Branson says the second SpaceShipTwo will be ready to start testing by February 2016. SpaceShipTwo is designed to bring six passengers up to suborbital space before bringing them back down to Earth. All the building and testing of the suborbital craft is all being done in-house at Virgin Galactic, a handover that was in the works before the 2014 accident. CEO Whitesides:
I think we are in a much better place than we might have expected in the period immediately after (last year’s) accident, and that’s because our team came together, our customers stuck with us, and honestly, we believe that the vehicle itself is sound.
While Branson is not giving a firm date for the inaugural flight of SpaceShipTwo — with himself and his family among the passengers — he believes the company is on the right track.
We’ll be unveiling the new spaceship and then we go into flight tests. That’s one thing I’m never going to be in a hurry on. We just have to see how it goes.
Land Rover offers alternative prizes for its Galactic Discovery competition following the loss of SpaceShipTwo. The global winner would have earned a flight into space on SpaceShipTwo for him or herself and three friends. Land Rover:
In these exceptional circumstances, and in line with the competition terms and conditions, we will be offering an alternative prize to the global winner and, in some cases, to the national winners. You have our commitment that all prize winners will receive an amazing and memorable Land Rover experience, the details of which will be confirmed before December 2nd.
People familiar with the NTSB investigation say Alsbury unlocked the tail mechanism of SpaceShipTwo without authorization from Siebold, and two seconds later the spaceship disintegrated. This is said to have caused the tail-feathering mechanism to become loose and create turbulence that buffeted the spaceship apart, as airspeed was 250 miles an hour slower than the rate needed for airflow to hold the tail mechanism in place while unlocked. Will Whitehorn, who served as president of Virgin Galactic until 2011 says it remains a mystery why Alsbury unlocked the tail without conferring with Siebold:
Nobody knows at this stage.
A source tells The Independent that a group of more than 30 investors are talking about canceling their Galactic tickets. A Switzerland-based asset manager:
I want out. I subscribed seven years ago at 63, am still an active private pilot and in good health but who knows how long it will now take. I have already informed VG of my wish – no reply yet
Another person who is considering canceling:
[Some investors are] die-hard Richard Branson supporters and they will go on it whatever
Galactic says that SpaceShipTwo Mark II is about 65% complete and it will continue building the craft:
we will continue to advance our mission over the coming weeks and months…We owe it to all of those who have risked and given so much to stay the course and deliver on the promise of creating the first commercial spaceline.
The NTSB is focusing part of its investigation on how Siebold escaped the spaceship and managed to survive at 50,000 feet, where there is virtually no oxygen. An NTSB official says that he didn’t go through the cockpit’s escape hatch:
We know it wasn’t through there, so how did this pilot get out?
Beatrice is reported to cancel her ticket on Virgin Galactic. Source:
Beatrice was excited by the idea of space tourism, but there is no way she will be going on one of the flights, if they are ever allowed to take place
The NTSB says an examination of telemetry and video recorded onboard SpaceShipTwo show its braking system, in which the tail of the spaceship feathers to slow its descent and keep it belly-down for landing, deployed early. The tail booms shifted upwards seconds after it fired its rocket motor, and before the explosion. The development could shift the investigation away from the motor. Hart, the NTSB’s acting chairman:
What I’m about to say is a statement of fact and not a statement of cause. We are a long way from finding cause. We still have months and months of investigation to do, and there’s a lot that we don’t know. We have extensive data sources to go through.
The NTSB says SpaceShipTwo’s co-pilot gave an improper command that led to the braking system deploying early. SpaceShipTwo’s fuel tanks and engine have been recovered largely intact and the hybrid motor fueled by nitrous oxide and a plastic-based compound was found five miles from where large tail sections first hit the ground. The condition and location of the wreckage suggest that an engine explosion didn’t cause the crash.
Acting NTSB chairman Christopher A. Hart gives the organization’s second media briefing since the investigation started:
The wreckage is located in a large area, about five miles northeast to southwest, five miles end to end…indicating inflight breakup
The NTSB begins the on-site part of its investigation into the crash.
It says the entire investigation could take up to 12 months while the on-site phase is expected to be between four and seven days. The agency’s acting chairman says he plans to offer regular press briefings throughout the investigation:
Kern County Sheriff identifies the pilot who survived the crash as 43-year-old Peter Siebold. Both Sielbold and Michael Alsbury, who was killed, work for Scaled Composites. According to the company, Siebold is:
alert and talking with his family and doctors.
Reuters releases the first close footage of the crash site, and transport officials investigating the scene:
A spokeswoman at the Kern’s County coroner’s office tells the Los Angeles Times that the killed pilot is 39-year-old father-of-two, Michael Alsbury. Alsbury had piloted SpaceShipTwo as recently as August 28, with Peter Siebold, completing a successful run. Michelle Saling, Alsbury’s widow:
I have lost the love of my life. I am living in hell right now.
