Space

May 1, 2013

SpaceShipTwo first powered flight goes as planned

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Raphael Jaffe
staff writer

Close up of SS2 during successful rocket-powered flight.

It took eight and a half years and only lasted for 16 seconds, but all involved know the wait was worth it.

SpaceShipTwo being developed for Virgin Galactic had its first powered flight on April 29.

The unique hybrid nitrous oxide liquid oxidizer and hydroxyl terminated polybutadiene rubber solid rocket motor and all the other elements involved performed flawlessly.

SS2 was lifted to 48,000 feet by its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, starting at 7:02 a.m. Upon release the rocket motor was fired, and SS2 climbed to 56,200 feet and reached the speed of Mach 1.22. Scaled Composites test pilots Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury guided SS2 down for a smooth landing on Mojave Air and Space Port Runway 30, the same one that WK2 used for take off. The flight concluded at about 8 a.m. The WK2 pilot was David Mackay, the Virgin Galactic chief test pilot; copilot was Scaled test pilot Clint Nichols.

SS2 flies supersonic for the first time.

The Scaled test log broke from its usual terse, just the facts, narrative and listed Results as ìMonday we ìlit the candleî for the first time. SS2 control and handling was very positive during its first supersonic, rocket-powered flight. The motor operated as designed and provided a smooth but noticeable/significant push through the sound barrier. The boost was terminated at the intended shutdown duration of 16 seconds. Trajectory was nominal with Mike & Mark topping out at 1.22 Mach and 56,200 feet. Post shutdown glide was nominal. The vehicle and the team performed as expected excellent! We’d like to thank our team, our many vendors, and the support of Virgin for making today a possibility. The fun has only just begun!

This was flight 115 for SS2, and coded as Powered Flight 01. Objectives were listed as ìFirst powered flight, launch weight expansion, supersonic aero expansion (16 sec. burn), and q structural expansion. For WK2 the entry is ìObjectives: SS2 release mission. Results: Objective complete.

Sir Richard Branson and Mark Stucky congratulate each other after the success of Virgin Galacticís first rocket-powered flight.

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. ìFor the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight. Todayís supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceshipís powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the yearís end. We saw history in the making today and I couldnít be more proud of everyone involved.

We partnered with Virgin Galactic several years ago with the aspiration to transform and commercialize access to space for the broader public, said His Excellency Khadem Al Qubaisi, chairman of aabar Investments PJC. ìTodayís test is another key milestone in realizing that aspiration. Our partnership goes from strength to strength, and is an excellent example of aabarís desire to participate in the development of world class technologies that are commercially viable and strategically important, both for the company, its shareholders, and for Abu Dhabi.

Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan share an emotion moment.

The rocket motor ignition went as planned, with the expected burn duration, good engine performance and solid vehicle handling qualities throughout,î said Virgin Galactic President and CEO George Whitesides. ìThe successful outcome of this test marks a pivotal point for our program. We will now embark on a handful of similar powered flight tests, and then make our first test flight to space.

In the coming months, the Virgin Galactic and Scaled test team will expand the spaceshipís powered flight envelope culminating in full space flight, which the companies anticipate will take place before the end of 2013.

I’d like to congratulate the entire team, said of Kevin Mickey Scaled president. This milestone has been a long time coming and it’s only through the hard work of the team and the tremendous support of Virgin Galactic that we have been able to witness this important milestone. We look forward to all our upcoming tests and successes.

Burt Rutan was at the flight test in Mojave. Rutan is the aircraft design genius who founded Scaled Composites in 1982 and designed SpaceShipOne which on Oct. 4, 2004, won the $10 million Ansari Prize. It was the first privately funded aircraft to reach 100 km [62 miles] altitude-the edge of space. He mentored the SS2 design and development team before retiring in April 2011.

The early morning flight test was not publicly announced. However there was a crowd of about 350 people who witnessed the test. It included VIPs, media, and aerospace buffs, and Mojave Air and Space Port neighbors who had heard something important was going on; or had read the Notice to Airmen shooing aircraft away from Mojave ASP.

Virgin Galactic has about 580 reservations [$70 million in deposits] for a ride to space aboard SS2. Branson and his family plan to be among the first passengers aboard the six passenger-two pilot SpaceShipTwo. Scaled will be building about five more spaceships, and one more White Knight. Spaceport America in New Mexico will be the hub for the first commercial flights.




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