Mike Moses
Mike Moses speaks at the ISPCS conference Oct. 13, the same day he was named president of Virgin Galactic. Credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A former NASA shuttle launch manager is the new president of Virgin Galactic as the company prepares to enter a new phase of test flights for its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane.

Virgin Galactic announced Oct. 13 that Mike Moses has been promoted to president of the company. Moses joined Virgin Galactic in 2011 as vice president of operations after a NASA career that included working as a flight director and shuttle launch integration manager, responsible for the final dozen space shuttle launches.

“Not only is Mike a well-respected member of the space community, but his leadership within our own company has been critical to our success in building a world-class organization and team,” Virgin Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides said in a statement announcing the promotion.

Moses succeeds Steve Isakowitz, who was named in June as the next president and chief executive of the Aerospace Corp.

Virgin Galactic made the announcement immediately before Moses spoke at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) here. In his talk, Moses said that Virgin Galactic was preparing to move into the next phase of test flights of the second SpaceShipTwo spacecraft after a single “captive carry” flight Sept. 9, where the spaceplane remained attached to its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft.

“The next part of our test is free flight, and we’re getting really close to that,” he said, referring to glide flights where SpaceShipTwo is released from WhiteKnightTwo and glides to a runway landing without igniting its rocket engine. “We’re probably just a month or two away from being ready to start our glide flight program.”

In an interview after his ISPCS talk, Moses said that Virgin Galactic does not have a set number of glide flights planned, but instead will see how long it takes to achieve a series of test objectives, such as flying the vehicle with different weights and centers of gravity to study its flight characteristics. “There’s 10 glide flights’ worth of targets,” he said. “We could do those in 8 flights, or it might take 15, but we’re not going into the next phase before we clear those.”

The glide flights will be followed by a series of powered test flights using its hybrid rocket motor. “We’ll start slow,” he said, with short-duration engine burns to accelerate SpaceShipTwo to Mach 1 to study its performance in the transonic regime. “Once that’s under our belts, we’ll punch through to full duration, expand the envelope, and look at all the off-nominal conditions that can occur.”

The motor, he said, is still going through some qualification tests, but is otherwise essentially ready for flight. “If the spaceship was ready, we could do a powered flight tomorrow,” he said.

Most of those tests will take place at Mojave Air and Space Port, site of all previous SpaceShipTwo test flights, including the original SpaceShipTwo vehicle lost in an October 2014 accident that killed the vehicle’s co-pilot. Moses said that the final phases of the test flight program may be moved to Spaceport America in New Mexico, which will serve as the launch site for commercial flights.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...