Will SpaceShipTwo take passengers into space this year? Branson says yes, Messier says probably not.


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Will SpaceShipTwo take passengers into space this year? Branson says yes, Messier says probably not.

Messier’s analysis seems very sound to me. Moreover, if you watch the video of Branson at the link, he sure doesn’t seem comfortable making his claim. I hope Messier is wrong, but the history and facts seem to support him.

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10 comments

  • Pzatchok

    Every time Branson makes a statement I keep thinking someone in the audience will stand up and shout ‘squirrel’ to draw our attention away.

  • Patrick Ritchie

    I’m skeptical they will fly this year as well. The evidence would seem to suggest that the hybrid engine that worked very well on the smaller spaceship one does not scale up very well.

    BUT I would argue that this kind of trial and error is exactly what the industry needs if we are ever to see launch costs come down. SpaceX went through similar growing pains with the Falcon 1 and early versions of the Merlin engine.

    Making real progress requires flying real vehicles.

  • m d mill

    Thanks to patick ritchie for answering the obvious question:
    didn’t space ship one allready do this?
    I did not know it was a smaller ship/engine.

    To take children aboard would be child abuse, at this stage.
    I’m sorry R.Z., and i hate to say it, but SOME regulation is required.
    We are not anarchists.
    A tragedy with children,let alone willing adults, will shut the whole thing down,
    which nobody wants.
    If Branson himself buys it…acceptible loss.

  • You say: “I hate to say it, but SOME regulation is required.”

    I beg to differ. It appears that you are using the possibility that Branson would fly his children on SpaceShipTwo prematurely as a justification to add additional regulation and government control over his activities. This is absurd, for numerous reasons.

    One, we already have numerous regulations that would apply should Branson act foolishly here. If Branson takes his kids on a flight before the spacecraft is entirely safe I guarantee that social services will arrive shortly thereafter. No need to pile on with more regulations.

    Two, you assume that Branson is stupid and that only the government would know when it was safe to flight. That assumption is not only ridiculous, it has been proven wrong numerous times in other venues.

    Branson has strong self-interest in not having a failure on these first flights. If he does, his business model collapses and his customers vanish. Thus, he is not going to do anything foolish. His success elsewhere proves this.

    I criticize Branson for verbally overhyping his company and not telling us what is really happening. I do not criticize him for the care in which he has supervised the development of SpaceShipTwo. It is very apparent that he has not pressured his engineers to fly the spacecraft before it was ready.

    The government however has a much worse track record. Consider both Challenger and Columbia. In both cases, NASA managers pushed for launch while ignoring some very fundamental engineering issues that engineers were saying needed to be addressed.

    If anything, putting the government in control here will do nothing to increase safety, but it will do a lot to squelch innovation and creativity.

  • Robert Clark

    The implication of your argument R.Z. Is that we should have no regulation even for air line travel.
    Also I know for a fact that VG is exaggerating the safety of hybrid engines. The claim is made that “hybrids can not explode” where Rand Simberg personally witnessed a hybrid exploding. Plus the fact that we now know that even the nitrous oxide tank can even explode. The fact that Scaled Composites still is not sure what caused the 2007 explosion is even more disturbing.
    In short if VG is to give informed consent forms for their passengers to sign it should contain language of the nature,”We believe hybrid engines are safer than liquid engines, still hybrids engines have been known to explode in the past. Moreover, the nitrous oxide that is used as oxidizer has been also known to explode and it is not fully understood why that happens.”

    Bob Clark

  • m d mill

    you make many good points.
    however you overstate my objections.
    mine was a gut reaction.
    Branson seems determined to take his children(young?) on the earliest possible passenger flight (from the article). I still find that tanamount to child abuse. It struck me that no one had objected to this.
    He does not know the safety factor of that craft, nor do the best engineers. The safety of this craft will not be know until scores ,even hundreds of flawless flights have been made.
    It is the nature of rocketry.
    If children are put on those early flights it will only prove that
    SOME regulation is needed.
    Perhaps strong regulation can be avoided if the developers use “self regulation” and do not minimize the inevitable unknowns of the early flights, which branson seems to be doing willingly or unknowingly.
    Children were not put on the space shuttle, and thus they were never in danger.
    Also ,it would not surprise me that Branson could delude himself and do something unwise, like putting his kids on early flights, to make a point.
    Children should not be allowed on those flights until such flights are completely blase’.
    That is my opinion in reply…it is admittedly a minor point that i post here only for completeness.

  • What Branson says has consistently been quite different from what he does. He loves to use the press to make news with brash statements, as he does here, but he has also shown remarkable patience for the past decade in connection with the actual development of SpaceShipTwo. That track record tells me that there will be many test flights before he puts himself or his family or any passengers on the ship.

    Which, by the way, is one of the reasons I am so skeptical of his brash claim about flying this year. They almost certainly have an engine issue that they need to solve. It is going to take more than a few months and a few test flights to solve it.

  • What I was really objecting to was the knee-jerk call for more regulation. We already have plenty of regulations on the books to handle this situation. More regulations will accomplish nothing good.

    Nonetheless, the response was to instantly call for more regulations. I’ve had to listen to this my whole life, and I am honestly sick of it, especially since the consequence of new regulations almost every single time for the past half century has been bad.

  • m d mill

    Bransons children are adult (I should have realized that ), so that particular point (of mine) is moot anyway.

  • Edward

    On the topic of regulation/overregulation, I agree with Robert.

    US airlines were “deregulated” in 1978, and many people declared that safety would suffer as airlines tried to cut costs to be competitive. The exact opposite happened, however, and we recently went through 11+ years without a fatal accident in a major US airline (technically, Asiana Airlines isn’t a US airline, but their accident, last year, was in the US).

    The reason is that the airlines (and now the spacelines) are very much aware that their accidents will be headline news that are bad for business — worse than skimping on safety costs. We all know that there will be fatal accidents with our new spacecraft. It took about a century and literally a billion flights in order to make airplanes as safe as they are today; we should not expect that same level of safety to suddenly occur with the spacecraft.

    I fear that at the first fatal accident, people will call for overregulation of the fledgling commercial manned space industry, declaring that the company cut costs at the expense of safety.

    I once calculated that the fuel rate used in each Saturn V F1 engine was 36 gigawatts, the equivalent of 36 major US power plants. Five engines made it a total of 180 gigawatts at launch. That is a lot of power going through engines that are smaller than any one of those power plants. What engineer would stick those engines only a few feet from the fuel tank?

    Getting into space is harder, more expensive, and far more dangerous than getting into the air. It took almost five years and (literally) an uncountable number of flights before the first airplane fatality, but it took five years and only 27 spaceflights (including the two X-15 spaceflights) for the first spacecraft fatality. So far, the government spacecraft have a poor safety record. The only ones that didn’t kill a crew flew 10 or fewer times, and even Apollo (11 flights) killed a crew. Do we *really* expect commercial spacecraft to be suddenly safer through untested regulation to unknown problems?

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