Virgin Galactic rolls out new space tourism rocket plane (Update)

February 19, 2016 by John Antczak
Virgin Galactic to roll out new space tourism rocket plane
In this Sept. 25, 2013, file photo, British entrepreneur Richard Branson poses with the first SpaceShipTwo at a Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif. Virgin Galactic will roll out a new copy of its space tourism rocket Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, as it prepares to resume flight testing for the first time since a 2014 accident destroyed the original and killed one of its two pilots. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

Virgin Galactic rolled out a new version of its SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket Friday as it prepares to return to flight testing for the first time since a 2014 accident destroyed the original craft, killing a pilot and setting back the nascent industry.

A Land Rover with Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson standing through the sunroof pulled the ship in front of an audience inside a hangar at Southern California's Mojave Air & Space Port, where it was assembled.

Branson's 1-year-old granddaughter, Eva-Deia, helped by her mother, christened the craft by breaking a little bottle of milk over its nose. The baby is the daughter of Branson's son, Sam, and his wife, Bellie.

"All of us in this room need to pinch ourselves ... isn't she quite beautiful," Branson told the audience.

The ship is the size of a small corporate jet. It was named Virgin Spaceship Unity at the suggestion of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whom Branson promised a free ride into space.

SpaceShipTwo is designed to be flown by a crew of two and carry up to six passengers on a high-speed suborbital flight to the fringes of space. At an altitude above 62 miles, passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the Earth below.

After years of development, Virgin Galactic appeared to be nearing the goal of turning ordinary civilians into astronauts when the first SpaceShipTwo broke apart on Oct. 31, 2014, during its fourth rocket-powered flight. Wreckage fell to the Mojave Desert floor.

Virgin Galactic to roll out new space tourism rocket plane
In this Sept. 25, 2013, file photo, the first SpaceShipTwo is seen suspended at center beneath its twin-fuselage mother ship at the Virgin Galactic hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif. Virgin Galactic will roll out a new copy of its space tourism rocket Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, as it prepares to resume flight testing for the first time since a 2014 accident destroyed the original and killed one of its two pilots. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

"When we had the accident, for about 24 hours we were wondering whether it was worth continuing, whether we should call it a day," Branson told The Associated Press. He said engineers, astronauts and members of the public helped convince him that space travel is too important to give up on.

The crash investigation found that co-pilot Michael Alsbury prematurely unlocked the so-called feathering system that is intended to slow and stabilize the craft as it re-enters the atmosphere. Alsbury was killed, but pilot Peter Siebold, although seriously injured, parachuted to safety.

The "feathers"—a term derived from the design of a badminton shuttlecock—are tail structures that extend rearward from each wingtip. They are designed to swivel upward at an angle to create drag, preventing a buildup of speed and heat, and then rotate back down to normal flying position as the craft descends into the thickening atmosphere.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that Scaled Composites, a company that was developing SpaceShipTwo with Virgin Galactic and was responsible for its test program, should have had systems to compensate for human error. The NTSB chairman, Christopher Hart, said it wasn't a matter of shortcuts but of not considering a crew member would make the mistake that occurred.

Virgin Galactic subsequently assumed full responsibility to complete the test program.

Virgin Galactic to roll out new space tourism rocket plane
In this Nov. 1, 2014 file photo, wreckage lies near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, crashed in the desert near Mojave, Calif. One of the two pilots aboard was killed. Virgin Galactic will roll out a new copy of its space tourism rocket as it prepares to resume flight testing for the first time since the 2014 accident destroyed the original. The new spacecraft will be unveiled at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave Friday, Feb. 19, 2016.(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

Company officials said that the new spaceship will have a device to prevent a similar pilot error.

The company stressed in a statement Thursday its commitment to testing from the level of individual parts on up to the complete craft.

"Our team's job is to plan out not just the obvious tests but also the strange and inventive ones, to conduct those tests, and to use the data from those tests to re-examine everything about our vehicle to ensure we can take the next step forward," it said.

