Is SpaceShipTwo Rocket Engine Testing Complete?

In an interviewed by Google CEO Eric Schmidt during the Google Zeitgeist conference, Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson gave an update on the status of SpaceShipTwo in which he appeared to say that testing of the rocket engine is complete.

“Where we are now is the mothership that takes the spaceship up is finished and flying,” Branson said 44 minutes into the session. “And the rockets (have) finished their testing. In December, the spaceship will be finished. And it will then get started on (an) extensive test program.”

This is my best interpretation of his statement, which is somewhat halting. It’s interesting: there have been no announcements of successful tests of the actual rocket engine that I’m aware of, nor any reports from anyone at Mojave of tests. Unless the tests are being done off site.

The SpaceShipTwo rocket engine system has been a significant issue. An explosion of the nitrous oxide tank in late July 2007 killed three Scaled Composites worker and injured three others. It was a major setback for the program.

A year after the explosion, SpaceDev was brought in to help with engine development and testing. The Powoy, Calif.-based company had developed the engine that was used in SpaceShipOne, the smaller test vehicle that won the Ansari X Prize in 2004. SpaceDev had not been involved in engine development for the larger follow-on vehicle.