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Virgin Galactic officials outline the status of SpaceShipTwo, suggesting that powered flight tests are finally about to begin.
Providing a rare glimpse of progress on a second spacecraft under assembly at sister organization, The Spaceship Co., Virgin Galactic Vice President of Operations Mike Moses says, “we are ready for space.” A former NASA launch integration manager for the space shuttle, Moses adds that SS2 “has been in modification, getting retrofitted ready to resume powered flights.” He notes that “those are going to start imminently—literally very imminently.”
Commenting on the extensive gap between now and the last rocket flight in January, Moses says, “It might seem a long time since our last powered flight-testing and that maybe nothing has been happening, but [ground testing] has been happening.” Tests have largely focused on ground-firings of a hybrid rocket motor fueled with polyamide-based plastic in place of the hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, a form of rubber used for the first series of powered tests. Although this fuel had been used successfully in SpaceShipOne, the vehicle developer Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic encountered fuel-burn stability and power issues as they tried to scale the Sierra Nevada Corp.-provided hybrid motor up to the size required by the larger SS2.
It appears my guess was right and that the last two glide tests were to retrofit SpaceShipTwo for the new fuel and engine. This has now been accomplished, and they are preparing to begin powered flight tests.
The article also describes work on a second SpaceShipTwo, which when completed will give Virgin Galactic the beginnings of a fleet of ships.