back to article Virgin Galactic will get into space 'within 18 months to two years'

Virgin Galactic will be carrying aloft its first paying customers "within 18 months to two years", according to chief executive George Whitesides. Speaking to the BBC at the Mojave Air and Space Port, Whitesides said the company is on track for lift-off "maybe sooner, but not much longer", despite being some way off finishing …

  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The spacefaring equivalent of 2 weeks?

    Whenever someone asks when a piece of software will be ready (or any other IT goal met, for that matter) the standard response is that it'll take "another couple of weeks".

    That is long enough to make progress - possibly even get close to something that works. It's also long enough in the future that you can hope whoever you made the commitment to will have forgotten. It's also close enough to satisfy the person asking, without them criticising or objecting too much.

    Of course, it's incredibly unlikely that you will have it all sorted by then - but when they come back you can say "oh there were a few complications, but I reckon it should be ready in a week ..... or two"

    1. JeffyPoooh
      Pint

      "...within 18 months to 2 years....maybe sooner."

      Oh for gawd's sake. You mean "Within 2 years."

      Formulating a sentence isn't exactly Rocket Science.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. MCG

      Re: They have been making overly optimistic statements about "when" since they started

      Also - This vehicle does not get anywhere near "space" - not sure it can even achieve low earth orbit.

      Nope, it definitely can't reach low earth orbit - that would require a delta-v of about 9.2 km/s vs about about 1.4 km/s for sub-orbital flights, plus Shuttle-style heat shields.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They have been making overly optimistic statements about "when" since they started

        "Shuttle-style heat shields" - ordinary heat shields will do. The Shuttles' were special, because they had to cope with the extra demands of being able to do a single polar orbit from a Vandenberg launch, for the military.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Final frontier altitude

      A reasonably accepted 'official' minimum altitude for space is 100km. SpaceShipTwo is intended to reach 110km, so there is enough of an excuse to call it a space ship. It is carried into the air mostly horizontally, and after launch goes up, falls down and when it gets deep enough into the atmosphere, it levels out and glides home.

      When going to orbit, a rocket goes up to get out of the worst of the atmosphere, then leans over to almost horizontal. If it did not go up first, air resistance would melt it long before it went fast enough for orbit. When in orbit, a space ship has a little energy because of its altitude (>150km) and lots of energy because the velocity required to stay in orbit. SpaceShipTwo has almost no velocity at 110km, so it has no chance whatsoever of reaching orbit. Even if it did go fast enough, there is enough atmosphere at 110km to bring it down before it goes around once.

      It really is the absolute minimum required for the widest definition of a space ship. The maiden voyage will be in late 2009... well, RSN anyway.

      Virgin Galactic are working on a cargo launcher called LauncherOne. It is intended to take 230kg (≈two humans, one space suit and no ride home) to low Earth orbit. LauncherOne gets carried by White Knight Two, just like SpaceShipTwo. The first test flights will be in late 2016. If it is not very late, it will meet a much stronger definition of a (cargo) space ship.

    3. Sporkinum

      Re: They have been making overly optimistic statements about "when" since they started

      "Personally I would have more faith in a scaled up Lohan vessel. At least we know they test properly."

      As far as I remember, they never have tested the actual flying portion of LOHAN. They have only the one, and it will be tested on it's maiden voyage. I'd like to see at least a 1/2 to 2/3rds scale balsa model actually fly first. But what what the heck.. Ad Astra Tabernamque!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Being picky...

    Virgin Galactic is "confident this wasn't a design issue".

    He was allowed to deploy the braking system whilst fatally dangerous to do so. I'd say it was a design issue.

    1. stucs201

      Re: Being picky...

      As long as a human has control over a vehicle they'll be able to crash it by operating the controls wrong.

      Presumably in this case the chances of the pilot operating this control at the wrong time were judged to be sufficiently low, perhaps less than the chances of a lock-out failing to disengage (which would also cause a crash).

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: Being picky...

        But if an action is severe enough to cause something bad to happen then it should be designed to not do it during that specific scenario.

        Put it this way, if you're doing 70mph on the motorway in 5th gear, and then decide you may have a 6th gear so you move the gear stick down but it doesn't engage the gear, it means you have 5 gears and the one you're trying to select is reverse. Imagine if you will, in the fast lane at 70mph, engaging reverse.

