Tag Archives: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is a Step Closer to Operational Commercial Spaceflights from Spaceport America

Peter Lobner

In my 13 April 2015 post, I provided an introduction to three U.S. commercial, suborbital human spaceflight programs. You may recall that Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo was destroyed in an in-flight accident on 31 October 2014. The in-flight breakup of SpaceShipTwo resulted from the premature unlocking of the wing, which allowed the wing to move to the high-drag “feathered” position while the ship was accelerating through the transonic region (i.e., not yet supersonic). The pilot was seriously injured and the copilot was killed in this accident. You can find the Executive Summary of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) accident report at the following link:

http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/AAR1502.aspx

More information from the 28 July 2015 NTSB Board meeting is available at the following link:

http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/2015_spaceship2_BMG.aspx

Today, Virgin Galactic unveiled the second SpaceShipTwo at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The ship was named, Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity by Professor Stephen Hawking, who said in a recorded speech, “I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship.”

VSS_Unity_Reveal Source: Virgin Galactic

The second SpaceShipTwo, which was under construction before the crash of its predecessor, is very similar to the first article, but with the following significant changes:

  • Feathering system: Virgin Galactic reports, “With regard to the accident specifically, we have made one structural change to the vehicle, which is to add a mechanical inhibit to the featherlock system that would prevent that from ever being inadvertently opened at the wrong time in flight.”
  • Rocket fuel: Virgin Galactic switched from a hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTBP) rubber-based solid fuel to a polyamide (plastic)-based fuel for the rocket motor on the first SpaceShipTwo. For the second SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic announced in October 2015 that it was switching back to HTBP-based fuel.

Virgin Galactic has not yet announced other design and/or operational changes.

Like the first SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity will go through an extensive test program that starts with “captive carry” flights on the WhiteKnightTwo aircraft.

SpaceShipTwo carriedWhiteKnightTwo carrying SpaceShipTwo; source: Virgin Galactic

The next series of tests include unpowered (gliding) flights after being dropped from WhiteKnightTwo, and finally, powered tests that will validate the flight envelope of SpaceShipTwo. At the conclusion of this testing program, VSS Unity may become the first commercial space vehicle to make regular, suborbital flights with paying passengers.

You can keep track of the progress being made at the Virgin Galactic website at the following link:

http://www.virgingalactic.com

The commercial flights will be conducted from Spaceport America, which is located in the desert east of Truth of Consequences, NM. You can find information of the Spaceport and make arrangements for a tour at the following website.

http://spaceportamerica.com

I visited Spaceport America in October 2015 and found it to be an impressive, but lonely facility, just waiting for the start of regular commercial space missions. The main hanger, shown below, housed only a SpaceShipTwo mockup and the enormous runway was silent.

All that will change after VSS Unity completes its test program and begins the operational phase of commercial human spaceflight in the desert of southern New Mexico. These are exciting times!

Spaceport pic 1

Spaceport pic 2

Spaceport pic 3Source, three photos: Author

Status of Three U.S. Commercial, Suborbital, Human Spaceflight Programs

Peter Lobner

XCOR and the Lynx spacecraft

This program should be near and dear to all Lynceans because we share a common mascot with XCOR. The Lynx two-seat, piloted space transport vehicle was intended to take humans and payloads on a half-hour suborbital flight to 100 km (330,000 feet) and then return to a landing at the takeoff runway. Lynx was designed as a horizontal takeoff and horizontal landing vehicle, using its own fully-reusable rocket propulsion system to depart a runway and return safely.

Lynx was designed for aircraft-like operations, with plans for up to four flights per day from any suitable, licensed spaceport. The spacecraft was being designed for 40 flights before planned maintenance actions are needed.

13-03-16_lynx-cutaway_v02_500x  Source: XCOR AerospaceSource: XCOR Aerospace

See details about the planned XCOR commercial space program at the following link:

http://xcor.com/lynx/

XCOR Update April 2018:  XCOR filed for bankruptcy on 8 November 2017 after it was unable to line up partners or new investors to enable it to complete development of the Lynx spaceplane. A nonprofit organization called Build A Plane purchased XCOR’s assets at auction for just under $1.1 million.

Build A Plane founder Lyn Freeman with unfinished Lynx prototype. Source: Douglas Messier/Space.com

You can read more about the bankruptcy filing here:

http://spacenews.com/xcor-aerospace-files-for-bankruptcy/

Virgin Galactic and the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft

SpaceShipTwo is Virgin Galactic’s vehicle for commercial, suborbital, human spaceflight. The spacecraft is carried to high-altitude by the White Knight 2 carrier aircraft, and then released to fly under rocket power to more than 100 km altitude and return for a landing at the takeoff runway.

SpaceShipTwo 3-view dwg  Source: Virgin Galactic

You can read more about this spacecraft at the following link:

http://www.space.com/17994-how-virgin-galactic-spaceshiptwo-works.html

After an in-flight accident during testing on 31 October 2014, Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo was destroyed and the crew was killed. You can read details on the accident and the post-crash investigation at the following link:

http://www.space.com/27629-virgin-galactic-spaceshiptwo-crash-full-coverage.html

The second SpaceShipTwo is being built and was introduced in January 2015. You can read the latest news on Virgin Galactic’s commercial space program at the following link:

http://www.virgingalactic.com/latest-news/

When commercial spaceflight operations begin, they will take place at Spaceport America, which is located about 180 miles south of Albuquerque, NM. Below is a photo of the main building at the spaceport and the White Knight 2 carrier aircraft.

Spaceport America  Source: Virgin Galactic

 Blue Origin and the New Shepard spacecraft

Blue Origin’s New Shepard system will take astronauts to space on suborbital journeys using rocket-powered Vertical Take-off and Vertical Landing (VTVL) technology. The New Shepard vehicle includes a Crew Capsule carrying three or more astronauts atop a separate rocket-powered Propulsion Module, to be launched from a West Texas Launch Site. After descent and reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, the Crew Capsule will separate from the Propulsion Module and land under parachutes near the launch site. Meanwhile, the Propulsion Module will make a vertical, powered landing at the launch site and then be made ready for reuse on a later flight. An early design of this vehicle is shown below.

Blue-prototype-new_shepard  Source: Blue Origin

Blue Origin reported on 7 April 2015 that it had completed acceptance flight tests of its cryogenic BE-3 “deep-throttle” rocket engine that will power the reusable New Shepard spacecraft. “Deep throttle” means that the 110,000-lb.-thrust rocker engine can be throttled down to 20,000 lb. thrust, which is needed for a vertical landing. Autonomous flight tests of the spacecraft are scheduled to occur later in 2015. Engine development will continue into 2017.

Visit the Blue Origin website to read more on their commercial space program and BE-3 engine testing at the following link:

http://www.blueorigin.com