While Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic has been quiet lately, and that
2007 2014 goal seems to become ever more ambitious, don’t let it stop you from enjoying this showreel of their magnificent technology!
Now that 2014 is finally here, Virgin Galactic‘s first commercial flight with its WhiteKnightTwo / SpaceShipTwo combo edges ever so closer to reality with every day that goes past. A few days ago, they launched SpaceShipTwo 71,000ft up in the sky and tested several critical features in the process, as Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot Dave Mackay was at the helm. One of the features being tested were the newly designed thrusters (RCS) which are used by the pilots to maneuver the vehicle in space. The other feature on trial was the tail section’s new coating which reflects heat produced by that massive rocket engine sitting just behind the passenger’s cabin as it were. SS2’s unique feather re-entry system was also tested during today’s flight.
As the company was gathering a ton of transonic and supersonic data, Sir Richard Branson said the following of the successful flight (the third supersonic, rocket-powered test flight of Virgin Galactic): “I couldn’t be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights. 2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space. Today, we had our own Chief Pilot flying another flawless supersonic flight and proving the various systems required to take us safely to space, as well as providing the very best experience while we’re up there.”
For the full article, head over to the Virgin Galactic website but be sure to check out the video below. What an AMAZING way to get 2014 going!
About a month ago, we covered Mars One, the organisation founded by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp that is planning to have people settle on Mars. Interestingly, their main source of income for this enterprise will be a reality-TV program about those colonists… fast forward to this week, and here we have it: Virgin Galactic is partnering up with NBC to create a television series called “Space Race”, which will follow contestants as they compete to win the grand price. And not just any price… a ticket to fly aboard Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShapeTwo and become an astronaut, taking the saying “the trip of a lifetime” very literally!
A date for the series to air is unknown as of yet, since Branson‘s team is still testing the space ship, but with over 600 people signed up already at $200k-$250k each, and now this, you can tell the Virgin PR machine is turning it up a notch. Together with TV producer Mark Burnett who’s responsible for shows as “Survivor” and “The Voice”, they are bound to deliver something unique to our screens very soon.
“‘Space Race’ allows us to extend this opportunity of a lifetime to as many people as possible right at the start of our commercial service — through direct experience and television viewing,” Branson said. Check out the full article here at NBC.
For anyone in the TV industry who’s looking for a similar idea, why not check out Scrapheap Challenge … that would truly be amazing. Until then, let’s all sign up for Branson’s next masterstroke!
As is becoming more obvious every day to those reading up on the latest in space travel, humanity will soon enter a new era. The day a friend or family member will be sitting at the dinner table, talking about how an acquaintance flew into space with one of these entrepreneurial companies will not be as far of as you might think. But how does the younger generation get to work for one of these groundbreaking start-ups (and let’s not rule out the likes of Lockheed Martin and Boeing who have their own projects on the go too)? Queue William Pomerantz, Virgin Galactic‘s Vice President for Special Projects who did an interview for EngineeringBecause (a social network for engineering students) which you can read in its entirety here. What you should take away from this is that this is not just a dream anymore. You could in fact apply to work on building a spaceship, right now!
“If you are early in your career and looking for your first job, you have an unprecedented level of choice about what kinds of projects to work on, what type of working environment to work in et cetera”, Pomerantz says, and he is absolutely right. If you are an engineer or technician (and are willing and able to relocate to the US in most cases) who thinks they should be a part of creating one of the first private spaceships, check out the links below and start applying! The Enterprise did not build itself you know…
Career links for (in alphabetical order – feel free to submit additional companies):
Blue Origin: http://www.blueorigin.com/careers/
Orbital Sciences Corporation: http://www.orbital.com/Careers/
Lockheed Martin: http://www.lockheedmartinjobs.com/index.aspx
Reaction Engines: http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/careers.html
Virgin Galactic: http://www.virgingalactic.com/careers/
XCOR Aerospace: http://www.xcor.com/jobs/
Another fact to observe from the above career boards: you don’t actually have to be an engineer or technician to work for one of the coolest companies in the world. XCOR is hiring a HR Manager currently, while Virgin Galactic is hiring an Executive Assistant, SpaceX has many Intern positions open and several companies amongst them positions related to Business or Program Management open. Engage!
