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Virgin Galactic, Branson's space venture


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11 hours ago, RealKerbal3x said:

ULA is a conglomerate formed from Boeing and Lockheed Martin. I don't believe it's a commercial company as it basically operates off government contracts.

ULA is certainly a commercial company.

As was, also, Sea Launch. And Orbital Sciences (which later got bought by Northrop Grumman.) I'm sure there are a few more, too.

The history of commercial space providers is longer than some people seem to think it was.

Edited by mikegarrison
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8 hours ago, mikegarrison said:

The history of commercial space providers is longer than some people seem to think it was.

While certainly true that contractors built every rocket we think of, so there was commercial involvement, I think the requirement for this particular "club" is that the launch be self-funded vs a government contract?

SpaceX gets there with Falcon 1, not Falcon 9 since NASA paid a few hundred million for F9 and Dragon dev, for example.

 

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24 minutes ago, tater said:

While certainly true that contractors built every rocket we think of, so there was commercial involvement, I think the requirement for this particular "club" is that the launch be self-funded vs a government contract?

That makes no sense. Commercial companies sell everything from corn flakes to satellites to governments. That doesn't mean they aren't commercial companies.

ULA is clearly a commercial, for-profit, privately owned company.

The simple answer here is that the claim was wrong.

Here, look at this list of Atlas V launches. The first five launches are for commercial comsats. That predates ULA, of course, but it also shows that Lockheed Martin, a private commercial company, was launching private commercial payloads into orbit in 2002. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlas_V#Atlas_V_launches

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17 minutes ago, mikegarrison said:

That makes no sense. Commercial companies sell everything from corn flakes to satellites to governments. That doesn't mean they aren't commercial companies.

ULA is clearly a commercial, for-profit, privately owned company.

The simple answer here is that the claim was wrong.

The claim that there have been only N privately developed rockets that flew to orbit?

I've heard that over the years, wasn't Pegasus (O-ATK) the first?

There's a difference between building something for someone to their specs, with their money, and building something speculatively, then selling it. How many "commercial" nuclear aircraft carriers have been built, for example?  None, even though the companies that build them for the USN are certainly commercial companies.

Spaceship 1/2 and New Shepard when it flies with people will certainly be the first fully private spacecraft to carry humans to space (Spaceship 1 already owns that title). NS, maybe not, as NASA started throwing money at them, right?

It's a distinction that deserves some way to express it, don't you think? It would be a vastly different situation with SLS/Orion if the contractors were developing it on their own, with no taxpayer money, then when it's ready, they sell them to NASA, for example.

Clearly it gets muddy with specific vehicles once the company starts doing useful things. Falcon 1 was self paid. F9 got gov money. Starship now has some government money, even if it's chump change (135M for lunar SS), so I'd say SS no longer gets that label. It's really an accomplishment only a little company can make. BO will not be able to claim it, for example.

NASA put cubesats on this last Virgin launch, have they paid Virgin any money for dev at all? If so, Virgin doesn't qualify, either.

 

Edited by tater
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 This VOrbit stuff has been off my radar.

So - a few questions, if you will indulge me:

  • If LEO requires a craft to go about 17,500 mph or so - is it sufficiently cost effective to launch from a jet that can only go a bit above 500?
  • The payload looks a heck of a lot like an ALCM. We have anti-satellite missiles that look and work similarly.  How is this different?  Did they merely swap out the boom-stuff in favor of something that beeps? 
  • The under wing launch position is severely restricting to payload diameter - given that some satellites are the size of a school bus, and microsats are relatively new - will there be enough demand for tiny satellites to keep going?  Surely they don't hope to compete directly with SpaceX when they can poop out constellations of small sats from traditional ground launched rockets 
  • Given that the 747 is an awesome plane - would it make sense to ask Boeing if they would pimp one out with a bomb bay and doors to be able to launch a larger payload? 
Edited by JoeSchmuckatelli
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7 minutes ago, JoeSchmuckatelli said:

 This VOrbit stuff has been off my radar.

