Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo (SS2) third rocket-powered supersonic flight test
Virgin Galactic, the worldâs first commercial spaceline, which is owned by Sir Richard Bransonâs Virgin Group and Abu Dhabiâs aabar Investments PJS, successfully completed the third rocket-powered supersonic flight of its passenger carrying reusable space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2).
Dave Mackay, along with Scaled Compositesâ (Scaled) Test Pilot Mark Stucky, tested the spaceshipâs Reaction Control System (RCS) and the newly installed thermal protection coating on the vehicleâs tail booms. All of the test objectives were successfully completed.
Todayâs flight departed Mojave Air and Space Port at approximately 7:22 a.m. PST with the first stage consisting of the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft lifting SS2 to an altitude around 46,000 ft. At the controls of WK2 were Virgin Galactic Pilot Mike Masucci and Scaled Test Pilot Mike Alsbury. On release, SS2âs rocket motor was ignited, powering the spaceship to a planned altitude of 71,000 ft. – SS2′s highest altitude to date – and at a maximum speed of Mach 1.4. SS2âs unique feather re-entry system was also tested during todayâs flight.
Two important SS2 systems, the RCS and thermal protection coating, were tested during todayâs flight in preparation for upcoming full space flights. The spaceshipâs RCS will allow its pilots to maneuver the vehicle in space, permitting an optimal viewing experience for those on board and aiding the positioning process for spacecraft re-entry. The new reflective protection coating on SS2âs inner tail boom surfaces is being evaluated to help maintain vehicle skin temperatures while the rocket motor is firing.
SS2âs propulsion system has been developed by Sierra Nevada Corp and is the worldâs largest operational hybrid rocket motor. Although todayâs flight saw it burn for a planned 20 seconds, the system has been successfully tested in ground firings to demonstrate performance characteristics and burn time sufficient to take the spaceship and its private astronauts to space.
Commenting on the successful test flight, Sir Richard Branson said: âI couldnât be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full space flights. 2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space. Today, we had our own Chief Pilot flying another flawless supersonic flight and proving the various systems required to take us safely to space, as well as providing the very best experience while weâre up there.â
This flight was the third opportunity to see a supersonic, rocket-powered test of the Virgin Galactic system after dozens of successful subsonic test flights. âTodayâs flight was another resounding success,â said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. âWe focused on gathering more transonic and supersonic data, and our chief pilot, Dave, handled the vehicle beautifully. With each flight test, we are progressively closer to our target of starting commercial service in 2014.â
For Mackay, the flight was a âdream come true.â
âI have watched SS2 evolve over the years into an incredible vehicle that is going to open up space to more people than ever before,â he said. âTo be behind the controls and fly it as the rocket ignited is something I will never forget. She flew brilliantly. All the tests went really well and generated vital data that will be used to further fine-tune our operations.â