Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has laid out the plan for completing SpaceShipTwo’s flight tests and beginning commercial operations in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal:
“We expect to get to space altitude in a short number of flights, assuming the rocket performs as expected,” Whitesides told the Journal. “Scaled made it to space in four flights with SpaceShipOne. I believe it will be a little more than that for us, but not dramatically so.”
Once SpaceShipTwo successfully reaches space, Scaled Composites will turn over the rocket to Virgin Galactic for its commercial operations based in New Mexico. Virgin has already taken control of the mothership, which it flew to Spaceport America for some initial test operations in September.
“Once we take control of SpaceShipTwo, we expect to do some more testing here in New Mexico, but that will primarily be efficiency testing rather than technology testing,” Whitesides said. “It will give pilots an opportunity to train at this airfield after Mojave to practice things like coming in on final approach.”
The company has continuously pushed back the timeframe for when it expects to start flying tourists out of Spaceport America. The latest estimate by Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson is for commercial flights to begin in early 2015.
Whitesides gave weight to that estimate at the symposium Wednesday.
“We’ll have more powered flights in Mojave this fall, then SpaceShipTwo will be handed over from Scaled Composites, and then there will be more flights for pilot testing in New Mexico,” Whitesides said. “But I believe this year coming up is the one people will remember for a long time.”
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