So - a few questions, if you will indulge me:

  • If LEO requires a craft to go about 17,500 mph or so - is it sufficiently cost effective to launch from a jet that can only go a bit above 500?

It's not about the velocity given by the carrier aircraft, it's about orbital inclination flexibility, and about lifting the first stage up a bit (all the propellant required to drag S1 up to the aircraft altitude is not required).

 

Quote
  • The payload looks a heck of a lot like an ALCM. We have anti-satellite missiles that look and work similarly.  How is this different?  Did they merely swap out the boom-stuff in favor of something that beeps? 
  • The under wing launch position is severely restricting to payload diameter - given that some satellites are the size of a school bus, and microsats are relatively new - will there be enough demand for tiny satellites to keep going?  Surely they don't hope to compete directly with SpaceX when they can poop out constellations of small sats from traditional ground launched rockets 

Yes to all of those, it's a smallsat solution. Might be useful for some bespoke orbits, rapid response to an odd inclination, etc.

Edited by tater
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23 minutes ago, JoeSchmuckatelli said:

 If LEO requires a craft to go about 17,500 mph or so - is it sufficiently cost effective to launch from a jet that can only go a bit above 500?

The payload looks a heck of a lot like an ALCM.

1) The main advantage (claimed, anyway) is that one is not restricted to a fixed launch site. A secondary advantage (claimed, anyway) is that you don't have to design the first-stage nozzle to work at full sea level pressure.

2) ALCMs are airbreathing. In fact, all cruise missiles are, although surface launched and sub-launched cruise missiles require a rocket stage to initially accelerate them. The Williams F107 turbofan is particularly favored for US cruise missiles.

 

(Side note: when I worked at an engine company I was told by some old-timers that our company had bid for that contract, but it turned out that we radically over-designed our proposed engine. We were used to building engines that would run for thousands of hours, and a cruise missile engine only has to run for a few hours at most.)

Edited by mikegarrison
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4 minutes ago, JoeSchmuckatelli said:

 

  • If LEO requires a craft to go about 17,500 mph or so - is it sufficiently cost effective to launch from a jet that can only go a bit above 500?

Not really, only slightly, and it is probably offset by the reinforcements required for horizontal forces while underwing. However it comes with other advantages, mainly the ability to freely choose launch site, and theoretically not having to maintain as much ground equipment (although you then have to maintain an aircraft). IMO airlaunch isn't really worth it under most circumstances.

However, I recall one of those middle eastern space programs has to launch westward for neighbor reasons, which is a major performance hit. They could really benefit from developing airlaunch as it would allow them to launch eastwards.

10 minutes ago, JoeSchmuckatelli said:
  • The payload looks a heck of a lot like an ALCM. We have anti-satellite missiles that look and work similarly.  How is this different?  Did they merely swap out the boom-stuff in favor of something that beeps? 

LauncherOne probably wouldn't make a good cruise missile (being rocket powered) and would be barely passable as an ASAT weapon due to how much effort it takes to get one ready. In theory it could be used, but its about as practical as using R-7 or Atlas as an ICBM (they were designed for that but with the prep they would need they aren't really great in that role). For weapons purposes, solids are way better.

12 minutes ago, JoeSchmuckatelli said:
  • The under wing launch position is severely restricting to payload diameter - given that some satellites are the size of a school bus, and microsats are relatively new - will there be enough demand for tiny satellites to keep going?  Surely they don't hope to compete directly with SpaceX when they can poop out constellations of small sats from traditional ground launched rockets 

L1 isn't for big satellites so the diameter thing doesn't matter in this case. Yes it's missing out on part of the market but so is every single other rocket, designing one is usually kind of a "pick your niche(s)" situation. I think they will have enough launches to keep the lights on. Their cost/kg is comparable to Electron and they haven't had any problem getting business. Of course the market can only support a few smallsat launchers at this point, might get bigger soon, who knows, but VO is pretty early to the game so they shouldn't have sustainability problems. They have at least a few launches manifested.

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I'm not sure why I'm only seeing the news now. Congratulations, now we have two air-launched orbital rocket design...

Interestingly the diameter is larger than Pegasus. 1.8 m fairing would be nice I suppose...

