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.