SpaceShipTwo Completes Second Powered Flight Above Mojave


SpaceShipTwo’s second powered flight this morning was successful, with the first feather test under power. Still waiting on details from Virgin Galactic concerning burn time, altitude and other factors. The company Tweeted, “Hit our planned duration, altitude, and speed.”


UPDATE: Branson said on his blog that SpaceShipTwo was released at an altitude of 46,000 feet and then burned the hybrid engine for 20 seconds, soaring to an altitude of 69,000 feet and reaching a speed of Mach 1.43.

The main progress with this test is that we deployed the full expansion (up and down) of the feather mechanism at a high altitude, alongside testing the rocket motor performance. This feather mechanism was the key innovation that enabled us to get into the space program in the first place. It acts like a giant shuttlecock and slows the spaceship up as it comes back into the earth’s atmosphere.






  • Carolynne Campbell

    Using the most charitable assumptions, the acceleration achieved is about 1.6g, with one third the weight of propellant needed for a 60 second burn and no payload.

    Not brilliant.

  • D.B. C

    I can’t wait to see how much better your rocket-powered spaceplane is.

    Please keep us posted on your progress.

  • Didn’t the Bell X-1 do all of this? In 1947?

  • Rick

    it’s a test flight. these guys have been very conservative in their testing regime and I strongly suspect that they did not push this aircraft anywhere near to it’s design limits. They’re more geared towards safety than absolute numbers. I suspect neither a long full throttle burn nor a full fuel load carry were attempted. Nor was the run made in a hard climb nor the feathering recovery system expected to engage. A fixed speed goal was set and obtained and data collected for later evaluation and the test deliberately ended.

    You don’t try to break your highly visible toys in incremental testing unless you’re in a real hurry and have a huge governmental budget, an extensive supply of highly skilled but expendable pilots and some complete immunity to bad press and lawsuits.

  • Kimberly Lazarski

    Not even close. You’re thinking of the X-15, which cost (adjusted for inflation) many millions of dollars more, was far more costly to launch, carried only one person, was purely an up-and-down ride, and reentered much like the Space Shuttle (well, “re-enter” is a misnomer since neither the X-15, SpaceShip(n) nor even the Space Shuttle actually exit the atmosphere – they all fly/flew in the lower region of the thermosphere or the upper region of the mesosphere).

    Did any of the (acknowledged) X-series rocket planes have the “feather” for reentry?

    Did any of the (acknowledged) X-series rocket planes fly economically?

    Did any of the (acknowledged) X-series rocket planes seat more than one person?

    Were any of the (acknowledged) X-series rocket planes designed for launching economically then orbiting for a while as a pleasure cruise for tourists?

    If you think you can do better, your ideas intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. đŸ˜‰

  • Hug Doug

    an excellent point about the cost.

    the X-15 conducted 200 flights for $300 million in 1969 dollars (or about $1.5 billion in 2004 dollars). How will the price per flight by the 200th flight compare from an estimated $600,000 per flight for the X-15 in 1969 dollars (or $3 million/flight in 2004 dollars)? while we don’t yet know for sure, Virgin Galactic plans to perform hundreds of flights annually, and the development / testing of the WK2 / SS2 total about $400 million so far (in today’s dollars).

  • Douglas Messier

    It’s always more costly when you have to invent something from scratch (high speed, high altitude flight vehicles) than if you’re trying to commercialize it 50 years later. Much of the fundamental work of figuring out flight profiles, aerodynamics, heating, etc. was already paid for by the government and the results are broadly available.

    This is not to diminish what Scaled, Virgin, XCOR, et. al. are trying to accomplish but to put it into some perspective.

  • Well, Kimberly, I certainly can’t do better, but I’m quite certain that if the program that developed those X-planes hadn’t been essentially scrapped in favor of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, it would have done far better, and you’d be reading a much more interesting newsletter. It’s great that the SS2 represents renewed interest in this field of aerospace science, but it’s still galling that the advancements are only just now beginning to rival 1950s technology. We could have been so much farther ahead by now.

  • Sigh… in flight test this is a commonly used test planning method called a “build-up approach”, or as noted in the log Doug posted “envelope expansion“. You don’t go straight to the edge of the performance/complexity envelope (for a lot of reasons, but crew safety is a biggee).

    The FUD from Carolynne Campbell against Scaled/Virgin continues; did they call your momma names or something? I’m surprised you failed to mention that they’re doped up on NOx while riding that dirty stick of dynamite straight to hell…

  • Douglas Messier

    Please restrain your comments. This is not a forum for personal attacks. Stick to issues, facts and opinions.

    I value your comments here, but I will not abide personal attacks. Please keep it professional.

  • Thank you for encouraging a better level of decorum; sorry to be the cause for that encouragement.

    Carolynne Campbell, I am sorry for speculating on your motivations.

  • Carolynne Campbell

    Apology accepted.

    I know you think I’m a no-knowledge amateur shouting from the sidelines. As one of the few people who has ever piloted a powerful Nitrous Oxide Hybrid Rocket powered vehicle, an engineer with ten years’ experience in the design and development of N2O hybrids, a genuine enthusiast for private enterprise in space, and a published author on the subject of Hybrid Propulsion, I do feel free to make the occasional less-than-positive comment.
    I regularly sit in front of a four-motor cluster of N2O hybrids with a total thrust of up to 4,000 lbs and I can tell you, from experience that it’s very exciting and definitely not ‘safe’.
    We can pull up to 4 g, but we keep it down to 3 g.