Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Flight Test This Morning

First flight since June. Should be interesting. The weather finally cleared this week. It had been cloudy and rainy the last few days.

Virgin Galactic just confirmed on Twitter that this is a glide flight with motor installed in SpaceShipTwo and water ballast to simulate the ship being fueled.

UPDATE NO. 2:  Looks like they still have at least one more glide flight to go before powered flights begin. In response to a question about whether the next flight would be powered, CEO George Whitesides responded on Twitter: “No, not quite yet. Still have a few more things to work and test before we get to that milestone. But getting closer now.”

UPDATE: Successful flight. Tested ship with different CG (center of gravity) with engine installed and water ballast. Conducted nitrous dump while still attached to WhiteKnightTwo. Also tested the feather system. This was the sixth glide flight for SpaceShipTwo Unity and the 36th of the program.

If all that went well (and it likely did), then I’m guessing they’re ready to start powered flight tests within the next month or so. Richard Branson has been predicting SpaceShipTwo will fly to space by the end of the year, which is quite possible if this is the final glide flight.

This was a bit of a tough flight to follow from the ground. I lost the spacecraft in the cloud cover we’ve had all week. There were white clouds for a change; it was stormy for the last few days with dark clouds and some rain and lightning. Pretty standard for this time of year; we can get storms in the High Desert in August.

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  • redneck

    Simulated propellant on a simulated space ship. Sounds right.

  • Douglas Messier

    They’ve got precisely one space plane and one carrier aircraft. The space plane took three years plus to build. Soooo…

    They risk everything on every flight. They lose either vehiicle at this point and they are most likely done. Finished. Kaput. They have another catastrophic accident and I seriously doubt Branson will put any more money into his little space program. It’s been 13 years and he has no spaceflights to show for all the money and time and effort and endless promotion and the four people this program has already killed.

  • Bulldog

    Sounds like a good test flight, hopefully everything on the card was achieved. Will be good to see powered testing start.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, it has turned out to be a deadly vehicle so far. I hope they are able to tame it.

    As a side note. Even if they get it operational I don’t expect they will build more than one more Spaceshiptwo. A pair of vehicles should be able to handle the customers with reserved tickets over a period of three to four years flying a couple dozen times a year. And if they lose one on an operational flight it will likely be game over, so no need to waste money building a fleet.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    Two things:

    There is no way VG can fly passengers by the end of 2017. Their progress is glacially slow.

    Didn’t VG already admit SS2 couldn’t reach space (100km)?

  • savuporo

    SpaceShipWho ? That thing is still around ?

  • Abdul M. Ismail

    @douglasmessier:disqus Out of curiosity, when the performed the powered test flights (I believe there were three of them; the third being fatal), did they have the full amount of fuel grain which they subsequently cut off after ~20 seconds or did they only carry sufficient fuel mass for the 20 second burn?

  • Abdul M. Ismail

    In an interview, George Whitesides mentioned that their aspiration was to get to 100km but they’ll award all their customers astronaut wings based on the NASA/US Air Force altitude for space – which is 50 miles as opposed to 62.5 miles.

    http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/virgin-voyage/space-or-not-space-virgin-galactic-addresses-question-n107836

  • Douglas Messier

    Good question. I recall them calling the first motors as starter engines.

    The first three powered flights went for 16, 20 and 20 seconds. They dared not go beyond 30 seconds due to oscillations and vibrations. At the end of 2013, they found a solution to that problem that required some significant changes to the vehicle. The fourth test was going for 38 seconds and an altitude of about 138000 feet.

  • Abdul M. Ismail

    This recent article from Space News kind of answers my question…

    http://spacenews.com/virgin-galactic-carries-out-dry-run-for-powered-spaceshiptwo-flights/

    It states…

    “This flight was the first to carry most of the hybrid propulsion system that will be used for future powered test flights. The spacecraft’s oxidizer tank was filled with nitrous oxide and a helium pressurant tank was also loaded. The only major component missing was the solid fuel casing, which was replaced on this flight with a ballast tank filled with water.”

    …which implies that, this being the first to carry most of the propulsion, previous tests only carried sufficient propellant for that specific test firing.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    It was 50 miles in the early 60s. The international recognized “border” is 100km. Also, they could hand out their wings at 25km if they cared. They mean nothing. It’s like kids getting captains wings on charter flights.

    Unless they reach 100km the passengers have not been in space.