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7JetSet7 Code: VGC
Status: Operational
Country: USA

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VGC-2014-10 - SS2 CRASH-A
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VGC-2014-10 - SS2 CRASH-C
VGC-2014-10 - SS2 CRASH-D
VGC-2015-05 - SpaceShipTwo Progress.jpg
VGC-2015-07 - SS2 Accident Report-A.jpg
VGC-2015-07 - SS2 Accident Report-B.jpg
VGC-2015-09 - Update Meeting.jpg
VGC-2015-10 - Progress Update-A.jpg
VGC-2015-10 - Progress Update-B.jpg
VGC-2015-12 - Cosmic Girl 747-400.jpg
VGC-2016-05 - Possible Life.jpg
VGC-2018-07 Italy Space Deal.jpg
VGC-2018-08 SPACESHIP 2 SS2 Cockpit.jpg

July 2008: See video of animation of a Virgin Galactic (VGC) flight

March 2009: The Virgin Galactic (VGC) SpaceShipTwo experimental prototype carrier airplane WhiteKnight Two, called "Virgin Galactic MotherShip Eve" is to fly publicly for the first time at this year's Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture air show in Oshkosh in July.

March 2010: See video of Virgin Galactic (VGC) closer to launch - -

October 2010: The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) dedicated the nearly two-mile long “Governor Bill Richardson Spaceway” at Spaceport America, representing significant progress toward launching commercial customers into space from the desert of New Mexico. Governor Bill Richardson, Sir Richard Branson and approximately 30 of more than >380 Virgin Galactic (VGC) future astronauts attended the event along with guests from around the world and watched a flyover and landing by Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s WhiteKnightTwo, in a captive carry with SpaceShipTwo. - - SEE PHOTO - - "VGC-VSS ENTERPRISE-2010-10."

“We are celebrating the world’s first spaceway at the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport,” said Governor Richardson. “New Mexico is not only helping to launch the commercial spaceflight industry, but we are launching new jobs and opportunities for the people of southern New Mexico. Today marks a significant milestone on our historic and exciting journey.”

The nearly two-mile long runway was officially named the “Governor Bill Richardson Spaceway” at the event, and Governor Richardson joined Sir Richard in placing their handprints in clay as a permanent commemoration of the historic day. Chairman, Ben Woods said the board of the (NMSA) had met to formally and unanimously approve the name of the spaceway.

Sir Richard Branson commented, “It is incredible to be here with Governor Richardson and be part of the runway dedication at Spaceport America. To see for myself how far the construction has come from when I last visited New Mexico is truly inspiring – I for one can’t wait for the grand opening – today has brought it one step closer to reality for me. The last few weeks have been some of the most exciting in Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s development. Our spaceship is flying beautifully and will soon be making powered flights, propelled by our new hybrid rocket motor, which is also making excellent progress in its own test program. The investment deal with our new partners Aabar has successfully closed, securing funding for the remainder of the development program and we are seeing unprecedented numbers of people coming forward to secure their own reservations for this incredible experience. To be here in New Mexico to witness this historic moment is the perfect end to a great month.”

Governor Richardson, Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Galactic (VGC) future astronauts and the guests were all invited to tour the terminal hangar facility, which is nearing completion. The iconic building, meeting Gold LEED standards, will serve as the operating hub for Virgin Galactic (VGC) and is expected to house up to two WhiteKnightTwos and five SpaceShipTwos, in addition to all of Virgin’s astronaut preparation facilities and mission control.

Held immediately following the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS), the Spaceport America Runway Dedication marked the culmination of “Space Week” in New Mexico, and was made possible in part thanks to premier event sponsors Summit West Construction, Gerald Martin Construction Management, AECOM, Molzen-Corbin, Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the New Mexico Tourism Department. Other speakers at the event included: Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator of (NASA); George Whitesides, (CEO) of Virgin Galactic (VGC); Patricia Hynes, Executive Director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium; and Rick Homans, Executive Director of the (NMSA).

Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator of (NASA), said, “With the recent signing of the (NASA) Authorization Act of 2010 by President Obama, it is clear that our nation’s future space efforts will be working even more closely than with the growing commercial space transportation industry,“ She added, ”Innovative approaches that foster this new commercial industry will bring more competition and opportunities that will lower the costs of spaceflight and payload services for America’s aerospace programs, and introduce new human space transportation systems.”

The 42-inch thick spaceway is designed to support nearly every type of aircraft in the world today. It is made up of 24 inches of prepared sub-grade, followed by four inches of asphalt, and finished with a 14-inch layer of concrete. The spaceway will accommodate returning launch vehicles, fly-back rocket boosters and other space launch and training vehicles.

Spaceport America has been providing commercial launch services since 2006. The state-of-the-art launch facility is under construction near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and is expected to become fully operational in 2011. Officials at Spaceport America have been working closely with their anchor tenant Virgin Galactic (VGC) and other leading aerospace firms such as Lockheed Martin, Moog-FTS, Armadillo Aerospace, and UP Aerospace to develop commercial spaceflight at the new facility. The economic impact of launches, tourism and new construction at Spaceport America are already delivering on its promise to the people of New Mexico.


May 2011: More exciting news from Virgin Galactic (VGC) at Mojave, USA! At 7 am, SpaceShipTwo touched down safely having completed a second “feather” flight. One further glide flight, potentially within the next week or so, will see the completion of an unprecedented period of successful test flight activity (six flights in around a month) and herald the start of a couple of months of slightly less visible activity.

Scaled has amassed a wealth of data and experience from the recent flurry of test flights which is now undergoing thorough analysis. Engineers will be addressing any issues arising from this, as well as performing detailed vehicle checks as they prepare the spaceship and carrier airplane for the next phase of flight testing. SEE ATTACHED PHOTO - - "VGC-2011-05-VIRGIN GALACTIC TEST FLIGHT."


September 2011: The Spaceship Company (TSC), the aerospace production joint venture (JV) of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic (VGC) and Scaled Composites, achieved a significant milestone in making commercial space travel a reality with the opening of its Final Assembly, Integration & Test Hangar, or (FAITH), at Mojave Air & Space Port. The $8 million, modern, energy-efficient hangar supports the final stages of production for prime customer Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) and SpaceShipTwo (SS2), and will add new jobs to the commercial space industry at spaceports in Mojave and New Mexico.

Commenting on the grand opening, Virgin Group Founder, Sir Richard Branson said, “Today marks another important step along the road to opening space for everyone. We’re extremely proud of the new (FAITH) building, which is the world’s first facility dedicated to producing private, commercial manned space vehicles. From this hangar, the talented team at The Spaceship Company (TSC) will be at the forefront of making space access safe, reliable and affordable.”

Located on taxiway-B, (FAITH) is a 68,000-square-foot, (LEED)-certified facility that will be used primarily for the final assembly, integration and testing of (TSC) vehicles before they are delivered to their customers. (FAITH) will also be used to support major return-to-base vehicle maintenance, and serve as the (TSC)’s operating headquarters.

“We take great pride in the opening of (FAITH) as an accomplishment for our company, our current and future customers and our industry,” said The Spaceship Company (TSC) Vice President, Operations, Enrico Palermo. “Within this new facility, we will produce the highest quality commercial spaceflight systems.”

(FAITH) completes the infrastructure needed to manufacture a fleet of (TSC)’s two core products: the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) sub-orbital spaceship and the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier airplane. The facility is specifically sized to support fabrication of (SS2) and (WK2) with room to produce at least two of each ship at the same time.

“Not only are we welcoming a new neighbor at the Mojave Air & Space Port today, we’re ushering in another phase in the development of commercial space travel,” said President Scaled Composites, Doug Shane. “It’s exciting to see the vision becoming a reality.”

(FAITH) was completed within 10 months, as scheduled, and on budget by Bakersfield-based Wallace & Smith General Contractors. It is one of two facilities that (TSC) will use to produce commercial spacecraft. The other is a 48,000-square-foot existing building at the Mojave Air & Space Port that (TSC) recently upgraded to serve as the company’s fabrication and vehicle sub-assembly facility. (TSC) has secured options to expand the size of the (FAITH) facility and build an adjacent flight test hangar, as the customer base grows.

The opening of (FAITH) also means a boost to our local economies with impact in California and New Mexico. (TSC) currently employs over >80 people and is looking to double its workforce within the next year, with numerous high-tech and engineering positions available in the next 90 days.

“Despite the current state of the USA economy and rising unemployment, this is a strong time of growth for The Spaceship Company (TSC),” Palermo said. “We are creating excellent, high-skilled job opportunities for individuals with aerospace, engineering and hands-on space program experience. We want employees who are passionate about developing new and innovative ways of accessing space.”


To date, all test flights of WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) and SpaceShipTwo (SS2) have been piloted by Scaled Composite’s cadre of talented test pilots. WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) took to the air for the 72nd time last month; it was a special flight for Virgin Galactic (VGC) because at the controls, for the very first time, was Chief Test pilot, Dave Mackay. Dave joined Virgin Galactic (VGC) in 2009 following a high-flying aviation career as an (RAF) (RRR) test pilot and a Virgin Atlantic (VAA) Captain.

Speaking from Mojave after a successful flight, Dave said:
“It was really interesting to finally sample this amazing machine at first hand and to begin to get to know it properly. There is no doubt its performance is truly remarkable and although there may be some challenges in operating such an unconventional airplane, working around those in return for its designed-in simplicity and reliability is a trade I’d always be willing to accept. I was able to fly WhiteKnight (WK2) through the full extent of its flight envelope (to its maximum altitude, speed and crosswind limit) so it was a very thorough first look. I hope to get to know it even better in the next few weeks and months but I am delighted to be able to say that Virgin Galactic (VGC) has got itself an exceptional airplane.”

Sir Richard Branson hopes to launch a vessel into space within the next 12 months, kicking off an era of commercial space travel. “The mother ship is finished. The rocket tests are going extremely well, and so I think that we’re now on track for a launch within 12 months of today,” he told television's (CNN)’s Piers Morgan this month. “This could be the beginning of a whole new era of space travel, which will be commercial space travel.”

His company, Virgin Galactic (VGC), hopes to one day send people into space and launch satellites for a fraction of the cost of government-run programs, as well as eventually offering high-speed intercontinental flights. “About an hour between Los Angeles and London is not completely out of the question,” Branson said, adding that it will likely take many years before the company can offer such a service.

In the meantime, Virgin (VAA) has sold some 430 tickets for space travel (at $200,000 a pop) for an estimated $86 million. “It’s not a cheap thing to build a spaceship company and it’s been fantastic to have people all over the world sign up,” Branson said.

The company plans to begin by taking tourists on sub orbital flights before eventually soaring higher. Branson has said in the past he hopes to one day build a hotel in space.

A number of private companies are rushing to fill the gap left by (NASA), which ended its 30-year shuttle program in July with the completion of the final Atlantis mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Earlier this year, the the USA Space Agency distributed nearly $270 million in seed money to four companies (Boeing (TBC), SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin) to boost their bids to be first in the new space era.

