On 29 April Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJC, completed the first rocket-powered flight of its space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo (SS2).
The test, conducted by teams from Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic is said to ‘officially mark Virgin Galactic’s entrance into the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico’.
“The first powered flight of Virgin Spaceship Enterprise was without any doubt, our single most important flight test to date,” said Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson, who was on the ground in Mojave to witness the occasion. “For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end. We saw history in the making today and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone involved.”
The test began at 7:02 a.m. local time when SS2 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port mated to WhiteKnightTwo, Virgin Galactic’s jet-engined carrier aircraft. At the controls of SS2 were pilot Mark Stucky and co-pilot Mike Alsbury. WhiteKnightTwo was flown by Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, with Scaled Composites’ Clint Nichols and Brian Maisler acting as co-pilot and flight test engineer.
SS2 was released at 47,000 feet, approximately 45 minutes into the flight. Under rocket propulsion, it reached a maximum altitude of 55,000 feet. The entire engine burn lasted 16 seconds, as planned. During this time, SS2 went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.2. The entire rocket-powered flight test lasted just over ten minutes, culminating in a smooth landing for SS2 in Mojave at approximately 8am local time.
The Virgin Galactic and Scaled test team now plan to expand the spaceship’s powered flight envelope culminating in full space flight, which the companies anticipate will take place before the end of 2013.