Virgin Galactic, TSC Donate SpaceShipTwo Rocket Motor to Smithsonian

SpaceShipTwo motor donated to the National Air & Space Museum. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

WASHINGTON, 7 Feb 2019 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Richard Branson joined Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company (TSC) staff and guests today at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, to announce that the hybrid rocket motor which powered SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, to space for the first time on December 13th last year, has been donated to the museum. The rocket motor was unveiled during the ceremony and will be exhibited in the museum’s planned, new commercial space flight gallery to be called ‘Future of Spaceflight.’

Designed and built by TSC, Virgin Galactic’s sister manufacturing organisation, the motor has been confirmed by Guinness World Records as the Most powerful hybrid rocket to be used in manned flight – a title which will be shared by both companies.

“The SpaceShipTwo rocket motor is a fitting addition to the National Air and Space Museum’s collection,” said Ellen Stofan, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the National Air and Space Museum. “It does not just represent technical achievement. It is sure to also inspire our visitors by demonstrating what can be achieved through entrepreneurial innovation.”

Weighing in at approximately 3,000 pounds, with 320kN of thrust and a burn duration of around 60 seconds, the motor created sufficient energy to propel VSS Unity to space at almost three times the speed of sound.

TSC, based in Mojave, CA, will be supplying Virgin Galactic with all rocket motors required to meet its test and commercial flight requirements, both for VSS Unity and for the SpaceShipTwo fleet which will follow – those vehicles also built by TSC for Virgin Galactic.

The donated rocket motor, or more accurately, the Case-Throat-Nozzle (CTN) assembly, is an integral part of SpaceShipTwo’s hybrid propulsion system – a design which seeks to combine the simplicity of a solid rocket motor with the controllability of a liquid engine – meaning SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor can be shut down quickly and safely at any point during flight. The hybrid propulsion system has very few moving parts, resulting in a simple, robust design for human
spaceflight application.

Announcing the donation, Richard Branson said: “We’re proud to be making history as we work towards launching the world’s first commercial space line, and today we could not be more delighted to donate a piece of that history to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for its wonderful new exhibition. The desire to explore space has been an inspiration since time began and, in recent decades, an incredible catalyst for innovation. I hope our donation will also play a small part in inspiring the thousands of visitors as they pass through the new gallery in years to come.”

George Whitesides, CEO of The Spaceship Company and Virgin Galactic, said: “To see this rocket go from concept, to production, through ground test, and finally into space, and then be accepted to the world’s most respected aerospace museum is a well-deserved recognition for the spaceship propulsion team.”

Enrico Palermo, President of The Spaceship Company said: “This motor and its development process is a perfect example of what can be achieved when talented people come together to work on their dreams. TSC looks forward to building more rocket motors and the fleet of SpaceShipTwo’s, watching them provide the power to open space and change the world for good.”

  • Saturn1300

    I should check. I wonder do they only use once. Or there is a removable cap on the other end and is filled while vertical. A mold in the center then melted plastic or wax is poured in. The mold is removed. Same as a SRB, but there a mix that hardens like concrete. I made 6″ rockets with fuel and binder. Tamping the mixture, making it hard, then removing the 16D nail spike that formed the central cavity. The fuel was zinc dust and sulfur I think. I don’t think ATK tamps their fuel.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Probably, which is why it is both expense and a dead end technology. But it won the Ansari X-Prize!

    BTW Sir Richard Branson has announced he is going to fly on it soon…

    Richard Branson says he’ll fly to space by July

    February 8, 2019

  • Francesco Barato

    Doug, any comment about the 320 kN thrust?
    I remember that the thrust was 60000 pounds (270 kN)??

  • Saturn1300

    Good for him and his family. Good to see a fellow Sam is getting a good ride. BTW I read somewhere that SpaceX got a fairing on the net, but it slipped off. Would it be because of the para foil? It is moving forward to get enough lift to hold up the weight. When it sets down on the net and the boat slows, the wing starts to move backwards. Unless there is enough friction, the wing will now be pulling backwards on half and pull it off the net unless there is a stop. If there is it may rip the net off. The boat is moving fast and inertia will keep it from making an instant stop.A standard round chute would go straight down with only the wind if any moving it. The net is lined up and the half lands. The boat slows or stops and the chute collapses. If any wind jump on it or grab some lines to keep wind from grabbing it. The boat is going slow so with reverse it should be able to stay underneath it without a lot of negative g’s stopping. I see no purpose for the parafoil unless it is RCed.