short.)

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Virgin Galactic Looks on the Bright Side After Launch Abort

WhiteKnightTwo takes off with SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity from Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a flight 22 months in the making. But, when it came time for the rubber to meet the oxidizer, the whole thing suddenly flamed out.

The hybrid engine on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity failed to fire properly on Saturday, sending the suborbital rocket plane, pilots David Mackay and C.J. Sturckow and a load of NASA-sponsored experiments into a rapid descent and landing back at Spaceport America, instead of a graceful parabolic arc into suborbital space.

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Space Tourism Rewind: Branson & Richardson Announced Spaceport America Deal 15 Years Ago

Early Spaceport America artwork showed facilities built underground. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

New Mexico to spend $225 million
Commercial spaceflight set to begin in 2010
Virgin Galactic to fly 50,000 peassengers in 10 years

SANTE FE, NM, Dec. 14, 2005 (New Mexico Economic Development Department PR) — Governor Bill Richardson and Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Companies, today announced that Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism business, will locate its world headquarters and Mission Control in New Mexico. The agreement between the State of New Mexico and Virgin Galactic calls for New Mexico to build a $225 million spaceport in the southern part of the state, on 27- square miles of state land.

“This is a historic day for our great state, and particularly Southern New Mexico,” said Governor Bill Richardson. “With Virgin at the controls, enthusiasts from around the world will fly to space, routinely and safely, just a few years from now. And they will be flying from the world’s first purpose-built spaceport here in New Mexico. I am excited that New Mexico will be on the ground floor of this new industry, and I know this will mean new companies, more high-wage jobs and opportunities that will move our state’s economy forward.”

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Launch Updates: SpaceX, Virgin Galactic & Rocket Lab Shift Dates

SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity makes first glide flight at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

SpaceX scrubbed the launch of the SXM-7 for SiriusXM satellite radio on Friday morning. The countdown for the Falcon 9 rocket was held at T-30 seconds.

“Standing down from today’s launch attempt to perform additional ground system checkouts; teams are working toward no earlier than Sunday, December 13 for next launch attempt of SXM-7,” SpaceX tweeted.

The window for Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight of SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico opened on Friday. However, the company did not conduct a flight with scientific experiments.

“Good morning from NM. Vehicles and flight crew are ready. Flight window is now open. We will fly no earlier than Saturday. We have range clearance through the weekend and can extend into next week if necessary. Evaluating high-level winds and turbulence. Stay tuned for updates,” Virgin Galactic tweeted.

Rocket Lab has delayed its launch of the StriX-α synthetic aperture radar satellite from New Zealand by a day to Tuesday, Dec. 15 for a rather unusual reason.

“To avoid a solar eclipse that could affect Synspective’s mission, we’re now targeting Dec 15 for launch,” the company tweeted. “When customers request a new T-0, we’re happy to oblige. That’s the beauty of dedicated launch on Electron, our customers get to choose (and change!) their launch time.”

The target lift-off time for the The Owl’s Night Begins mission on Dec. 15 is:

UTC: 09:00-10:59
NZT: 22:00-23:59
JST: 18:00-19:59
PST: 01:00-02:59
EST: 04:00-05:59.

Suborbital Space Again, NASA-supported Tech on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Scientific payloads in SpaceShipTwo cabin (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Nicole Quenelle
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program

EDWARDS, Calif. — Successful space and suborbital technology developments require ingenuity, understanding of mission and science needs, and testing. For many technologies matured with support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, the ability to undergo testing multiple times – and often on different types of commercial flight vehicles – adds the necessary rigor and refinement to advance these innovations.

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