Whitesides: SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flights By End of Next Year

Gear down. (Photo: Mark Greenberg)

Aviation Week has an update on SpaceShipTwo’s progress:

George Whitesides, president and CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC), says recent full-duration firing tests of the Sierra Nevada RM2 rocket motor are encouraging and point the way to integration with the SS2 early next year. Powered flight tests will begin with short-duration 15-sec. burns before building up to a full-duration suborbital flight before the end of 2012.

“We’ve got a bit more work to do,” Whitesides says. After more glide tests later this year to confirm aerodynamic and control improvements, he adds “next year we will integrate the motor and aim to conduct powered flights around the fall.”

Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada chairman and executive vice president, says a recent 55-sec. burn at the company’s Poway test facility near San Diego confirmed the hybrid motor is on track for integration. “We were encouraged by the power we got out of that. We’ve got the reaction up to where it needs to be.”

During an appearance at Stanford University on Tuesday, Virgin Galactic Vice President William Pomerantz said that the company has accepted payments for 450 seats totaling approximately $60 million.