October 2011: Virgin Galactic (VGC) announced the appointment of former (NASA) Executive, Michael P Moses as the VP of Operations. Just days prior to the dedication of the company’s operational headquarters at Spaceport America in New Mexico, (VGC) has named the highly respected human space flight leader to oversee the planning and execution of all operations at the site of the company’s commercial suborbital spaceflight program.

Following a distinguished career in (NASA)’s recently-retired Space Shuttle Program, Moses brings to Virgin Galactic (VGC) a proven record of safe, successful and secure human spaceflight missions, spaceport operations, and human spaceflight program leadership. He served at the (NASA) Kennedy Space Center in Florida as the Launch Integration Manager from 2008 until the landing of the final Shuttle mission in July 2011. He was responsible for supervising all Space Shuttle processing activities from landing through launch, and for reviewing major milestones including final readiness for flight.

He also served as chair of the Mission Management Team and provided ultimate launch decision authority for the final 12 missions of the Space Shuttle Program, directly overseeing the safe and successful flights of 75 astronauts.

Moses will develop and lead the team responsible for (VGC) spaceship operations and logistics, flight crew operations, customer training, and spaceport ground operations, with overall operational safety and risk management as the primary focus.

“Bringing Mike in to lead the team represents a significant investment in our commitment to operational safety and success as we prepare to launch commercial operations,” said (VGC) President & CEO, George Whitesides. “His experience and track record in all facets of spaceflight operations are truly unique. His forward-thinking perspective to bring the hard-won lessons of human spaceflight into our operations will benefit us tremendously.”

Prior to his most recent (NASA) role, Moses served as a Flight Director at the (NASA) Johnson Space Center, where he led teams of Flight Controllers in the planning, training and execution of all aspects of Space Shuttle missions. Before being selected as a Flight Director in 2005, Moses had over >10 years experience as a Flight Controller in the Shuttle Propulsion and Electrical Systems Groups.

Moses said, “I am extremely excited to be joining (VGC) at this time, helping to forge the foundations that will enable routine commercial suborbital spaceflights. (VGC) will expand the legacy of human spaceflight beyond traditional government programs into the world’s first privately funded commercial spaceline.”

Moses holds a bachelors degree in Physics from Purdue University, a masters degree in space sciences from Florida Institute of Technology and a masters degree in aerospace engineering from Purdue University. He is a two-time recipient of the (NASA) Outstanding Leadership Medal as well as other (NASA) commendations and awards.

Looking skyward, more than >800 guests marveled at Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s commercial space vehicles as they soared through the skies of southern New Mexico during the dedication ceremonies of (VGC)'s new home at Spaceport America. The flight of WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo was the highlight of a spectacular ceremony which featured the dedication of the Sir Norman Foster-designed building and announcements of new scientific and educational customers for the world’s first commercial space line.

“Today is another history-making day for (VGC),” said Sir Richard Branson. “We are here with a group of incredible people who are helping us lead the way in creating one of the most important new industrial sectors of the 21st century. We’ve never wavered in our commitment to the monumental task of pioneering safe, affordable and clean access to space, or to demonstrate that we mean business at each step along the way.”

Branson and his children, Sam and Holly, who will be the first commercial passengers on SpaceShipTwo, brought the event to a spectacular conclusion by officially naming the world’s first purpose-built spaceline terminal as the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” while rappelling together from the roof of the striking new building.

“I trust that will be the first of many safe landings at Spaceport America! What an absolute joy to celebrate the naming of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space with Governor Martinez!” said Sir Richard, as the family touched the ground.

The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, a combined terminal and hangar facility, will support up to two WhiteKnightTwo and five SpaceShipTwo vehicles. In addition, The Gateway will house all of the company’s astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control center, and a friends and family area. There is also space committed to public access via the planned New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s Visitor Experience.

The iconic 120,000 square-foot building, which meets LEED Gold standards for environmental quality, was designed by world-renowned United Kingdom-based Foster + Partners, along with (URS) Corporation and local New Mexico architects (SMPC). The trio won an international competition in 2007 to build the first private spaceport in the world.

Built using local materials and regional construction techniques, the facility is sustainable with few additional energy requirements due to the use of a range of sustainable features including geothermal heating and cooling.

New Mexico Governor, Susana Martinez participated in the dedication ceremony with US Congressman, Steve Pearce, representing New Mexico’s 2nd District.

(VGC) (CEO) & President, George Whitesides said the company continues to make excellent and unequalled progress, under the motto ‘safety is our North Star.’ Whitesides remarked, “Flight testing by prime contractor Scaled Composites is progressing very well, with 30 SpaceShipTwo flights and 75 WhiteKnightTwo flights to date. We are also recruiting aggressively and assembling a highly talented and accomplished workforce focused on safe commercial operations led by VP Operations, Mike Moses, who will run our efforts at the spaceport.”

In addition, (VGC) is taking steps to expand its mission beyond commercial space tourism. (VGC) recently announced that it had been awarded a contract under (NASA)’s Flight Opportunity Program for research flights to a potential value of $4.5 million. During the ceremony, it was announced that new flight reservations have been made by research and education institutions to support research initiatives and inspire students. Purdue University, Space Florida, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, and Southwest Research Institute were recognized as the most recent participants in this new growth area for (VGC).

“For me, my children and our ever growing community of future astronauts, many of whom are with us today, standing in front of the Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space as it glimmers majestically under the New Mexican sun brings our space adventure so close we can almost taste it,” said Sir Richard.

Present for the dedication ceremony were over 150 (VGC) customers from 21 countries who have already made deposits to fly to space. A total of over >450 future astronauts worldwide have signed on to join Virgin Galactic (VGC) for a voyage into space.

From an intense selection process with more than >500 applicants including some of the best pilots (FC) in the world, Virgin Galactic (VGC) has selected former USAF test pilot (FC) Keith Colmer as the first astronaut pilot (FC) to join the commercial spaceline’s flight team. Colmer will join Chief Pilot, David Mackay to begin flight training and testing, leading to operational missions to space with (VGC)’s revolutionary vehicles, WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. Additional selections will be made as the company nears commercial operations.

Colmer brings 12 years of operational, developmental and experimental airplane test flight experience plus more than >10 years of combined military experience in USAF spacecraft operations and flying. He has logged over >5000 hours in over >90 different types of airplanes. He will report to Mackay and VP Operations, Mike Moses, as (VGC) prepares to undertake powered test flights, leading soon thereafter to commercial operations.

“Keith brings the kind of tremendous multi-dimensional talent and skill set that we are looking for in our astronaut pilots,” said President & CEO, George Whitesides. “But equally important to us are his impeccable character and his outstanding record of high caliber performance in highly demanding environments. He sets the bar very high for others to come.”

Following completion of USAF pilot training, he served as a combat F-16 pilot in the Colorado Air National Guard, with two combat tours to Iraq. Colmer was then selected as an operational test pilot, managing various sensor and electronic warfare flight test programs for the F-16, at the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command Test Center (AATC) in Tucson, Arizona.

He then became the first Air National Guard pilot ever selected to attend the USAF Test Pilot School, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He served as Operations Officer for the 416th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, where he led F-16, F-15 and T-38C flight test operations, specializing in high angle of attack flight test and training on the F-16. Keith then completed two classified assignments, finishing his active duty tour as a Combined Test Force Director and Squadron Commander for a classified program.

Colmer is the recipient of the Order of Daedalians Orville Wright Achievement Award, as the outstanding pilot training graduate in 1989, the Aaron C George Award from the USAF Test Pilot School, the Lieutenant General Bobby Bond Memorial Aviator Award and the Lieutenant General Howard Leaf “Test Team of the Year Award” for the United States Air Force.

Colmer, whose aviator call sign is “Coma,” joins an elite team in Mojave, California, where Scaled Composite’s test pilots and Mackay have been putting WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo through an exhaustive series of test flights to fully explore and quantify the performance profiles of the two revolutionary vehicles.

“This team in Mojave is second to none,” said Mackay about Scaled Composite’s test pilots. “Keith and I are indeed fortunate to have their expertise and body of work to build on as we enter the final phases of the test program and prepare to open space to all.”

“I am extremely honored to have been the first astronaut pilot selected through competition to join the team,” said Colmer. “(VGC) is truly revolutionizing the way we go to space, and I am looking forward to being a part of that.”

Colmer has a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has both a Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering and a Masters degree in Telecommunications from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is a graduate of the USAF Undergraduate Space Training program, the Euro-(NATO) Joint Jet Pilot Training Program and USAF Test Pilot School, Class 02A.

December 2011: Virgin Galactic (VGC) believes that providing researchers and their experiments affordable, routine, and safe access to space is a core part of their mission. The same novel and innovative features that make SpaceShipTwo the ideal vehicle to carry private passengers into space also make it a versatile and attractive research platform that we know will allow scientists, engineers, educators, and others to collect data and study questions in a way they have never before been able to do. The large volume and weight capacity, high apogee, and high flight rate of the (WK2) and (SS2) allow (VGC) to offer a unique capability for payload and technology development in the upper atmosphere, outer space and microgravity environments.

As it enters into licensed commercial operations, Virgin Galactic (VGC) will offer two main types of research flights on board SpaceShipTwo:

1) One type of flight offers researchers (whether they be academic or corporate, scientists or engineers, teachers or students) the opportunity to board SpaceShipTwo and fly to space with their experiments, becoming astronauts themselves as they conduct their research.

2) Other flights will carry only payloads. On these dedicated payload flights, as much as 1300 pounds/600 kg worth of payloads will be mounted to our payload rack system, which takes the place of the seats normally in place for our astronaut customers. This system accommodates leading standards for mounting space experiments such as CubeSats, Mid-Deck Lockers, and 19 inch equipment racks; in addition, special payload sizes will be accommodated on a case-by-case basis. A Virgin Galactic (VGC) Flight Test Engineer will be available on these flights to monitor and interact with the payloads as required.

To learn more about the research environment and interface requirements for SpaceShipTwo, please download the (VGC) Payload Users’ Guide.

Eventually, (VGC) expects that WhiteKnightTwo (the mothership used to carry SpaceShipTwo aloft on each mission) to also become available for researcher and payload flights. With its unique capabilities, including the ability to carry large payloads and to loiter at altitudes greater than >50,000 feet/15 km for extended durations, WhiteKnightTwo also offers an attractive research platform. Additionally, WhiteKnightTwo may prove to be a useful stepping stone for researchers planning flights aboard SpaceShipTwo; with the cabins of the two vehicles being functionally identical, including the rack systems. More information about research flights aboard WhiteKnightTwo will be made available in the future; inquiries and requests are welcomed via email sent to

If interested in flying your researchers or payloads on board the revolutionary SpaceShipTwo platform, please send an email to

Potential payload providers are also encouraged to visit the website of (NASA)’s Flight Opportunities Program and their recent Announcement of Flight Opportunities Announcement of Flight Opportunities. Through this program, (NASA) has chartered as many as three full flights of SpaceShipTwo to provide opportunities for engineers, technologists, and scientific researchers to fly cutting-edge experiments in suborbital space. (NASA) will be responsible for selecting proposals from among those contributed through the Announcement of Flight Opportunities; winning proposals will have the cost of their flight covered by (NASA). Other (NASA) or (NSF) programs may cover the cost of payload development or data analysis.

