This past Friday, January 10th, 2014 at approximately 1522 UTC or 0722 local time (PST), the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft piloted by Virgin Galactic Pilot, Mike Masucci and Scaled Test Pilot, Mike Alsbury lifted off from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California carrying SpaceShipTwo (SS2). Once the air/spacecraft’s reached 46,000 feet SS2 was detached from WK2 and Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and Scaled Test Pilot Mark Stucky fired the engine for a 20 second burn. The flight took them to Mach 1.4 and to a new altitude record for SS2 of 71,000 feet before landing safely back at Mojave.
The test was not meant for the sole purpose of getting higher and faster but instead it was primarily to test SS2’s Reaction Control System (RCS), the newly installed thermal protection coating on the vehicles tail booms (note the new chrome appearance on them) and once again test the feather mechanism which allows for a smooth descent and aids the slowing of the spacecraft on descent using the laws of physics to their benefit. All tests were a complete success.
SS2’s propulsion systems come from the Sierra Nevada Corporation and it is the world’s largest hybrid rocket motor in production today. Although the flights have burned only 20 seconds in flight, they have, in ground tests successfully burned for the required full operational spaceflight lengths.
The plan is, that in the fall of 2014 Richard Branson and his two adult children, Sam and Holly will be the first private passengers to travel into space onboard SS2. They will lift off carried by WK2 from Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico. When SS2 goes into full operation it will fly passengers to heights of 100 km or about 62 miles above sea level to break the Karman Line, which is the recognized boundary of space. There have been 28 unpowered glide flights as well as this, now the third powered and third supersonic flight in total. There will be one more test at least before the Branson Flight this fall. The next flight should be a full operational sub-orbital space test flight.
To date, Virgin Galactic has more than $80 million in deposits from almost 700 individuals that wish to ride SS2 to the edge of space. Current seat will cost you $250K so sign up!!! In all seriousness, even for those of us like me who will likely never have $250k to spend on a few minute trip to just beyond the edge of space, it really is terrific to see this industry finally making some quite spectacular strides in reaching the goal of commercial spaceflight.
GO VIRGIN GALACTIC, GO WHITEKNIGHTTWO, GO SPACESHIPTWO!!!!!
“I couldn’t be happier to start the New Year with all the pieces visibly in place for the start of full spaceflights. 2014 will be the year when we will finally put our beautiful spaceship in her natural environment of space.”– Sir. Richard Branson
“Today’s flight was another resounding success. With each flight test we are progressively closer to our target of starting commercial service in 2014.” – Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides
Here’s my post on FLIGHT 2: https://danspace77.com/2013/09/07/virgin-galactic-spaceshiptwo-complete-second-successful-powered-flight/
Virgin Galactic Homepage: http://www.virgingalactic.com/
Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo (Virgin Mother Ship Eve (VMS Eve) & SpaceShipTwo (VSS Enterprise): http://www.virgingalactic.com/overview/spaceships/
Scaled Composites homepage: http://www.scaled.com/
Sierra Nevada Corporation, Space Systems page: http://www.sncspace.com//
Virgin Galactic Safety & Design: http://www.virgingalactic.com/overview/safety/
Virgin Galactic Spaceport America: http://www.virgingalactic.com/overview/spaceport/
Mojave Air & Space Port: http://mojaveairport.com/