The company, which has invested more than $500 million in the program, did not project a timeline for actually carrying space tourists, noting that "our new vehicle will remain on the ground for a while after her unveiling, as we run her through full-vehicle tests of her electrical systems and all of her moving parts."

SpaceShipTwo is the successor to SpaceShipOne, the winged rocket plane that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 by demonstrating a reusable spacecraft capable of carrying three people could make two flights within two weeks to at an altitude of least 62 miles.

The prize announced in 1996 was intended to spur the development of private manned spaceflight in the same way the Orteig Prize offered in 1919 fostered trans-Atlantic aviation. Charles Lindbergh won that prize with his nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927.

Like SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft beneath the wing of a mother ship—a special jet aircraft that releases it at an altitude of about 45,000 feet. After gliding for a few moments, SpaceShipTwo's pilots ignite the rocket engine to send the craft hurtling toward space.

After reaching the top of its suborbital trajectory, the spacecraft begins falling back toward Earth and glides to a landing on a runway.

Explore further: SpaceShipTwo makes second supersonic test flight

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MR166
1 / 5 (4) Feb 19, 2016
Richard Branson is pioneering space tourism but yet he is also is a big AGW advocate. There is nothing more wasteful than sending a bunch of rich people to the edge of space and back. Again, this is just more do as I say, not as I do elitism from the 1%!

greenonions
5 / 5 (6) Feb 19, 2016
Richard Branson made a lot of money by building successful businesses. I would have thought you would have supported the idea of an entrepreneur doing what entrepreneurs do. Don't you also support the idea that it is now his money - to spend how he chooses? Seems you are a bag of contradictions MR.
Also note that Branson is not an American - so is much more likely to recognize the science behind climate change, and be interested in participating in solutions - which he seems to be doing - http://www.thegua...-branson

Maybe his plan is to make a lot of money through space tourism, and then use that money to continue his efforts on making businesses more sustainable.

Seems odd that you want to tell other people how to spend their money MR - kinda socialist.
MR166
1 / 5 (4) Feb 19, 2016
Just as I thought Onions, You will be the first to criticize me for driving to work each day in my CO2 emitting car in order to support my family but when it comes to the politically correct AGW supporting class they can do no wrong.
greenonions
5 / 5 (5) Feb 19, 2016
I have not, and would not criticized you for driving a car. I also drive a car. You may want to look into your need to make shit up. Here's an idea - instead of throwing around childish, baseless allegations - why don't you try to understand the point being made. Branson is a very successful business person - and I would have thought you would support him - being that you are an avid advocate of free market business. Now you are criticizing him for spending his money - the way he see fit. Pretty contradictory of you.
MR166
1 / 5 (3) Feb 19, 2016
No Onions I am criticizing him for funding a venture that has no useful purpose other than to stroke his ego and increase the very same CO2 levels that he purports to want to minimize in order to "Save the Earth". One would think that if he really believed CO2 levels were that important he would not be supporting space tourism.
greenonions
5 / 5 (6) Feb 19, 2016
I am criticizing him for funding a venture that has no useful purpose
Exactly - and that makes you a complete hypocrite. Who are you to tell someone who has been successful in business - how to spend their money? This totally conflicts with your professed support of the free market system. Plus - there may be plenty of good things to come out of the research on this venture. Who are you to decide what has or does not have purpose. Again - very socialistic of you.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) Feb 19, 2016
Onions if you are going to quote one of my statements and then criticize it at least include the full statement and preserve it's full context!
greenonions
5 / 5 (5) Feb 19, 2016
And if I include the whole quote
No Onions I am criticizing him for funding a venture that has no useful purpose other than to stroke his ego and increase the very same CO2 levels that he purports to want to minimize in order to "Save the Earth
It does not change the POINT that I am making. The POINT is that you are a hypocrite. You purport to be an advocate of free market entrepreneurship - and then tell someone who has been a very successful business person - how to spend their money. You present yourself as an advocate of the individualist system - and then want to dictate to another person how to behave. YOU are a shitty hypocrite. Why don't you celebrate Branson's apparent mastery of the system you promote? Why is it your job to dictate what is purposeful, and what is not? Why don't YOU go do something purposeful - instead of pissing on everyone else?
BackBurner
1 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2016
I can hardly wait to be the first commercial customer that pays Branson a quarter million bucks to be a wind dummy on a 90 minute joy ride.

