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Tourist Space Flights


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Kiwithrottlejockey
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« on: July 28, 2009, 06:00:00 pm »


Kiwis to fly sky high

NZers to blast off in first commercial space flights

The Press | Tuesday, 07 October 2008

INSPIRED: budding astronauts, from left, Jackie Maw, Makouri Scott and Ron Stroeven look into space. — STACY SQUIRES/The Press.

   INSPIRED: budding astronauts, from left, Jackie Maw,
          Makouri Scott and Ron Stroeven look into space.
                         — STACY SQUIRES/The Press.


Four Kiwi astronauts-in-training, who will go where fewer than 500 people have gone before, are putting New Zealand on the galactic map.

Jackie Maw, Mark Rocket, Makouri Scott and Ron Stroeven, have bought their $US200,000 ($NZ313,074) tickets to be some of the pioneer passengers on the first commercial flights into space the product of Sir Richard Branson's space holiday business Virgin Galactic.

The space-travel enthusiasts met for the first time yesterday at Clearwater Resort to discuss the details of their voyage that could be as early as next year.

The next time they meet, the group will be travelling more than 110km above the Earth.

Christchurch real estate consultant Jackie Maw bought her ticket two years ago when she heard of the venture while living in London.

"I jumped at the chance. I've always had a fascination with space, and with speed. I was always fascinated with the Apollo trips."

"It will be a very emotional experience. I watched the DVD and I just thought, ‘I have to be a part of this’."

"I feel incredibly privileged. It's a humbling experience."

Her family took the news that she was heading into space smoothly.

"I played the video to my family," she said.

"They've come to expect the unexpected from me. They weren't surprised at all."

Fellow Christchurch passenger, internet entrepreneur Mark Rocket, was the first New Zealander to book his space getaway. He said he had been wanting to go to space his "whole life". He was most looking forward to experiencing rocket-powered flight.

Wanaka artist Scott said he "can't wait" for take-off. He saved for three years to buy his ticket. "It's a lot of money but I think it will be worthwhile. It's going to be a spiritual experience."

His key incentive for his trip was to raise money for charity and draw attention to environmental issues.

"I'm going to be drawing everything down from the ground, to leaving the atmosphere, to landing. I will create a series of work and give all the money to charity."

Auckland-based Stroeven was the last to join the space contingent. His motivation was to "get off the planet, and see the cradle of humanity". He was glad to be on a later flight.

"If 400 people go before me I figure I'll be safe."

The astronauts will undergo four days of pre-flight training before lift-off. They have already visited the National Training and Aerospace Research Centre in Philadelphia for centrifuge training to prime them for the intense G-forces of space launch.

The "mothership" jet, White Knight Two, will shuttle the astronauts in Space Ship Two 50,000 feet into suborbital space. From there, the space ship will leave Earth's atmosphere. At the peak of its arc the astronauts will be weightless for four minutes.

House of Travel consultant Ian Collier, one of 10 accredited space agents in New Zealand, said the response from Kiwis had been overwhelming. "New Zealand ... has the highest ratio of Virgin Galactic astronauts worldwide by head of population. Four from 4 million."


http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/national/663014



Commercial space travel: what it might feel like

By MARK BROATCH - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 10 May 2009

“SPACE SHIP TWO”

                                                “SPACE SHIP TWO”

SUDDENLY THERE'S silence. For about 45 minutes you and the five people strapped in beside you have been cruising with a steady rumble up to 15,000m above the earth 50,000 feet in pilot talk well above where standard jet airliners criss-cross the sky. Your spacecraft, the sleek grey carbon composite SpaceShipTwo, has been hitching a ride beneath the wings of a white double-hulled carrier plane, WhiteKnight. Then your spacecraft is released.

For five seconds, nothing, only the altitude counter telling you gravity is taking hold. Then you are thrown back in your seat. The hybrid rocket at your back has kicked in, and you are hurtling near vertically at three times the speed of sound. One kilometre every second. For 90 seconds, you shoot up to 110km into the atmosphere, the very edge of space. The sky has gone from endless blue to inky black. WhiteKnightTwo and Spaceport America, in the New Mexico desert, have receded into the distance. "It's like a tsunami sweeps through the cabin," says test pilot Brian Binnie.

