Virgin Galactic Unveils LauncherOne

Virgin Galactic Unveils LauncherOne to Deliver 225 KG Orbit for $10 MIllion
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

In an announcement today at the Farnborough International Air Show, Virgin Galactic revealed it is partnering with a privately funded satellite launcher to build a two stage air launched rocket capable of placing 225 kilograms into orbit for around $10 Million dollars.

Skybox Imaging announced it has raised $91 million for a high resolution imaging system, which will use LauncherOne.

GeoOptics Inc. is developing a constellation of remote sensing satellites to be orbited by Virgin Galactic.

Spaceflight Inc. and Planetary Resources also plan to use LauncherOne.

Also, Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Space Systems, announced that they would create optimized satellite designs to match LauncherOne’s performance specifications.

SpaceShip Two – First Feathered Flight

SpaceShip Two “Feathered”
Image Credit: Clay Center Observatory

Om 4 May 2011, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two completed its third test flight in twelve days, and this one was special. For the first time, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane deployed its twin tail sections in the position designed to allow it to softly return to the Earth’s atmosphere from the vacuum of space. Virgin Galactic noted:

After a 45 minute climb to the desired altitude of 51,500 feet, SS2 was released cleanly from VMS Eve and established a stable glide profile before deploying, for the first time, its re-entry or “feathered” configuration by rotating the tail section of the vehicle upwards to a 65 degree angle to the fuselage. It remained in this configuration with the vehicle’s body at a level pitch for approximately 1 minute and 15 seconds whilst descending, almost vertically, at around 15,500 feet per minute, slowed by the powerful shuttlecock-like drag created by the raised tail section. At around 33,500 feet the pilots reconfigured the spaceship to its normal glide mode and executed a smooth runway touch down, approximately 11 minutes and 5 seconds after its release from VMS Eve.

The feathered configuration is used during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere from the 100 km height obtained by the sub-orbital spaceship. The configuration is very stable during the free fall, which means the pilot has a hands-free re-entry. High drag combined with the light weight of the spacecraft means the skin temperature remains low.

Spaceport America Runway Dedication

White Knight Two flyover of Spaceport America Terminal carrying SpaceShipTwo
Image Credit: Barbara David

The two mile runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico was dedicated Friday, 22 October 2010. One of the highlights of the celebration was the flyover and landing of Virgin Galactic‘s White Knight Two carrying the rocket plane Space Ship Two, named Enterprise by Virgin Galactic.

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, for whom the runway (spaceway) was officially named during the ceremony, commented that:

“We are celebrating the world’s first spaceway at the world’s first purpose-built, commercial spaceport. 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.”

Sir Richard Branson and approximately 30 of more than 380 Virgin Galactic future astronauts attended the event. Two of the future passengers in attendance were Sonja Rohde from Germany and Perveen Crawford of Hong Kong. Both have already paid the full $200,000 price for their flight into space. “It’s like Christmas, you want to go, you can’t wait. It was always a childhood dream to go to space,” Rohde said. Crawford noted that “It’s a bargain compared to the Russians,” referring to the roughly $35 million past space tourists have paid to ride aboard the Soyuz to the International Space Station.

Approach to Spaceport America
White Knight Two carrying Space Ship Two on Approach to Spaceport America
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic – First Free Flight

VSS Free Flight
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Enterprise during its first free flight
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

Commercial spaceflight took another step forward this past Sunday, 10 October 2010.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, named Enterprise, was dropped from its mother ship at 45,000 feet and successfully completed maneuvers and landing at the test facilities in the Mojave Desert. Enterprise is designed to carry two pilots and six passengers to an altitude of over 100 kilometers.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, who was present during the first successful flight, commented that “This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin.

The flight was designed to test the release mechanics from the mother ship and then verify the handling and stall characteristics as well as the lift to drag ratio. A complete set of landing maneuvers were executed at a high altitude, and the ship then made its final descent and landing.

Scaled Composites pilot, Pete Siebold, said “The VSS Enterprise was a real joy to fly, especially when one considers the fact that the vehicle has been designed not only to be a Mach 3.5 spaceship capable of going into space but also one of the worlds highest altitude gliders.”

Virgin Galactic will continue testing the new rocket ship during the coming year, and expects to fly its first commercial passengers within 18 months.

George Whitesides, former Executive Director of the National Space Society and current CEO of Virgin Galactic, was also present at the historic flight. Whitesides said, “To see the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on a runway is a sight I always dreamed I would behold. Now, our challenge going forward will be to complete our experimental program, obtain our FAA license and safely bring the system into service at Spaceport America, New Mexico.”

First Crewed Flight

First Crewed Flight of VSS Enterprise on 15 July 2010
Image Credit: Virgin Galactic