        That is why you can't do that, the gearbox is designed to stop you putting the car in to reverse no matter what speed and if you're going forward.

        1. Gideon 1

          Re: Being picky...

          In most manual gearbox cars the only thing preventing you inadvertently selecting reverse gear is some kind of extra selection device, e.g. a pull-up collar on the gear stick, or a push down mechanism on the stick. If you really really want to select reverse whilst travelling forward at speed, you can.

          1. wolfetone Silver badge

            Re: Being picky...

            "In most manual gearbox cars the only thing preventing you inadvertently selecting reverse gear is some kind of extra selection device, e.g. a pull-up collar on the gear stick, or a push down mechanism on the stick. If you really really want to select reverse whilst travelling forward at speed, you can."

            In some cars you're correct, but for the majority of cars on the road there isn't. I drive a Peugeot 107 and a Peugeot 3008. The 3008 has a 6 speed gearbox and a pull up collar, that goes up to the far left hand corner. The 107 has a 5 speed gearbox and no pull up/push down system, so you throw the car in to reverse like you would if selected any other forward gear.

            I had a lapse of concentration, given I've driven the 3008 for 2 years and not been near the 107, thinking my 107 had 6 gears instead of 5. I went to put it in 6th (which is reverse) and the gearbox wouldn't do it at all. Pulled it down twice, nothing, looked, then realised there was no 6th.

            So, mechanically, there is something in the gearbox designed to stop that.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Being picky...

              The cars are using 100 year old designs for much of their design

              Trains are being fitted with Auto-braking, to stop drivers jumping red lights, cars are being fitted with collision avoidance systems to stop them driving into the back of others. So they are getting better, but it's retrofitting to a flawed design.

              I haven;t tried, but I would think it it's very hard to shove a modern Auto box into reverse or do a handbrake manoeuvre on a car with an electronic handbrake.

              This is a brand new design. The fact they are making it much harder to do, means it was to easy before.

              No I'm not blaming them as it was probably something they may not of envisaged, but to say it was a design issue is wrong. A more honest "we could of made it safer" would be better, but lawyers don't like that.

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. Gideon 1

              Re: Being picky...

              "In some cars you're correct, but for the majority of cars on the road there isn't. I drive a Peugeot 107..."

              Synchromesh on reverse is unusual, Peugeot even have a patent on it: http://www.google.co.uk/patents/US4640141

            3. Daniel B.

              Re: Being picky... @wolfetone

              So, mechanically, there is something in the gearbox designed to stop that.

              Yes there is. It's fitted in quite a few cars that have 5 gears, and have Reverse in the same "lane" as 5th. The mechanical thingy actually seems to engage when you move the stick towards 5th; I've tested this on a 2001 Tsuru (Mk. 3 Sentra for the rest of the world) while stopped. I have no idea if it is possible to do it intentionally, like going from 2nd to Reverse though, and I'm not about to test it either.

            4. Vic

              Re: Being picky...

              So, mechanically, there is something in the gearbox designed to stop that.

              No there isn't. It's just a simpler gear - there is no synchro hub, because such a thing would have no beneficial use.

              It is entirely possible to get the box into reverse, if you're unlucky. What stops that happening is a combination of drivers not being complete dorks and non-synchronised gears being quite difficult to mesh. But that doesn't make it impossible, nor does it mean the gearbox is specifically designed to make it impossible.

              Vic.

          2. david bates

            Re: Being picky...

            I remember when the last gen RangeRover was being tested the magazine hack in question found that the gear selector was power-assisted, and if you selected reverse at 70mph the system would helpfully comply, with hilarious results.

        2. JeffyPoooh
          Pint

          Re: Being picky...

          "Reverse gear" etc.

          You lock up the wheels first (years before ABS), slam it into reverse, speed away backwards, then perform a spin into forward at about 35 mph.

          This 'Rockford Files' escape manoeuvre was on the Drivers Ed curriculum in the late 1970s. At least our teacher taught us. Not joking.

    2. Anonymous John

      Re: Being picky...

      He unlocked the wings, but deploying them requires the use of a hydraulic mechanism. At high altitude that is. When he unlocked them when he did, I expect the aerodynamic forces acting deployed the wings just as the hydraulics would have.

