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!
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!
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.
To start our series of company profiles, there’s none better than Virgin Galactic. Led by the charismatic Sir Richard Branson who built out his Virgin empire through a variety of different industries and ideas, they are planning to provide sub-orbital spaceflights to the paying public, along with suborbital space science missions and orbital launches of small satellites.
You can in fact reserve your ticket for a mere $20.000 here, with a full price of $200.000 – the ticket price will surely drop over time (although the wiki entry states it will go up to $250.000) but for now that trip into space will be mainly reserved for those millionaires (and billionaires – we don’t want to offend Donald Trump by calling him a millionaire) amongst us.
As the most prominent tenant of Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic is bound to lead humanity into a new era of space travel. We’ll all be bound to our screens and monitors when they launch the first commercial flight into sub-orbit, reminding us of the excitement of the first moon landing, and this will definitely not be a small step for man…
Sir Richard said in a statement: “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.”
Get in a queue for a ticket – Virgin Galactic‘s already got hundreds of deposits.
Check out more on the story here.