Then the rockets stop. There is no noise, no vibration, it's calm. And you are weightless. The captain gives the signal, and you can leave your seat, float to the portholes in the 3m-high cabin and enjoy the view. Above is the black emptiness of space and the unblurred twinkle of stars, below the slow blue-and-white curve of the living planet you call home, wrapped in the thinnest denim-coloured wisp of atmosphere. Everyone who has been to space says this experience changes them forever; finally you are finding out for yourself.

Then, after a few minutes, you must return to your seat. The seats recline to a lying position as SpaceShipTwo starts its descent even though the wings have flipped up to give the pilots greater control and slow the fall, it will still exert five or six Gs on your body. As the wings tilt back and you glide back safely to the spaceport and down the runway, just over two hours have gone by. Your loved ones are waiting.

IT'S A good thing Ron Stroeven is not worried about having to wait until SpaceShipTwo is pronounced fit to take paying guests to experience the trip into space just as the test pilots have. It could be 2010, when the flamboyant founder of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, will turn 60. But it will probably be 2011. The company expects to do up to 18 months of test flights before taking people into space. White Knight Two made its debut flight just before Christmas last year.

Stroeven, who runs a successful international software business out of Auckland, has paid half his fare of $US200,000, his promptness putting him in the first 400-500 group of passengers sorry, astronauts to go.

"I'm a naturally patient guy," he told the Sunday Star-Times at a recent event for would-be and paid-up space customers at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

A trip is two years of anticipation, 10 minutes of space travel, but a lifetime of memory, says Stroeven, and he means every word. Plus, having a statistical kind of mind, he'd prefer to not be in the first tranche, given that there may be a few kinks to iron out. The death of a passenger or, even worse, the crash of a craft could put the scheme back years. Last month, the left tail of WhiteKnightTwo scraped the ground during its fourth test flight in the Mojave Desert.

Stroeven, one of four New Zealanders already committed to spending a small fortune to touch the edge of space, is just the kind of passenger apart from celebrities like Paris Hilton, Sigourney Weaver and Kiss's Gene Simmons, whose names have been bandied over the years Virgin Galactic must love. He's serious, patient, focused. Despite Virgin founder Branson's blandishment at the Sydney event via a video link to "have a drink, or two, or three, or four, or five, on me", Stroeven stuck to water.

But Stroeven also loves fast cars and rollercoasters. And Star Trek. He first read about the idea of space travel in The Economist.

"I thought, hell, I could even do that." He signed up just over a year ago, but says it would have been cheaper to have paid the lot given the subsequent sinking of the NZ dollar.

Also at the Sydney launch was Christchurch-based rocket entrepreneur Mark Rocket, born Stevens, who, like Christchurch real estate agent Jackie Maw and Central Otago artist Makouri Scott, are in the first 100 to go due to signing up so early. The three South Islanders and one North Islander reinforce the country's reputation as early adopters. Australia, with five times the population, has 11 would-be astronauts.


“WHITE KNIGHT TWO” and “SPACE SHIP TWO”

                              “WHITE KNIGHT TWO” and “SPACE SHIP TWO”

THERE ARE dozens of private spaceflight companies, and several in the hunt to take paying passengers on sub-orbital flights, including Space Adventures, which took billionaires Mark Shuttleworth and Dennis Tito in Russian craft to the international space station. But Branson appears to have the jump.

SpaceShipOne, the current test craft's predecessor, also designed by pioneer Burt Rutan and flown by Binnie, won a $US10m prize for being the first private craft to fly twice beyond 100km in a fortnight. And Virgin claims to have sold 300 tickets already, raising millions to help speed development. Tens of thousands have signed up to the scheme in principle. In April, the company announced that flights would also happen out of Sweden, which is planning to build a spaceport. So outside of paying the Russians $US20m to spend a week in the space station, many space fans with the cash which is little more than the price of a top-line performance car clearly think Branson is their best bet.

SpaceShipOne and WhiteKnight test pilot Brian Binnie astronaut No434 and with 21 years of flight-test experience under his belt believes there will be competing space airlines within five years, and within 10 years there will be the possibility of our children going into orbit within their lifetime. In 15 years there will be "resort hotels" in space.

Binnie, 55, who grew up near Aberdeen, but spent 20 years in the US Navy, said at the Sydney event that spaceports are being considered around the world, including Dubai. The one in New Mexico, which was designed by URS/Foster + Partners, is currently in construction and is likely to house the New Zealanders during their three days of training.

