SpaceShipTwo exceeds expectations for Virgin Galactic when it comes to super-sonic flight and altitude capabilities. Planned to take tourists to the edges of space in 2014, the Virgin Galactic built craft was lifted to 46,000 feet by carrier craft WhiteKnightTwo. Upon reaching this altitude SS2 was dropped, leaving it to fly to 71,000 feet purely by virtue of its own hybrid rocket motor. These tests have confirmed that SpaceShipTwo is capable of withstanding the extreme heat and pressure generated by flying at the speeds needed to break out of Earths atmosphere and glimpse the vast sea of stars beyond. The SS2s feathered wing design was previously tested and confirmed to be effective and safe, leaving a new heat-resistant coating and the crafts Reaction Control System to be tested on this latest trial.
The SpaceShipTwo is being built by Virgin Galactic, a company within billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Mobile. Started in 2004 as a private venture to take tourists into space, plans to start commercial flights in 2014 are looking good after the crafts third powered flight was completed on Friday. The Reaction Control System responsible for out-of-atmosphere control of SpaceShipTwo exceeds expectations for Virgin Galactic. Since the SS2 is primarily a tourism craft, being able to position it to give passengers the best scenic views possible is a must. The new heat shield coating along the crafts rear wing booms was also tested, it was successfully able to keep the heat from the SS2s massive rocket engine from damaging the craft during the planned 20 second burn. The engine is being developed by Sierra Nevada Corp and is currently the worlds largest hybrid rocket engine. A hybrid rocket engine combines the two common types of fuel, liquid and solid, into a system that offers advantages over rockets that run on only one or the other.
Over 650 people jumped at the chance to be among the first space tourists, and Virgin Galactic has collected more than $80 million in deposits so far. With each test the program moves closer to making space a travel destination as common as Mexico or Alaska. Fridays test launched from Mojave Air and Space Port, with pilots Mike Masucci and Mike Alsbury at the controls of the WhiteKnight2 carrier. Once the separation was completed, test pilots Dave MacKay and Mark Stucky took the SS2 through its paces and provided the testing needed to confirm the effectiveness of the new systems. As SpaceShipTwo exceeds expectations for Virgin Galactic, Branson delivered glowing commendations upon hearing the successful results, saying that he couldn’t be happier with the performance of all pilots involved and the two aircraft. Mackay described the flight as a dream come true and said he would never forget the feeling of one of the worlds largest rockets igniting at his back. The mass of information garnered in this latest test will go towards fine tuning the SS2 itself as well as the telemetry and flight controls that allow it fly to such great heights with speeds as ferocious as Mach 1.4.
By Daniel O’Brien