Mission Update: Mojave has another record-breaking year, surges into 2020

Mojave Air & Space Port
Mojave Air & Space Port CEO and General Manager, Karina Drees wrote an informative message in the organization’s January 2020 newsletter: “2019 was an eventful year for Mojave Air & Space Port! We witnessed the first flight of the largest aircraft in the world by Stratolaunch Systems and Scaled Composites, as well as a flight to space by Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company! We couldn’t be more proud of our customers’ accomplishments.”

“Our facility is better equipped to support the variety of operations hosted at Mojave, and our team is more prepared than ever to take on new challenges,” Drees wrote.

“Airport investments in 2019 included a new radio system and radar equipment for our air traffic control tower, additional ARFF trucks in our fire department, and a taxiway extension to support future growth. We had an outstanding financial year and sold more than 1,000,000 gallons of fuel for the first time in 15 years,” she said.

Drees report also said, “Mojave Air and Space Port continues to be called on to support future aviation and aerospace activities in our Nation. In 2019, we co-led an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to support the FAA’s spaceport categorization initiative. We also hosted our first Runway Safety Team meeting in September.”

“We expect to play host to the first commercial launch of Virgin Orbit early in the year and hope to see The Spaceship Company’s latest spaceship roll out, soon after,” she wrote.

“In addition, we continue to improve our facility to accommodate the growth in operations. We have begun engineering work on our taxiway C rehab project and expect construction to begin before the end of 2020. This new taxiway will be a significant improvement to our infrastructure,” she said.

Drees concluded, “Our team continues to assist our customers with their growth, and we remain hopeful to see some new hangars built in the coming years. As always, our team is here to serve your tenants needs as users of our great facility!”

On April 13, 2019, Stratolaunch Systems Corporation successfully completed the first flight of the world’s largest all-composite aircraft, the Stratolaunch. (Stratolaunch photograph)

Scaled Composites and Stratolaunch
Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, founded by Paul G. Allen, successfully completed the first flight of the world’s largest all-composite aircraft on April 13, 2019. Stratolaunch calls the airplane Roc, after the giant eagle of Arabian mythology. With a dual fuselage design and wingspan greater than the length of an American football field, the Stratolaunch aircraft took flight from Mojave Air and Space Port’s Runway 30 a couple of minutes before 7 a.m. Achieving a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour, the plane flew for 2.5 hours over the Mojave Desert at altitudes up to 17,000 feet. 

As part of the initial flight, the pilot and crew evaluated aircraft performance and handling qualities before landing successfully back at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen, who was devoted to space endeavors, founded and funded the Stratolaunch project. He passed away in October 2018 at age 65, from complications related to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Fears surrounded the project when it was reported that the late Paul Allen’s Vulcan, Inc. holding company had put Stratolaunch up for sale in June 2019 for $400 million.

Scaled Composites announced the transfer of the Stratolaunch Aircraft to Stratolaunch Corporation in October 2019. Scaled was contracted in 2011 by Stratolaunch to design, build, and test the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. Having accomplished these goals successfully, the Scaled team transitioned the vehicle and associated knowledge to the Stratolaunch team. 

Cerberus Capital Management acquired Stratolaunch Systems, including the Stratolaunch aircraft, in October 2019. Neither Vulcan nor Cerberus has said what the final agreed-upon price was.

Stratolaunch President and CEO Jean Floyd had announced a new mission statement earlier in December 2019 and tweeted out on Dec. 10, 2019, “Stratolaunch grew from 13 to 87 employees over the past 2 months, 2020 will be a great year!”

Floyd also indicated a shift away from Stratolaunch’s original focus of providing space launch services. Instead, ROC will be used to support more high-speed terrestrial flight testing. In his tweet, he added, “VISION: Breaking Barriers. MISSION: To be the world’s leading provider of high-speed flight test services.”

VSS Unity glides home after the second supersonic flight, Feb. 22, 2019. (Virgin Galactic photograph)

Virgin Galactic — The Spaceship Company
On Feb. 22, 2019, another ‘first’ occurred at Mojave Air & Space Port, when a third crew member was in the cabin of SpaceShipTwo ‘VSS Unity.’ Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, became the first passenger to fly into space with pilots Dave McKay and Michael “Sooch” Masucci.

The trio inside ‘Unity’ achieved three times the speed of sound on their way up and reached an altitude of 55.9 miles, or nearly 90 kilometers. The U.S. officially consider pilots who have flown above 80 kilometers to be astronauts.

According to an article in SpaceNews.com, George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic said, “We now have two spaceships which are structurally complete, with our third making good progress.”

Whitesides said, “Building a fleet of SpaceShipTwo vehicles is key to the company’s long-term plans. The company said it expects to have a fleet of five SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes by 2023, a production rate of one per year. That would allow the company to generate positive earnings by 2021, growing to $274 million by 2023, assuming commercial operations start in June 2020.”

According to TheSpaceshipCompany website, Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. passed an important test on Jan. 8, 2020 when it reached the “Weight on Wheels” milestone in the build of its second commercial spaceship.  In this milestone, all major structural elements of the vehicle were assembled, and the vehicle deployed its main landing gear and carried its own weight for the first time. 

The milestone signals strong progress in the manufacture of Virgin Galactic’s space vehicle fleet by The Spaceship Company, VGH’s wholly-owned aerospace development subsidiary.

