Passenger space pioneer cleared for supersonic tests

June 4, 2012

  virgin galactic

VMS Eve (the first edition of WhiteKnightTwo) and VSS Enterprise (the first of five SpaceShipTwo passenger spacecraft) in flight over Mojave, Calif. Mark Greenberg photo, courtesy Virgin Galactic.

Scaled Composites has landed FAA permission to light the candle on SpaceShipTwo.

The pioneering spacecraft, designed for Virgin Galactic to carry well-heeled passengers into space, has completed 16 free flights, including three that tested its unique “feathering” system—a Burt Rutan design that allows the spacecraft to fold in flight to maximize drag and minimize friction heating on reentry.

virgin galactic VSS Enterprise glides to Mojave Space Port. Photo by Mark Greenberg, courtesy Virgin Galactic.

SpaceShipTwo is expected to begin powered flight tests late this year, igniting a rocket motor designed to push the craft to suborbital flight after being dropped from WhiteKnightTwo, an all-composite aircraft that carries the rocket-powered passenger vehicle to 50,000 feet for ignition.

The launch permit was among the first issued by the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, and the first allowing a manned test, according to a company announcement.

Designed to carry six passengers and two pilots, SpaceShipTwo is based on SpaceShipOne, the Rutan design that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 as the first private craft to carry a human into space.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore | Online Associate Editor, AOPA

AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.