TSC was initially tasked with making one WK2 and four SS2s for Virgin Galactic, and Operations Director Enrico Palermo says: “I’m confident we’ll be building more.” Together with the first WK2 and SS2 already built and in test, Virgin plans to operate an initial fleet of two carriers and five spacecraft, though hopes are high that other “spaceline” customers will emerge.
For now, Palermo says, “our blinders are set on serving our first customer, and getting these spacecraft flying.” With flight tests of the first SS2 accelerating and the first rocket-powered flights expected in coming months, the configuration of the production variants of both spacecraft and carrier aircraft are close to finalization. “WK2 is flying and meeting its objectives, so that’s more or less set,” says Joe Brennan, TSC vehicle production manager, who adds that the company is also “pretty happy” with the minor design changes on the SS2 required so far.
Despite the SS2 not yet having flown with its Scaled-Sierra Nevada RM2 hybrid rocket engine, Palermo says fast-paced aerodynamic and control system tests are approaching commercial-level sortie rates between spaceship glide flights. “We’ve started to show we can really turn these vehicles around,” says Palermo, who notes that five test flights were achieved between June 14 and 27, including the first 24-hr. turnaround between two flights on June 14 and 15. Various modifications made to the 60-ft.-long, 42-ft.-wingspan vehicle so far include the addition of vortex generators and nose strakes….
The progress is paralleled by the ramp-up in the TSC workforce. “There were just 12 employees then,” comments Palermo. “Now we’re adding at a rate of around 10 per month, and will grow from 70 or so now to 175 by late 2012 and early 2013. The majority of those will be in engineering.” To support the buildup, TSC is embarked on a major recruitment drive. “We’re looking for the best and the brightest. The sort of people who want to engineer the world’s first commercially developed passenger spaceships,” he declares.
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