Activity Seen in Mojave Bullpen as Ansari X Prize 10th Anniversary Looms

SpaceShipTwo on a glide flight with WhiteKnightTwo above it. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
SpaceShipTwo on a glide flight with WhiteKnightTwo above it. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

UPDATE: I apparently misunderstood about the SpaceShipTwo flight that might be made this week. It would be another glide flight, not a powered one.  That could happen on Thursday or possibly Saturday. I apologize for the error.

Nearly four weeks after SpaceShipTwo’s most recent glide flight, there have been signs of activity here in Mojave and credible reports of an even more ambitious flight test coming in a week or so.

SpaceShipTwo was sighted outside on the ramp in front of Scaled Composites’ Hangar 75 on Monday morning. Engineers were doing some type of work or testing on the ship, which Scaled is building for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company.

On Monday afternoon, Scaled Composites conducted an engine test on its horizontal test stand. The test, which lasted an estimated 50 seconds, was mostly likely of SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid nylon/nitrous oxide motor. If so, it was at least the second test of the motor this month.

Meanwhile, reliable reports say there could be a powered flight test in the middle of next week. This would be the first in-flight test of the new hybrid motor.

A successful test would the first powered flight of SpaceShipTwo in nearly 10 months. The vehicle fired a rubber/nitrous oxide engine for 20 seconds during a flight on Jan. 10. That motor has since been abandoned for one that burns nylon.

Reports indicate that some people involved in the program are eager to conduct a powered flight in advance of the 10th anniversary celebration of the winning of the $10 million Ansari X Prize on Oct. 4. That prize was won in Mojave by Scaled Composite’s smaller SpaceShipOne vehicle.

Branson and other luminaries are expected in Mojave for the celebration, which will include a 2-hour luncheon. A successful flight test would show visible progress for a program that has flown only three glide flights since January.

Saturday, Sept. 27, marks the 10th anniversary of Branson’s announcement of the SpaceSpaceTwo program. At the time, he predicted commercial flights would begin by 2007.

  • Hemingway

    wow – progress?

  • Mark Madison

    Let’s hope they finally light the candle and get going. It’s been awhile and while many are dogging VG, I’m realistic enough to realize it takes time and they can still get the job done.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    Should we expect a powered flight on October 4?

  • Douglas Messier

    No, probably two or three days before that if it happens next week.

    Scaled still controls SS2; I seriously doubt the company would fly with guests here for the Ansari X Prize anniversary. Certainly not the first powered flight that uses a new, untested engine. It’s very hard for me to conceive of them doing that.

    Branson brought 300 ticket holders to Mojave a year ago Thursday, promising for no discernible reason whatsoever that space flights would occur within months. (Ha! The engine couldn’t even fire in flight that long. And they knew it.)

    The report I heard is that Virgin had wanted to do a powered flight for the assembled guests. Scaled said absolutely not; they weren’t going to risk lighting up that engine with everyone watching. A good call, I think. Branson’s grasp of the dangers of flight test appears to be rather tenuous.

    Reports were that they were going to do a far less dangerous glide flight. However, Mojave got hit with a wind storm that day, and they couldn’t fly. If they had come earlier in the week, they could have flown; the weather was excellent. But, things can change in Mojave just like that.

  • OdiousJack

    I know, I know, it’s me, but a powered flight soon? Nope.

  • Chad Overton

    Every morning I check this website and every morning I am both suprised and disappointed that these guys aren’t flying some kind of test flight!

  • Doug Weathers

    Just my opinion, but the thing they need to be testing is the engine. The airframe seems to work fine so far. If they are not testing their engine every single week, they are going to take years to start flying routinely. They need a LOT of testing on their engine.

  • Chad Overton

    Well supposedly they added tankage for the helium and methane to smooth out the burn. I would think you would want to fly a coulpe of times and hit all corners of the envelope. Making sure CoG is good and such. I also think they still need many powered flights to prove out the engine as installed.