      What happened is fairly clear, but why is another matter. Unless the co-pilot can explain, we may never know. Apply your car's handbrake at 70mph on the motorway, and you will lose control. It's not a design flaw.

  4. ItsNotMe
    FAIL

    And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

    So big deal...people with more money than they know what to do with can pay $250k for a joy ride into "space". Well it's not space as @Betacam correctly points out.

    It's simply some disgustingly expensive carnival attraction.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

      Ooo! I think I know this one!!

      Because it's observable progress in space manned exploration that has been missing from the likes of NASA?

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

        "Because it's observable progress in space manned exploration that has been missing from the likes of NASA?"

        Not sure I agree with that.

        Space? Barely.

        Exploration? Err, no again - it's a jolly.

        Missing from NASA? NASA have orbital and suborbital missions all the time ...

        What Virgin may do is come up with alternative ideas and methods of engineering that may reduce future mission costs (though disintegrating rather than investing in landing gear isn't one of my favoured ones!)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

        Because it's observable progress in space manned exploration that has been missing from the likes of NASA?

        What "progress" would that be? It can't do anything that the X-15 did 50+ years ago and it can't reach even low earth orbit.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          FAIL

          Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

          Last I knew the x-15 was not a passenger aircraft.

          Blue Bird achieved 251mph in 1932, so I guess the Bugatti Veyron is no better than that.

          1. JeffyPoooh
            Pint

            Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

            Well 253 and 269 are greater than 251.

        2. Mike Moyle

          Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

          " It can't do anything that the X-15 did 50+ years ago..."

          ...Carry more than one person...?

      3. MCG

        Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

        Because it's ZERO progress in space exploration. It's just a suborbital hop which is missingh from "the likes of NASA" because it serves no useful purpose whatsoever. Well, apart from exciting scientifically-illiterate morons, of course.

    2. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

      > It's simply some disgustingly expensive carnival attraction.

      First of all, the money is NOT destroyed, it's merely moved from one individual who has too much to a company that is at the very least doing something that no-one has done before (or yet). Making progress, if you will.

      Although it won't get us to Mars or the Moon, it's investing in technologies and techniques that make space travel better, cheaper, (hopefully) safer and more accessible. That adds to the sum total of moving in the right direction and is probably better for us all and the person involved than other ways of blowing the same amount of cash.

    3. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

      So big deal...people with more money than they know what to do with can pay $250k for a joy ride into "space".

      Because things trickle down. There was a time when automobiles were horrendously expensive and only for the rich. A time when mobile telephones were expensive and only used by tossers working in The City. A time when computers were horrendously expensive..etc..etc.

      Pretty much every technology starts out as expensive and only available to the rich. With your philosophy we'd still be stuck in a cave staring at a fire. Well, the rich tribal members would. The vast majority would of course be poor so they'd be stuck at the back of the cave shivering.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Mike Moyle

      Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

      "It's simply some disgustingly expensive carnival attraction."

      Well, that's how D. D. Harriman got started.

    5. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: And we should give a Rat's Arse about this why?

      Because 1) beardy is likely to be one of the first passengers and 2) it doesn't look that safe .....

  5. Thomas 6
    Joke

    That is a long flight!

    "Virgin Galactic will get into space 'within 18 months to two years'"

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. CAPS LOCK

    Unless you go round at least once ...

    ... you haven't been to 'space'. Fact.

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: Unless you go round at least once ...

      As far as the FAI, and indeed NASA, care you just have to get above the Kármán line which is handily at 100km.

    2. hplasm
      Facepalm

      Re: Unless you go round at least once ...

      So Phineas Fogg was the first spaceman -FACT!

      (I know he's fictional...)

    3. Captain DaFt

      Re: Unless you go round at least once ...

      "... you haven't been to 'space'. Fact."

      Nope. Fact: You're in space right now, on a planet.

      Now getting offworld is relatively easy, staying there is harder.

      That said, I think these guys: http://copenhagensuborbitals.com/ are likely to get a paying passenger into 'space' before VG does.

      (And it looks like it'll be a romper fudger ride!)

  7. Cubical Drone

    At 250K a pop.

    "We are democratising plutocracisng space."

