Space

June 14, 2012

SpaceShipTwo flexes wings, prepares for powered flight tests

by Raphael Jaffe
Staff Writer

After a few months spent in awaiting a flight permit and evidently tweaking the design, Scaled Composites seems to be preparing the next steps in its flight test program for SpaceShipTwo.

The craft is being built for The Spaceship Co., a joint venture of Scaled and the world’s first commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic. It will bring six passengers and its crew of two to the edge of space.

On May 30, the FAA granted an experimental launch permit to Scaled for its suborbital spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, and its carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo. This will allow flight tests using the SpaceShipTwo rocket motors.

“The Spaceship program is making steady progress, and we are all looking forward to lighting the vehicle’s rocket engine in flight for the first time,” said Doug Shane, president of Scaled.

Already, SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo have made significant progress in their flight test program. With 82 test flights completed, WhiteKnightTwo is substantially through its test plan, while the more recently constructed SpaceShipTwo has safely completed sixteen free flights, including three that tested the vehicle’s unique “feathering” re-entry system. Additionally, ten test firings of the full-scale SpaceShipTwo rocket motor, including full duration burns, have been safely and successfully completed.

With this permit now in hand, Scaled is now authorized to press onward towards rocket-powered test flights. In preparation for those powered flights, SpaceShipTwo will soon return to flight, testing the aerodynamic performance of the spacecraft with the full weight of the rocket motor system on board. Integration of key rocket motor components, already begun during the recent downtime for routine maintenance, will continue into the autumn. Scaled expects to begin rocket powered, supersonic flights under the just-issued experimental permit toward the end of the year.

“This important milestone enables our team to progress to the rocket-powered phase of test flight, bringing us a major step closer to bringing our customers to space,” said George Whitesides, president and CEO of Virgin Galactic. “We thank the FAA for their timely issuance of this permit, and for their responsible oversight of the test program.”

SpaceShipTwo and its carrier craft, WhiteKnightTwo have been undergoing a series of flight tests at Mojave Air and Space Port. The published flight test summaries log shows a series of flights, starting April 20, 2009, with flight 4 of WhiteKnightTwo. Flights 81 and 82 took place June 2, 2012. Its objectives were: Pilot proficiency; Spoil flap evaluation; Cold soak gear extension retraction; and Copilot and brake evaluation. All objectives were met.

SpaceShipTwo tests are logged as captive carries or glide flight. The first captive carry was on March 22, 2010. The last was captive carry test 15, and took place on Oct 19, 2011. In a glide flight test, SpaceShipTwo is released and piloted back to runway 30 at Mojave Air and Space Port, Calif. The first glide test was on Oct. 10, 2010.

The last was test 16 on Sept. 29, 2011. The test objectives were: Post maintenance functional check flight; Clean release; Evaluate stability and control; Flutter expansion; Previous flutter point validation; Increased weight landing (using water ballast);and Pilot proficiency. The results were as follows: the test card called for releasing the Spaceship from WhiteKnightTwo and immediately entering a rapid descent. Upon release, the Spaceship experienced a downward pitch rate that caused a stall of the tails. The crew followed procedure, selecting the feather mode to revert to a benign condition. The crew then de-feathered and had a nominal return to base. This was great flying by the team and a good demo of feather system.

On June 1, there were four taxi run tests of SpaceShipTwo. The objective was to condition and evaluate the decelerating performance with the new higher capacity brakes. The result was that the objective was achieved. There were tests at 30 to 65 mph.




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