A week in the life of our space teams

When the world’s news cycles get you down, take some time to catch up on the progress of people across different organisations making big efforts to advance humanity. 

I continue to be inspired by our three commercial space companies Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit. Here’s a snapshot of the last week, at once typical and significant on the long road to opening access to space for all.

First, last Monday Virgin Orbit celebrated the arrival of our mobile rocket launch platform. The team has designed an alternative way to launch small satellites using a significantly modified 747-400 named Cosmic Girl. Monday’s arrival of Cosmic Girl signalled the completion of modification work and the start of integrating her with our LauncherOne rocket and ground ops. 

Virgin Orbit’s 747 team focused the other teams, partner companies, and government agencies to coordinate and complete complex work to get Cosmic Girl home. The wider team has both a collaborative spirit and enduring commitment to the small satellite revolution that will get us and our customers to launch

Meanwhile, in Mojave the teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company successfully completed an important and weighty flight test. VSS Unity flew for the first time with the rocket motor system, with the exception of the rocket motor fuel. Our pilots were very happy with how Unity flew, and the team is now analysing lots of data before the next flights including the first rocket powered flight.

As eager as I am to fly, I’m deeply appreciative of our team’s thoroughness and preparations to launch not only a spaceship but successful and enduring commercial space operations. Read more about this flight test on Virgin Galactic’s website

Throughout their busy days, the team continues to inspire the next generation of aspiring space engineers and explorers. Our DC office welcomed 14-year-old UAE future scientist Alia Almansoori, a winner of Genes in Space, a competition that encourages young people to solve real-life space exploration problems. Her experiment to test the effects of human DNA in space will soon be conducted in the International Space Station.

We established Galactic Unite to offer young people scholarships, visits and engineer mentors on their road to becoming future leaders of the space industry. Seeing is believing, so for 18-year-old Google Science Fair Virgin Galactic Pioneer Award winner Charlie Fenske, last week was perfect for his visit. Charlie got familiar with our fleet of vehicles - from Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl to Virgin Galactic’s VMS Eve and VSS Unity - and spent quality time with everyone from our CEOs to propulsion experts, ground ops teams to pilots.

Charlie commented that what set our space companies apart from the other companies he visited was a genuine sense of family and the daily evidence of innovative progress. As the team waited for WK2 to land, our former NASA shuttle commander CJ Sturckow and former Royal Air Force pilot and Galactic chief pilot Dave Mackay debriefed Charlie, also a pilot, on how Unity flew. 

Finally, a week at Virgin wouldn’t be complete without a love story. Virgin Galactic VP Julia Tizard (who has been with the programme since the early days and who I wrote about a few months ago) was in the UK to marry her dear long-time partner Morgan. An unusual monsoon in Mojave delayed Unity’s flight by a day so her wedding and the flight test ended up occurring on the same day. Julia was undoubtedly focused on Morgan and their vows - but she found a quiet moment to text her team in Mojave:

Just as Julia walked down the aisle to begin a new chapter, VSS Unity and VMS Eve began taxiing to the runway to begin their flight. And so continues our journey to fulfil our shared dreams.


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