Virgin Galactic outlines near term test flight schedule


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The competition heats up: In a newspaper interview, the CEO of Virgin Galactic has outlined the company’s flight plans for SpaceShipTwo in the coming months, leading hopefully to its first commercial flights.

“We expect to get to space altitude in a short number of flights, assuming the rocket performs as expected,” Whitesides told the Journal. “Scaled made it to space in four flights with SpaceShipOne. I believe it will be a little more than that for us, but not dramatically so.”

Once SpaceShipTwo successfully reaches space, Scaled Composites will turn over the rocket to Virgin Galactic for its commercial operations based in New Mexico. Virgin has already taken control of the mothership, which it flew to Spaceport America for some initial test operations in September. “Once we take control of SpaceShipTwo, we expect to do some more testing here in New Mexico, but that will primarily be efficiency testing rather than technology testing,” Whitesides said. “It will give pilots an opportunity to train at this airfield after Mojave to practice things like coming in on final approach.”

As much as I have expressed strong skepticism in recent months of Virgin Galactic’s promises, I truly hope this happens, and soon.

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4 comments

  • Pzatchok

    How many aircraft has this guy built, flown and then put into public service?

    Why it this one going to be different?

  • Edward

    I’m unsure of whom you mean by “this guy.”

    If you mean Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites, then he has mostly built experimental aircraft. Even those that have been put into “production” were mostly kits for homebuilt planes registered as experimental. My count of how many Rutan has designed and flown (read: “tested”) is around 40. As for “put into public service,” my count is around a dozen were made into home-build kits.

    If you mean Richard Branson of Virgin, then he has mostly bought aircraft that other companies have built and tested. This includes the WhiteKnightTwo, which was built and tested by Scaled and delivered to Virgin Galactic several months ago, and SpaceShipTwo, which has yet to be delivered to Virgin Galactic. Even SpaceShipThree is to be designed and tested by Scaled. However, Branson owns The Spaceship Company, which is intended to be the production line builder of SpaceShipTwo and SpaceShipThree. Whether or not that counts as “built, flown, and then put into public service,” TSC has not yet built any. My count of how many Branson has designed and tested is zero, but his business model has previously been to buy production aircraft from manufacturers. As an aircraft manufacturer, he is still a virgin.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “this one” being different. If you mean the engine, then it has performed better in ground testing.

    If you mean the spacecraft, then it has already become a center of attention for the public. People dream more of taking an adventure on SpaceShipTwo than they think of an A380, for instance, as an adventure, and for good reason. There have been more contests with a suborbital ride as the prize than with a ride on an A380.

    Meanwhile, I still root for Virgin Galactic, but I also root for its competitors XCOR and Blue Origin, too. It is important that one of these three companies excites and inspires the public about the future of space travel and exploration.

  • Pzatchok

    White Night Two has already needed to be rebuilt or repaired because of cracks in the airframe.

    The new rocket engine, though it preforms better, is not as powerful and is not expected to reach space.

    As for the blow hard Branson getting to space. He has launched one ship that reached space and that one was just barely. The poor test pilot says the craft shock so bad he couldn’t keep it on a straight and vertical flight path. This is corroborated by the erratic spiraled flight path of the ship.
    It was so sketchy of a flight he was not certain if he had even reached space until it was confirmed by the X-prize team. Even though it was supposed to have enough thrust and burn time to reach well into space.

    Branson has pretty much already given up on his New Mexico facility and is spending his time and money on a new one in Abu Dhubi.

    I for one am tired of hearing about the carnival barker Branson and all his promises.
    You can live on hopes and dreams but I will put my money, time and possible efforts behind something that actually works in the real world. I will not be investing in anything of his.

  • Edward

    Pzatchok,

    It is fine by me that you not invest in anything of Branson’s, that is your choice. Even his Abu Dhubi investor is reportedly getting anxious about the lack of success. I don’t require that you fly one, either. Of course, if we only put our resources into things that already work, then we would never get anything new, but that is your choice, too, and you are welcome to it.

    You also gave Branson more credit than he deserves. It was Burt Rutan, not Branson, who put SpaceShipOne into space, and only one of the three flights into space had the problem that you described. Rutan thinks that he understands and fixed the problem, but only time and additional flights will tell. As with early airplanes and even modern rockets, I’m sure that the paying customers occasionally will similarly get more excitement and adventure than they intended (yes, I mean that in a bad way, and I hope that the industry survives such bad experiences, as did the airlines: https://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/bill-whittle-the-deal).

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