Branson says he is “determined to find out what went wrong” and learn from the tragedy.
This is obviously a very tough time for everybody who works at Virgin Galactic, who works at The Spaceship Company, and who works for Scaled Composites. And most importantly our thoughts remain with the families of the brave Scaled pilots and all those who have been affected by this tragedy. We are determined to find out what went wrong and are working with the authorities to get that information. It is too early for me to add any details of the investigation at this stage. We’ve always known that commercial space travel in an incredibly hard project. We’ve be undertaking a comprehensive testing program for many years and safety has always been our number one priority. This is the biggest test program ever carried out in commercial aviation history, precisely to ensure that this never happens to the public.
Alan Stern, a former associate administrator of NASA’s Space Mission Directorate, says he still plans to fly with Virgin Galactic.
Let’s not be Chicken Littles here. I want to be part of the opening of this future frontier.
Jim Clash, a journalist who has bought a $200,000 ticket to fly with Galactic, tells Mashable he’s not going to abandon the plan to travel to space after the crash of SpaceShipTwo. Clash:
If you’re gonna go for something worthwhile there’s risk and some people are gonna die. We all hope it is not us. Rocket science is hard, it’s not easy.
He doesn’t know whether the other approximately 700 ticketholders will feel the same:
It’s too early to tell, we have to see where the investigation goes. There’s about 700 of us out there. My guess is there are probably some who feel they will stick with the program, maybe others won’t.
Galactic releases a statement:
We owe it to the folks who were flying these vehicles, as well as those who’ve been working so hard on them, to understand this and to move forward. And that is what we’ll do.
NASA sends its condolences to Virgin Galactic:
While not a NASA mission, the pain of this tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration. Space flight is incredibly difficult, and we commend the passion of all in the space community who take on risk to push the boundaries of human achievement.
Virgin Galactic reports a test flight of SpaceShipTwo, launched a 9:19am by its partner Scaled Composites, led to the “loss of the vehicle” after a “serious anomaly”.
Witnesses reported seeing the aircraft explode in flight. Doug Messier, a blogger who runs the website Parabolic Arc, which reports on space news, witnesses the crash from Jawbone Station, which is on a ridge overlooking the desert where the craft crashed.
We saw the twin contrails of WhiteKnightTwo overhead. They do that prior to a drop. SpaceShipTwo dropped. From what I could tell, motor fired and then stopped then fired again. I think that’s what happened. [It appeared that SpaceShipTwo] broke apart and started coming down in pieces over the desert. We started seeing clouds of dirt where pieces of the ship came down. One after another. At least three. Debris from the ship was scattered all over the road.
The WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, which carries the SpaceShipTwo, lands safely.
A California Highway Patrol spokesperson said two people were found near the crash in the desert north of California City and east of Mojave. One of the individuals had parachuted out of the aircraft, and another was located near the scene as well. The FAA:
Just after 10 a.m. PDT today, ground controllers at the Mojave Spaceport lost contact with SpaceShipTwo, an experimental space flight vehicle. The incident occurred over the Mojave Desert shortly after the space flight vehicle separated from WhiteKnightTwo, the vehicle that carried it aloft. Two crew members were on board SpaceShipTwo at the time of the incident. WhiteKnightTwo remained airborne after the incident. The FAA is investigating.
SpaceShipTwo is scheduled to test a new plastic-based rocket fuel for the first time, in its first powered flight in nine months. Engineers were switching out the previous engine, which burned rubber-based fuel. Scaled Composites is reported to have previously experienced problems with the rocket on the ground. The new motor is intended to push SpaceShip Two five times higher than it had ever flown before—to the edge of space 62 miles above the Earth. Maximum speed iss expected to reach about 2,500 miles an hour during its ascent.
Branson tells CNN that Galactic’s spaceship technology can be used for rapid air travel:
We’re building spaceships and we’ll initially be sending them into space. And then in time we’ll be manufacturing spaceships that go tremendous speeds and we’ll be transporting people around the world in spaceships at speeds that make Concorde look quite slow … ‘Fast’, if we can pull it off, is 18-and-a-half thousand miles an hour, which means that anywhere in the world you want to go, you get there in half an hour.
Branson hopes that Virgin Galactic will be ready for launch by early next year. Despite of the fact that the deadline has been delayed for close to seven years, the company’s developers are giving safety priority over deadlines. CEO George Whitesides:
Customers are eager to fly, but they know we’ll fly them when we feel ready. Obviously we want to do it as quickly as possible, but we don’t want to rush it.
Branson says on NBC’s “Today” show:
We’re now going through the final testing stages. We’ll be doing at least one flight into space before the end of the year. I’ll be going up with my son Sam ‘early-ish’ in the new year.