The announcement from Paul Allen and Burt Rutan ( represents the latest chapter in the extraordinary story of commercial space. The initial collaboration between the two men produced SpaceShipOne and gave Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic (VGC) the confidence to make the significant investment required to commercialize the prototype technology, thus creating the world’s first spaceline. With that project nearing completion and (VGC) on the cusp of offering safe and commercially viable suborbital space flight for the very first time, it is exciting to see such a credible consortium now seeking to continue the heritage of air-launched space access towards the significant challenge of orbital flight.

(VGC) has established itself as the lead operator of private sector manned spaceflight and as such is building a body of knowledge, expertise and assets, all of which will be invaluable as we assess the commercial opportunities that emerging technologies present. We therefore look forward to working closely with Stratolaunch Systems as the project unfolds over the coming years.

Commenting on the announcement, Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic (VGC) said: “I very much welcome this announcement from Paul and Burt. It takes me back to the exciting conversations the three of us had in 2004 when we first started talking about commercializing SpaceShipOne technology. We’ve come a long way since then; WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo are built and flying and we have nearly 500 private individuals and science researchers signed up and ready to fly. The potential of the industry we are leading is immense but will depend on the continuing emergence of truly safe, affordable and transformative technologies. Burt and Paul’s record in that respect is unmatched. I hope that in due course, in partnership with Stratolaunch Systems and others, we will be able to repeat the pattern that has worked so spectacularly well in the suborbital sphere, for orbital spaceflight.”


Stratolaunch Systems, a Paul G Allen project, is developing an air-launch system that will revolutionize space transportation by providing orbital access to space at lower costs, with greater safety and more flexibility. Delivering payloads in the 10,000 lbs class into low earth orbit, the system allows for maximum operational flexibility and payload delivery from several possible operational sites, while minimizing mission constraints such as range availability and weather.

The air-launch system is made up of four primary elements: a carrier airplane, a multi-stage booster, a mating and integration system, and an orbital payload. Initial efforts will focus on unmanned payloads; however, human flights will follow as safety, reliability, and operability are demonstrated.

Stratolaunch Systems has assembled a team of innovative aerospace leaders to build and deliver a commercial air launch system.

Scaled Composites will build the carrier airplane; SpaceX will provide the booster and space launch mission design and mission integration services; Dynetics will provide program management and systems engineering and integration, as well as test and operations support to Stratolaunch Syatems; Dynetics will also build the mating and integration system hardware. Stratolaunch Systems headquarters are in Huntsville, Alabama, and its airplane hangar is in Mojave, California.

Carrier Airplane

The carrier airplane, built by Scaled Composites, weighs more than >1.2 million pounds and has a wingspan of 385 feet – greater than the length of a football field. Using six 747 engines, the carrier airplane will be the largest airplane ever constructed. The air-launch system requires a takeoff and landing runway that is, at minimum, 12,000 feet long. The carrier airplane can fly over >1,300 nautical miles to reach an optimal launch point.

Multi-Stage Booster

SpaceX’s multi-stage booster is derived from the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. At approximately 120 feet long, the booster is designed to loft the payload into low earth orbit. After release of the booster from the airplane at approximately 30,000 feet, the first stage engines ignite and the spacecraft begins its journey into space. After the first stage burn and a short coast period, the second stage ignites and the orbital payload proceeds to its planned mission. The booster’s health and status during flight is monitored from the carrier airplane and on the ground.

Mating and Integration System (MIS)

Built by Dynetics, the mating and integration system (MIS) provides the single interface between the carrier airplane and the booster. The (MIS) includes all systems required for the booster to interface with the carrier airplane, including mechanical, electrical, thermal, fluids, and gases. The (MIS) is designed to safely and securely carry a booster weighing up to roughly 500,000 pounds. The MIS will secure the booster to the carrier airplane, from taxiing to flight maneuvers to release of booster. In the case of a mission abort, the (MIS) will keep the booster secure during return to base and landing.

May 2012: Virgin Galactic (VGC), the world’s first commercial spaceline, announced that its vehicle developer, Scaled Composites (Scaled), has been granted an experimental launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for its suborbital spacecraft, SpaceshipTwo, and the carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo.

“This important milestone enables our team to progress to the rocket-powered phase of test flight, bringing us a major step closer to bringing our customers to space,” said George Whitesides, President & (CEO) of (VGC). “We thank the (FAA) for their timely issuance of this permit, and for their responsible oversight of the test program.”

Already, SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo have made significant progress in their flight test program. With 80 test flights completed, WhiteKnightTwo is substantially through its test plan, while the more recently constructed SpaceShipTwo has safely completed sixteen free flights, including three that tested the vehicle’s unique “feathering” re-entry system. Additionally, ten test firings of the full scale SpaceShipTwo rocket motor, including full duration burns, have been safely and successfully completed. With this permit now in hand, Scaled is now authorized to press onward towards rocket-powered test flights. In preparation for those powered flights, SpaceShipTwo will soon return to flight, testing the aerodynamic performance of the spacecraft with the full weight of the rocket motor system on board. Integration of key rocket motor components, already begun during a now-concluding period of downtime for routine maintenance, will continue into the autumn. Scaled expects to begin rocket powered, supersonic flights under the just-issued experimental permit toward the end of the year. “The Spaceship program is making steady progress, and we are all looking forward to lighting the vehicle’s rocket engine in flight for the first time,” said Doug Shane, President of Scaled.

Although a handful of experimental launch permits have been granted to other rockets, SpaceShipTwo is the first rocket-powered vehicle that carries humans on board to receive such a permit. SpaceShipOne, the manned spaceship successfully flown to space in 2004 and the basis for the design of SpaceShipTwo, flew before the Experimental Permit regulatory regime was established.

The (FAA)’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation issues permits after it has determined that the vehicle operator has taken the appropriate steps to protect the public during testing. Permitees must submit detailed plans for vehicle design and operation in order to ensure that all possible scenarios have been addressed.

July 2012: During the Farnborough International Air Show 2012, Virgin Galactic (VGC), the world’s first commercial spaceline, announced “LauncherOne”, a new air-launched rocket specifically designed to deliver small satellites into orbit. With substantial funding already raised from (VGC)’s partner, aabar Investments PJS, and with commercial flights of this new orbital launch vehicle expected to begin by 2016, (VGC) aims to offer frequent and dedicated launches at the world’s lowest prices. (VGC) also announced that four private companies have already put down deposits as future LauncherOne customers, expressing their intent to purchase a total of several dozen launches, which would exceed the level of early commitment of any previous new launch vehicle.

At the same event, (VGC) Founder, Sir Richard Branson revealed that (VGC) has now accepted deposits for suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo from 529 future astronauts, a number greater than the total count of people who have been to space throughout human history. This news comes following a flurry of recent test activity and confirmation that all major components of SpaceShipTwo’s rocket system have been qualified for powered flight, on track to begin before the year’s end.

“(VGC)’s goal is to revolutionize the way we get to space,” Branson said. “I’m immensely proud of what we have already achieved as we draw near to regular suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo. Now, LauncherOne is bringing the price of satellite launch into the realm of affordability for innovators everywhere, from start-ups and schools to established companies and national space agencies. It will be a critical new tool for the global research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more quickly and affordably.”

LauncherOne will be a two-stage vehicle capable of carrying up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit for prices below $10 million. The rocket will be launched from (VGC)’s proven WhiteKnightTwo, the uniquely capable airplane also designed to carry SpaceShipTwo aloft to begin her suborbital missions. Thanks to the extreme flexibility of air launch, (VGC)’s customers will enjoy reduced infrastructure costs in addition to the wide range of possible launch locations tailored to individual mission requirements and weather conditions. Branson and other senior executives announced that work has already begun on the vehicle.

“(VGC) continues to innovate space access, and LauncherOne is a key step in its successful commercialization,” said Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny, (CEO) of aabar Investments (PJS). “This development promises to redefine the small satellite market and to promote new research and education opportunities. aabar is proud to be partnering in this exciting journey by continuing to support (VGC) and its initiatives.”

Several LauncherOne customers were recognized at the event, representing a broad range of commercial satellite applications. Those named were Skybox Imaging (Skybox), a Silicon Valley-based firm that recently announced it has raised $91 million for a high resolution imaging constellation; GeoOptics Inc, a USA-based company developing a constellation of non-imaging remote sensing satellites; Spaceflight, Inc, the aggregator and integrator of small satellites; and Planetary Resources, Inc, the newly-announced, billionaire-backed asteroid mining venture.

Speaking at the event, Skybox (CEO), Tom Ingersoll said, “Skybox’s objective is to provide world-class, affordable access to space imagery and information, and in order to do so, we need world-class, affordable access to space. (VGC) is unique in having the right mix of ingredients to support our vision, as well as that of the growing small satellite community. We plan to make full use of LauncherOne.”

Also today, two world leaders in small satellite manufacturing, Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Space Systems, announced that they would create optimized satellite designs to match LauncherOne’s performance specifications. These optimized designs will allow customers to maximize the capability and minimize the time to market for their satellites. Sir Martin Sweeting, the founder of Surrey Satellite, spoke at the event about the growing potential of the small satellite industry.

“Small satellite launch is an area ripe for disruption,” said (VGC) (CEO), George Whitesides. “Miniaturized satellite components and constrained budgets are driving commercial clients, academic users and government agencies all to clamor for an affordable, dedicated launch vehicle. Now, thanks to aabar’s investment, our existing capabilities, and the expert team we’ve already assembled, we’re prepared to fill that void by bringing LauncherOne to market.”

Richard Branson announced that he and his family would be on (VGC)’s first trip into space. Branson was showcasing a mock-up of his SpaceShipTwo (SS2) airplane. “Next year, (daughter) Holly and (son) Sam will be joining me for a first voyage into space” under the (VGC) space tourism program. “Going into space is a hard business. It keeps my mind buzzing.”

Around 120 people have signed up to make the 60 mile/96 km, two-hour journey into space — at a cost of £128,000/$200,000/162,000 euros) each.

“(VGC)’s goal is to revolutionize the way we get to space,” Branson said.

October 2012: Virgin Galactic (VGC), the world’s first commercial spaceline, today announced that it has taken 100% ownership of its sister company, The Spaceship Company (TSC), by acquiring the 30% stake held by Scaled Composites (Scaled) since (TSC)’s formation under a joint venture (JV) with Virgin Galactic (VGC).

This acquisition, details of which are not being disclosed, marks the successful completion of a long-term strategy and signifies the end of the first phase of (TSC)’s development. During this development phase, (TSC) completed the build out of manufacturing and assembly facilities in Mojave, California, established a specialized workforce, and transitioned necessary assets from Scaled in order to begin building Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s commercial fleet of WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft and SpaceShipTwo (SS2) manned sub-orbital spacecraft. These vehicles will be utilized for (VGC)’s planned spaceline operations which will be based at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.

