This week Virgin Galactic announced a pair of coups. It received an order to conduct at one manned suborbital experimental flights on its SpaceShipTwo vehicle for NASA, with the option for two more and hired former NASA executive Mike Moses as vice president of Operations.
If all options on the NASA suborbital contract are exerted, the contract value is $4.5 million. Each mission allows researchers to put up to 1300 pounds of scientific experiments onboard SpaceShipTwo, giving the potential to put up to 600 experimental payloads per flight – more realistically, you'll have fewer experiments.
Virgin will provide a flight test engineer on every flight to monitor and “interact” with experiments as necessary – a capability you don't get with most suborbital flights. Southwest Research Institute (News - Alert) will have its researchers riding shotgun on its chartered suborbital flights onboard XCOR's Lynx and Virgin Galactic. In addition, since SpaceShipTwo will touchdown on an airfield, experiments can be quickly accessed after landing.
The announcement is the second suborbital research flight charter with Virgin Galactic. Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) was the first organization to sign up with Virgin to fly suborbital researchers. Under its contract, SwRI (News - Alert) will initially fly at two researchers on board SpaceShip Two and later fly a dedicated research flight .
Experiments to fly onboard SpaceShipTwo will be selected out of NASA's Flight Opportunities program designed to foster development of the commercial reusable suborbital industry. NASA has provided an on-line catalog
Calling Go/No-Go for Virgin Galactic flights out of Spaceport America in New Mexico will be Moses. Formerly Launch Integration Manager and chair of the Mission Management Team for the Space Shuttle program, Moses was responsible for all Space Shuttle processing activities from landing through launch, and reviewing all major milestones including final readiness for flight. As chair of the Mission Management team, he held ultimate launch decision authority for the final 12 flights of the Space Shuttle program.
At Virgin, Moses will develop and lead the team responsible for Virgin Galactic spaceship operations and logistics, flight crew operations, customer training, and spaceport ground operations, “with overall operational safety and risk management as the primary focus,” says the company's press release.
The latest announcements from Virgin Galactic reflect a larger campaign as the company starts moving towards flight operations. Last month, the company completed its $8 million Mojave Desert production plant and said it would start powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo in 2012.
Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.
Edited by Jennifer Russell