This Weight on Wheels milestone has been reached considerably faster than it took to get to this stage with the first spaceship in the Virgin Galactic fleet, VSS Unity, which is currently in flight test. This pace has been achieved through a more efficient, modular assembly process, as well as experience curve benefits.

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc., a vertically integrated aerospace company, is pleased to announce the appointment of Enrico Palermo as chief operating officer, effective immediately. In this newly created role, Enrico will be responsible for helping maintain efficiency and peak performance across the enterprise as it develops as a public company, and will lead the execution of specific company strategies and initiatives.

Palermo currently serves as president of The Spaceship Company, the wholly-owned aerospace manufacturing and development subsidiary of VG. In this role, he leads more than 500 employees at the company’s facilities in Mojave, Calif. He joined Virgin Galactic in 2006 as one of its first employees. Enrico will maintain his capacity of TSC president.

Cosmic Girl releases LauncherOne mid-air for the first time during a July 2019 drop test. (Virgin Orbit photograph)

Virgin Orbit
Virgin Orbit is a company within the Virgin Group which plans to provide launch services for small satellites. The company was formed in 2017 to develop the air-launched LauncherOne rocket, launched from Cosmic Girl, which had previously been a project of Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Orbit is preparing for its maiden orbital rocket launch and has moved their 747 “Cosmic Girl” to the taxiway at the hammerhead of runway 30 at Mojave Air & Space Port. It is surrounded by support equipment as the company prepares for the first rocket launch demonstration.

The LauncherOne rocket has been mated to Cosmic Girl and the plan is to fly to an altitude of 35,000 feet, then release the rocket, the rocket motor is lit and is carrying a payload of up to 500 kilograms, or about 1,100 pounds into orbit.

A company Tweet stated, “Everyone is eager for us to conduct our launch demonstration — us more than anyone else. Now, we’ve got the rocket, our airplane and all of our support equipment positioned just next to the runway from which we’ll fly. In a very literal sense, we’re really close!

“All this activity is a precursor to a short series of wet dress rehearsals, as well as one more taxi test and captive carry flight with the fully loaded rocket,” the company reported in another Tweet.

Virgin Orbit is headquartered in Long Beach, where the company is developing its two-stage Launcher One launch vehicle. All rocket motor testing is accomplished at the Mojave Air & Space Port rocket test facilities.

A MiG-21, assigned to the National Test Pilot School at the Mojave Air and Space Port, flies over Mojave. (NTPS photograph)

National Test Pilot School
The National Test Pilot School offers the best total flight test education and training in the world. NTPS is located in and uses the finest flight test area in the United States, the R-2508 Complex used also by Edwards AFB and Naval Air Station China Lake. NTPS has modern facilities employing the latest technologies including specialized laboratories, simulators, ranges, and telemetry systems.  Many of the more than thirty aircraft operated by NTPS are instrumented for flight test training and no other school utilizes the variety of specially acquired aircraft to support flight test training.

The National Test Pilot School has in place a joint use agreement between the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy to use the airspace and ranges of R2515 and the MOA 2508 on a non-interference basis.

NTPS President and CEO, Dr. Allen Peterson stated in the NTPS January newsletter, “2020 is looking good for NTPS, with Class 2020B already starting to fill up.

“In sports terms, it’s been a great recruiting year here at NTPS and I am pleased to announce some fantastic new additions to the NTPS test pilot instructor staff. We have five new test pilot instructors on-board and they are a great bunch, with tons of flight test experience, ranging from F-35 to CH-47,” he stated.

Flight Research, Inc.
According to an online article by Flying Magazine, as Boom supersonic moves forward on their ultimate goal of building “history’s fastest supersonic airliner,” the Colorado-based company announced a strategic partnership with Flight Research, Inc. aimed at bringing test flights for XB-1, Boom’s supersonic demonstrator aircraft, to the supersonic corridor stretching across the Mojave Desert.

Scott Glaser, senior vice president of operations at FRI said, “This will be a new supersonic testing project for us, and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome Boom to this historic airfield and to outfit a space to meet their needs. We look forward to contributing to the return of supersonic commercial air travel.”

FRI has plans to support this new project with a supersonic chase plane that will also be used for pilot proficiency training.

Plane Crazy Saturday
Mojave Transportation Museum Foundation celebrated the completion of ten years of Plane Crazy Saturday in December 2019 that offered the public a chance to visit with pilots and local area General Aviation aircraft. Plane Crazy Saturday is a free static display of historic aircraft that are 35 years or older and one-of-a-kind aircraft. Owners of these aircraft have the opportunity to show their airplanes 12 times per year and claim a tax exemption from the county.

Each month a speaker gives a presentation in the Mojave Air & Space Port Conference/Board Room for a small donation to help raise money for the museum.

The goal of the foundation is to establish a museum to preserve Southern California aviation, railroad, automobile and animal transportation history and culture.

What started as simply an opportunity for individual aircraft owners to meet county requirements of displaying their older aircraft for tax exempt status; has evolved into a monthly destination for aircraft owners and aviation buffs to congregate and appreciate historic aircraft. Plane Crazy Saturday has encouraged hundreds of people from as far away as Dublin, Ireland and Switzerland to come to Mojave and photograph airplanes and meet famous pilots.

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