Suborbital passenger spaceflight pioneer Virgin Galactic passed another major milestone today as the company’s first commercial reusable space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2) successfully completed its second powered flight test. During the test, carried out from the Virgin Galactic’s facility in the Mojave desert, SS2 reached a velocity over 1,000 miles per hour and a maximumum altitude of more than 13 miles. The test marks further progress in the company’s efforts to create the first commercial passenger-carrying service in the space tourism industry with the first operational flights next year.
In addition to achieving the highest altitude and greatest speed to date, the test flight demonstrated the vehicle’s full technical mission profile in a single flight for the first time, including a high altitude deployment of the unique wing “feathering” re-entry mechanism. All of the test objectives were successfully completed.
At approximately 8 a.m. local time from the Mojave Air and Space Port, the company’s WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft took off carrying SS2 to an altitude of 46,000 feet. Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot Dave Mackay was at the WK2 controls, assisted by Scaled Composites (Scaled) co-pilot Mike Alsbury and The Spaceship Company Flight Test Engineer Scott Glaser.
Upon release from WK2, SS2 pilots Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols, both of Scaled, ignited the rocket motor for the planned 20-second burn propelling the spaceship to 69,000 feet. During this time, SS2 achieved a maximum speed of Mach 1.43. SS2 landed in Mojave at 9:25 a.m. local time completing the flight test with the pilots reporting a flawless flight.
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS.
Chairman of aabar Investments PJS, H.E. Khadem Al Qubaisi, commented: “This flight milestone represents a key step forward for the Virgin Galactic team. The successful completion of all major aspects of the flight mission demonstrates that we are very close to achieving one of Galactic’s key goals: commercialising access to space for the broader public. I would like to congratulate the whole team on their continued success.”
“We couldn’t be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts as we move toward a 2014 start of commercial service,” said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson. “It was particularly thrilling to see for the first time today the whole elegant system in action during a single flight, including the remarkable feathering re-entry system. It was this safety feature more than anything else that originally persuaded us that the overall design of the system was uniquely fit for purpose. Everything we have seen today just confirms that view. Congratulations to all involved!”
“Today, we expanded the SpaceShipTwo rocket-powered flight test envelope with a longer burn duration and robust testing of the feather mechanism, supersonic aerodynamics and wing lift structure,” said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. “Each powered flight of SpaceShipTwo yields cumulative progress that builds the foundation for safe and exciting commercial space flights.”
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) developed the hybrid engine technology that powered SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo and will power Dream Chaser. In addition, SNC also manufactures major subsystems on the SS2 vehicle including the main oxidizer valve and the nitrous oxide release and control systems. The manufacturing of these motors are completed at SNC’s Poway, Calif., location.
“Today’s test has once again proven the safety and reliability of our hybrid rocket engine technology,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president and head of SNC’s Space Systems. “We have now supported two successful crewed flight tests for Virgin Galactic and look forward to continuing to improve this technology, not only for SS2 but also for our own Dream Chaser® spacecraft. SNC is proud to be the leader in the design and development of these safe, non-toxic hybrid propulsion systems that will transport people to suborbital and orbital destinations.”
On April 29, 2013 SNC’s hybrid rocket engine powered SpaceShipTwo on its inaugural powered flight. During the 16 second burn, SS2 reached a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet and speed of Mach 1.2
SNC’s hybrid rocket systems offer a safe, high performing, and non-toxic alternative to solid and hydrazine liquid propulsion systems. The rocket motor fuel is comprised of industrial rubber, requiring no special handling or transportation, thereby greatly increasing safety while reducing lifecycle cost to SNC’s customers.
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