Virgin Galactic’s Chief Test Pilot Takes Controls of WhiteKnightTwo for First Time

VG PR — To date, all test flights of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo have been piloted by Scaled Composite’s cadre of talented test pilots.

WhiteKnightTwo took to the air for the 72nd time yesterday (8/31/2011); it was a special flight for Virgin Galactic because at the controls, for the very first time, was our own Chief Test pilot, Dave Mackay. Dave joined Virgin Galactic in 2009 following a high-flying aviation career as an RAF test pilot and a Virgin Atlantic Captain.


Branson: SS2 Will Be a Clean Lean Green Flying Machine has a Q&A with Richard Branson in which the British billionaire promotes the “greener” nature of the WhiteKnightTwo/SpaceShipTwo combo:

We should no longer rely on old, expensive, “dirty” technology to transport satellites into space. The industry must be modernised and made more sustainable, both for financial reasons and for the health of the planet. In response to this challenge, we have been developing a greener solution in Mojave, California — one that will have less impact on the environment and will be more cost effective. Our two-step launch process, which does not employ rockets until the aircraft reaches the stratosphere, uses less energy than other launch systems that rely on rockets to lift off from the ground.


Whitehorn Leaves Virgin Galactic to Focus on “Other Business Interests”

Will Whitehorn gives a pat on the back to Richard Branson as he greets Virgin Galactic ticketholders during the Oshkosh air show in 2009.

Below is Virgin Galactic’s official press release announcing Will Whitehorn’s departure from the company. With traveling and the holidays, I overlooked it until now.

Dec. 23, 2010

Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic since the formation of the company in 2004, is to retire from that role in January 2011. George Whitesides, who was appointed as the first full time CEO in May 2010, assumes the title of President and CEO.


Suborbital Spotlight: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Gear down on SpaceShipTwo. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist has published detailed information about suborbital vehicles that will be available beginning in 2011 for researchers to conduct microgravity experiments. The vehicles are being built by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR.

Today we will look at Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.  The eight-seat suborbital vehicle built by Scaled Composites is currently being tested in Mojave, Calif.


Whitehorn “Hopping Mad” Over Soot Study

The Guardian reports that Virgin Galactic’s Will Whitehorn was “hopping mad” over a recent study indicating that SpaceShipTwo might not be as clean as the company claims:

“The research was fundamentally wrong,” he says. “If you had a Virgin Galactic program running for ten years, if you assumed that we weren’t using biobutinol (which we will) we’re talking about less environmental impact over ten years than 1.5 shuttle launches.”


The Spaceship Company Breaks Ground on Production Facility in Mojave

Gear down. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

Spacecraft factory to break ground in Mojave
Los Angeles Times

A production facility that would build the world’s first fleet of commercial spaceships is set to begin construction Tuesday at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

The 68,000-square-foot facility, one of the first aircraft assembly plants to be built in the region in decades, will be home to the Spaceship Co., or TSC — a joint venture owned by Mojave-based Scaled Composites and British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company.

TSC hopes to complete the complex by September 2011. It expects to build three White Knight aircraft, which resemble massive flying catamarans, and five smaller SpaceShipTwo rocket planes.

Read the full story.

Virgin Galactic Officials Remain Optimistic on Aabar Deal

Richard Branson after his first flight aboard WhiteKnightTwo at the Oshkosh airshow.
Richard Branson after his first flight aboard WhiteKnightTwo at the Oshkosh airshow.

Questions on Security Mar Foreign Investments
The New York Times

Executives at Virgin Galactic, by comparison, say they remain confident they can clear up government concerns about the proposed sale of 32 percent of their venture to Aabar Investments of Abu Dhabi, which is controlled by the government there.


Are Virgin Galactic’s Green Claims Hot Air?

Photo Credit: Sam Coniglio
Virgin Galactic's VMS Enterprise. Photo Credit: Sam Coniglio

The Independent‘s Guy Adams casts a more skeptical eye toward Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism venture, noting problems with Virgin Trains and questioning the environmental claims that are being made:

It’s difficult not to admire the dynamism that brought him to this point. And it was actually rather affecting, at Monday’s unveiling in the Mojave Desert, to meet the “future astronauts” who boldly intend to entrust their lives to a spacecraft developed by a man whose state-of-the-art locomotives are unable to negotiate fallen leaves.


SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo Specs and Flight Profile



The Technology

  • A completely new approach to space access for people, science and payload
  • Air (horizontal) launch from the “WhiteKnight” purpose built aircraft not ground (vertical) launch – intrinsically safer and more environmentally friendly
  • All carbon composite construction (light, strong, resilient and fuel efficient)
  • Hybrid rocket motor uses benign fuel and oxidizer (same rubber and nitrous oxide used for SpaceShipOne) and is controllable – can be shut down at any time during boost phase of flight
  • Re-entry controlled aerodynamically by unique wing feathering design – heat free and carefree
  • Un-powered (glide) runway landing