The completion of the acquisition comes as (VGC) and Scaled begin to plan the handover of the SS2 development program to Virgin Galactic (VGC), with Scaled remaining fully committed to the final portion of the (WK2) and (SS2) test flight programs prior to (VGC) commencing commercial operations.

November 2012: Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, dropped into his Mojave, California-based Virgin Galactic (VGC) space company as part of a visit to the Los Angeles area. During his visit, Sir Richard, accompanied by his daughter, Holly, toured the extensive facilities and met informally with the Mojave-based workforce now numbering more than >175 (VGC) employees. Sir Richard announced to staff that (VGC)’s Mojave-based sister organization, The Spaceship Company, which will manufacture and assemble a fleet of commercial space vehicles, is to be renamed and brought under the Virgin Galactic brand.

Sir Richard’s visit to the Mojave Air and Space Port included a meeting with the team from Mojave-based Scaled Composites (Scaled). Scaled developed (VGC)’s commercial vehicles, WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) and SpaceShipTwo (SS2), both of which are in the latter stages of their test flight program. Sir Richard congratulated the hi-tech teams from (VGC) and Scaled on their achievements in producing and testing (WK2) and (SS2), bringing his vision of affordable manned access to space to reality. He then met with (VGC) Engineering and design staff and enjoyed a preview of the yet-to-be-revealed spaceship interior. After visiting the vehicle test sites, he joined the whole team at the Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar (FAITH) for a tour and updates on operations, assembly and propulsion. The events concluded with a celebration and one-on-one time with employees.

April 2013: On April 29th, Virgin Galactic (VGC), the world’s first commercial spaceline owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJC, completed the first rocket-powered flight of its space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2). The test, conducted by teams from Scaled Composites (Scaled) and (VGC), officially marks Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s entrance into the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said (VGC) Founder, Sir Richard Branson, who was on the ground in Mojave to witness the occasion. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”

The test began at 7.02 am local time when SS2 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port mated to WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), (VGC)’s carrier airplane. Piloting SS2 were Mark Stucky, pilot, and Mike Alsbury, co-pilot, who are test pilots for Scaled, which built SS2 for (VGC). At the WK2 controls were (VGC)’s Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay, assisted by Clint Nichols and Brian Maisler, co-pilot and flight test engineer, respectively, for Scaled.

Upon reaching 47,000 feet altitude and approximately 45 minutes into the flight, SS2 was released from WK2. After cross-checking data and verifying stable control, the pilots (FC) triggered ignition of the rocket motor, causing the main oxidizer valve to open and igniters to fire within the fuel case. At this point, SS2 was propelled forward and upward to a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet. The entire engine burn lasted 16 seconds, as planned. During this time, SS2 went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2.

“We partnered with (VGC) several years ago with the aspiration to transform and commercialize access to space for the broader public,” said His Excellency Khadem Al Qubaisi, Chairman of aabar Investments PJC. “Today’s test is another key milestone in realizing that aspiration. Our partnership goes from strength to strength, and is an excellent example of aabar’s desire to participate in the development of world class technologies that are commercially viable and strategically important, both for the company, its shareholders, and for Abu Dhabi.”

The entire rocket-powered flight test lasted just over >10 minutes, culminating in a smooth landing for SS2 in Mojave at approximately 8 am local time.

“The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,” said (VGC) President & (CEO), George Whitesides. “The successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.”

In the coming months, the (VGC) and Scaled test team will expand the spaceship’s powered flight envelope culminating in full space flight, which the companies anticipate will take place before the end of 2013.

“I’d like to congratulate the entire team,” said President of Scaled, Kevin Mickey. “This milestone has been a long time coming and it’s only through the hard work of the team and the tremendous support of (VGC) that we have been able to witness this important milestone. We look forward to all our upcoming tests and successes.”


April 2014: The Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson added some star appeal in more ways than one at an aviation summit in Washington DC this month, where he shared insights on his quest to personally fly into space and to make that viable for the traveling public.

Branson went on stage at the summit, organized by the USA Chamber of Commerce Foundation, with Delta Air Lines (DAL) (CEO), Richard Anderson. The two are allies in their new antitrust transatlantic joint venture (JV) between (DAL) and Virgin Atlantic Airways (VAA).

As Branson himself said, there is some irony in the fact that after his long, hard campaign against the American Airlines (AAL)/British Airways (BAB) alliance, during which he had “No Way BA/AA” painted on his (VAA) airplanes, he is now partnered with (DAL). The joint venture (JV) was formed after (DAL) bought Singapore Airlines (SIA)’s 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic (VAA).

Branson talked a bit about his Virgin Galactic (VGC) project to design and build the world’s first commercial spaceliner. Early this year, SpaceShip Two (SS2), (VSS) Enterprise, completed its third rocket-powered supersonic flight of its passenger-carrying reusable space vehicle from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The following great video explains the project:#t=159

2014 is a big year for Virgin Galactic (VGC), when the spaceship will go into space and begin the transition to Virgin Galactic (VGC) commercial operations, which will be based at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Branson said that he was very excited about the prospect of personally flying into space. He talked of the possibility of one day having the option to fly from Sydney and Los Angeles in just 45 - 50 minutes.

(ALPA) President, Lee Moak was a speaker at the same summit and also at the SkyHarbor Aviation Symposium in Phoenix the following day and he mentioned Branson’s comment. But he pointed out that given the very long immigration and border control queues that many people endure at USA gateway airports, he couldn’t help but fear that after their 45 minute flight from Sydney, travelers would still have to wait hours at the airport.

More information about the Virgin Galactic (VGC) project is provided in:

May 2014: Virgin Galactic (VGC), the world’s first commercial spaceline which is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s (aabar) Investments (PJS), has selected a polyamide-based fuel grain to power its hybrid rocket motor for the remainder of the test flight program and start of commercial operations. This decision follows numerous ground test firings and is supported by data collected over an extensive development program.

In 2008, Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s primary contractor, appointed rocket propulsion specialist, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) to develop the basic hybrid rocket motor design for SpaceShipTwo (SS2). As a part of the program, (VGC) has been developing two variants of this motor using two types of solid fuel grain: (HTPB), a type of rubber (the fuel used in the SpaceShipOne (SS1) rocket motor) and polyamide, a category of benign thermoplastic using Scaled engineering. Both fuel grains were designed to be interchangeable with the hybrid motor, and both have been tested extensively.

Virgin Galactic (VGC) has now determined it will use the polyamide version for its space flights. Both industrial partners will continue to support the motor program as the company progresses toward commercial service. “Of the numerous challenges (VGC) has faced and overcome in our unprecedented mission to create the world’s first spaceline, the greatest engineering challenge has been to develop the world’s largest operational hybrid rocket motor to power SpaceShipTwo (SS2) and its occupants safely, regularly and efficiently to space,” said (VGC) (CEO), George Whitesides. “It is a great credit to the work of our partners Scaled and (SNC), that we have completed this important milestone.”

September 2014: Virgin Galactic (VGC)'s White Knight 2 and Spaceship 2 rendezvoused with a commercial flight over San Francisco. Can you imagine seeing this flying next to you as you look out your cabin window!?


October 2014: News Item A-1: October 31: abcNEWS:
1 Dead, 1 Injured In Virgin Galactic (VGC) (SS2) Spacecraft Crash
October 31, 2014, 2:33 PM ET
One person died and another suffered a major injury after Virgin Galactic's (VGC) SpaceShipTwo (SS2) spacecraft crashed in California's Mojave Desert today.

California Highway Patrol (CHP) confirmed the fatality and the injury, but did not specify the individuals involved.

Virgin Galactic (VGC) confirmed the "in-flight anomaly" and said that their first concern was the safety of their pilots (FC) but did not report their mission.

"Virgin Galactic (VGC)'s partner, Scaled Composites conducted a powered test flight of #SpaceShipTwo (SS2) earlier today," the company tweeted.

SpaceShipTwo (SS2) was destroyed after it separated from its mother ship, WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), the company said.

"During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo (SS2). The mothership WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) landed safely," according to the company. "Our first concern is the status of the pilots (FC), which is unknown at this time."

"We will work closely with relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates ASAP," the company added.

Virgin Galactic (VGC), part of British billionaire, Sir Richard Branson's group of companies, has announced plans to operate a fleet of SpaceShipTwo vehicles for private sub-orbital flights.

This is the second space mission to end catastrophically this week.

On Tuesday, October 28, an Antares rocket produced by Orbital Sciences exploded seconds after liftoff in Virginia while on a (NASA)-contracted supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

SEE ATTACHED - - "VGC-2014-10 - SS2 CRASH-A/B/C."

SEE LATER - - National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report in July 2015.

News Item A-2: The following "What now for Richard Branson’s space travel dreams?" is from Air Transport World (ATW)'s Editor's Blog by Karen Walker:

A tragic day today for Richard Branson and his (VGC) program, with news that test vehicle (SS2) has crashed into the Mohave Desert. One of the pilots (FC) was killed and the other injured, it was reported.

I was at a conference in Washington DC last year where Branson took the stage with Delta Air Lines (DAL) (CEO), Richard Anderson, with whom he has forged a transatlantic alliance with Virgin Atlantic (VAA).

Branson showed a captivating video of the (VGC)’s ambitions (to make space travel accessible to ordinary citizens and also to vastly speed up commercial transportation between Earth’s hubs). He talked enthusiastically about the potential for flying from Sydney to Los Angeles, for example, in 45 minutes. (And then joked that, unless things change on Earth, he would still have to spend two hours getting through Customs & Immigration).

As always, Branson's passion and sheer determination to believe in new ways to do things was infectious. Anderson, who is Mr Corporate Yin to Branson’s man-of-the-people Yang, was obviously as enthralled as everyone else in the audience.

And while no one does branding and promotion better than Virgin (VAA), you do get the sense that on this particular project it is far more than an attention-grabber and that Branson is personally inspired by the goals of space travel for the people. At the conference, he also talked about how he fully intended to fly in space himself and was very excited at the prospect.

But space travel and technology, as today’s crash shows, remains extremely difficult, expensive and fraught with danger.

Right now, the focus will be on the human loss and, of course, on investigating what went wrong with (SS2). Longer term, there will be the assessment of how much damage has been done to the overall program and to Branson’s dream.

News Item A-3: (Prior to the (SS2) crash).

Seattle, Washington, USA's billionaire, Paul Allen's Stratolaunch Systems space venture began with the "largest jet airplane ever constructed."

Stratolaunch System's twin-fuselage plane, using systems cannibalized from two 747s and powered by six jumbo-jet engines, is intended to fly to an altitude of about 30,000 feet before launching into orbit with a rocket slung underneath its wing.

The giant carrier airplane, which is designed to transport the rocket, weighs more than >1.2 million pounds fully loaded and has a wingspan of 385 feet - - SEE PHOTO - - "VGC-2014-10 - PAUL ALLEN SPACE AIRPLANE."

