Virgin puts on a (no) show for its customers

VG customers with Branson

Attendees at Virgin Galactic’s customer event in Mojave Wednesday didn’t see SpaceShipTwo fly, but did at least get a group photo with Sir Richard Branson. (credit: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic)

For months, there had been speculation about what Virgin Galactic might do at an event for its customers in Mojave in September. An engine test firing? A glide flight of SpaceShipTwo? A powered SpaceShipTwo test flight? Virgin has a reputation for putting on a show at its events, and this was expected to be no exception.

As it turned out, plans did call for a glide flight of SS2, but no such flight took place. Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc reported that gusty winds kept SS2 and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft on the ground Wednesday, much to the disappointment, no doubt, of the several hundred people who traveled from around the country and beyond for the event. Messier reports that there apparently was an engine firing at a Virgin test site at Mojave, but he could not see or hear anything from his distant vantage point.

The scrubbed test flight was confirmed by the handful of media who were in attendance at the event itself. “We really wanted to do a special spaceship flight for you today,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said, in a account of the event. “We gave it our all, but in the end weather just didn’t cooperate.” He said the decision to scrub the flight was further evidence of the company’s commitment to safety.

(While it was common knowledge that Virgin Galactic was holding an event for its customers in Mojave this week, the company did not publicize it in advance, nor send out any broad set of invitations to the media. However, they apparently did invite a select few to attend, as, in addition to, Time was there, as was CNN and even the Bakersfield Californian. Companies have every right to play media favorites at an event like this, of course, and in the end, they didn’t get much more than some human interest stories out of the trip.)

Virgin Galactic’s press release about the event, issued apparently while the event was ongoing (it features a mix of past and future tense descriptions of the day-long event), makes no mention of the scrubbed test flight. Instead, it release played up the near-term prospects for commercial flights by SpaceShipTwo, which company officials have previously said they expect to begin next year. “With supersonic powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo well underway, a full commercial service is fast approaching. In fact, today’s event could well be the last major gathering of future astronauts before we finally start to make their dreams of space travel a reality,” Sir Richard Branson said in the release. And attendees did get to see “a stunning showcase of SS2 cabin seat prototypes,” according to the release, so there’s that.

And if any of the 640 attendees, including 400 customers (according to the Virgin release) are complaining about the wind keeping SS2 grounded yesterday, keep in mind yesterday was not the windiest Virgin Galactic event in Mojave. Not even close.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>