Virgin Galactic Promises New Mexico that 2018 will be the Year

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic Vice President Richard DalBello was in Sante Fe, NM on Wednesday with an optimistic message about the company’s plans to fly tourists to space from the state-owned Spaceport America.

“We think we’re at the beginning of a very exciting period,” he told a legislative committee in Santa Fe. “We know you’ve waited a long time and we are coming.”

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Update on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses was at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) conference in Las Cruces, NM, this week updating everyone on the company’s effort to fly people into suborbital space aboard SpaceShipTwo.  Meanwhile, the spacecraft’s mother ship flew in to make an appearance at it’s future home, Spaceport America (see video, above).

Unity has been performing very well, sometimes better than models predicted,” Moses said. “Things are right on track where they need to be.”

Next up will be powered flight testing. While Unity is being tested, two more vehicles are being built to increase the fleet once it’s proven in powered flight. That, Moses said, is an indication of Virgin Galactic’s commitment to have multiple vehicles ready when commercial manned flights begin at Spaceport America.

Crews are putting final touches on the propulsion system and “pretty soon” will be evaluating supersonic boost. Virgin founder Richard Branson, in Helsinki last week, told Business Insider “We are hopefully about three months before we are in space, maybe six months before I’m in space.”

When questioned about that statement by ISPCS session moderator Ariane Cornell, Moses took a more conservative tone.

“Richard always poses a challenge, he likes to push us pretty hard,” Moses said. “Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t talk so much. We hope to be in space by the end of this year. We’ll take our time with it. We’re going to fly when we are ready.”

Read the full story.

A Niche in Time: First Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 5 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.

This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.

In other words, it was a perfect day to fly.

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Video About Virgin Galactic Ground Crew

Video Caption: The Virgin Galactic ground crew plays an essential role in our commercial spaceline operations. Meet our spaceship mechanics and watch them prepare our vehicles VSS Unity and VMS Eve for a flight — right up until they pull chocks for taxi and take-off.

Questions Raised Over Brian Cox Documentary on Virgin Galactic & Commercial Space

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By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, Professor Brian Cox traveled here to Mojave with his friends Richard and Sam Branson to watch the third glide flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity.

Bowled over by what he saw even before the suborbital tourism vehicle glided overhead, Cox gave what amounted to a rousing endorsement of Virgin Galactic and SpaceShipTwo to a gathering of company employees.

“People ask me a lot because I’m a space geek and I’m obviously an evangelist for space, ‘Would you fly to space?” Cox said with Richard Branson seated beside him. “And I’ve always said, ‘Well yes and no, because in some sense it’s a dangerous thing to do.’ However, the moment I walked in this hangar and saw that aircraft, I thought, I want to get on that aircraft. So the answer is now is 100 percent yes.”

What was not widely known at the time was that Cox was filming a BBC-commissioned documentary about commercial space. And the company the corporation commissioned to co-produce it, Sundog Pictures, is owned and run by none other than Cox’s good friend, Sam Branson.

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Posey Introduces Legislation to Allow Passengers on Experimental Aircraft

WhiteKnightTwo back safely on the runway after a successful SpaceShipTwo glide flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) has introduced legislation that would authorize experimental aircraft such as WhiteKnightTwo to carry spaceflight participants and crew for training and research purposes.

The measure, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), would enable Virgin Galactic and other operators to avoid the time consuming and expensive process of having their aircraft undergo FAA certification.

WhiteKnightTwo is the carrier aircraft for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital space plane. The company wants to use the vehicle to train spaceflight participants and to conduct microgravity research.

In addition to WhiteKnightTwo, H.R.2571 could open the door for passengers to train aboard retired military jet fighters.

The legislation has been on the wish list of Virgin Galactic and the commercial spaceflight industry for a number of years.

SpaceShipTwo Completes Feathered Glide Flight

Virgin Galactic completed a successful feathered glide flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity this morning. This was Unity’s fourth glide flight and first feather test for Richard Branson’s space line.

Ken Brown and I got some good pictures of the takeoff. Waiting to see if Ken got some good ones of the drop. For this flight, we didn’t have the best vantage point for that, so we’ll have to see what he captured. He’s busy with some other work right now, so maybe later today. I’ll post some Virgin Galactic photos when they release them.

Virgin Galactic was using a drone that was operating at the Mojave Air and Space Port. If it worked as advertised, we can look forward to interesting video of the takeoff and landing.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spacecom. Stay informed on all the breaking space news of the day.

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SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Scheduled for this Morning

SpaceShipTwo glides through the Mojave sky followed by an Extra chase plane. (Credit; Ken Brown)

Word has it that Virgin Galactic has scheduled the fourth glide flight of SpaceShipTwo Unity this morning in Mojave. The test will be the first for Richard Branson’s suborbital space plane in more than two months.

