Technonlogy

Flying high at the Mojave Air and Space Port

The right stuff

There’s always something going on — or flying high — at Mojave Air and Space Port.  

The 3,300-acre facility in the California high desert, located about 40 miles west of where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, is home to more than 60 companies pushing the engineering envelope. Its high-profile tenants include mogul Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Photo by: Virgin Galactic

VSS Unity

In 2016, Virgin Galactic rolled out its latest SpaceShipTwo (SS2) craft at a Mojave spaceport hanger. The eight-person, suborbital space plane aims to make astronauts of tourists. It’s currently in the test-flight stage.

Photo by: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Stratolaunch

Voyager designer Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites is building this behemoth, literally the world’s largest plane by wingspan (385 feet), for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s space-launch company. It emerged from its Mojave hangar for an a photo-op in May 2017.  

Photo by: Stratolaunch Systems Corp.

Roton Atmospheric Test Vehicle (ATV)

Photo by: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

TWERP

In 2016, Wasabi Air Racing’s Twin-Engine Research Project (aka TWERP)  flew, crashed and ultimately reminded us that space — if not the Mojave spaceport — is not the sole domain of billionaires. 

Photo by: Wasabi Air Racing via Facebook

SpaceShipOne

Mojave has called this rocket-powered aircraft’s 2004 suborbital, edge-of-space flight — a history maker for a privately financed, manned craft — “arguably [its] biggest ‘first.'” Like the Stratolaunch, SpaceShipOne was built by Scaled, with backing from Paul Allen.  

Photo by: Getty Images

Mojave Air and Space Port

A man walks across the top of a hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in 2013.

Photo by: Ricky Carioti/Washington Post/Getty Images

Endeavour

In 2012, the retired, California Science Center-bound space shuttle honored the spaceport with a flyover — and with the help of a 747.   

Photo by: Mojave Air and Space Port via Facebook

VSS Enterprise

Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo (SS2) vessel got a boost from its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, in a captive-carry test flight in 2010.   

Photo by: Virgin Galactic/Getty Images

Voyager

The spaceport counts this aircraft among its homegrown ground-breakers. In 1986, the plane flew around the world — nonstop and without refueling — in nine days. It was enshrined by the National Air and Space Museum.    

Photo by: Apic/Getty Images

EZ-Rocket

Photo by: Mojave Air and Space Port

Boneyard

In aviation, a boneyard is a place where planes go to be stored and sometimes scrapped for parts. The same holds at Mojave, except its bones are unusually big. (The boneyard, like the rest of the facility, is not open to tourists.) 

Photo by: Johnny Haglund/Getty Images

‘Space is hard’

In 2014, the VSS Enterprise crashed in the desert shortly after being separated from WhiteKnightTwo; co-pilot Michael Alsbury died. 

“Space is hard — but worth it,” Virgin’s Richard Branson said at the time.

Photo by: Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images

Rocket Racer

This rocket-propelled prototype, designed for the “before-its-time” Rocket Racing League, was built at the Mojave facility by XCOR Aerospace. 

Photo by: Annie Wells/Getty Images

XCOR Lynx

This cockpit mock-up of XCOR’s planned suborbital spacecraft sits in the firm’s hangar in 2013. The Lynx was designed to be “supersonic in one minute, weightless in five minutes.” 

Photo by: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Rocket-engine test

A 40-pound thrust-rocket engine meant for the Lynx is fired up at the spaceport in 2013. In the summer of 2017, the Lynx and other XCOR projects were left in limbo after the company laid off all of its employees.  

Photo by: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Tower watch

Opened in 1935 as the Mojave Airport, the small, rural airfield became a Federal Aviation Agency-certified spaceport in 2004. It was rechristened the Mojave Air and Space Port in 2013.  

Photo by: Mojave Air and Space Port via Facebook

National Test Pilot School

The not-for-profit training organization, offering professional courses, a master’s program and more, was founded in 1981. Its 42,000-square-foot classroom hangar was opened in 1987.

Photo by: National Test Pilot School via Twitter

Run, run, runaway

Photo by: Mojave Air and Space Port

Action!

According to the Internet Movie Plane Database, the big-screen “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Die Hard 2” are among the Hollywood productions filmed in and around the Mojave hangars. 

Photo by: Mojave Air and Space Port

Crash truck

When things go wrong, an on-site rescue-and-fire operation is ready to go. 

Photo by: Mojave Air and Space Port

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