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5 minutes ago, YNM said:

I'm not sure why I'm only seeing the news now. Congratulations, now we have two air-launched orbital rocket design...

Interestingly the diameter is larger than Pegasus. 1.8 m fairing would be nice I suppose...

Pegasus was not really a terribly sustainable design in the long run, given how much of it relied on using up old ICBM solid booster cores.

OK, just checked, and I was wrong. Actually Pegasus uses custom-built solid stages. It was the Minotaur rocket from Orbital Sciences that used up the old ICBM stages.

Edited by mikegarrison
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11 minutes ago, mikegarrison said:

Pegasus was not really a terribly sustainable design in the long run, given how much of it relied on using up old ICBM solid booster cores.

Minotaur/Taurus uses Castor 120, "a derivative of Peacekeeper MX"; then Pegasus uses the same 2nd and 3rd stage as Minotaur/Taurus - Orion 50 SRMs. They're all developed by Hercules Aerospace that did produce both Minuteman and Polaris missiles. I'm not sure if they're the exact same design, or share the same tooling and processes (very likely for the same production plant I suppose).

But yeah, I wonder if Virgin would ever consider a slightly larger rocket with 1.8 m fairing.

Edited by YNM
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  • 2 weeks later...

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/02/01/richard-branson-virgin-galactic-test-book/

Regarding a 2019 flight:

Quote

In the book, Schmidle wrote that the “seal had disbonded on the way up, as the pressure increased with nowhere to vent,” ultimately leaving a “wide gap running along the trailing edge of the right h-stab,” or horizontal stabilizer. When Mike Moses, Virgin Galactic’s president, missions and safety, saw the gap, “he felt his stomach drop,” Schmidle reported. Moses’s wife, Beth Moses, Virgin’s chief astronaut instructor, had been on the flight.

http://parabolicarc.com/2021/02/02/as-virgin-galactic-crew-celebrated-second-suborbital-flight-problems-loomed-behind-the-scenes/

 

Given the choice between a free ride to space on Virgin, or a tour of Boca Chica given by some random employee where I had to pay to get there... I'd take the tour.

Honestly, given the choice between a free ride with them and staying at home and doing nothing out of the ordinary...

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40 minutes ago, RCgothic said:

Wow, that's a pretty bleak assessment.

I've always found their flight to be scary.

I'd get on New Shepard tomorrow, I'm entirely willing to be their guinea pig.

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  • 4 weeks later...

 

Not that I have a spare quarter of a million needing to be lit on fire, but unless it has some sort of escape pod... not really interested in a ride on that sucker.

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43 minutes ago, tater said:

 

Not that I have a spare quarter of a million needing to be lit on fire, but unless it has some sort of escape pod... not really interested in a ride on that sucker.

Interesting that their "famiy picture" or whatever it is on the bottom left doesn't include the silhouette of SS3. Also, I see that there are three 1s replacing "i"s in "V1rg1nGalact1c," which I guess makes some sense for this announcement but still looks more like a gamertag than anything actually relevant.

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21 minutes ago, RyanRising said:

Interesting that their "famiy picture" or whatever it is on the bottom left doesn't include the silhouette of SS3.

This is sort of a "history of flight" thing that goes from birds to spacecraft. It's maybe a *little* egocentric of them to show two versions of their plane and only one plane made by the Wright Brothers, but oh well.

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21 minutes ago, mikegarrison said:

This is sort of a "history of flight" thing that goes from birds to spacecraft. It's maybe a *little* egocentric of them to show two versions of their plane and only one plane made by the Wright Brothers, but oh well.

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No kidding... The front looks flat on front for the one to be Spirit of St. Louis, but I assume it's that. Then what, the X-1? 747, looks like, then the LEM.

Odd choices. X-15 might be better, though I guess Virgin bought a bunch of 747s. As a passenger vehicle, the 747 is in another league from any of the Spaceship craft, the latter won't likely ever carry a full 747 load (combined flights) to space, lol. The LEM? Yeah, save that for a proper spaceplane that reaches orbit.

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  • 1 month later...

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