Sir Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic is pushing things into high gear, with the recent appointment of two heavy hitters. At the start of July it announced the appointment of Doug Shane as Executive Vice President and General Manager of The Spaceship Company (TSC) which as you might remember from reading here, began as a joint venture between Virgin and Scaled Composites (Scaled) to build a fleet of spaceships. Shane will be overseeing the manufacturing company and it looks like they could not have picked a better person. His 31 year career at Scaled saw him being their test pilot, Director of Flight Operations and VP of Business Development, before serving as President for the past five years after the retirement of company founder Burt Rutan.
Then 2 weeks later, it made another big appointment by making Steven J. Isakowitz President of Virgin Galactic, where he already served as Executive Vice President and CTO since joining in 2011. This is a man who worked for NASA, was the CFO of the U.S. Department of Energy through two presidential administrations, served as Branch Chief of Science and Space Programs at the White House and was an aerospace engineer and project manager for Lockheed Martin. Bags of experience would be an understatement!
Virgin Galactic seems to be on track to become the world’s first commercial spaceline alright, making the right moves to establish itself as the benchmark organisation as it expands in preparation for commercial operations. 2014 is going to be one exciting year!
Space travel will become a reality soon, so let’s have a look at what it would cost to, even for a brief moment, go above 100km (where space officially starts) and become an astronaut.
Virgin Galactic‘s WhiteKnightTwo airplane will carry SpaceShipTwo with two pilots and six passengers to an altitude of 16 km (or 50.000 feet), where SpaceShipTwo is released and its rocket engine fires to take it up to 110km. As if $200.000 per person wasn’t enough to get a seat in one of the SpaceShipTwo ships though, the price recently went up to $250.000. So what is the alternative for the less fortunate amongst us?
Well, there is XCOR Aerospace‘s Lynx which would get you into space for $95.000 and you can book (and check out the video) here. It would just be you and the pilot experiencing a half-hour suborbital flight to 100 km (330,000 feet) and then returning to a landing at the takeoff runway, but for less than half the price of a ticket aboard Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShipTwo it sounds like value for money. With a fast turnaround time (they don’t use any separate launch vehicle – as it is basically a cutting edge plane that does the whole trip from the ground to suborbit by itself using only rocket engines), they are looking at launching four flights a day meaning you could still take the family out for a nice day out.
Starchaser Industries offers a seat to anyone able to cough up £98.000 (currently around $150.000), + VAT (slap another 20% on top of that basically) and seems to take things in two stages. Their first approach will consist of a 3 person reusable space capsule called Thunderstar which will be launched on top of their own Starchaser 5 rocket. Stage 2 of their plans will feature an 8-seater spaceplane that will take off vertically on a modified version of said rocket. You can check out more info here, but as their news is 2+ years outdated, perhaps this one bit the dust already.
Next time, we’ll look at SpaceX‘s Dragon capsule and many more. Stay tuned!
There would be few who could claim to have never heard of the charismatic billionaire founder and chairman of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson. A dropout at 16, he turned his hand to publishing with the magazine aptly named Student. As if that wasn’t enough, he turned to successfully selling records via mail order, then opening a record store when the postal strike shut down their distribution. Not too long after that he found himself opening a recording studio in a country mansion, and his London shop turned into a national chain through rapid expansion, and so on.
When the first bank asked him what he was going to do when he asked them for that first big £30k loan, they must have thought him a madman for dreaming of an airline, music business, etc. When Branson and his band of cohorts ended up with the name Virgin, as it would be cool to have at least one still in the room if only by name, no one could have imagined (apart from Branson himself of course) what an economic empire this would become years later.
One could argue that Branson was lucky on numerous occassions – from finding Mike Oldfield, who basically bankrolled Virgin Records for quite some time, to surviving his balloon adventure gone pear-shaped. But being that lucky takes hard work! Obviously a cunning communicator and extraordinarily gifted people manager, he also had the guts to put his companies on the line for something or someone he believed in. Rarely do great rewards come without great risks and he seems to have known that since his childhood.
