The Spaceship Company in Mojave is ramping up to produce WhiteKnightTwos and SpaceShipTwos. We have this report from Aviation Week:
TSC was initially tasked with making one WK2 and four SS2s for Virgin Galactic, and Operations Director Enrico Palermo says: “I’m confident we’ll be building more.” Together with the first WK2 and SS2 already built and in test, Virgin plans to operate an initial fleet of two carriers and five spacecraft, though hopes are high that other “spaceline” customers will emerge.
For now, Palermo says, “our blinders are set on serving our first customer, and getting these spacecraft flying.” With flight tests of the first SS2 accelerating and the first rocket-powered flights expected in coming months, the configuration of the production variants of both spacecraft and carrier aircraft are close to finalization. “WK2 is flying and meeting its objectives, so that’s more or less set,” says Joe Brennan, TSC vehicle production manager, who adds that the company is also “pretty happy” with the minor design changes on the SS2 required so far.
Aviation Week reports that SpaceShipTwo testing is going ahead smoothly, with Scaled Composites officials predicting an aggressive flight test schedule for 2011 and possible suborbital operations the following year:
â€œTesting has been going quite a bit better than weâ€™d originally hoped, and weâ€™ve been able to make glide flights ahead of what weâ€™d anticipated in terms of flight-to-flight turn-around time,â€ says Pete Siebold, Scaled director of flight operations. The Virgin Galactic program therefore remains on target to becoming the worldâ€™s first commercial space line, with routine suborbital operations from Spaceport America, N.M., as early as 2012.
SIERRA NEVADA CORPORATION PRESS RELEASE SNC fires hybrid rocket motor and begins production on Dream Chaser Vehicle
The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems Group announces the successful completion of two critical milestones for NASAâ€™s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Program.Â On September 21, 2010, SNC completed three successful test firings of a single hybrid rocket motor in one day.Â SNCâ€™s newly opened rocket test facility in San Diego County, California, hosted NASA personnel for a rocket motor manufacturing review as well as the motor firings, including one firing under vacuum ignition conditions.Â The tests, which simulated a complete nominal mission profile, demonstrated the multiple restart capability of SNCâ€™s proprietary hybrid rocket motor.Â This same hybrid rocket will be used as the main propulsion system on the Dream Chaser during the orbital operations.
[Editor’s Note: Sierra Nevada is the main contractor for Scaled Composites’ RocketMotorTwo, which will power SpaceShipTwo on suborbital flights. Both vehicles are using the same propulsion system. This probably explains why Scaled Composite and Virgin Galactic officials are predicting powered test flights of SpaceShipTwo in 2011.]
In the video, Richard Branson speaks of commercial flights in 18-24 months, an estimate he has given previously (including 14 months ago at the Oshkosh airshow).
Aviation Week has an outline of Scaled Composites’ test program for SpaceShipTwo, which includes powered flights early next year:
The flight marks the start of the third phase in a seven-phase test program that is expected to culminate with the start of space tourism and science flights in 2012…Unpowered glide testing, which follows four captive-carriage flights to simulate SS2 approaches, will be used to refine the vehicleâ€™s aerodynamics and low-speed handling qualities. For the Oct. 10 flight, Scaled Composites had a cover over the nozzle of the Sierra Nevada RM2 hybrid rocket, and tufts below the duct to visualize the local flow field around the composite-skin nozzle section.
Reports out of Mojave say that Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipTwo has made its first solo glide flight — a major milestone on the way to Virgin Galactic’s commercial suborbital flights. Space.com’s Leonard David reports:
Though the craft did not reach space, it was a major milestone for the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, which flew in glide mode for some 15 minutes once released from its carrier plane, WhiteKnightTwo, according Bill Deaver, an eye-witness of the test flight.
“It was perfect landing,” Deaver told SPACE.com. “It looked just spectacular.”
Once released from the huge mothership, two pilots controlled the SpaceShipTwo to a safe runway touchdown.
Popular Mechanics was on the scene and filed a account of the flight.
Scaled Composites has posted logs from three test flights they have undertaken over the last month. Two flights involved solo tests of the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft; the third involved hauling aloft SpaceShipTwo. The logs indicate that the company is moving toward the first drop test of the suborbital tourism vehicle.
Last week, Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson predicted that SpaceShipTwo would begin commercial operations within 18 months. He gave a similar estimate during an appearance at the Oshkosh airshow 14 months ago concerning vehicle testing (above).
It was six years ago today that SpaceShipOne captured the $10 million Ansari X Prize. When Scaled Composites test pilot Brinnie Binnie landed the vehicle in Mojave, a new era of space tourism was about three years away. If Branson’s latest estimate holds, it will be about seven and a half years before tourists fly.
Since the X Prize winning flight, not a single pilot or passenger has flown into space aboard a private spacecraft. Meanwhile, 179 passengers have flown into space aboard government-built space shuttle, Soyuz and Shenzhou spacecraft.
The dusty desert town of Mojave might not have very much to recommend it, but the town’s spaceport is definitely worth a visit. Some photos I took during the recent Plane Crazy Rockets R Us open house.
Reports out of Mojave, Calif. indicate that famed aircraft designer Burt Rutan is looking to retire from the company he founded, Scaled Composites, and move away from the desert town where he designed and built groundbreaking aircraft and spacecraft for 36 years.