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Messier not only provides a detailed analysis of the negotiations on-going between Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America over liability issues, he also provides context, much of which is not encouraging. For example,
SpaceShipTwo is set to begin its first powered test flights later this year using a “starter motor” that will be smaller than the full-scale hybrid engine that will be used for flights into space. The motor will allow pilots to test the space plane in the transonic flight region, which would be a major step forward.
Whether the full-scale RocketMotorTwo engine, powered by nitrous oxide and rubber, will be ready to fly this year is an interesting question. There have been stories for years – persistent, consistent and never really denied – that the motor just doesn’t work very well. Hybrid motors can function effectively for smaller vehicles, such as the smaller SpaceShipOne vehicle that flew in 2004, but are difficult to scale up. SpaceShipTwo is three times larger than its predecessor.
Meanwhile, there are the liability questions which might force Virgin Galactic, and all other private space companies, to flee New Mexico. The analysis suggests that the taxpayers of New Mexico might have paid for a very expensive spaceport that might never pay for itself.