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New flights from SpaceShipTwo will likely not happen for years

In the heat of competition: A variety of unnamed sources are saying that Virgin Galactic’s new SpaceShipTwo will will likely not fly for years.

This quote is especially telling:

As to when that commercial service might actually be ready, one former Virgin Galactic employee told Newsnight: “I can’t say whether it will be two years or whether it will be five… They have a huge, huge, way to go.”

So is this quote from Doug Messier, quoted in the article:

“This program’s claimed four lives already and it’s had four powered flights and they haven’t gotten anywhere near space in 10 years.”

When summed up, as Messier does, Virgin Galactic’s effort sure sounds disappointing, doesn’t it?

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Edward

    A “huge, huge, way to go” may be right. They apparently are considering going back to the rubber fuel, again.

    It sounds as though the choice of either hybrid fuel is not sizing up as adequate for their needs, and not being sure of this basic design factor makes it look like there is no reason for optimism. I don’t know what they would have to do to change to liquid or solid fuels, should that prove necessary, but such a choice would likely take even longer to test and incorporate — and who knows what structural/aerodynamic changes would be needed.

    I have said that getting to space is difficult, dangerous, and expensive. Virgin Galactic is demonstrating the difficult part.

    It is good to know that XCOR and Blue Origin are still in the running.

  • pzatchok

    Getting to space is not hard.
    Everyone else with the cash is doing it.

    VG is making it hard by staying married to its two worst ideas.

    One, the idea that they can launch their craft from under a carrier plane.
    Its possible but the only reason they want to do it is so they do not need a crane to lift it to the top of the carrier aircraft. (Like the shuttle did for years) They do not want much ground crew so they can flt from any place on the planet.
    Launching from under the craft limits the space ships possible size.

    And two, that stupid hybrid engine idea. Again they want to use it to limit the ground crew size. They can ship preloaded engines all over the world with little more than a rubber tire import stamp and safety requirements.

    Branson eventually wants to fly around with a 5 man team and give out ‘fun’ rides to all his rich friends.

    Launch from one airport. Launch from on top of a 747 and switch to a liquid fuel primary rocket that gets jettisoned just before top altitude,
    Anyone that can afford 200,000 US for a ride can afford a little more and fly into the spaceport the day before the ride.

  • Being first isn’t always best. A decade ago Virgin was the first private entity to get to space, but recently, not so much. Perhaps they would be best served by shutting the operation down, refunding investors, and liquidating assets. I understand that there are serious legal and financial ramifications. but seriously, ten years on and they’re nowhere near profitable operation.

    The documentary “Black Sky” is still inspirational and a good look at the heady days of 2004, but maybe it’s time to shut it down and offer services to those who are building on that success and are better contenders.

  • Matt in AZ

    Definitely not good news for Spaceport America in New Mexico. With VG out as an anchor tenant for the foreseeable future, can they get any significant comers to keep them afloat? It would be a shame to see such a facility go to waste.

  • PeterF

    VG could still make a profit if they develop a spaceport and sell ground support services :)
    New Mexico/ Nevada can boast the largest volume of uncontrolled airspace in the lower 48.

  • Edward

    > Getting to space is not hard. Everyone else with the cash is doing it.

    Everyone else with the cash is *trying* to do it. Sierra Nevada, XCORE, Blue Origin, and some others have been trying for several years, now. Kistler never succeeded, and Armadillo has just restarted again after a pause in operations. The Russians are also demonstrating the difficulty of getting into space. Six decades into the space age, launch vehicles generically fail at a terrible rate, although some have good track records, lately (e.g. Ariane V).

  • pzatchok

    All of those organizations are running on shoe string budgets. Including the Russians because of all of their graft and corruption.

    None of them are spending like Space X, Boeing, Lockheed, Or any number of other nations national programs.

    They all have the same access to the same tech and the same pool of educated workers. Whats the difference in all the programs?

    Some of those up and coming programs have never had a real launch yet and they have been working at their vehicles for how long now?

    A few look like two guys working out of their garage part time. I hope they succeed just because I like seeing the little guy win.

    VG on the other hand has a billion dollars, hundreds of workers, and 10 plus years at its disposal and can’t seem to finish its first project.

  • Edward

    I am confused, because you have made some of my points for me. Are you now agreeing that getting to space is difficult?

    The Russians are able to make a whole lot of other things work under the same conditions of graft and corruption. So why are they having a difficult time with their rocketry program? I suggest that it is because rocketry is difficult.

    I used the same point that it has been years, and some newcomers have yet to launch, so how easy can it be?

    The difference in the programs even with the same pool of engineers is likely the experience with the difficult-to-build rockets. Space X, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin have been launching their current rockets for several years now, gaining experience with each launch, and these companies take years to design, build, and test their next rockets, despite their greater resources than the little newcomers. To me, that does not sound like rocketry is easy for those three big companies. Arianespace (European national program) and ULA (US national program) will likewise take years to have their next rockets ready. Virgin Galactic is an excellent example of how difficult it is to make a rocket go into space.

    Many of the newcomers are merely trying to get into suborbital space, not orbit. At least not yet. Even suborbital space isn’t so easy.