Cell service permitting,  I will be providing coverage of the test at www.twitter.com/spacecom

On the test card for today is deployment of the new spaceship’s redesigned feather system, which re-configures the ship when it returns from space. Unity will be hauled aloft to an altitude of about 50,000 feet by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft Eve.

The premature deployment of the feather system during powered ascent led to the destruction of the first SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during a flight test on Oct. 31, 2014. Scaled Composites pilot Mike Alsbury died in the accident. Virgin Galactic has added a mechanism to the feather system to prevent premature deployment of the feather.

The weather forecast looks good for the flight, with sunny skies and low surface wind speeds.

There’s a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) for the operation of an unmanned aerial system (UAS) at the spaceport from 6 a.m. to noon. It’s not clear who will be operating the system, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Virgin Galactic is aiming to capture video of the flight from the air.

The six-hour period for UAS operations overlaps with the likely window for a SpaceShipTwo flight test. So, it is unlikely that this is a coincidence.

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Opinion: Richard Branson, Brian Cox and the Science of Awesomeness

The Virgin Galactic Show Rolls on Through Season 13
with a Very Special Guest Star

Mojave control tower (Credit: Douglas Messier)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson was back in Mojave last month for the latest episode of The Virgin Galactic Show,  the world’s  longest-running reality program about space travel.

Accompanying the billionaire were his son, Sam, and celebrity scientist and television presenter Brian Cox. GeekWire called the trio a “star studded cast,” a label that was probably more accurate than the writer realized.

The script for this visit was virtually identical to the one used when Richard Branson was here back in early December for the first glide flight of SpaceShipTwo No. 2, Unity.

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SpaceShipTwo Glides Again

SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic's FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight on Dec. 3, 2016. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic’s FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight on Dec. 3, 2016. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Virgin Galactic conducted a second glide flight of SpaceShipTwo here in Mojave this afternoon.

The vehicle was piloted by David Mackay and Mark Stucky.  The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft was piloted by C.J. Sturkow and Nicola Pecile with flight test engineer Dustin Mosher.

This is the second of about a dozen glide flights scheduled for the second SpaceShipTwo. Word is that Virgin Galactic is looking to conduct powered flights by next June.

Photos Gallery: SpaceShipTwo Unity’s First Glide Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo's glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides over the Mojave Desert after being released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Credit; Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo glides through the Mojave sky followed by an Extra chase plane. (Credit; Ken Brown)
SpaceShipTwo glides through the Mojave sky followed by an Extra chase plane. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo comes in for a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo comes in for a landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo rolls to a stop on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo rolls to a stop on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson and George Whitesides gaze out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop on Runway 12. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Richard Branson moves to embrace SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky. To Branson's right in Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson moves to embrace SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky. To Branson’s right is Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic's FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
SpaceShipTwo being towed back to Virgin Galactic’s FAITH hangar after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

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Video: Richard Branson Addresses Crowd Before SpaceShipTwo Glide Flight

Sir Richard Branson ventured out to Mojave Air & Space Port in California for the first glide flight of Virgin Gaalctic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity on Saturday, Dec. 3.

He addressed a crowd of a couple of hundred Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company employees who had gathered near the base of the Mojave control tower to witness the test.

It was the first flight of a SpaceShipTwo vehicle since the first spacecraft Enterprise was destroyed during a powered flight test on Halloween 2014. Unity will undergo a series of glide flights in the months ahead before powered flights begin sometime in 2017.

Keep up with Virgin Galactic and all the latest space news at http://www.parabolicarc.com and http://www.twitter.com/spacecom.

Video: A Festive Atmosphere in Mojave Before SpaceShipTwo Glide Flight

Recorded at the base of the Mojave Air & Space Port’s control tower about 10 minutes before the drop of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity from its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

It was a festive atmosphere as Sir Richard Branson joined employees of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company and their families to watch the flight test.

This was the first flight test of a SpaceShipTwo in more than two years since the first spacecraft broke up during a flight test on Halloween 2014. Virgin Galactic will conduct a series of these tests before moving on to powered flights sometime in 2017.

Keep up with Virgin Galactic and all the latest space news at http://www.parabolicarc.com and http://www.twitter.com/spacecom.

WhiteKnightTwo & SpaceShipTwo Conduct Fourth Captive Carry

The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
The second SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by WhiteKnightTwo on its first captive carry flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo were back in the sky over Mojave on Wednesday for a captive carry flight of about 2.5 hours.  It was a rare afternoon flight test for the vehicles, which are usually flown in the morning.

Virgin Galactic tweeted that the company had made a few tweaks in the spaceship. Richard Branson’s space line did not provide a schedule for the next flight.

The flight test came nearly three months after the pair’s first captive carry on Sept. 8. Virgin Galactic attempted to perform glide flights on Nov. 1 and Nov. 3. The first was canceled after takeoff by high winds at the Mojave Air and Space Port landing site. The second was scrubbed just prior to release by an unspecified technical problem.