    FIFY

    1. Little Mouse
      Headmaster

      Re: At 250K a pop.

      "We are democratising plutocracising plutocratising space."

      FTFIFY.

      (or should that be "democracising"?)

      1. hplasm
        Coat

        Re: At 250K a pop.

        ""We are democratising plutocracising plutocratising space."

        Dwarf-Planetising, shurely?

    2. Graham Marsden
      Boffin

      Re: At 250K a pop.

      And Karl Benz's first vehicles were only available to the "super rich" of the time...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: At 250K a pop.

        But the first vehicles were new and led to the development of better stuff. There is already better stuff and this is nothing more than was done in the 1950s with dropping x-planes from high altitude bombers. The only purpose is to extract money from rich idiots who either do't understand the difference between space and orbit, or who don't care.

        It's as if Herr Benz introduced a car today with no engine that only went downhill and claimed it as a major breakthrough in low carbon emmission vehicles.

  8. imanidiot Silver badge

    I'll Believe it

    When I see it

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Boffin

    A few notes.

    $250k is high?

    Well according IBISworld the average US disposable income is $38551. So that's about 7 years of savings. It's rather less than the $20m people have paid (or thereabouts) for a trip to the ISS.

    Is it space?

    Yes. But it is sub orbital

    Will it improve technology?

    Possibly. Such flights can test experiments normally flown on sounding rockets at 10g+ with more frequent turn around. It may later allow carriage (and launch) of a (very) small ELV to orbit. We're talking a few cubesats sized here.

  10. Brian 3

    I expect that, by the time Virgin Galactic get a paying customer in space, it will already be cheaper to go up in Dragon.

  11. Tom 64

    The next step

    Once enough rich morons have been catapulted into space, paying for the build of more craft, it won't be long before Beardy opens up trans-atlantic flights in these things and their derivatives. Who doesn't want a quick trip across the pond with an awesome view?

    1. Martin Budden Silver badge

      Re: The next step

      So basically you mean a passenger-carrying ICBM?

  12. smartypants

    What about drugs as an alternative?

    All this engineering is very worthy, but it seems a lot of effort to go to just to give a handful of people a temporary high, when there are already a lot of brain-altering substances out there which could do the trick for a lot less.

    My alternative approach would be do dope the 'passenger' to the eyeballs, stick them on one of those moving plastic dumbos that you used to find outside Woollies in the 1970s next to the plastic 'spastic society' mannequin and insert a 10p piece.

    Not only would the punter obtain great enjoyment, but passers-by could also derive some entertainment.

  13. Mummy's 'ickle soldier
    Holmes

    Democratising space?

    As only the richest will be able to afford one of these fleeting visits surely it's Plutocratising space?

  14. MaldwynP

    Virgin's out-of-the-box division has decided to bring space to the ground. It is the only way says Alex Pinkerton, their Director of Crazy Ideas.

  15. Rick Brasche

    getting into space is relatively easy

    it's "staying" in space that's difficult. And getting back alive.

  16. Esme
    Stop

    Ahem (Scaled Composites) *cough*

    Beardy Branson didn't build the thing, he payed for Scaled Composites to do so, and they have produced some wonderfully innovative flying vehicles. I wouldn't wan tto use a service with the Virgin logo on it (in recent years, that's too often tended to be a mark of poor customer service), but from what I've read Scaled Composites are the kind of outfit whose products you'd trust. Bear in mind that Spaceship One is utilising something radically new - its wing-feathering system - and when anything radiclaly new is tested, there is the chance of mishap, often in unforseen ways. SC thus far have had a better safety record than most companies producing things that fly/get into space.

    Whether or not there's much point, long-term, to Spaceship One-type vehicles in a world where ships like SpaceX's Dragon capsule and Sierra-Nevada's 'Dream Chaser' (hate that name, personally, but it's their ship!) exist remains to be seen. But lambasting SC's efforts due to ONE failure? Good grief! I s'pose NASA, ESA and oscosmos should pack it all in now, because they've had more than one failure, eh? Blimey, some people..

    1. JeffyPoooh
      Pint

      Re: Ahem (Scaled Composites) *cough*

      "...a service with the Virgin logo on it..."

      Beardy Branson should put on a replacement bus service in the meantime.

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