Scaled Composites Reports Excellent Progress on SpaceShipTwo Testing

SpaceShipTwo glides downward on its first test flight. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

Aviation Week reports that SpaceShipTwo testing is going ahead smoothly, with Scaled Composites officials predicting an aggressive flight test schedule for 2011 and possible suborbital operations the following year:

“Testing has been going quite a bit better than we’d originally hoped, and we’ve been able to make glide flights ahead of what we’d anticipated in terms of flight-to-flight turn-around time,” says Pete Siebold, Scaled director of flight operations. The Virgin Galactic program therefore remains on target to becoming the world’s first commercial space line, with routine suborbital operations from Spaceport America, N.M., as early as 2012.

Although additional RM2 ground tests are planned, Siebold says parts of the propulsion system will be incorporated gradually into SS2 as they are ready. “We plan to [load] an equal weight to passengers as we build up, as well as the rocket motor and its components.” Full-up weight for SS2 is 30,000 lb.

Unpowered glide testing is being used to refine the vehicle’s aerodynamics and low-speed handling qualities. Building on the incremental envelope-expansion approach established with the SpaceShipOne (SS1), the next test phase will involve higher-speed subsonic flight with a short burst of power from the RM2. A follow-on test phase, using longer rocket burns, will open up the supersonic, higher-altitude corner of the SS2 envelope.

Initial rocket trials will be preceded by cold-flow tests in which all the propulsion system components will be exercised, including the flow of oxidizer, without ignition. In the SS1 trials, “this tested the basic functionality of the propulsion system and was a great dress rehearsal for the first powered flight,” Siebold notes.

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