Branson confirms that Virgin Galactic has made several sales to customers paying with Bitcoin:
There are a lot of people who’ve made lots of money out of Bitcoin, we’ll accept their money and send them to space. We’ve had six or seven space tickets sold already.
He has invested in Bitcoin and supports the idea of a global currency:
I suspect if it’s not Bitcoin somebody like Square will be the people who come up with that currency.
SpaceShipTwo reaches its highest altitude yet, around 71,000 feet. Galactic chief pilot David Mackay:
She flew brilliantly. All the tests went really well and generated vital data that will be used to further fine-tune our operations.
Footage shows pre-takeoff inspection and the takeoff with WhiteKnightTwo, the drop and 20-second test burn that powers SpaceShipTwo to 71,000 feet, and the descent and landing.
Branson announces that Virgin Galactic is accepting Bitcoin:
The first ticket we sold was actually today was to a stewardess in Hawaii who made quite a a lot of money by getting into Bitcoin early on.
The company transferred the ticket price into dollars:
So there’s a fixed price … [and] we can actually pay her money back, if she changes her mind about going to space in a few months.
If Virgin Galactic didn’t have a refund policy, it might be willing to conduct a pure Bitcoin transaction.
Video shows highlights of the second flight under SpaceShipTwo’s own power including the drop from the carrier aircraft and 20-second test burn.
Video from an onboard camera on the tail shows the spaceship’s second powered flight, including the drop from the carrier plane and initial descent after the test burn of the rocket engine, as the pilots apparently control strong lateral forces to keep it on a straight trajectory.
SpaceShipTwo reaches a speed of Mach 1.43 and successfully completes all its test objectives in the second flight under its own power. WhiteKnightTwo drops SpaceShipTwo at 46,000 feet and a 20-second burn pushes the space craft to a maximum altitude of 69,000 feet. During flight, it tests supersonic aerodynamics and the feather mechanism that uses wing movements to create air resistance that slow it down during descent. Branson:
We couldn’t be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts as we move toward a 2014 start of commercial service
Video shows highlights of the flight including takeoff with WhiteKnightTwo from Movaje Space Port, the drop from the carrier plane around 46,000 feet, and the 16-second test burn that powers it to Mach 1.2 and 56,000 feet.
Three workers at the Mojave Space Port are killed and two others are severely injured as a failure occurs during a test of a nitrous oxide system. A mechanic working several hundred yards from the explosion says it was ‘louder than a sonic boom’. The workers aren’t identified but relatives of 45-year-old Scaled Composites employee Charles ‘Glen’ May say they have been notified by the company that he has died in the accident. Rutan says the test of the NOS propellant system – the ‘laughing gas’ used in hot-rods to boost engine power and in dentists’ offices as anaesthetic – didn’t include any sparking, and SpaceShipTwo’s rocket engine wasn’t fired.
We felt it was completely safe. We had done a lot of these [tests] with SpaceShip One.
Why the accident occurred:
We just don’t know.
Two of the workers died at the scene of the accident, while the third died at hospital following surgery. The injured workers – two critical and one with serious injuries – suffered multiple shrapnel wounds. Several other Scaled employees escaped injury from the explosion.
Video shows highlights of the flight to 367,442 feet, including the takeoff with White Knight at the Mojave Space Port, the drop and engine ignition above 46,000 feet, and the touchdown. Pilot Brian Binnie:
We might have gotten to 370,000 feet if my mother-in-law hadn’t spilled about a pound of coffee on me this morning. A little accident added to the drama of the day.
SpaceShipOne makes its second flight into space five days after the first. This time it reaches altitude of 112 km (367,442 feet) compared with 102.9 km on the first voyage. Achieving two space flights within a week, it wins the $10m Ansari X prize for privately built spaceships offered by the X Prize Foundation of St. Louis, Missouri. The prize also requires it to achieve altitudes above 100 km (62 miles) on both flights. Pilot Brian Binnie ignites the hybrid rocket motor a few seconds after SpaceShipOne is released from the White Knight carrier plane somewhere above 46,000 feet, and after the top altitude is confirmed by radar, it glides back to earth and lands like a regular airplane, touching down at 11:14 a.m. Eastern.
Video shows the spacecraft’s flight from release from the White Knight launch aircraft, climbs vertically and makes several unplanned barrel rolls, before the engine shuts out early. The spaceship completes its mission and returns to earth safely.
SpaceShip One completes its first flight into space, the first of the two flights needed within a week for the $10 million Ansari X Prize for commercial spacecraft. It completes several rolls at the top of its trajectory, which aren’t in the flight plan, and the engine shuts down early, but the spaceship lands safely. Pilot Mike Melvill:
That was a really good ride. I feel like I nailed it.