Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, and George Whitesides, president and CEO of Virgin Galactic, appeared on a panel at the Digital – Life – Design (DLD) conference in Munich on Sunday afternoon.
Some of Whitesides' comments:
Expect first commercial flights by the end of this year, not just manned test flights.
Expect to fly 500 people in the first year of operation
First place to receive export WK2/SS2 system will be Abu Dhabi, if US export controls permit it
VG to be cashflow positive 'very quickly' once ops start
VG will spend ~$500M before commercial ops start in 2012
Evaluate stability and control
Continued flutter envelope expansion
Aft CG expansion with water ballast tank
Window heater evaluation
All objectives achieved. Stall at aft CG. Evaluated flutter modifications to 250 KEAS. Envelope expanded to 3.8 g's. As part of the test objectives, the SS2 pilots vented water ballast just before coming in to land, which produced a visible contrail.
Scaled Composites hopes to achieve one additional glide test of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (SS2) by year-end and says that even if bad weather prevents the attempt, the program is already ahead of schedule following a trouble-free initial unpowered flight on Oct. 10.
“Testing has been going quite a bit better than we’d originally hoped, and we’ve been able to make glide flights ahead of what we’d anticipated in terms of flight-to-flight turn-around time,” says Pete Siebold, Scaled director of flight operations. The Virgin Galactic program therefore remains on target to becoming the world’s first commercial space line, with routine suborbital operations from Spaceport America, N.M., as early as 2012.
For the glide tests, the 60-ft.-long, 42-ft.-wingspan SS2 is released from the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) mothership at an altitude of 45,000 ft. This is about 5,000 ft. lower than the planned release altitude for rocket-powered flights because the WK2 is currently flying with landing gear down and locked pending a modification. This design change, made following a partial gear collapse on a training flight in August, is “really close” to being implemented, says Siebold. “We have tests planned, and we’re working to get it done as soon as it’s ready,” he adds. Even with gear down, Siebold says WK2’s performance “continues to amaze us, and speaks volumes about what it will be able to do in the near future.”
In other news, Jonathan Amos considers how long Major Tim Peake may have to wait for his trip to space. The answer appears to be either 2014, on an ISS crew rotation flight, or "beyond 2015" when the schedule is still highly uncertain.
Rocketeer comments: I don't have the link to hand, but I recall that UK citizens are the second biggest buyers of Virgin Galactic flight tickets after the US. How many of them will get to fly into space before Tim Peake does? The answer seems to be...
Yes, this is all very interesting, but I have to say it is irrelevant to long-term progress in space. With all due respect to Major Tim, what matters for the future is not when exceptional people, the best of the best with national flags on their shoulders, fly, but when relatively ordinary people can fly as private citizens. Richard Garriott is far more a pointer to growth in spaceflight than Tim Peake.
There was a time when the UK should have put public funding into manned spaceflight by specialist government astronauts. That time is over. Those astronauts cannot achieve much more than they already have done. We now need to see public support for private-sector initiatives like Skylon, Spacebus and (in Germany) Sänger. The Americans are (reluctantly) leading the way with the NASA programmes in support of SpaceX and Orbital Sciences.
If Europe wants to be a player in the future of spaceflight, then it must know by now the formula to follow: seedcorn funding to get reusable spaceplanes flying, and public and commercial access to space, firstly for the ultra-rich, later for the not-so-rich, and later still for £99.99 on EasyRocket.
Virgin Galactic's Wil Whitehorn hits back at criticism by Martin Ross, an atmospheric scientist at the Aerospace Corporation, that space tourism will generate excess levels of black carbon soot with implications for climate change.
"The research was fundamentally wrong," [Whitehorn] says. "If you had a Virgin Galactic program running for ten years, if you assumed that we weren't using biobutanol (which we will) we're talking about less environmental impact over ten years than 1.5 shuttle launches."
Wil Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, discusses the SpaceShipTwo testing programme -- upcoming glide tests are expected to include high-altitude drops to exercise the vehicle's 'feathered' high-drag re-entry configuration. The hybrid rocket motor will then be attached, followed by powered test flights of increasing duration. Progression to commercial flights will be dependent on assessment of the safety of the overall system and FAA licensing approval.
"There will be very short firings of the motor, and then we'll extend those burns and we'll start climbing into space," Whitehorn told SPACE.com. "I think we can pretty safely say now that we'll be in space in 2011. It's taken a little bit longer. But the point is that it has been done safely."
MOJAVE, CA, November 9, 2010 – The Spaceship Company (TSC) broke ground today for its new Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar today at Mojave Air & Space Port. TSC is a new aerospace production company, a joint venture between Virgin Group and Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corporation. TSC’s mission is to build the fleet of production SpaceShipTwos and WhiteKnightTwos for its customer Virgin Galactic.
The new building, a 68,000 square foot, clear span, 737-sized hangar including offices, will serve as TSC’s operating headquarters once complete and be used primarily for the final assembly, integration and testing of TSC’s vehicles before they enter service. The building is sized to support the production of two WhiteKnightTwos and at least two SpaceShipTwos in parallel.