October 12, 2010
By Alton K. Marsh
The suborbital commercial tourist spaceship VSS (Virgin Spaceship) Enterprise—also known as SpaceShipTwo—owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company completed its first unpowered glide test Oct. 10. A video of the flight is on Virgin Galactic’s website.
Stephen Attenborough, commercial director of Virgin Galactic, will preview the flight experience the company plans to offer in a keynote session Friday, Nov. 12, at AOPA Aviation Summit in Long Beach, Calif. Also catch SpaceShipOne astronaut Mike Melvill in a forum, “ Without Limits,” on AOPA Live, and at the Pioneers of Aviation dine-around.
The spacecraft was released from its launch aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo also known as Eve, at 45,000 feet and spent 11 minutes testing systems (including the release mechanism), making a practice approach at a high altitude, and landing at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
The spacecraft and launch aircraft were built by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites company. Rutan said it appears little tweaking will be required based on initial results.
“Flown by both pilot Pete Siebold and co-pilot Mike Alsbury on the first flight, the test crew opened up two thirds of SS2’s required subsonic speed envelope, maneuvered it above 2G, checked its dynamic and sideslip handling, exercised its flight-path control system and made a perfect landing; spot-on the runway target,” Rutan said.
“I congratulate Project Lead Matt Stinemetze, Mission Control Lead Brian Binnie and their team of talented engineers as well as Crew Chief Steve Losey and his team of fabricators who built and maintain the first commercial manned space system. There is not a better group of research and flight test talent in the world.”
Binnie was one of the pilots for SpaceShipOne.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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