    You did not address the abysmal failure rate, which is an indicator of the difficulty of getting into space. Having a rocket is one thing, keeping it working properly throughout its mission is another.

  • pzatchok

    The Russia of today is definitely not the soviet union of old.

    During the years of the old Soviet union the people did not know of the wealth of the west and worked hard at their projects for next to nothing out of patriotism and ignorance.
    As soon as the old Soviet union fell and the west flooded in they found out just how far behind they were.

    Since then every aspect of their industrial base has gone down in quality and production.

    The fact is new space companies have it far far easier than 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. They have all the compiled failures of all the space projects through time to learn from.
    they absolutely know how to build a great fuel pump and make it work. They know exactly what shape to make combustion chambers to keep oscillations down to a minimum.

    This is no longer the era of the slide rule and personal experience. We now have super computers to help us find almost every single problem that could develop in a new rocket.

    These new companies have no reason to develop and use new materials. There are enough materials to chose from that are proven.

    The reason some of these companies are having trouble is because they are stepping outside the area of cheap simple proven and reliable designs and ideas.

    Others are having trouble because of a serious lack of cash flow.

    Drop the failures of 20 years ago out. Drop out the companies that are under funded. and drop out the projects that have not made a flight yet.
    Your are left with some that have pretty good track records, except for VG they have all made more successful flights than failed ones.
    And the Russian failures are pretty much happening in the last few years. Culminating with some of that countries largest cases of graft, corruption and theft. Something that would not and could not happen in any other nations programs.

    Blaming every failure on “its hard” is a cop out. Its a simplistic excuse.

    When a cop shoots an innocent person by mistake do we let them off because their job is hard.
    Its hard is not an excuse, especially when others do the same job all the time and do it right.

  • Edward

    > except for VG they have all made more successful flights than failed ones.

    More successes than failures is not a good indicator. If airliners or cars were so difficult to operate safely to their destinations, I think that you would not be arguing about a lack of difficulty in those industries. Fortunately for those industries, there are a lot of “nines” in the probability of reaching the destination safely (e.g. 99.99%). There are not as many “nines” for launch vehicles.

    Once again, your arguments continue to make rocket launch sound difficult to achieve. Supercomputers, and careful selection materials and fuels make it sound harder than steam engines (which require careful handling to this day, though these days they are operated safely with little difficulty). How many industries require supercomputers in order to make their products operate safely? It sounds like a lot of care in design, assembly, and test is required for rocketry.

    Russia’s corruption, graft, and theft do not seem to make their airlines difficult to operate (or any other Russian industry), so these conditions are not likely the primary source for the difficulty all nations and companies have had with their rocket programs — even in the most recent 20 years.

    (BTW, it was 19 years ago, yesterday, that Arianespace lost their Ariane 501 rocket, so even that company had spectacular difficulty within this time frame.)

    > Blaming every failure on “its hard” is a cop out. Its a simplistic excuse.

    I don’t know what I wrote to make you think that I believe that the difficulty of getting to space is the reason for every failure. Indeed, there are usually technical reasons — reasons that can be fixed, and the lessons learned in order to reduce the difficulty of getting to space. If I simplistically thought that failures just happen due to the difficulty of getting into space, then I would have no hope for improvement.

    Please do not put words into my mouth (or onto my keyboard, whatever is appropriate for written discussions). I work hard to write what I mean and to mean what I write. To have someone casually twist the meaning of my carefully chosen words is rather hurtful, and hardly conducive to productive discussion. I try not to do that to others; please extend the same courtesy to me.

    When I say that getting into space is difficult, that is because it actually is, not that it is an excuse for failure. If we were to say that getting to space was easy, then we would have to ask why so few nations and companies are doing it.

    As you pointed out, a couple of guys in a garage have a difficult time getting into space, but those same two guys could convert a gasoline car into an electric car easily and quickly. One activity is difficult, the other not so much.

    My brother just completed an electric car conversion, designing the modifications himself and without any analysis of the resulting structural integrity or suspension, but could he design a safely working rocket? No. That is much more difficult. So difficult that few nations with all their resources have done so.

    Many people home-build experimental airplanes from Scaled Composite’s kits. Getting into the air is not as hard as getting into space. Even the experts are discovering that their often-used turbopumps have had design flaws for decades.

    Is it becoming easier to do? Yes. It is not so difficult as half a century ago, and for the same reasons that you expressed. But it is still difficult to do, and the experience of America’s rocket scientists, engineers, and technicians as well as NASA’s willingness to work with the new companies is a major reason why they are successful.

    Getting into space is still difficult, dangerous, and expensive, but the new companies are working hard to change all that. Right now they seem to be focusing on the expense part, even as they try to reduce the difficulty and the danger (both of which require experience in order to find and solve problems).

    (Please note: the police have a far better track record than rocketry does, despite the difficulty in making the sudden and unexpected split-second life-and-death decisions required of that job. Sometimes when they shoot a violent person who is attacking them with deadly force, they get unfairly blamed and persecuted. The job of police officer is dangerous and difficult, too. I can only hope that the rewards officers get out of the job are worth the risks taken.)

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