Pomerantz: SpaceShipTwo Flying Commercially in Mid-2014, LauncherOne in 2015

Some good news above about Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne from Vice President Will Pomerantz.

Meanwhile, it looks like he’s sticking to the same projections Virgin had earlier this year for SpaceShipTwo, despite a 15-week (and counting) gap in powered test flights. Is this anything like when the pilot promises to make up time en route?

The way things are going, the schedules for SpaceShipOne and LauncherOne are slowly converging. Maybe they should just junk the hybrid engine and speed up development of the liquid-fuel one for LauncherOne. Use the same engine for both. It would simplify things and make flights a lot cheaper with economies of scale. You also don’t have to replace SpaceShipTwo engine after every flight.

  • dr

    I can imagine LauncherOne entering service before SS2.
    At least this situation means that VG has two shots at getting some revenue in. I assume that LauncherOne will operate from Spaceport America like SS2 is due to.
    I wonder whether LauncherOne and SS2 flight test programmes will clash with both vehicles needing WK2 on the same days. Maybe VG will procure another WK2 in order to perform the LauncherOne test programme.
    I think that the engine for LauncherOne wouldn’t be powerful enough for SS2 even if it worked well, so it would likely have to be scaled up to make it the right size, although scaling up liquid rocket engines is the kind of engineering that is quite common in the space industry.

  • Andy

    I don’t think a propulsion swap on SS2 would be an easy thing to do. The air frame form factor is heavily married to the design of the propulsion system (the oxidizer tank constitutes a large portion of the aft part of SS2).

    My understanding is Burt Rutan wanted the hybrid propulsion system for SS1 because he thought a bi-prop was too complicated. I’m not sure why they chose hybrid over liquid for SS2.

    I think Launcher One will break the Karman line before SS2, especially if SNC isn’t building the motor.

  • Douglas Messier

    I think that’s been the dilemma all along: Keep trying to perfect the hybrid engine, or make the painful changes and spend the enormous amount of money needed to go with a liquid replacement.

    A bi-prop for SS1 would have been more complicated and taken more time, which they didn’t really have much to spare. They completed the Ansari X Prize winning flight less than three months before the prize expired.

    I’ve heard Burt didn’t like the complexity of liquid propellant engines, which is probably why they stuck with the hybrid. Of course, hybrids are not that simple, safe or easy to scale up. He was advised against the hybrid for SS2 by several experts, but ignored the advice.

    This whole situation is a real potential problem for Sierra Nevada. They’ve got much bigger fish to fry. The last thing NASA wants to hear is that RocketMotorTwo doesn’t work well and that the system on Dream Chaser is similar. That could cost Sierra Nevada an enormous amount of money.

    The stakes for Branson are extremely high as high. It’s probably Virgin’s biggest and riskiest ventures. Spaceflight has become an integral part of the company’s brand. And he’s induced Arab investors to put in nearly $500 million.

    This thing doesn’t work as hyped, and Branson will become a laughingstock and nobody in the Middle East will really trust him.