Tag Archives: Spaceport America

Virgin Galactic test flights to resume in 2015?

I’ll believe it when I see it: The executive director of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, which runs Spaceport America, said Tuesday that she hopes Virgin Galactic will resume test flights of a SpaceShipTwo suborbital ship sometime in 2015, with commercial flights beginning in 2016.

She claimed that work on the new ship is about 80% completed, with construction of another ship also underway.

Forgive me if I have my doubts. Virgin Galactic has spent more than a decade making these promises, with no results.

New Mexico legislature advances spaceport sale bill

A state bill to sell Spaceport America, New Mexico’s spaceport built to service Virgin Galactic’s oft-delayed space tourism business, has advanced out of its first committee.

The bill still needs to clear two more committees before it gets a floor vote, but considering the lack of progress at Virgin Galactic, I would not be surprised if it passes. The high hopes that created this spaceport a decade ago have now faded into a boondoggle that New Mexico probably can no longer afford.

New Mexico wants out of the spaceport business

A state law-maker in New Mexico has introduced a bill to sell off the state’s spaceport, Spaceport America.

New Mexico spent $220 million to build it and Senator Munoz now says the state has come up short. “It’s not a revenue stream and they don’t know how to get that revenue stream and that’s what needs to change,” he said. He said a private company would do a better job behind the controls and believes there is a buyer out there.

The heart of the problem here is the long delayed first flight by Virgin Galactic. Spaceport America essentially has this one customer, and Virgin Galactic has simply failed to get off the ground with its commercial flights.

Virgin Galactic and the FAA on Friday reached agreement allowing the company to fly its suborbital flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic and the FAA on Friday reached agreement allowing the company to fly its suborbital flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

I suspect that Virgin Galactic wants to hurry its debut in New Mexico in order to help quell the doubts that have been building about the company’s future.

A reporter takes a close look at Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America in New Mexico and comes away very skeptical.

Failure to launch? A reporter takes a close look at Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America in New Mexico and comes away very skeptical.

Read it all. The view might be pessimistic, but it is important to keep an open mind. Richard Branson’s effort, as sincere as I think it is, might not succeed.

The next test flight of a version of SpaceX’s Grasshopper could occur in New Mexico in December.

The next test flight of a version of SpaceX’s Grasshopper could occur in New Mexico in December.

The story says this test will be with Grasshopper, but I think that is a mistake. Unless SpaceX is using this name for all its vertical landing test vehicles, the company had said the test vehicle to fly in New Mexico would be a full scale Falcon 9 first stage, with nine Merlin engines, not one as has Grasshopper.

SpaceX is moving its Grasshopper test program to New Mexico’s spaceport.

SpaceX is moving its Grasshopper test program to New Mexico’s spaceport.

The move confirms big plans for the test bed. Flights to date have been conducted at SpaceX’s engine test site in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX received a waiver from the FAA to fly Grasshopper up to 11,500ft from McGregor, but Spaceport America is an FAA-certified spaceport where no where no waivers are required. “Spaceport America offers us the physical and regulatory landscape needed to complete the next phase of Grasshopper testing,” says SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

A (new) Mexican standoff at the old spaceport.

A (new) Mexican standoff at the old spaceport.

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.

Virgin Galactic hosts an industry day at New Mexico spaceport

Virgin Galactic announced today that it will co-host an industry day at Spaceport America in New Mexico on October 18 in order to locate suppliers for its space tourism business.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for companies ranging from local New Mexico firms to national corporations to understand our unique needs for goods and services, including our requirements in building and servicing multiple commercial spaceships as the market further develops,” said Virgin Galactic’s President and CEO George Whitesides. “Our intention is to establish these relationships and emphasize our desire to hire locally as much as possible.”