Virgin Galactic (VGC)'s SpaceShipTwo (SS2), the futuristic rocket plane expected to carry hundreds of tourists to suborbital space, completed an unpowered test flight at Mojave Air and Space Port on October 7th.

It was the spaceship's 54th test flight, and it came just three days after Virgin (VGC)'s billionaire founder, Sir Richard Branson, spent Saturday October 4th in Mojave celebrating the 10th anniversary of SpaceShipOne (SS1)'s historic flights to suborbital space.

But at that celebration, Branson appeared frustrated - - or chagrined - - that a decade after (SS1) captured the $10 million "Ansari X Prize," his second-generation spaceship has still not begun commercial operations. "It has taken longer than we thought," he told the crowd of about 300.

In January, (SS2) completed its third powered test flight. But it hasn't come close to the boundary of space.

Branson has repeatedly been forced to push back target dates for the first commercial flight. Most recently on the USA TV "Late Show" with David Letterman, Branson, for the first time, said the $250,000 thrill rides would not begin until next year.

(VGC) has been tight-lipped about the reason for the delays, but Brian Binnie, who piloted the X Prize-winning flight in 2004, told "Popular Mechanics" that SpaceShipTwo's rocket motor is the problem.

"The delay in SpaceShipTwo has not been the development of either of the vehicles. But the rocket motor has just been problematic from the get-go," Binnie is quoted as saying in the magazine's October 6th issue.

Rumors about problems with the motor have been circulating for months. Binnie, who worked until February at Scaled Composites, the builder of SpaceShipTwo, appears to have confirmed those rumors in his "Popular Mechanics" interview.

Other problems, he told the magazine, included the ship's synthetic-rubber solid fuel mixture and the fuel tank itself, a version of which exploded during a ground test in 2007, killing three Scaled employees.

Binnie, who has written a book about his time at Scaled, was hawking it pretty hard at Saturday's event in Mojave. It seemed his departure from Scaled, which was founded by aerospace engineer, Burt Rutan, allowed him the freedom to speak out.

"I knew I could never do anything with this thing, because if I did, I was going to get fired. I don't quite have that worry anymore," he said Saturday as Rutan and Branson looked on.

Following Tuesday's test flight, (VGC) tweeted that the "flight brings spaceflight closer." That may be true, but Branson said Saturday, he's done making predictions.

November 2014: News Item A-1: The USA National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation team probing the cause of the Octber 31st crash of Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) spaceplane said two seconds before beginning to break-up in midair, the vehicle’s two moveable tail booms unexpectedly began to deploy into a “feathering” position.

Revealing the findings, (NTSB) Acting Chairman, Christopher Hart said camera footage and telemetry show that around nine seconds after ignition of the hybrid rocket, the mechanism that controls the stowage of the moving tails moved from “lock” to “unlock.” Hart added that as the vehicle accelerated through around Mach 1, the co-pilot (FC) was seen to move the locking handle. Normal procedure is to unlock the feathers after Mach 1.4 so that aerodynamic forces do not prematurely extend the mechanism.

In normal operations, the feathering device is designed to be activated outside of the sensible atmosphere before the vehicle begins its descent. In addition to the locking mechanism, the feathering device requires the activation of a second handle.

The (NTSB) also reported that the fuel and oxidizer tanks, as well as the hybrid rocket motor were all intact and showed no signs of burn through or of “being breached.” The findings support photographic evidence of the mishap, which clearly indicated a successful ignition and continuing rocket burn before the catastrophic structural breakup.

The flight, which marked the first time the vehicle had flown under its own power since January, was to have been a key step on the way to completing flight tests of the sub-orbital space vehicle before the planned transfer to Virgin Galactic (VGC) for the build-up to initial customer flights in 2015.

Virgin Galactic (VGC), a Sir Richard Branson project, is aimed at designing and building the world’s first commercial spaceliner. Last year, SpaceShipTwo (SS2), (VSS) Enterprise, completed rocket-powered supersonic flights of its passenger-carrying reusable space vehicle from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

News Item A-2: On November 4th, Virgin Galactic (VGC) reiterated it would proceed with the building of a second SpaceShipTwo after the first model crashed, killing the co-pilot (FC) and setting back the company's space-tourism plans.

"While this has been a tragic setback, we are moving forward and will do so deliberately and with determination," (VGC) said on Twitter. "We are continuing to build the second SpaceShipTwo," it said. The rocket is about 65% complete.

The USA National Transportation Safety Board said it was close to wrapping up the on-scene portion of the investigation in Mojave, California. The investigation into what caused the crash could take a year.

Investigators said an improper co-pilot (FC) command prematurely unlocked the movable tail surfaces, which then deployed without further pilot input. The vehicle then disintegrated. The rocket engine appears to have functioned normally until then.

The (SS2)'s tail surfaces (called feathers) are supposed to be deployed only after the rocket motor finished its burn, to allow the craft to glide to a safe landing.

(VGC) said that "with the guidance of the (NTSB) and the assurance of a safe path forward, we intend to move ahead with our testing program."

Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of (VGC), immediately after the crash said the project wouldn't proceed "blindly," raising questions about its future.

The company had planned to start commercial service by 2008, but persistent development and testing problems have pushed back the date. Before the accident, company officials eyed first service by early 2015, with Mr Branson and members of his family slated to take the first ride. The new schedule is uncertain.

News Item A-3: "Crash clouds future of space tourism":
Federal accident investigators have an early sense of what went wrong before an experimental spaceship, designed to ferry tourists beyond the Earth's atmosphere, broke apart during a test flight. But they still don't know why the craft prematurely shifted its shape, prior to the deadly crash.

And another question looms: How far will the accident push back the day when paying customers can routinely rocket dozens of miles into the sky for a fleeting feeling of weightlessness and a breathtaking view?

(NTSB) investigators worked at the main wreckage area where (VGC)'s (SS2) fell to the ground in the Mojave Desert, but also collected tiny debris 35 miles away.

Acting (NTSB) Chairman, Christopher Hart said cockpit video and data showed that the co-pilot (FC) unlocked (SS2)'s unique "feathering" system earlier than planned. The system works somewhat like the wing flaps that airplanes use to slow for landing (except that (SS2)'s twin tails rotate up at a far more extreme angle, to a position that creates strong resistance and slows the descent).

But while the co-pilot (FC) unlocked the system before planned, that action alone should not have been enough to change the craft's configuration. Activating the feathering system requires the pulling of a lever (not unlike how a gun fires only when the trigger is pulled, not just because the safety has been disengaged).

Questions abound: Why did the co-pilot (FC) activate the system at that moment? Why did the tails begin to rotate without the co-pilot (FC) starting that process?

Investigators believe once the feathers were unlocked, "aerodynamic forces" buffeting the craft as it hurtled along at about 760 mph, caused the feathers to start rotating, (NTSB) spokesman Peter Knudson said. Within a few seconds, the craft began to disintegrate, (NTSB) investigators determined.

(SS2) is carried aloft on the underside of a jet-powered mother ship. It then drops from that ship and fires its own rocket to head higher. The feathers are not supposed to engage until the craft reaches a speed of Mach 1.4, or more than >1,000 mph, Hart said.

Knudson said a final cause will take months to determine and investigators were looking into other factors, including pilot (FC) training, mechanical failure, and design flaws.

Passenger jets typically fly about 7 miles high. (VGC) envisions flights with six passengers climbing to more than >62 miles above Earth. Seats sell for $250,000 and the company says it has booked passengers including Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Russell Brand. The ultimate goal of (VGC) co-owner Sir Richard Branson is to create an industry that can move people around the globe in a fraction of the time it takes passenger jets, by rocketing them into space and back down.

But the company now lacks not only a craft to fly, but also an understanding of what caused the crash. Though rival companies also are pushing ahead, the dawn of space tourism seems to have been pushed beyond the horizon yet again.

(SS2) has been under development for years, and Branson originally predicted passengers would be enjoying the wonders of flight by now. In the weeks before the crash, he said he hoped to fly next year.
Branson still plans to be on the maiden voyage. He said that day will not come before a new round of crew (FC)-only flights.

"We need to be absolutely certain our spaceship has been thoroughly tested and that it will be," he said. "And once it's thoroughly tested, and we can go to space, we will go to space."

This crash could trigger increased government regulation. To give the fledgling commercial space industry space to innovate, the (FAA) has not overregulated test flights during the past decade, according to Diane Howard, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, who specializes in space law.

But the crash could allow the (FAA) to propose new rules affecting future (VGC) flights, and "it will be very interesting to see how Congress and the (FAA), and industry respond," Howard said.

The (FAA) did not immediately comment. The (FAA) is able to initiate a rule-making process that would affect the design or operation of a spacecraft involved in a fatal accident, but is unlikely to do so before the end of the (NTSB)'s investigation.

News Item A-4: The pilot (FC) of the Virgin Galactic (VGC) spaceship that tore apart over the Mojave Desert didn't know his co-pilot (FC) had prematurely unlocked its brakes, though protocol for the test flight required the co-pilot (FC) to announce the step, federal investigators said November 12th.

Pilot (FC) Peter Siebold told the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that he was not aware co-pilot (FC) Mike Alsbury had pulled a brake-unlocking lever before the rocket was done accelerating. Seconds later, SpaceShipTwo (SS2) began to disintegrate over Southern California.

Protocol for the flight was to announce the unlocking, an (NTSB) spokesman said.

It is not clear if Siebold didn't hear Alsbury, or doesn't remember an interaction (or the co-pilot (FC) never indicated he was taking the action). The (NTSB) plans to analyze flight audio next week, spokesman Eric Weiss said.

Simply unlocking the spacecraft's brakes shouldn't have applied them, but investigators have theorized that happened anyway and the resulting stress on the spacecraft may have contributed to its destruction.

Virgin Galactic (VGC) said it could not comment on the investigation and referred questions to the (NTSB). Siebold has not spoken publicly.

Pilots (FC) and co-pilots (FC) typically agree in advance before making important decisions, said Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former space shuttle astronaut, who now consults on commercial space flight. One method is a "challenge and response" system in which one voices an intended action and the other confirms it, before the action is taken. Lopez-Alegria said he did not know whether the unlocking of (SS2)'s brakes was considered critical enough to require agreement, but "you would never take that action on your own." He noted that in the cockpit of a commercial airliner, the pilot (FC) and co-pilot (FC) call out and confirm an action as routine as raising the wheels after takeoff.

The October 31 crash about 120 miles north of downtown Los Angeles killed Alsbury, injured Siebold and cast a shadow over the immediate future of space tourism. It could take a year for the (NTSB) to determine the cause, though (VGC) (CEO), George Whitesides said (VGC) wants to resume test flights as early as next summer with a replacement craft.

The eventual goal is to launch spaceships carrying six passengers from a spaceport in New Mexico. For their $250,000 ticket, passengers would get a fleeting feeling of weightlessness and a spectacular view of Earth from about 62 miles up.