ARTIST MAKOURI Scott, who saved for three years to afford the trip and planned to sketch his sub-orbital experiences, said an incentive for his trip was to bring attention to environmental issues.

On that front, Virgin has been typically proactive, stressing the minimal environmental impact of the flights and noting its other green efforts, such as trial flights using sustainable biofuels (see sidebar). Lachlan Thompson, associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Melbourne's RMIT University, backed the company, telling the Star-Times that the energy used in the space shuttle could launch a thousand Virgin space flights and was far less environmentally damaging than the millions of ordinary plane flights, and the likes of coal-fired power stations.

Australian super-greenie Tim Flannery has been criticised for getting involved with Virgin Galactic, his role branded as "an extreme form of greenwashing" by Australian environmentalists.

But Flannery said that if air travel can be transformed from a "fairly highly polluting" technology of the 1950s into a much more sustainable technology, it will be a "truly revolutionary" change for our children and grandchildren. He expanded upon green pioneer James Lovelock's Gaia concept of the earth as a living organism. The internet was giving the planet a kind of global consciousness, he told the audience, and when, in our children's or grandchildren's time, we will be able to regulate gases in the atmosphere, then Gaia will truly become an intelligent creature "and we'll be its brain".

Flannery said the iconic view of the curve of the earth from space gave us a new sense of what it means to be human. He hoped the thousands who planned to fly into space would come back similarly inspired.

THE COST OF FLIGHT

Astronaut and Virgin Galactic test pilot Brian Binnie is typical among those involved in private space travel in thinking that Nasa's role as designer, producer and customer for space craft is less than cost-effective. He says each flight of the space shuttle cost $US1b, "give or take". So the cost per astronaut is about $US100m. For fun, he's calculated that it takes 6.6 gigajoules to get a person into space. That converts to about 1830 kilowatt hours, Which means that, when worked out at a typical Californian electricity rate of 6c a kilowatt-hour, getting a person into space should cost $US109.86.

There's a "huge design space" between Nasa and other space companies, he says. The crew hatch for the shuttle, which opens outward and needs fancy technology due to internal pressurisation, cost perhaps $US35m to build. SpaceShipOne's cost $200 and uses a padlock to stop people trying to get out during the flight.

Carolyn Wincer, Virgin Galactic's London-based head of astronaut sales, and a Kiwi, says carbon emissions of a space flight passenger are less than a first-class passenger flying from London to New York. The craft's hybrid motor is fuelled by a combination of an ingredient in tyre rubber and nitrous oxide. Its byproducts are water vapour, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen, not environmentally perfect, but preferable to those of the shuttle's solid fuel boosters of burning the potentially hazardous ammonium perchlorate and aluminium.

Virgin, like Air New Zealand, is also trialling sustainable biofuels in its jets. Lachlan Thompson, associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Melbourne's RMIT University, says the energy used in the shuttle could launch 1000 Virgin space flights. He suspects if Virgin ramps up its operations it is likely to move to a hydrogen-oxygen fuel source, producing only water as a byproduct.

Thompson says even if Virgin Galactic launches three flights a week out of 10 countries, its environmental impact will be tiny compared to the billions of tonnes of polluting gases from conventional air travel and coal-fired power stations. Thompson, who admits he's no greenie, says instead of focusing on such developments we should be planting trees on a global scale and cleaning up power stations.

Greenpeace NZ's Bunny McDiarmid says space flights are going to happen, so the ideal is that "everything we do has to be seen through a climate-change lens". If it's not going to be beneficial, we should seriously look at whether we should do it, she says. Thompson suggests putting into place a monitoring programme to measure space flight emissions.


Mark Broatch travelled to Sydney as a guest of House of Travel, exclusive NZ agents for Virgin Galactic space flights.

• To see a video of the planned flight, see http://visitspace.com.au/videos.html.


http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/2396812/Commercial-space-travel-what-it-might-feel-like



Branson's future flight unveiled

Associated Press | Tuesday, 28 July 2009

VIRGIN MOTHERSHIP: Eve is designed to reach an altitude of 15.5km and release Space Ship Two, which will transport passengers to space at 110km in the future. — REUTERS.

             VIRGIN MOTHERSHIP: Eve is designed to reach an altitude of 15.5km and release Space Ship Two,
                                       which will transport passengers to space at 110km in the future. — REUTERS.


