SpaceShipTwo Test Program: Two Phases Down, Five to Go

In the video, Richard Branson speaks of commercial flights in 18-24 months, an estimate he has given previously (including 14 months ago at the Oshkosh airshow).

Aviation Week has an outline of Scaled Composites’ test program for SpaceShipTwo, which includes powered flights early next year:

The flight marks the start of the third phase in a seven-phase test program that is expected to culminate with the start of space tourism and science flights in 2012…Unpowered glide testing, which follows four captive-carriage flights to simulate SS2 approaches, will be used to refine the vehicle’s aerodynamics and low-speed handling qualities. For the Oct. 10 flight, Scaled Composites had a cover over the nozzle of the Sierra Nevada RM2 hybrid rocket, and tufts below the duct to visualize the local flow field around the composite-skin nozzle section.

The article said that four other test phases will follow:

  • Phase 4: Higher-speed subsonic flights with short bursts from the RM2 engine (early 2011);
  • Phase 5: Supersonic powered flights;
  • Phase 6: Suborbital test flights;
  • Phase 7:  Demonstrations for the FAA in order to obtain a license.
  • Commercial operations: 2012

This is the most definitive schedule that Virgin Galactic officials have given in quite some time. If the schedule holds, then it’s an indication that the company is feeling confident in its hybrid engine technology that Scaled Composites is developing with Sierra Nevada Corporation. That work is being supported in part by a NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCDEV) grant.

Read the full Aviation Week story.