Pilot Siebold was hospitalized after the crash, but when he spoke to investigators he had been discharged. He told them that he was flung from the vehicle when it disintegrated. He said he unbuckled from his seat at some point during his fall, that began miles above Earth, and his parachute deployed automatically.

Investigators have not revealed the exact altitude of the breakup, but previous (SS2) test flights peaked at about 10 miles, much lower than the height expected for commercial flights.

While the full investigation could take up to a year to complete, (NTSB) Acting Chairman, Christopher Hart identified the vehicle's unique "feather" braking system as one focus. The craft is designed to shift its shape as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere. The twin tails, or feathers, tilt upright to create drag as the vehicle plummets to Earth (a more extreme version of how airplane wing flaps help slow jets on descent).

Co-pilot (FC) Alsbury could be seen on in-flight video unlocking the system before the vehicle had reached Mach 1.0, Hart has said. The feathers aren't supposed to be unlocked until the craft reaches Mach 1.4, or more than >1,000 mph. At that point, it would have reached an altitude where the thinner air would not have provided so much violent resistance.

Even after Alsbury unlocked them, the feathers were not supposed to move. For that to happen, the crew (FC) would pull a second lever. The crew (FC) didn't take the second step, but the system engaged anyway. Two or three seconds later, the craft began to break apart.

The (NTSB) has said the feathers could have deployed because of aerodynamic forces on the craft. The (NTSB) said November 12th that it is looking at those forces and reviewing safety documentation and the feather system's design.

January 2015: News Item A-1: January 21 news: "SpaceX, OneWeb Unveil Rival Broadband Constellation Plans" by Amy Svitak, "Aviation Week & Space Technology" Publication.

In the span of one week, two space start-ups that have made good on far-fetched promises, unveiled plans to develop competing global satellite Internet systems. Whether there is room for two such multibillion-dollar constellations is unclear, but the announcements by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) (SPX) Founder, Elon Musk and OneWeb Ltd (a company financed by the Virgin Group (VAA), chip-maker Qualcomm, and (O3b) Networks Founder, Greg Wyler) are backed by people who have demonstrated the ability to attract both capital and engineering talent.

On the one hand is Musk, who announced plans earlier this month to build a spacecraft production plant in Seattle, an effort to transform satellite manufacturing in much the same way he has done for the space-launch business. Less than a week later, SpaceX (SPX) announced a $1-billion round of financing with two new investors, Google and Fidelity, which will collectively own just under <10% of the company.

In a January 20 statement, SpaceX (SPX) said the money would pay for continued innovation in space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing. “In order for us to really revolutionize space, we have to address both satellites and rockets,” Musk said on January 16 during a Seattle event, where he unveiled his plans. “We’re going to start by building our own constellation of satellites, but that same satellite business and the technology we develop, can also be used for Earth science and space science, as well as other potential applications that others may have.”

Musk said the satellite plant would start small (about 60 people) and that engineers could move between SpaceX (SPX)’s core business of rocket manufacturing in Hawthorne, California, and the new satellite venture in Seattle. He said the project would take 12 to 15 years to complete and cost $10 to 15 billion to build.

He also said the new company would not be drawing from the Puget Sound’s established space propulsion community to supply the vehicles.
“We’re going to build our own propulsion unit,” he said, adding that the constellation of 4,000 broadband satellites, weighing a few hundred kilograms each and orbiting at 1,100-km/683-mi altitude will be powered using all-electric Hall- effect thrusters, a technology, he says is relatively easy.

In the meantime, OneWeb, formerly WorldVu Satellites based in Britain’s Channel Islands, has announced plans for a start-up satellite broadband venture. Unveiled January 15, the new company is to be led by Wyler, who founded (O3b) Networks, a constellation of 12 Ka-band broadband satellites, that provides Internet trunking to telecom companies, plus corporate and government customers globally in a band around the equator.

Wyler, who is no longer directly affiliated with (O3b) operations, has said the amount of overlap between OneWeb and (O3b) is minimal, given the latter’s focus on large telecom companies. He says the OneWeb satellite system would introduce the first-ever telecom-class micro satellites with a fleet of 648 spacecraft providing low-latency, high-speed Internet access to small-user terminals deployed around the world.

OneWeb plans to work with local operator partners to provide this access, though it is unclear what kind of terminals will be used, or how much they will cost.

Wyler also said OneWeb’s first satellite launch vehicle would be Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s LauncherOne.

Both announcements prompted comparisons with past Internet satellite ventures that flopped, notably Teledesic and Skybridge, two well-financed startups with plans for global constellations of low-orbiting satellites that could deliver high-speed Internet to corporate and individual customers. Both companies spent substantial resources to obtain regulatory licensing with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which coordinates orbital frequencies in an effort to avoid radio interference among spacecraft. But neither constellation was ever developed, owing largely to technical issues.

Despite such comparisons, some industry observers are optimistic that these technical setbacks could be overcome today.

“Ten or 15 years ago, we had similar business models appear, all of which collapsed,” says Francois Auque, head of the space division at Airbus Defense & Space here. “But today, we appear to be in a new phase, with more technical and financial capabilities being brought to bear on these new projects.”

Still, Musk’s presentation, which was posted on, left a number of technical questions unanswered.

For example, while OneWeb already has Ku-band slots filed with the (ITU) that Wyler obtained through WorldVu, it is unclear whether Musk will have access to frequency slots in low Earth orbit.

“There’s the (ITU) filings, and we’ve done the filings associated with that,” Musk said during his talk. He was also vague regarding the ground system for his constellation, and whether he could make high-throughput ground terminals for low-Earth-orbiting satellites affordable for individuals.

“The user terminals will be at least $100 to $300, depending on which type of terminal,” he said, without explaining the challenge of developing antennas designed to track multiple satellites passing overhead.

Musk has long said his ultimate goal is to establish a permanent colony on Mars, and that his satellite venture could support this in multiple ways. First, he said, because satellites provide a better means to generate revenue than launchers, but also because Mars will need communications, too.

“A lot of what we do in developing an Earth-based communication system could be leveraged for Mars as well, crazy as that may sound,” Musk said.


The following is a statement from (NASA) Administrator, Charles Bolden on the passing of Leonard Nimoy:

"Leonard Nimoy was an inspiration to multiple generations of engineers, scientists, astronauts, and other space explorers. As Mr Spock, he made science and technology important to the story, while never failing to show, by example, that it is the people around us who matter most.

"(NASA) was fortunate to have him as a friend and a colleague. He was much more than the Science Officer for the (USS) Enterprise. Leonard was a talented actor, director, philanthropist, and a gracious man dedicated to art in many forms.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and the legions of Star Trek fans around the world."


Those Scaled Composites guys are at it again. Having a billionaire paying for it helps a lot.

Imagine the 320-foot span Spruce Goose. Then picture an aircraft larger than that.

An aircraft, backed by Seattle's Paul Allen, is expected to have a 385-foot wing span and will be used deliver satellites to space. It is reportedly being called "Roc."

"This thing is absolutely huge," Senior Editor, Guy Norris told The Dori Monson Show.

The "Roc" is being assembled in Mojave, California for Stratolaunch System's space launch program. It is being built by Scaled Composites.

Powered by six Boeing 747-400 engines, along with other parts salvaged from two 747s, the twin-fuselage carrier aircraft closely resembles the WhiteKnightTwo.

Once complete, the Roc will be mostly wing, according to Norris. Basically, its sole purpose is to fly to a high enough altitude to deliver satellites.

Norris said when the Roc is in space it will fire rockets to deliver satellites. The Roc will reportedly have a crew of three: a pilot, co-pilot and engineer.

"To be quite honest with you, it has been quite a secret up until now," he said.

Norris said the most difficult aspect of launching an aircraft into space is escaping earth's gravity - just that first few miles into the air. That's why the Roc will be mostly wing and engine.

The rocket used to launch a satellite is going to be named Thunderbolt, after one of Paul Allen's childhood toys. It will weigh more than >500,000 pounds and be 130-feet long, Norris told Dori. Combined with everything on it, the Roc will weigh about 1.3 million pounds.

But why did a project like this draw Paul Allen's attention, Dori wondered.

"I imagine it is the uniqueness of it," Norris responded.

The Roc is scheduled to fly sometime in 2016.

"It's going to be as big as you can imagine," Norris said.

May 2015: The six month anniversary of the tragic loss of Michael Alsbury during the (VSS) Enterprise's 55th test flight. Over those six months, (VGC) has made steady progress towards advancing the dream of opening the space frontier, an extremely difficult but also extremely worthwhile endeavor.

While the satellite launch team has been hard at work at a new facility in Long Beach, the human spaceflight program in Mojave has been making progress on building the second SpaceShipTwo. That new vehicle (which has not yet been formally named, though it’s had various internal nicknames over the years) is coming along at a steady pace, thanks to the efforts of the women and men in the (VGC) manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company. The (VGC) growing team is large enough to enable (VGC) to press forward both quickly and safely, and starting several months ago, now have been working on the second SpaceShipTwo in three shifts, spanning days, nights, and weekends. In recent weeks, (VGC) has finished the final cure cycle of the main cabin (see attached photo), closed out the main portions of the wings, and completed other important steps in the build plan.

Soon, (VGC) hopes to take this new spaceship off of the construction fixtures and place her onto her own landing gear. Of course, that moment marks not an end but rather another beginning. The spaceship will remain in the (VGC) hangar for some time after that, occasionally moving back onto and back off the fixture as (VGC) crews continue installing new items and testing and verifying every piece of the craft. Only when its engineers, technicians, and safety officers are satisfied, will the vehicle begin testing. (VGC)'s hope is that the second SpaceShipTwo will enter into testing later this year, beginning with ground testing, then progressing through captive carry flights, glide flights, and eventually powered flights to progressively higher speeds and altitudes.

July 2015: See attached "VGC-2015-07 - SS2 Accident Report -A/B.jpg" which details the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)'s report on the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) accident.

August 2015: Virgin Galactic (VGC)'s Senior VP Spaceport & Program Development, Jonathan Firth will give a presentation on "How Virgin Galactic (VGC) Will Deliver the Ultimate Travel Experience through Spaceport America and Beyond the Atmosphere” at the "Future Travel Experience (FTE) Experience Global 2015" which is being held in Las Vegas, USA next month.

December 2015: "Virgin Galactic (VGC) to Hurl Rockets to Space from Boeing 747 Jet" by Julie Johnsson, Bloomberg News, December 04, 2015.

* Richard Branson is finding a new use for an old Virgin Atlantic (VAA) 747 jumbo jetliner: to fling rockets to orbit.

See photo - - "VGC-2015-12 - Cosmic Girl 747-400.jpg."

Virgin Galactic (VGC), the commercial space company founded by the billionaire, plans to send small rockets in-flight from the Boeing 747-400 nicknamed "Cosmic Girl" that it purchased from Branson's airline (VAA).

Branson is among the entrepreneurs vying to shake up the US$6 billion commercial launch business known for years-long waits to loft US$200 million satellites. Instead of firing large boosters from conventional pads, the new rocketeers are working to loft smaller craft from planes and remote locations in Texas or the South Pacific.

"Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges," George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic (VGC)'s (CEO), said.

The commercial jet replaces WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), a twin-hulled carrier vehicle that will still be used to hoist a suborbital tourist craft. Virgin (VGC)'s SpaceShipTwo venture has been grounded since a training accident killed a pilot (FC) last year. A second spaceship is slated to debut in February, with ground and flight tests resuming "soon after," said Michelle Mendiola, a (VGC) spokeswoman.

* Test Flights

Virgin (VGC) expects to begin test flights of its LauncherOne rocket in 2017. It will be mounted under the 747's left wing, adjacent to a position used by other jumbos to ferry a fifth engine, the company said. The spacecraft's payload has been doubled to ferry 200-kilogram/440-pound payloads to orbit for less than <US$10 million.

Newcomers like Virgin Galactic (VGC) have the potential to slash prices in a field attuned to government contracts and dominated by traditional aerospace powers like United Launch Alliance, a Boeing (tbc)-Lockheed Martin Corporation venture, and Europe's Arianespace SA, according to Marco Caceres, director of space studies for Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant, the Teal Group.

March 2016: Ready to go again!

May 2016: See attached - - "VGC-2016-05 - Possible Life.jpg."

December 2016: Virgin Galactic (VGC)'s new spaceship successfully completed its 1st free flight with a glide test over the Mojave Desert on December 3, (VGC) said. The spaceship named "Unity" had previously been flown on captive-carry flights in which it remained attached to the wing of the mother ship, a specially designed jet.

(VGC)) said there will be many glide flights to confirm how it performs in real world conditions before testing proceeds to rocket-powered flights.

(VGC)'s 1st spaceship broke apart in 2014 during its 4th rocket-powered test flight when the co-pilot prematurely unlocked a system used for slowing the vehicle during re-entry into the atmosphere. The co-pilot was killed, and the pilot survived.

January 2017: "VSS Unity Makes 1st Free Flight" by Marcel van Leeuwen,, January 2, 2017.

The new spaceship VSS Unity has successfully completed its 2st free flight. Today's (January 2) important test flight marks the 1st time a vehicle built by our test organization. The Spaceship Company has flown fully under its own control.

On January 2nd, VSS Unity was piloted by M,ark Stucky and Dave Mackay, with pilots (FC) Mike Musuocci and Todd Ericsson as well as Flight Test Engineer Dustin Mosher in WhiteKnight Two. Over the course of one hour 20 minutes flight (particularly the 10 minutes of free flight for SpaceShip Two) our pilots (FC), mission controllers, and ground crew collected valuable data.

Today's test flight was the 5th flight of VSS Unity (& the 218th flight of WhiteKnight Two) following several recent "Captive Carry" flights.

As referenced earlier, this glide flight was the 1st of many. We have not reached the rocket powered phase of the test flight program (1st we need to gather test flight data to confirm our analyses and calculations about how VSS Unity will perform in a wide variety of real world flight conditions.

As expected, for the first gliding test flight, VSS Unity was flying light and slow, achieving a maximum speed of approximately Mch 0.6 while sliding home from an altitude of 50,000 feet. An initial look at the data as well as feedback from our two pilots (FC) indicate that today's flight went extremely well, but we'll take the time to properly and thoroughly analyze the vehicle's performance before clearing the vehicle for our next test. We're looking forward to getting back into the skies as soon as the engineers say we are ready to do so.

Virgin Galactic (VGC).

March 2017: Virgin Galactic (VGC)'s small Satellite Launch division
is now Its own company. Known as "Virgin Orbit," the company will be focused on developing "LauncherOne," a satellite-launching rocket that will be dropped from the wing of a Boeing 747. Virgin Orbit, based outside Los Angeles, will be led by former Boeing executive Dan Hart, who previously served as Boeing's VP Government Satellite Systems.

April 2018: News Item A-1: Space-tourism firm Virgin Galactic (VGC) on April 5th conducted the 1st rocket-powered flight test of its new SpaceShipTwo (SS2) over the Mojave Desert since a 2014 fatal accident.

The Mojave company had conducted a series of glide tests but had not fired up the spaceship’s rocket-powered motor. The spaceship, dubbed VSS Unity by the late British physicist Stephen Hawking during a 2016 ceremony, has now undergone 12 total flight tests.

The April 5th successful test is a milestone for (VGC)’s testing program and puts the company one step closer toward its goal of ferrying tourists into suborbital space for a price tag of $250,000. 4 years ago, a previous version of SpaceShipTwo broke apart in midair during a powered test flight, killing 1 of 2 pilots.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the failure was caused by premature deployment of a feather system designed to help the space plane re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The (NTSB) later faulted that spaceship’s builder, Scaled Composites, saying the design should have protected against human error.

Since then, (VGC) has moved space-plane building duties in-house and (VSS) Unity was built by the Spaceship Company, which operates at the Mojave Air & Space Port.

Around 8 am, the company tweeted that mother ship (VMS) Eve and the attached (VSS) Unity had taken off. About an hour after liftoff, Virgin Galactic (VGC) tweeted that (VSS) Unity separated cleanly from the larger plane and that its 2 pilots later propelled the spaceship upward by igniting its rocket motor for a “planned partial duration burn.”

During the spaceship’s flight, it reached supersonic speeds of about Mach 1.6, according to a tweet from Virgin Galactic (VGC)’s Founder, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson.

The spaceship landed around 9:15 am. Minutes later, Branson tweeted that the company was “back on track. Space feels tantalizingly close now,” he added.

News Item A-2: "Space Calendar 2018: Launches, Sky Events & More
By Staff, April 24, 2018.

LAST UPDATED April 24: These dates are subject to change, and will be updated throughout the year as firmer dates arise. Please DO NOT schedule travel based on a date you see here. Launch dates collected from (NASA), (ESA), Roscosmos, Spaceflight Now and others.

Watch (NASA) webcasts and other live launch coverage on our Watch Live page, and see our night sky webcasts here. (You can also watch (NASA) TV live via or YouTube.)

Find out what's up in the night sky this month with our visible planets guide and skywatching forecast. Spot the International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope and other satellites in the sky above with this satellite tracker.

April 2018:

April 25: A Eurockot Rockot vehicle will launch with the Sentinel 3B Earth observation satellite for the European Space Agency and the European Commission from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia at 1:57 pm EDT (1757 GMT).

April 25: (NASA) astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold will host an in-flight educational event at the International Space Station with the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Gables, Florida. (NASA) TV will air the discussion live at 10:45 am EDT (1445 GMT).

April 26: A Chinese Long March 11 rocket will launch several Zhuhai 1 Earth-observing satellites from Jiuquan, China at 12:40 am EDT (0440 GMT).

April 26: (NASA) will hold a briefing on the status of its deep space human exploration plans at the Johnson Space Center in Houston at 10 am EDT (1400 GMT). [Watch Live].

Also slated to launch in April (from Spaceflight Now):

* A Rocket Lab Electron rocket will launch on its 3rd flight, titled "It's Business Time," from the Mahia Peninsula on New Zealand's North Island. The launch window opens at 8:30 pm EDT on April 19 and closes at 12:30 am EDT on April 20 (0030 - 0430 GMT on April 20).

May 2018:

May 2: SpaceX (SPX)'s Dragon cargo spacecraft (CRS-14) will depart the International Space Station at 10:33 am EDT (1433 GMT) and return to Earth. (NASA) TV will provide live coverage of the Dragon's departure beginning at 10 am EDT (1400 GMT). [Watch Live]

May 4: A SpaceX (SPX) Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida with the Bangabandhu 1 communications satellite at 4:00-6:25 pm EDT (2000-2225 GMT). [Watch Live]

May 5: A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket will launch (NASA)'s InSight Mars lander from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 7:05 am EDT (1105 GMT). [Watch Live]

May 6: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will peak early in the morning (before dawn) on Sunday, May 6. Meteors from this shower will be visible from mid-April to the end of May.

May 6: A Chinese Long March 3B rocket will launch the Apstar 6C communications satellite from Xichang, China.

May 16: (NASA) astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold will take a 6.5-hour spacewalk outside the International Space Station. (NASA) TV will provide live coverage beginning at 6:30 am EDT (1030 GMT), and the spacewalkers are scheduled to exit the Quest airlock at approximately 8:10 am EDT (1210 GMT). [Watch Live]

May 19: (NASA) will launch its GRACE-FO (Follow-On) mission to track Earth's gravity and water movement. It is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as part of the Iridium Next 51-55 commercial satellite launch on a SpaceX (SPX) Falcon 9 at 4:03 pm EDT (2003 GMT). [Watch Live]

May 20: An Orbital (ATK) Antares rocket will launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft (OA-9) to the International Space Station from Wallops Island, Virginia. [Watch Live]

May 24: A SpaceX (SPX) Falcon 9 rocket will launch the SES 12 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida. [Watch Live]

May 25: Arianespace will use an Ariane 5 ECA rocket to launch the Azerspace 2/Intelsat 38 and GSAT 11 communications satellites from Kourou, French Guiana at 4:41-5:55 pm EDT (2041-2155 GMT).

Also slated to launch in May (from Spaceflight Now):

* A Chinese Long March 4C rocket will launch a relay satellite toward the Earth-moon L2 Lagrange point to enable communications between Earth and the Chang'e 4 lunar lander and rover on the far side of the moon. 2 Chinese microsatellites will launch with the Chang'e 4 relay mission to conduct astronomical observations from deep space.

* June 2018:

June 1: Japan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft will reach the asteroid Ryugu, where it will attempt to collect a sample and return it to Earth in 2020.

June 1: Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 55 Cmdr. Anton Shkaplerov will hand over command of the International Space Station to (NASA) astronaut Drew Feustel in a traditional change-of-command ceremony (time (TBD)).

June 3: (NASA) astronaut Scott Tingle, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Norishege Kanai will undock their Soyuz spacecraft from the International Space Station and return to Earth after spending nearly 6 months in space. They'll close the hatch at 1:59 am EDT (0559 GMT) and undock from the ISS at 5:16 am EDT (0916 GMT). The Soyuz spacecraft will perform a deorbit burn at 7:45 am EDT (1145 GMT), and the crew will touch down in Kazakhstan at 8:38 am EDT (1238 GMT). [Watch Live]

June 6: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch a crewed Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with members of Expedition 56/57: European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, (NASA) astronaut Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopev. Liftoff is scheduled for 7:11 am EDT (1111 GMT), and the crew will arrive at the ISS on June 8. [Watch Live]

June 8: The crew of Expedition 56/57 will arrive at the International Space Station after a 2-day orbital chase. Their Soyuz spacecraft will dock at the ISS at 9:05 am EDT (1305 GMT). Hatch opening is scheduled for 10:45 am EDT (1445 GMT). [Watch Live]

June 11: A Japanese H-2A rocket will launch an Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) with a radar reconnaissance payload from the Tanegashima Space Center. The 2-hour launch window opens at 12 pm EDT (0400 GMT).