An aircraft billed as part of the future of commercial space travel has landed in Wisconsin.

Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two Mothership Eve, soared over thousands of people at the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual AirVenture convention in Oshkosh.

The craft circled the runway several times as designer Burt Rutan and British billionaire Sir Richard Branson looked on.

Branson is chairman of the Virgin Group, which is funding the plane.

The landing marks the first time the public has had an up-close look at the plane.

Branson hopes to use White Knight Two to carry a spaceship into the upper atmosphere. The spaceship would then detach and rocket into space.

Branson hopes to use the system to create a commercial space travel business. He's already taken 300 reservations.


http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/2681950/Bransons-future-flight-unveiled
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« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2009, 10:56:38 am »

This is seriously exciting stuff but I doubt I could ever do it.
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« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2010, 06:33:27 pm »


Kiwis lining up to be on Virgin space flight

By CLAIRE MCENTEE - The Dominion Post | 5:00AM - Wednesday, 24 February 2010

SPACE INVADER: Head of astronaut sales at Virgin Galactic, Nelsonian Carolyn Wincer, who hopes to get a free flight as a job perk.Relevant offers — KENT BLECHYNDEN/The Dominion Post.

SPACE INVADER: Head of astronaut sales at Virgin Galactic,
Nelsonian Carolyn Wincer, who hopes to get a free flight
as a job perk. — KENT BLECHYNDEN/The Dominion Post.


Kiwis could be on Virgin Galactic's very first commercial flight into space, says Carolyn Wincer, the company's head of astronaut sales.

Of the seven New Zealanders who have signed up for the US$200,000 two-hour trip, three — including Christchurch-based rocket entrepreneur Mark Rocket and realtor Jackie Maw — are in the first 84, from which six will be selected.

The company, part of billionaire Sir Richard Branson's business empire, has begun to test its spacecraft and Ms Wincer guessed the first flight would be within the next couple of years.

About 330 people had booked a flight. New Zealand was Virgin Galactic's largest market per head head of population.

Passengers would experience about four minutes of weightlessness and must go through three days of training beforehand at a purpose-built spaceport in New Mexico, including G-force training and psychological preparation, she said.

They would be flown 110 kilometres into the atmosphere and be able to see 1000 kilometres in any direction. "It's a pretty amazing view," she said.

"In the blackness of space the stars and the planets are a lot clearer and you can see the blue line that's the atmosphere."

Virgin Galactic had spent US$400 million (NZ$470m) on the project, and ordered five spaceships and three carrier aircraft, to be delivered over a two to three-year period.

It planned to take 500 passengers into space in its first year of flights, and about 1000 a year thereafter.

The cost would likely come down over time to rival the cost of flying from the United States to Australia and as technology developed lengthier flights would be possible, she said.

Most people assumed space flights would have huge environmental impact but the carbon output from a Virgin Galactic space flight was less than that of a first-class return trip between London and New York.

Ms Wincer, from Nelson, worked for a collection of luxury retreats owned by Sir Richard before being head-hunted by Virgin Galactic.

She hoped a free trip into space would be a perk of the job.

"I can't sell it if I can't do it."


http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/business/3366273/Kiwis-lining-up-to-be-on-Virgins-first-space-flight
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« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2010, 11:41:54 pm »


Space — the final frontier

Kiwis sign up for space travel

By MATT BOWEN - Eastern Courier | 5:00AM - Friday, 20 August 2010

SPACE AGE: House of Travel Botany Junction director Katrina Cole thrives on selling people tickets to the verge of outer space. — BEN CAMPBELL/Eastern Courier.
SPACE AGE: House of Travel Botany Junction director Katrina Cole thrives on selling people tickets to the verge of outer space.
 — BEN CAMPBELL/Eastern Courier.


NEW ERA: A Virgin Galactic graphic of the VSS Enterprise suspended in sub-orbital space. — Picture: VIRGIN GALACTIC.
NEW ERA: A Virgin Galactic graphic of the VSS Enterprise suspended in sub-orbital space. — Picture: VIRGIN GALACTIC.

SPACE AGENT Katrina Cole has a fair idea of what propels people into the outer reaches of our atmosphere.

"They've all said: ‘I just knew from when I was small that I wanted to go into space’," she says.

And for $200,000 she'll happily sign people up.

