Mojave Air & Space Port Adds Rutan Brothers to its Name

Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan pose for a photo in front of the SpaceShip2 resting under the Mothership WhiteKnight2 inside a hangar in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

MOJAVE, Calif. — The Mojave Air and Space Port has renamed itself to honor aviation and space pioneers Burt and Dick Rutan. The facility in California’s High Desert is now known as the Mojave Air and Space Port at Rutan Field.

“Whereas, Burt Rutan and Dick Rutan have made significant contributions in experimental aviation design, fabrication, and flight test at Mojave Air and Space Port, with their combined contributions resulting in first flights of over sixty unique experimental aircraft, including one twenty-year period with an average of a first flight of a new manned research type every eight and a half months,” the Board of Directors said in a resolution passed last month.


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.


Thirteen Years Ago Today in Mojave…

Me on the right with the video camera filming White Knight with SpaceShipOne on the taxiway prior to the first commercial spaceflight. (Credit: John Criswick)

Thirteen years ago I was on the Mojave flight line to watch Mike Melvill make the first private spaceflight aboard SpaceShipOne.

I remember well the excitement of that day, the feeling that a new era of human spaceflight lay right around the corner. Today, there’s really only one thing to say:

All the hype we’ve been listening to for the last 13 years about how great SpaceShipOne and the Ansari X Prize were and what great things they did. Meanwhile, SpaceShipTwo has dragged on longer than the entire Apollo moon program without flying to space. And there have been no other commercial human spaceflights, either.

In terms of inspiration, these things were great. A bit of a disaster from a technological standpoint.


SpaceShipTwo’s PF-04: A High-Risk Flight

Mike Alsbury
Mike Alsbury

Part 1 in a Series

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Mike Alsbury’s day began with a 3 a.m. wake up at his home in Tehachapi, Calif. He showered, dressed and ate a breakfast that likely consisted of an apple and a granola bar.

Alsbury rarely awoke at so early; but this Oct. 31 was a flight test day. That meant a lot of people were getting up early for the latest milestone in the Tier 1B program. At least that’s what they called it at Alsbury’s employer, Scaled Composites. The rest of the world knew it as WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo – the foundation of Sir Richard Branson’s suborbital space tourism program. Scaled built and tested the vehicles for the British billionaire’s spaceline, Virgin Galactic.


White Knight Flies Off Into Retirement

Video Caption: On Monday, July 21, Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection welcomed home a major piece of aviation history to Washington. Video shot by Jim Larsen.

White Knight Heading to Washington State

Scaled Composites' White Knight (Credit: D. Ramey Logan)
Scaled Composites’ White Knight (Credit: D. Ramey Logan)

On Oct. 4, there will be a celebration in Mojave, Calif., of the 10th anniversary of the winning of the Ansari X Prize. It looks as if neither of the vehicles involved in the historic flight will be at the dusty Mojave Air and Space Port for the festivities.

SpaceShipOne, which Brian Binnie flew on the prize-winning flight, was long ago shipped off to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Now, its mother ship, White Knight, will fly off by the middle of the month for eventual display at a museum in Everett, Wash. So reportedly Allison Gatlin in the Antelope Valley Press on Sunday.

White Knight will be displayed as part of the Flying Heritage Collection, which is located in a hangar at Paine Field in Everett, Gatlin reports. The collection is owned by billionaire Paul Allen, who funding the construction of SpaceShipOne and White Knight.

Although SpaceShipOne never flew again after its prize-winning flight, White Knight had been busy as a carrier aircraft for other projects until about 18 months ago. After that, it was shuffled between various Scaled Composites hangars, according to the story.

Mojave Goes Plane Crazy on Saturday with First-Ever Scaled Composites Career Day

Plane Crazy Saturday Featuring Scaled Composites Career Day
and Competitive Robotics Event

Mojave Air and Space Port
Mojave, California
April 21, 2012
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. PDT

The monthly Plane Crazy Saturday event will include Scaled Composites first ever Career Day with static displays of the White Knight and WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, a briefing on flying SpaceShipTwo, a competitive student robotics competition, and the GT Race Car Club on Runway 30. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, with the Voyager restaurant open at 8 a.m.


Parabolas: Virgin on a Roll, Human-Rated ATVs, and Japanese Spaceplanes

Rob Coppinger takes a look at developments in human spaceflight over at his Hyperbola blog, including:

  • Virgin Galactic’s plan to roll out its White Knight carrier aircraft in about two months’ time;
  • EADS-Astrium’s proposal for an ATV-derived capsule, with photos of a mockup unveiled at the Berlin Air Show (the BBC also has a story);
  • a six-person capsule being jointly studied by Europe and Russia for possible launch on the Zenit;
  • Mitsubuishi Heavy Industries‘ reusable space plane roadmap;
  • a proposal for ESA to assist European companies in developing space tourism.

In related news, Virgin Galactic and the National Space Society have announced a new Space Ambassadors program. The program will train people to go forth and spread the word about the great benefits of space exploration, NSS and Virgin Galactic in their communities. One lucky ambassador will get to fly into space aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Virgin and NSS have not decided how the winner will be chosen.

Virgin Galactic Sells First Charter Flight, Plans to Roll Out White Knight 2 in May

Rob Coppinger has posted detailed notes of his January 24 conversation with Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough over at his Hyperbola blog on Flight Global. These notes are in addition to an article that Coppinger wrote examining the company’s business plan and SpaceShipTwo’s rising costs (now estimated at nearly $250 million).

Attenborough had some interesting things to say:

  • The company plans to roll the White Knight 2 carrier aircraft out of the factory in May;
  • Virgin gained 25 new customers in a one-month period from December to January;
  • An American has booked an entire flight as a charter (6 passengers);
  • Many of the space tourists are in their 40’s and 50’s and were inspired by the Apollo program;
  • Six customers have asked for refunds, two for health reasons and the rest due to “changing circumstances.”

Space Ship Two: Eerily Familiar…

Live Science’s Dave Brody looks at the similarities between Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and White Knight suborbital tourism system and previous Russian proposal for a similar vehicle. He finds some eerie similarities…..