June 13: An air-launched Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket will send (NASA)'s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite into orbit from Kwajalein, Marshall Islands.

June 21: Summer solstice. In the northern hemisphere, this is the 1st day of summer and the longest day of the year. In the southern hemisphere, June 21 is the winter solstice, or the 1st day of winter, and the shortest day of the year.

June 28: A SpaceX (SPX) Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Dragon cargo spacecraft (CRS-15) from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a cargo delivery flight to the International Space Station. Liftoff is scheduled for 5 am EDT (0900 GMT). [Watch Live]

Also slated to launch in June (from Spaceflight Now):

* A SpaceX (SPX) Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Telstar 19V communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

* India's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk 3 (GSLV Mk.3) will launch the (GSAT) 29 communications satellite from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India.

* A Chinese Long March 3A rocket will launch the Fengyun 2H geostationary weather satellite from Xichang, China.

* A Chinese Long March 2C rocket will launch the Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite (PRSS 1) from Taiyuan, China.

* August 2018:

Aug. 11: A partial solar eclipse will be visible from parts of Europe, Asia, Canada, Greenland, the Atlantic and the Arctic. [Solar Eclipse Guide 2018: When, Where & How to See Them]

Aug. 13: The Perseid meteor shower will peak before dawn in the early morning hours of Monday, Aug. 13.

Aug. 16: A Japanese H-2B rocket will launch the seventh H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV-7) from the Tanegashima Space Center. The uncrewed cargo vehicle will deliver equipment and supplies to the International Space Station.

Aug. 21: An Arianespace Vega rocket will launch from Kourou, French Guiana with the European Space Agency's Aeolus wind-mapping satellite.

Aug. 27: A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket will launch Boeing's 1st CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on an unpiloted Orbital Test Flight to the International Space Station. The capsule will dock with the space station, then return to Earth to landing in the Western United States after an orbital shakedown cruise ahead of a 2-person Crew Test Flight (which could happen in 2019).

Also slated to launch in August (from Spaceflight Now):

* SpaceX (SPX) will launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center in Florida for an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station.

* A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch 10 Iridium Next satellites (66-75) from Vandenberg Air Foce Base in California.

* November 2018:

November 1: A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket will launch the 10th Wideband Global SATCOM spacecraft, formerly known as the Wideband Gapfiller Satellite.

November 10: An Orbital (ATK) Antares rocket will launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft from Wallops Island, Virginia for a cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station.

November 15: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch a crewed Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station with members of the next Expedition crew.

November 16: A SpaceX (SPX) Falcon 9 rocket will launch a Dragon cargo spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida for a cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station.

Also slated to launch in November (from Spaceflight Now):

* An Arianespace Vega rocket will launch the Italian space agency's PRISMA satellite from Kourou, French Guiana.

Also coming in 2018...

* A SpaceX (SPX) Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Telkom 4 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

* A SpaceX (SPX) Falcon Heavy rocket will launch the Arabsat 6A communications satellite from Kennedy Space Center's historic Pad 39A.

* A SpaceX (SPX) Falcon 9 rocket will launch 10 Iridium Next satellites (56-65) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

* A Chinese Long March 3B rocket will launch the Chang'e 4 mission to attempt the first robotic landing on the far side of the moon.

* A Chinese Long March 5 rocket will launch the Chang'e 5 mission to return samples from the moon. It will be the 1st lunar sample return mission attempted since 1976.

* A Chinese Long March 2C rocket will launch the China - France Oceanography Satellite, or CFOSat from Jiuquan, China. CFOSat will study ocean surface winds and waves.

Please send any corrections, updates or suggested calendar additions to Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

July 2018: "Italy Signs Deal Paving the Way for Virgin Galactic Flights" by Victoria Moores (, July 11, 2018.

Virgin Galactic (VGC) has signed a framework agreement to bring commercial space flight to Italy, following 2 years of business discussions, regulatory analysis, studies on potential operations and market assessment.

“This partnership could see Virgin Galactic (VGC) launch the 1st person in history into space from Italian soil (and in fact from any European territory,”) Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson said.

The agreement was signed July 6 between Virgin Galactic (VGC), its technical sister organization "The Spaceship Company;" Italian Space Agency-owned public-private company Altec; and Italy’s largest privately owned space company, Sitael.

(VGC)’s operational headquarters will continue to be located at Spaceport America in New Mexico, but the agreement paves the way for “a dedicated space vehicle system,” built by The Spaceship Company, to be positioned at a new spaceport located at Italy’s Taranto-Grottaglie Airport. The US Department of State already agreed to provide technical assistance for the future spaceport, back in August 2017.

“The space vehicle would be utilized by customers like the Italian Space Agency as a science platform for high-frequency space research, as well as private individuals to experience space. This dual nature will drive innovation, spur industrial development, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, as well as promote further investments and economic growth in Puglia and Italy as a whole,” (VGC) said.

(VGC) and The Spaceship Company are testing the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft and reusable space-launch system SpaceShipTwo (VSS) Unity in California, USA. Commercial operations will be based in New Mexico, at Spaceport America.

November 2018: Welcome to the skies of #LauncherOne. Yesterday (November 18, 2018), Virgin Galactic (VGC)'s fully integrated satellite launch system took to the skies over Victorville, Southern California for a picture-perfect flight test. During the ~80 minutes "Cosmic Girl" was airborne, its flight crew assessed the take-off, landing, and low-speed handling and performance of both of its mated vehicles. It is intended to use this momentum to push for (VGC)'s 1st space shot in early 2019.

See associated video:


Click below for photos:

November 2018:





Click below for photos:
VGC-1-Sir Richard Branson 2018-10.jpg

Richard Branson was born in 1950 and was educated at Stowe School. It was at this school that he began to set up "Student Magazine" when he was just 16. By 17, he'd also set up Student Advisory Centre, which was a charity to help young people.

In 1970, he founded "Virgin" as a mail order record retailer, and not long after, he opened a record shop in Oxford Street, London. During 1972, a recording studio was built in Oxfordshire, and the 1st Virgin artist, Mike Oldfield recorded "Tubular Bells," which was released in 1973. This album went on to sell >5 million copies! Since then, many household names, including Belinda Carlisle, Genesis, Phil Collins, Janet Jackson, and The Rolling Stones have helped to make Virgin Music one of the top 6 record companies in the world. The equity of Virgin Music Group (record labels, music publishing, and recording studios) was sold to THORN (EMI) in 1992 in a US$1 billion deal.

The Virgin Group has now expanded into international music Megastores, air travel, mobile, financial, retail, music, internet, drinks, rail, hotels and leisure, with around 200 companies in >30 countries.

Virgin Atlantic Airways (VAA), formed in 1984 is now the 2nd largest British long haul international airline and operates a fleet of 747 and A340 airplanes to New York, Miami, Boston, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Las Vegas, Delhi, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Shanghai, and the Caribbean. (VAA) is based on the concept of offering a competitive and high quality Upper Class (F), Premium Economy (PY), and Economy (Y) service. (VAA) has won many major awards, including "Airline of the Year" award several times.

During 1997, Virgin took over Britain's 2 most run-down rail franchises, CrossCountry and the West Coast Main Line. (VAA) is currently engaged in a £2billion fleet replacement program.

In 2002, the combined sales of the different Virgin holding companies exceeded £4 billion. In addition to his own business activities, Richard is a trustee of several charities including the Virgin Healthcare Foundation, a leading healthcare charity, which was responsible for the launch of a health education campaign relating to (AIDS) in 1987. The Foundation has also become involved in a lobbying campaign called Parents Against Tobacco, which aims to restrict tobacco advertising and sponsorship in sport. His help in the initial funding of charity projects helped that organization to raise >£100 million through campaigns such as Comic Relief and many other charities.

And to keep his adrenaline levels high, Richard has been involved in a number of world record-breaking attempts since 1985. In 1986, his boat, "Virgin Atlantic Challenger II" rekindled the spirit of the Blue Riband by crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the fastest ever recorded time. This was followed a year later by the epic hot air balloon crossing of the same ocean in "Virgin Atlantic Flier." This was not only the 1st hot-air balloon to cross the Atlantic, but was the largest ever flown at 2.3 million cubic feet capacity, reaching speeds in excess of >130 miles per hour/209 k/ph.

Still after the ultimate adventure, in January 1991 Richard crossed the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Arctic Canada, the furthest distance of 6,700 miles. Again, he broke all existing records, with speeds of up to 245 miles per hour in a balloon of 2.6 million cubic feet.

Between 1995 and 1998, Richard Branson, Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett (who joined the team after the tragic death of Alex Ritchie), made a number of attempts to circumnavigate the globe by balloon. In late 1998, they made a record-breaking flight from Morocco to Hawaii, but their dream of a global flight was shattered by bad weather, and then a Swiss team successfully circumnavigated the globe in early 1999.

In December 1999, Richard Branson was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's Millennium New Year's Honors List for "services to entrepreneurship". Well done, Sir!

Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic (VGC) since the formation of the company in 2004, retired from that role in January 2011. George Whitesides, who was appointed as the 1st full time (CEO) in May 2010, assumed the title of President & (CEO).

Whitehorn has worked for the Virgin Group since 1987 in corporate affairs, brand development and investment related roles. In 2007, he went part time to follow other business interests, but took on responsibility for leading Virgin Galactic (VGC) through its design and investment phase. The investment round, fully funding the company through launch of commercial operations, was successfully concluded with Aabar Investments. Both the company’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) and WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) vehicles are now undergoing flight test.

Commenting on Whitehorn’s departure, George Whitesides said, “I wish Will the very best for the future. We have known each other for 6 years now and have built both a warm friendship as well as a strong professional relationship. It was his and Sir Richard’s vision that brought Virgin Galactic (VGC) to the exciting future it now has. I am honored to be taking this great company forward into the new decade to answer the growing markets for commercial, scientific and industrial space development. We now have a flying space flight system, testing on a regular basis above the Mojave desert; we have a beautiful home nearing completion at Spaceport America in New Mexico and most importantly we have >400 potential astronauts signed up and monies on deposit >$54 million. Will leaves us in strong shape and he will never be far from the project as we move toward commercial operations.”

Commenting on his departure, Whitehorn added, “I feel incredibly privileged to have played my part in developing the most exciting business plan and space technology anywhere in the world today. Virgin Galactic (VGC) was the result of Sir Richard’s vision and I am delighted that the dream from several years ago is now becoming a reality. I am confident that people will look back on this project as the beginning of the 2nd age of space. Of course I will miss this fantastic team of people, all of whom I have loved working with, but I know they are in great hands with George and I look forward to seeing them all up there in space in the next few years.”

Will is retiring from Virgin Galactic (VGC) to concentrate on other business interests. He is currently Chairman of Next Fifteen Communications and Loewy Group Ltd. In addition, he sits on the boards of the (SECC) in Glasgow and (ILN) Group in London. He is a member of the British Government’s Science and Technology Facilities Council and The Space Leadership Council. In December 2010, he was also being awarded the Royal Aeronautical Society Space Medal for his services to the industry.








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