Ms Cole is one of the world's top 10 sellers of Virgin Galactic spaceflights with four budding Kiwi astronauts on her books.

Another three South Islanders also have tickets for the as-yet unscheduled maiden voyage above California's Mojave Desert.

Nearly 400 people, mostly from the United States, are eagerly awaiting the day they step on board the recently unveiled VSS Enterprise to experience what California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called "the world's first human commercial spacecraft".

The Botany travel agent says it's "really cool" to be involved.

"It's not something for everybody — I understand that. But it's on the frontier of something that's amazing," she says.

"We've got the most astronauts per capita in the world.

"I think that says a lot about Kiwis."

The Enterprise will detach from the mothership at 15km before vertically rocketing at over three times the speed of sound to reach sub-orbital space.

At 110km up, the six passengers and two pilots will witness weightlessness, see the curvature of earth and the atmosphere encasing it before gliding home in under three hours.

But it's not exclusively for the rich, Ms Cole says.

One of the seven would-be Kiwi astronauts has mortgaged his house to go.

"His aim is to be one of the first 100 to go up."

He said he'd always be able to pay off a mortgage.

Kiwi ticket holders include adventurer Ross Maxwell, Rocket Lab co-director Mark Rocket, and The Hyperfactory co-founder Derek Handley.

Visiting space has never been a "burning passion" for Ms Cole but "the more I get involved in it the more I think what an experience.

"I've got other things on my bucket list before this but, especially when I talk to Ross, I can't help but be enthused. He keeps saying come with me. I'm almost tempted to say yes, but I don't have the money."

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is now expecting to launch in late 2011 or early 2012.

The company aims to have taken 100,000 passengers with a fleet of 50 spacecraft over the next 15 years.


http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/eastern-courier/4040784/Space-the-final-frontier
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« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2011, 09:46:50 pm »


Virgin Galactic opens astronaut job applications

Stuff.co.nz | 4:56PM - Wednesday, 13 April 2011

SPACE OPPORTUNITY: Virgin Galactic is advertising jobs for the world's first commercial astronauts.
SPACE OPPORTUNITY: Virgin Galactic is advertising jobs
for the world's first commercial astronauts.


DO YOU need better work stories? Then maybe a job as the world's first pilot-astronaut is for you.

Virgin Galactic has launched its search for pilot-astronauts to work at the world's first private spaceline. The firm, a subsidiary of Virgin Group, will recruit people to deliver a "sub-orbital spaceflight service to Virgin Galactic Customer-Astronauts" with uncompromised comfort.

The job description said all candidates must be citizens of the United States and prior spaceflight experience would be an advantage.

"[Virgin Galactic] is dedicated to becoming a world leader in sub-orbital commercial space tourism with a longer term vision to develop other space technologies that have the potential to open space to significantly more people and users.

"Company objectives in the lead up to commercial operations are to confirm that the spaceflight system meets Virgin Galactic's exacting standards, and to set up an operational base at Spaceport America in New Mexico."

• People can apply for the position at careers.virgin.com.


http://www.stuff.co.nz/oddstuff/4883305/Virgin-Galactic-opens-astronaut-job-applications
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« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2014, 10:54:02 am »


From the Los Angeles Times....

Virgin Galactic spaceship reaches new heights in supersonic flight

By W.J. HENNIGAN | 10:47AM PST - Friday, January 10, 2014

Virgin Galactic successfully completed the third rocket-powered supersonic flight of its passenger-carrying reusable space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo. — Photo: MarsScientific.com & Clay Center Observatory/January 10th, 2014.
Virgin Galactic successfully completed the third rocket-powered supersonic flight of its passenger-carrying reusable space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo.
 — Photo: MarsScientific.com & Clay Center Observatory/January 10th, 2014.


MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA — Virgin Galactic, British billionaire Richard Branson’s commercial space venture, reached its highest altitude yet on Friday in a supersonic rocket plane that’s set to carry paying customers into sub-orbit later this year.

The company’s SpaceShipTwo blasted through the sound barrier and sped to Mach 1.4, climbing to 71,000 feet in its first powered test flight of the year.

The flight, the program's third rocket-powered test flight, is the latest milestone in Virgin Galactic’s goal to take dozens of people into space multiple times each day.

