On September 5, the Virgin Galactic commercial spaceline – owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS – achieved another benchmark by successfully completing the second, rocket-powered, supersonic flight of its reusable space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo. The completely successful test flight achieved the highest altitude and speed to date, and demonstrated the craft’s full technical mission profile for the first time. This included a high altitude deployment of Virgin Galactic’s “feathering” re-entry device.
The test began when the company’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft took off with SpaceShipTwo at about 8 a.m. local time from the Mojave Air and Space Port. From there, the mated aircraft ascended to 46,000 feet, whereupon SpaceShipTwo was released from the carrier aircraft and ignited the rocket motor for a 20-second burn to an altitude of 69,000 feet. SpaceShipTwo achieved its maximum speed of Mach 1.43 during this portion of the mission, then returned to Mojave at 9:25 a.m. local time. Upon landing, the test pilots at the controls of SpaceShipTwo, Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols, both pilots for Scaled Composites, reported a flawless flight.
“This flight milestone represents a key step forward for the Virgin Galactic team. The successful completion of all major aspects of the flight mission demonstrates that we are very close to achieving one of Galactic’s key goals: [commercializing] access to space for the broader public. I would like to congratulate the whole team on their continued success,” commented Chairman of aabar Investments PJS, H.E. Khadem Al Qubaisi.
“We couldn’t be more delighted to have another major supersonic milestone under our belts as we move toward a 2014 start of commercial service,” said Sir Richard Branson. “It was particularly thrilling to see for the first time today the whole elegant system in action during a single flight, including the remarkable feathering re-entry system. It was this safety feature more than anything else that originally persuaded us that the overall design of the system was uniquely fit for purpose. Everything we have seen today just confirms that view. Congratulations to all involved!”
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides commented, “Today, we expanded the SpaceShipTwo rocket-powered flight test envelope with a longer burn duration and robust testing of the feather mechanism, supersonic aerodynamics and wing lift structure. Each powered flight of SpaceShipTwo yields cumulative progress that builds the foundation for safe and exciting commercial space flights.”
Virgin Galactic is set to be the world’s first commercial spaceline, and to date, the company has accepted $70 million in deposits from roughly 580 individuals looking to venture into space.