Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo (SS2) 2nd supersonic flight concludes, suborbital tourism flight begins in 2014
Today, Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS, successfully completed the second rocket-powered, supersonic flight of its passenger carrying reusable space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2).
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.
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.”
VIRGIN GALACTIC AT A GLANCE
Who: Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline.
Vision: Virgin Galactic is revolutionizing access to outer space. We will provide affordable and safe launch opportunities for astronauts and research payloads with our suborbital space flight system, and are now developing a new vehicle to carry small satellites into orbit. Thanks to their innovative design and their low prices, these vehicles will dramatically increase the frequency of space flight. Our manned space business aims to fly more people to space in our first two years of operations than have ever been to space through all of history. Additionally, our vehicle will open up the space frontier to innovators of all sorts, from start-ups and schools to established space companies and national space agencies.
Experience: On SpaceShipTwo, our customers will become official astronauts. Six passengers per flight will experience the unique thrills of spaceflight, enjoying the opportunity to leave their seats to float in zero-gravity for several minutes. Looking out our twelve large windows, passengers will take in astounding views of space and of the Earth below, stretching approximately 1,000 miles in every direction. Prior to the flight, passengers will go through three days of preparation, medical checks and bonding with their flight crew – all of which is included in the price of the flight.
Experience: SpaceShipTwo can also be configured to carry research payloads by replacing astronauts’ seats with mounting racks that can accommodate the leading payload container systems. Each flight can carry as much as 1,300 pounds (600 kilograms) of payload into space, offering an unparalleled opportunity to conduct high-quality, affordable experiments. Many researchers are looking at SpaceShipTwo as an invaluable stepping stone on their way to orbital systems, while others are conducting unique research custom-designed for suborbital flight. NASA is already a customer, having chartered flights on SpaceShipTwo through their Flight Opportunities Program.
Launch: Virgin Galactic will provide launch services for small satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO) with the LauncherOne vehicle. Traditionally, small satellites have been launched as secondary payloads, which constrains the satellite provider’s choice of launch characteristics. LauncherOne will allow small satellite providers greater flexibility in selecting launch dates, locations and orbits that are optimized for their mission goals.
Owners: Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and aabar Investments PJS
History: The 2004 Ansari X Prize called for private sector innovations in the field of manned space exploration. Specifically, participants had to design and manufacture a privately funded vehicle that could deliver the weight of three people (including one actual person) to suborbital space (altitude of 100 kms). The vehicle had to be 80 percent reusable and fly twice within a two-week period.
Mojave Aerospace Ventures, a Paul G. Allen company, and Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites pursued the X Prize with Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, an air-launched all composite rocket ship. The Virgin Group sponsored SpaceShipOne’s X Prize flights. In October 2004, SpaceShipOne with pilot Brian Binnie won the X Prize. SpaceShipOne is now permanently displayed in the Milestones of Flight Gallery at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
With this success, the Virgin Group licensed Mojave Aerospace Ventures’ technology and invested in the development of a second-generation vehicle for commercial ventures. Virgin Galactic was born.
Seeing space tourism as a reality, early adopters began making reservations to buy tickets for flights, providing vital, tangible proof of an available market. To date, more than 85,000 people from around the world have expressed interest in experiencing a flight and becoming a Virgin Galactic astronaut.
Vehicles: Virgin Galactic has developed two types of vehicles, both of which were
designed by Scaled Composites. It is now developing a third vehicle for small satellite launch.
SpaceShipTwo (SS2) – SS2 is a reusable spaceplane designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space. It uses much of the same technology, construction techniques, and basic design of SpaceShipOne, but is twice the size. It was unveiled in December 2009, and test flights began in March 2010. The first rocket-powered supersonic flight of SS2 took place April 29, 2013.
WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) – WK2 is the carrier aircraft for both SpaceShipTwo and LauncherOne. It is the largest 100-percent carbon composite carrier craft ever built. It made its first flight in December 2008.
LauncherOne (L1) – L1 is an expendable launch vehicle designed to launch small satellites into low Earth orbit. It is a two stage rocket powered by liquid rocket engines, and will be air-launched from the WK2 carrier aircraft. LauncherOne was announced in July 2012, and is expected to make its first flight in 2015.
Flight Cost: A Virgin Galactic suborbital tourism flight costs $250,000. To date, the company has accepted more than $80 million in deposits from approximately 630 individuals, which is approximately 10% more than the total number of people who have ever gone to space. Deposits range from $20,000 to $250,000. In addition to a Virgin Galactic direct reservations facility, a specialist network of 140 Virgin Galactic Accredited Space Agents has been set up around the world to provide a localized reservation service.
Spaceflight: The VMS Eve test flight program is substantially complete, while testing of VSS Enterprise is at an advanced stage of supersonic powered flight. Virgin Galactic will officially launch with paying passengers once it believes it is safe to do so and has received all regulatory approvals.
Launch: LauncherOne is currently under development. Commercial launches are expected to begin in 2016.