The test flight took place shortly after sunrise on Friday beginning on the desert runway at Mojave Air and Space Port, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. During the test, SpaceShipTwo was taken to about 46,000 feet by a carrier aircraft and dropped like a bomb.

After a short free fall, test pilots Dave Mackay and Mark Stucky engaged the hybrid rocket motor, powered by nitrous oxide and a rubber compound, for about 16 seconds, at which point SpaceShipTwo accelerated to Mach 1.4.

Mackay, who left his job as an airline captain at Virgin Atlantic to become chief pilot for the space company, was at the controls. It was his first powered flight.

“To be behind the controls and fly it as the rocket ignited is something I will never forget,” he said. “She flew brilliantly.”

The two pilots tested the spaceship’s reaction control system, which will allow it to maneuver in space, and a newly installed thermal protection coating on the vehicle’s tail booms. All of the flight objectives were successfully completed, the company said.

The idea of Virgin Galactic routinely taking passengers into space this way was developed by retired maverick aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and his Mojave company, Scaled Composites.

Until now, astronauts have reached space packed tight in a capsule or shuttle attached to a high-powered rocket.

Instead, Virgin Galactic will use a WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft that will fly with the reusable SpaceShipTwo rocket plane under its wing to 50,000 feet, where the spaceship will separate and blast off.

When the rocket motor engages, it will power the spaceship to nearly 2,500 mph and take the pilot — and up to six passengers — to the edge of space, or more than 60 miles above the Earth's surface.

Once they reach that suborbital altitude, passengers will experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth. Then they will reenter the atmosphere and glide back to the runway. The price for the experience: $250,000.

If testing goes well, Virgin Galactic hopes to make its first passenger flight sometime this year from Spaceport America in New Mexico, where the company plans to conduct routine operations. The company said it has taken about 680 reservations for the ride.

The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, which resembles a flying catamaran because it has two fuselages, and SpaceShipTwo are still in the midst of a test-flight program that will continue in the Mojave until Virgin Galactic believes it can begin commercial operations.

Virgin Galactic's commercial space launch system is based on Rutan's SpaceShipOne, the world's first private manned spaceship, which successfully flew a test pilot to space and back three times during 2004 to win a $10-million X-Prize purse.

The prize-winning spacecraft caught the eye of Branson, who wanted to work with Rutan on a much bigger rocket ship that could send not only a pilot into space but also fare-paying passengers.

The enterprise was shrouded in secrecy for years. Then in 2007, during a test of the spaceship's propulsion system, an explosion killed three workers and injured three others. The blast exposed the secret project and reminded the public of the risks of rocketry.

The project continued and Branson has since built a 68,000-square-foot facility at the space port for a joint venture, called Spaceship Company, to mass-produce its rocket ship and carrier aircraft. It was one of the first aircraft assembly plants to be built in the region in decades.

A crowd of about 100 employees and airport officials gathered along the windswept flight line to watch Friday’s test flight. Among the crowd was Virgin Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides.

“It looked like a beautiful flight,” he said. “With every flight, we’re getting a step closer to commercial service.”


http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-virgin-galactic-spaceship-20140110,0,6703082.story
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« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2014, 10:07:33 am »


Spaceship crashes in Mojave Desert; 1 dead, 1 injured

Photograph gallery: SpaceShipTwo explodes during testing

     (Los Angeles Times — Friday, October 31, 2014)
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« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2016, 12:47:44 pm »


from The Washington Post....

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic unveils new spacecraft ‘Unity

By CHRISTIAN DAVENPORT | 12:14PM EST - Friday, February 19, 2016

Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson, front center, gathers with Virgin Galactic employees in front of the new SpaceShipTwo. — Photograph: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post.
Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson, front center, gathers with Virgin Galactic employees in front of the new SpaceShipTwo.
 — Photograph: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post.


MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA — Sir Richard Branson knows how to throw a party. And he made sure that the unveiling of his new spacecraft was feted appropriately in a massive hangar here on Friday, with pumping music, swirling lights and, of course, champagne.

The ceremony included lofty rhetoric about making space travel accessible to the masses, and the appearance of Star Wars' Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford, sitting in a front-row seat. But there was also a somber tone. The introduction of the new SpaceShipTwo, christened ‘Unity’ by Branson's granddaughter's milk bottle, came 16 months after its predecessor came apart during a test flight in 2014, killing the co-pilot.

