Virgin’s brief suborbital update

Most of Wednesday’s announcement by Virgin Galactic focused on its rejuvenated smallsat launch system, LauncherOne. The company, though, did offer a brief update on its suborbital spaceflight plans. According to the release, the company now has “confirmation that all major components of SpaceShipTwo’s rocket system have been qualified for powered flight, on track to begin before the year’s end.” The release cited “a flurry of recent test activity”, which is clear from the test logs for its RocketMotorTwo hybrid rocket engine and SpaceShipTwo itself.

Virgin also announced it had just signed up its 529th customer, which it considered a milestone itself. That’s because, since the Space age began, only 528 people have flown to space (many, of course, multiple times). Thus, within about the first 90 commercial SpaceShipTwo flights, Virgin will double the number of people who have been to space in history. Those commercial flights, Branson said Wednesday, are scheduled to begin by the end of 2013.

Much of the media coverage of Wednesday’s event, though, focused on a bit of old news. Various outlets, including the AP, reported that Branson and his two adult children will go on the first commercial SS2 flight. While that was a “revelation” to the AP, Branson has said for several years, such as this 2009 report, that he and members of his family would go on that initial commercial flight—part show of confidence in the service, and part publicity stunt, to be sure. The British tabloid The Sun went on to report that Branson “is to name the Virgin Galactic mothership after his own mother, Eve.” That naming of the first WhiteKnightTwo airplane as the “VMS Eve” already took place—in July 2008.

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