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.
It’s difficult not to admire the dynamism that brought him to this point. And it was actually rather affecting, at Monday’s unveiling in the Mojave Desert, to meet the “future astronauts” who boldly intend to entrust their lives to a spacecraft developed by a man whose state-of-the-art locomotives are unable to negotiate fallen leaves.