Branson started his speech by saying that his employees “picked themselves up at the end of 2014. They redoubled their efforts and they remain absolutely committed to our shared goal.”

That would be to “make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamt of before now,” he said. “And by doing that we can truly bring positive change to life on Earth.”

In an effort to manage expectations and assure potential customers that it was moving deliberately and making safety paramount, Virgin Galactic released a statement the day before the event warning: “If you are expecting SpaceShipTwo to blast off and head straight to space on the day we unveil her, let us disillusion you now: this will be a ground-based celebration.”

First, the new spacecraft would need to go through a series of rigorous tests, the company said. Even before the vehicle was assembled, the company laid out in detail how it “poked, prodded, stretched, squeezed, bent and twisted everything to be used to build these vehicles.”

Once the ground testing is done, it would begin flight testing. Unlike rockets that launch vertically, Unity would be mounted to the belly of a massive mother ship, known as WhiteKnightTwo, an airplane that would fly to more than 40,000 feet. Once aloft, it would drop the spacecraft, which would ignite its engines and fly past the edge of space, where passengers would experience weightlessness and see the Earth from more than 100 km, generally considered the threshold of space.



Richard Branson unveils his latest gleaming Virgin Galactic passenger spaceship,
over a year after a major mishap caused its sister ship to crash. — Video: Reuters.


In a recorded statement played at the event, professor Stephen Hawking said that he has “always dreamed of space flight. But for so many years I thought it was just that — a dream. Confined to earth and in a wheelchair, how could I experience the majesty of space except through imagination and my work in theoretical physics?”

He said years ago Branson offered to give him a ride to space, and added that, “I would be very proud to fly in this spaceship.”

Virgin is one of several companies that are working to opening up access to space. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin also plans to fly tourists to space (Bezos owns The Washington Post). XCOR, which is building a suborbital spacecraft that would be able to fly three or four times a day, also hopes to soon fly paying customers past the edge of space. And Elon Musk's SpaceX and Boeing hold NASA contracts to eventually fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

Perhaps no one, though, knows how to make a splash better than Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, which includes Virgin Atlantic among many other companies. But after years of delays, and the fatal accident, Virgin Galactic is faced with the delicate balance of promoting its newest spacecraft, and the once unthinkable prospect of routine space travel, against the dangers and difficulties inherent in that endeavor.

Virgin plans on “debuting the first commercial human spaceflight program in history.” And it is clearly eager, after years of delays, to start flying the hundreds of people, including celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, who spent as much as $250,000 on tickets. But at the same time, it maintains that “this isn't a race” and that it “won't cut corners.”


PHOTOGRAPH GALLERY: Pictures from the rollout of Virgin Galactic's new SpaceShipTwo

In 2014, the previous version of SpaceShipTwo came apart in mid-flight, killing the co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, 39, and injuring pilot Peter Siebold, 43, who ejected at 40,000 feet, and landed on the desert floor after a harrowing descent.

A nine-month federal investigation found that the cause of the crash was a combination of pilot error and the systematic failure to implement basic safeguards. That accident has hung over the program ever since, but Virgin CEO George Whitesides told reporters that, “what I hope you'll see here today is a sign of resolve… That we are absolutely committed to opening the space frontier, and we're committed to democratizing space on the road to becoming the world's first commercial space line.”

In 2004, SpaceShipOne, which was designed by legendary aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, won the $10 million Ansari X Prize, when it became the first commercial vehicle to reach the edge of space twice in two weeks. SpaceShipOne now hangs in the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, next to the Spirit of St. Louis.

Just before it won the prize, Branson acquired the rights to the technology behind the spacecraft, and has been working ever since to build next-generation models. The company said it has some 700 customers who have already bought tickets — or more than the total number of people who have ever been to space. And it said it is looking forward to a series of new milestones, including flying a total of eight people on one flight, which has been accomplished only once before — a space shuttle mission in 1985. Another first would be the times it flies the first astronaut from a given nation, it said, adding that “each of these will be exciting milestones in the history of space exploration.”


• Christian Davenport covers federal contracting for The Washington Post's Financial desk. He joined The Post in 2000 and has served as an editor on the Metro desk and as a reporter covering military affairs. He is the author of “As You Were: To War and Back with the Black Hawk Battalion of the Virginia National Guard”.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/02/19/richard-bransons-virgin-galactic-unveils-new-spacecraft
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