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.
SpaceShipTwo breaks up after the premature deployment of its feather system. (Credit: MARS Scientific/NTSB)
Part 2 of 3
by Douglas Messier
Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography
Oct. 10, 2017
In his new book, Richard Branson recounts that on the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, he was on his private Caribbean island in a state of “schoolboy excitement.” The reason? Three time zones away in California’s Mojave Desert, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites were conducting the longest and most ambitious flight test of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.
Richard Branson and George Whitesides gave out at SpaceShipTwo after it came to a stop. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Now that the second SpaceShipTwo Unity has five glide flights under its belt, the “we’ll fly when we’re ready, we don’t make predictions” era appears to be officially over at Virgin Galactic.
“I certainly would be very disappointed if I don’t go up next year. And I would hope it’s earlier than later in the year,” Richard Branson told British GQ. “The programme says that we should be [testing] in space by December, as long as we don’t have any setbacks between now and then.”
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.
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.
SpaceShipTwo, ready for its closeup. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Ship Entered Inverted Flat Spin Officials Downplayed Incident at Time
Near Disaster Cancelled Glide Flight at Spaceport America
The SpaceShipTwo vehicle that crashed one year ago nearly met its end three years earlier during a hair-raising flight test that officials at builder Scaled Composites and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic downplayed at the time, according to documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Despite Richard Branson’s increasingly dire pronouncements (The Time for Climate Action is Now) about how rising global temperatures and sea levels threaten the planet (and his private island home), it looks as if Virgin Galactic will go back to using a carbon spewing rubber hybrid rocket engine to power SpaceShipTwo.
That’s the word from Virgin Galactic officials in Mojave, who say that the rubber/nitrous oxide engine they previously abandoned is now performing better than the supposedly superior nylon/nitrous oxide engine they abandoned it for in May 2014. It’s not entirely certain, but it looks that way.
Ansari X Prize 10th anniversary panel discussion on Oct. 4, 2014.
One Year Ago, the Ansari X Prize Turned 10 It Was an Uncomfortable Birthday
By Douglas Messier Managing Editor
The planes kept coming and coming. One after another, they swooped out of a blue desert sky and touched down on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port. By mid-morning there were at least a dozen private jets stretched along the flight line running east from the Voyager restaurant toward the control tower. And even more were on their way.
And to what did Mojave owe this ostentatious display of wealth by the 1 percenters? They had come to the sun-splashed spaceport last Oct. 4 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ansari X Prize. A decade earlier, Burt Rutan and his Paul Allen-funded team had won $10 million for sending the first privately-built manned vehicle into space twice within a two-week period.
SpaceShipTwo on a glide flight with WhiteKnightTwo above it. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
Updated with statement from Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides
By Douglas Messier
The chief aerodynamicist credited with designing SpaceShipTwo is departing the program on the eve of a crucial series of flight tests designed that Virgin Galactic hopes will lead to the start of commercial suborbital space tourism operations early next year.
Multiple sources have confirmed that Jim Tighe announced on Thursday that he would be leaving his position as chief aerodynamicist at Scaled Composites in two weeks for a job at an unnamed aerospace company. It is not clear what prompted the move.
Update: Reports indicate Tighe will be working for an aviation start-up based in Silicon Valley.
Editor’s Note: It’s official. Sir Richard has been reassuring the British media that Holly will not be the first person to give birth in space — a rather outlandish idea that some in the press corps over there seem strangely fixated on. Welcome to the world, twins! Now get ready for the 6G re-entry. Bizarre. It would seem that Richard Branson’s daughter Holly will not be joining her famous father […]