Operations: Virgin Galactic’s Mojave-based The Spaceship Company (TSC) is currently building the second spaceship and carrier aircraft and will be responsible for building a fleet of vehicles for Virgin Galactic operations as well as providing a return-to-base vehicle maintenance facility.
New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) funded the world’s first purpose-built
spaceport complete with a 10,000-foot runway. Located in Las Cruces, N.M., the
$235 million Spaceport America serves as Virgin Galactic’s headquarters and base
of operations. The “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” was designed by Foster +Partners, URS Corporation and New Mexico firm SMPC Architects. The
facility was dedicated in October 2011.
Workforce: Approximately 240 dedicated staff
Leadership: CEO George Whitesides
President Steve Isakowitz
Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough
Director, Operations and Projects Jonathan Firth
Vice President of Operations Mike Moses
VIRGIN GALACTIC SPACE VEHICLES FACT SHEET
Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, owns and operates two space vehicles, SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo:
SpaceShipTwo (SS2, VSS Enterprise)
Uses much of the same technology, construction and design of SpaceShipOne, but is twice the size
Carries six passengers and two pilots
Wing span: 42 feet
Length: 60 feet
Tail height: 18 feet (feather down)
Cabin details: 6 passenger seats; 90-inch diameter x 12 feet long
Cabin approximately the size of a Falcon 900 executive jet
Whole fuselage used for passenger cabin – no raised “floor”
Large windows positioned throughout the cabin to afford maximum viewing potential for passengers
Planning for reclining seats to maximize cabin space in zero-g and for re-entry
Feathering wings for re-entry: same technology as SS1; improved aerodynamics
Construction: All structural components are 100 percent carbon composite
Propulsion: hybrid rocket motor uses benign fuel and oxidizer (the same means of propulsion as SS1) and is controllable – can be shut down at any time during boost phase of flight
After release from carrier aircraft, rocket motor is engaged for ascent to space; re-entry and landing are without propulsion
Gear: tricycle gear configuration; 2x wheeled main gear; 1x nose skid, with abrading shoe, like SS1
Total independent flight time around 30 minutes; flight time including captive carry by WhiteKnightTwo around two hours
G-Forces: Max gx (front to back): 6g; Max gz (head to toe): 3.5g
Planned apogee of spaceflight: at least 110 km
Zero-g phase – several minutes of out-of-seat time
Velocity: supersonic within eight seconds of rocket ignition with a maximum velocity of approximately Mach 3.5
Total Number of Flights: 47(26 glide flights; 1 cold flow flight; 18 captive carry flights; 2 rocket-powered supersonic flights; all as of September 5, 2013)
Unveiled on Dec. 7, 2009
First “captive carry” test flight: March 22, 2010
First drop test and solo flight: October 10, 2010
First feathered flight: May 4, 2011
Cleared full glide-flight envelope for airspeed, angle-of-attack, center of gravity and structural loads: August 11, 2012
First in-flight nitrous vent test: April 3, 2013
In-flight cold flow test (mission rehearsal for first powered flight): April 12, 2013
First rocket-powered supersonic flight: April 29, 2013
Second rocket-powered supersonic flight: September 5, 2013
Designed and built by Scaled Composites; future SS2 vehicles will be manufactured by Virgin Galactic’s The Spaceship Company (TSC)
WhiteKnightTwo (WK2, VMS Eve)
Carrier aircraft for SpaceShipTwo
Largest carbon composite carrier craft in service (all structural components are 100 percent carbon composite)
Training vehicle for SS2 spaceflight
Can simulate SS2 g-force profile
Both fuselages replicate that of SS2 and right-hand cabin interior is identical, allowing passenger training
Unique high-altitude lift aircraft potentially suitable for various payloads
Wing span: 140 feet (only 16 feet less than Boeing 767-300)
Length: 78 feet
Tail height: 25 feet
Construction: Twin boom/fuselage construction
Powerplant: uses highly efficient turbo fan jet engines
Gear: Quadricycle gear configuration, retractable
Performance: SS2 ferry range; U.S. coast to coast
Flight profile for nominal SS2 release:
Total flight time: approximately two hours
From takeoff to SS2 release: approximately 60 minutes
SS2 release: approximately50,000 feet
Total Number of Flights: 132 flights (as of September 5, 2013)
First flight: Dec. 21, 2008
Test flight program substantially complete with more than 100 successful flights, including high-altitude and long-duration
Designed and built by Scaled Composites; future WK2 vehicles are beingmanufactured by Virgin Galactic’sThe Spaceship Company (TSC)
Air release of SS2 means short rocket burn.
Both WK2 and SS2 are reusable, resulting in no space debris.
U.S. regulatory framework established by 2004 Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, which empowered the Office of Commercial Space Transportation within the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate and license commercial space launch vehicles and operators.
Enshrined the principle of Informed Consent for space flight participants, permitting a licensed operator to carry passengers on space flights, once the passengers are informed of and accept a comprehensive explanation of the potential risks involved.