Turn the clock forward a few decades, and while Necker Island might be the envy of men and women everywhere, it is Virgin Group‘s recent acquisition of The Spaceship Company and what that is leading into that’s the really exciting news these days. In partnership with Scaled Composites, the company is building a fleet of ships that will catapult Virgin Galactic into the history books as the first operational spaceline, possibly already at the end of 2013. Life just doesn’t get much cooler than that…
Spaceport America can be found in New Mexico, United States and is the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport. It opened for business in October 2011 and since then has already signed up several permanent tenants: UP Aerospace was the first, Sir Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo fleet, and just this May Elon Musk‘s SpaceX signed a three-year lease.
Plans for the spaceport can be traced back to the early 90’s but construction only started in 2006, the year Richard Branson announced that the new Virgin Galactic would make New Mexico its world headquarters. Completed in August 2012 at a total cost of $209 million, the site covers 18.000 acres (about 72 square kilometers or 28 square miles), and you can check out the facility map here.
Designed in collaboration with Foster + Partners, a UK company with extensive designing airport buildings (view their stunning picture gallery here), the spaceport lies low within the desert-like landscape of the site in New Mexico and seen from the historic El Camino Real trail, the organic form of the terminal resembles a rise in the landscape. Foster + Partners managed to achieve the prestigious LEED Platinum accreditation with its design. From the low-lying form dug into the landscape to exploit the thermal mass acting as a buffer from the extremes of the New Mexico climate as well as catching the westerly winds for ventilation, the natural light that enters via skylights, to a glazed façade reserved for the terminal building, establishing a platform for the coveted views onto the runway, this is one stunning sight to behold.
The first images (hopefully in 2014!) of space tourists lifting off from this futuristic spaceport will herald an exciting era for space travel – let the future begin!
The launch vehicle that Virgin Galactic will be using as part of its two-stage approach to sub-orbital spaceflight is the WhiteKnightTwo (also known as WK2), with the first one christened VMS Eve after Richard Branson‘s mother and the second one will be named after Steve Fossett, that other adventurer who sadly had a less than fortunate encounter with fate in 2007.
Developed by Scaled Composites under the umbrella of The Spaceship Company, the first WhiteKnightTwo was revealed to the public for the first time in July 2008 and the prototype has since made over 100 test flights. As a design, it is hard to miss. WhiteKnightTwo features a unique twin fuselage ‘catamaran’ design with an unswept single piece wing. This catamaran airframe configuration allows for flexible payload placement and configuration.
For the full technical specifications, you can download the pdf here. It is a true aviation milestone: the largest all carbon composite aviation vehicle ever built with an amazing 140 ft wing span, capable of carrying heavy payloads (up to around 16 tons) to high altitudes (around 50,000 ft, or over 15 km). Putting that in perspective, that payload is about equal to what an Arianne 5 rocket can launch into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
Tracing back the technology used by Virgin Galactic, we have to check in with Scaled Composites, the company founded by Burt Rutan. As you can tell by this video they know how to not take everything too seriously but make no mistake, this team is working on cutting edge technology to get commercial spaceflight off the ground. In 2005, Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan announced their signing of an agreement to form The Spaceship Company (TSC) – a new aerospace production company to build a fleet of commercial sub-orbital spaceships and carrier aircraft.
The latest results of that are WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo (featured together in the picture above), the former (WK2) being the carrier aircraft and the latter (SS2) being the manned sub-orbital spacecraft that will fulfil the dreams of those lucky 500+ people who had the funding and the guts to sign up to go where few have gone before.
In October 2012, Virgin Galactic acquired full ownership of The Spaceship Company which marked the successful completion of a long-term strategy for The Spaceship Company, in that they by then had built out the manufacturing and assembly facilities, and had the necessary workforce and assets in place to start building Virgin Galactic‘s commercial fleet. While the first WhiteKnightTwo was christened VMS Eve after Richard Branson‘s mother, the Virgin Galactic spaceline plans to operate a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes for commercial spaceflight starting from 2014 although it would be good to note that this day moved back several times already.