Don't think of this as a frippery of the 1%, think of it as natural selection in action. For a measly $250K, you too can be a bug splat on the windshield, buried in a mass of twisted fiberglass somewhere in the Mojave desert. Think of the stories your idiot children will be able to tell!
BackBurner
not rated yet Feb 20, 2016
As an aside, get five guys together and you can *buy* a T-38 and fly the thing yourself for the ticket price Branson is asking. At least when you screw the pooch it'll be your own fault and if you don't you can sell the plane afterwards!
Eikka
2 / 5 (4) Feb 21, 2016
greenonions: you're committing a tu-quoque fallacy.

Pointing out that MR166 is being hypocritical doesn't remove the hypocricy of people like Branson or Al Gore etc. who argue for others to reduce GHG output while making it their business to spend resources in ways that also increase GHG output without even trying to address the problem directly.

They're basically saying, "You make good, while I make money", which is indeed hypocritical, and if other people followed their example it would result in nothing but endless preaching against climate change, lots of money being paid for hot air, and no actual progress towards solving the matter.

Which mostly is the case.
Eikka
1.8 / 5 (4) Feb 21, 2016
To make a comparison, it's like a drunken hobo who demands twenty dollars for liquor, on the argument that he can then preach to the people about the dangers of alcohol.
greenonions
5 / 5 (3) Feb 21, 2016
greenonions: you're committing a tu-quoque fallacy.


No I am not. You do not know what Branson's carbon footprint is. By leveraging the wealth he has accumulated through his business ventures - Branson may be doing a lot more good than harm in terms of the environment. His reasoning may be - if I can maneuver myself into a position of great influence - I can have a much greater affect on the course of the world - than if I was poor - and had no personal power. Why is it your responsibility to take every one else's inventory? Why can't you let others choose their path, and you choose yours? I am so sick of the negative.
greenonions
5 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2016
Eikka - I am going to take a minute to try to explain why your posts, and those of MR166 and others make me so angry. I spend a big chunk of my life with the working poor of America. People who have nothing - and are preyed on by a horrible, predatory system. They buy furniture from Aarons - where you pay many times an items value - only in weekly installments. They borrow money at pay day loan stores - often for interest rates in excess of 100%. They are trapped in a hell of debt, and despair. They live in blighted, violence ridden neighborhoods. The experience of seeing their lack of hope, causes me great despair. I turn to boards like physorg to look for some hope of a better tomorrow. While I don't support the predatory system that causes such despair, I do recognize that there are some people (Musk, Branson, Gates etc.) who seem to have a flair for using this system well, and being real agents of change. cont.
greenonions
5 / 5 (5) Feb 22, 2016
cont. As an atheist in an ocean of idiocy called religion, I also experience the frustration of knowing that education and knowledge are key to transcending the blighted system I am part of. But ignorance rules where I live. Science tells us that climate change is real, man made, and possibly has some very serious consequences for our world. So we should be studying this problem. Now along come you and MR166, and you want to piss all over so many clear attempts at getting a handle on the nature/extent of this problem, and perhaps formulating solutions. You may not see the connection I see - between the system of poverty and despair, and climate change denial. It is ignorance. The willful interest in blocking knowledge and progress. So you come to a science/technology site - and want to spread more opposition to any attempts at positive change. I don't support the system - but I can at least wish Musk et al - good luck in making a positive difference.
iamkendo
5 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2016
I for one congratulate him. He's worked hard, made his millions and is now spending them making the things of dreams come true. Most of us want a future with space travel and boundless possibilities, every step helps. It may be a joyride for rich people but if those rich people go on to fund or invest in space development after that experience then amazing things can come from it.

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